« AnteriorContinuar »
to the sun ; and hear, not too closely, the creaking wagon and the sharpening sythe, the whistle, the halloo, and the laugh, all that forms the pleasant sound of harvest labor. Just beyond the bend in the lane too, are two fires, belonging to two distinct encampments of gipsys; and the children, dogs, and donkeys of these wandering tribes are nearly the only living things that come into sight, exciting Fanchon now to pretty defiance, now to prettier fear.
This is my constant resort on summer afternoons; and there I have the habit of remaining engaged 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 my 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 urnbrellas, 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 favorite 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 garniture. 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 can not tell
light, straight, slender, strong it certainly was, polished and veined, and as I first remember it yellowish in color, although it became darker as it advanced in age. It was among 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 lady-like 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 relic; that crook, probably of the same age as ours, 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 every body 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 some accident that nobody can explain they come to light in the course of time, and after a momentary increase of sadness help to familiarize 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 questioned, 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 iny prop behind me in a marquee at a cricket match, and it had well-nigh been tossed away among 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 school-boy 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 mne 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 honor to “ The Polite Letter-writer :" the paper stamped with an oak-wreath, 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 sat in state to receive the threatened apology, as I could have taken a journey in the air upon a broomstick. Greatly preferring the offense 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 neighbor, 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 screaming, scolding, growling, and barking, choked off his brute, and left my friend and me, the danger being over, so frightened that we could hardly get home. Although she had naturally consulted the safety of her own pet first, she had done her duty womanfully, so far as screaming went. That was the first fight I ever was in in my life, and I hope it will be the last.
Another misfortune, so to say personal, which befell my staff, was the loss of its own head—the ivory crook, which came off in the act of pulling down a rich branch of woodbine from the top of a hedge. A deep muddy ditch received the poor crook, which sank instantly, and in spite of efforts many and various could never be recovered. The worst part of this mutilation was, as often happens to living patients, the cure. Being sent to a parasol-shop to have a new crook put on, the stupid people first docked many inches of its height, and then stuck on so clumsily a heavy bone umbrella-top, that it fell off in a few days of its own accord without any accident at all. And the poor stick might have remained forever headless, and “curtailed of his fair proportions,” but that a friend of mine (one of those persons who knows how to do kind things in little as well as in great) happened to remember that she had an ebony top that would just fit it; and her husband, with equal kindness, completed the good action by fastening on the shining black knob so adroitly, that, although it has been now four or five years in wear, it remains as firm as the first day, looking only a little graver, and more fit for the poor old mistress, who having at first taken to a staff in sport, is now so lame as to be unable to walk without one.
And since the black head has supplanted the white one, annther association has come to endear this friend of sixty years. A little boy, called Henry, the child of the house (son, by the way, to the hemmer of flounces) has, ever since he has been four years old, watched my ways, and ministered unbidden to my wants and fancies. Long before he could open the outer door, before, indeed, he was half the height of the wand in question, there he would stand, the stick in one hand, and if it were summer time a flower in the other, waiting for my going out, the pretty Saxon boy, with his upright figure, his golden hair, his eyes like two stars, and his bright, intelligent smile! We were so used to see him there, silent and graceful as a queen's page, that when he returned to school after the holydays, and somebody else presented the stick and the rose, I hardly cared to take them. It seerned as if something was wrong, I missed him so. Most punctual of petted children! What would Henry have said to-day ?
I might have observed, if I had only seen what passed before my eyes, that something was amiss in our small household ; that Sarah answered the bell, and that the hemmer of flounces, when she did appear, seemed flurried and fatigued. But I was thinking of Sir Philip Sydney, of the “ Defense of Poetry," of the “ Arcadia," and of my own resolution to proceed to the green lane, and to dissect that famous pastoral, and select from the mass, which even to myself I hardly confess to be ponderous, such passages as might suit an age that by no means partakes of my taste for folios. So I said to her, “ That the afternoon being cool, and I less lame than usual, I thought we should not need Sam and the pony-chaise, but that I could manage by the help of my stick.”
At that word out burst the terrible tidings. My stick, my poor old stick, my life-long friend, the faithful companion of so many walks, was missing, was gone, was lost! Last night, on our return from the lane, the place in the pony-chaise where Sam and I had carefully deposited it was found vacant. Sam himself, that model of careful drivers and faithful servants, had run back the moment he had unharnessed the pony, had retraced every step of the road, beating the ground like a pointer, questioning every body, offering rewards, visiting ale-houses and beerhouses (places that, without special cause, Sam never does visit), to make proclamation of the loss, and finishing all by getting up at four o'clock in the morning, and beating the beaten ground over again. She herself, who so seldom stirs without me, and so seldom lets me stir without her, that she may pass for my shadow, or (without offense be it spoken) for a sort of walkingstick herself, she had sallied forth, visiting lane and field, road and meadow, questioning reaper and gipsy, a sort of living hue and cry.
“And really, Ma'am," quoth she, “there is some comfort in