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Ainsworth. Dick Turpin' must have known this hostelry very well, it being on his favourite and most paying line of road; and the chances are that he stopped at it more than once, for it was in a remote position and a convenient halting-place for his calling. Outwardly the old inn. may be a trifle more time-toned and not so trim or well kept as then, but otherwise I do not imagine that either it or the town has altered much since his day. On the whole it doubtless looks much the same to us now as it did to him. Stilton is a place that in an age of change has remained unchanged; since the last coach departed thence it appears to have fallen into a deep sleep with small prospect of ever awakening again. The railway has left it quite out in the cold. Of Stilton it may truly be written, “ It was!”
Dick Turpin must have passed by the “Bell” on his famous ride to York—if ever that ride took place, for sundry hard - headed and hard-hearted antiquaries, who ought to know better, declare the episode to be as apocryphal as the “Battle of Dorking." Legends should not be judged by the same standard as matter-of-fact history! I wish learned authorities would devote their time to some more profitable task than that of upsetting innocent and perfectly harmless romances : already they have demolished nearly all the fabled stories of my childhood, besides a host of my favourite traditions which I liked to feel might be true, such as the picturesque elopement of Dorothy Vernon. “In reality nine out of every ten traditions are deliberate inventions.” Possibly; nevertheless I find no special MILES FROM ANYWHERE
pleasure in being assured that “ Cæsar never cried that cry to Brutus; Cromwell never said “Take away that bauble’; Wellington denied that he uttered,.Up, Guards, and at them !' and the story of Cambronne declaring that “The Old Guard dies, but never surrenders,' is now known to have been invented by Rougemont two days after the battle. ... As for the Abbé Edgeworth's farewell to Louis XVI. on the guillotine, the cry of the crew of the sinking Vengeur, and the pretty story of young Barra in the war of La Vendée—these are all myths ”and more's the pity!
It was with great reluctance that we bade goodbye to the quaint and ancient “Bell ” at Stilton, and in spite of the unreliability of traditions generally, we could not help wondering whether there were any truth in the oft-repeated story that Dick Turpin had half the landlords between London and York “under articles " to him, and if the then landlord of this special inn were one of them.
On the front of a lonely little hostel at Upware, in the wide Fenland of Cambridgeshire, is inscribed “Five Miles from Anywhere. No Hurry," and it struck us that these words might equally well be painted on the front, or beneath the sign, of the “Bell” at Stilton. There is a sense of remoteness about the decayed, medieval hostelry that suits well the legend : for Stilton is miles from anywhere, and it seems generations removed from the present prosaic age of progress, rush, and bustle. It is a spot in which the past appears the reality, and the present a dream!
Norman Cross-A Norman-French inscription-A re-headed statue
-The friendliness of the road—The art of being delightfulThe turnpike roads in their glory-Bits for the curious—A story of the stocks — “Wansford in England ” — Romance and reality—The glamour of art—“The finest street between London and Edinburgh"-Ancient “ Callises "-A historic inn -Windows that have tales to tell.
LEAVING Stilton we had a pleasant stretch of rural country of the restful, home-like, friendly order, but none the less beautiful because of an unambitious type. It was a constant delight to us to search for, and to discover what was most beautiful in the everyday English country we passed through ; the charm of such quiet scenery is that it never palls nor becomes wearisome with familiarity, as more pretentious landscapes often do. Far fresher and more enjoyable was it, to us, to wander leisurely about rural England out of the well-beaten tourist track than to traverse a district famous for its scenery belauded by guide-books, and crowded by excursionists, where beforehand you know almost exactly what to expect and where therefore pleasant surprises, or discoveries, are rare; but, on the other hand, by anticipating too much, disappointment often awaits one.
A MATTER OF SENTIMENT
At Norman Cross, a tiny hamlet with a suggestive name, situated about a mile on our way out of Stilton, there are the slight remains of the colony of barracks that were erected in the last century, wherein some thousands of French prisoners were confined during the Napoleonic wars. From Norman Cross we drove merrily along until we came to the pretty village of Water Newton, pleasantly situated by the side of the river Nen, or Nene,—for I find it spelt both ways on my map. Here the time - mellowed church, placed rather in a hollow a meadow's length away from the road, attracted our attention, though why it especially did so I hardly know, for there was apparently nothing particularly noteworthy about it, at least not more so than any one of the other country fanes we had passed unregarded by that day. Moreover, our tastes for the moment did not incline to things ecclesiastical. But it is a fact, that now and then, without any definable cause, a certain spot, or place, will excite one's interest and arouse within one a strong desire to stop and explore it: such sentimental, but very real, feelings defy all reasoning ; they exist but cannot be explained or reduced to an argument.
So half-involuntarily we pulled up here. “We must see that old church,” we exclaimed, though wherefore the compulsion we did not inquire of ourselves; but we went, in spite of the fact that it was getting late and that we had some miles more to accomplish before we reached Stamford, our night's destination. In the churchyard we noticed
an ancient stone coffin and lid, but we had seen many such stone coffins and lids before, so that these did not specially appeal to us. Then walking round the building, in search of any object of interest, we happened to glance at the tower, and on its west side we espied, about a third of the way up, a recess with a carved stone figure of a man standing therein, the hands of which were clasped as though in prayer. This at once excited our curiosity. On looking further we observed an inscription below the figure apparently in NormanFrench, but the lettering was so much defaced that it was difficult to decipher, a difficulty increased by the distance we were away from it; nevertheless, nothing daunted, we boldly made the attempt, and whilst puzzling over the spelling without, be it confessed, making much progress, the rector fortunately discovered us and kindly came to our aid. Existence is doubtless somewhat uneventful in this quiet spot, and possibly he was not averse to the scarce luxury of a chat with a stranger. I must say it seems to me that the life many of our refined and educated clergy lead in remote, out-of-the-way rural districts, is not altogether an enviable one, for, as a rule, the society of such is sadly restricted, and the conversational powers of the farmers and agricultural labourers are apt to be somewhat limited, not to say monotonous. Arcadia has its delights, but they are not academical. The chief charms of ruralism to some people are to be found second-hand in "open-air” books! Therein lies the difference between the genuine and the pseudo Nature lover.