« AnteriorContinuar »
Memorial of a great battle-An ancient fire-cresset-Free feasting !
-Country quiet-Travellers’tales—Hatfield-An Elizabethan architect — An author's tomb — Day-dreaming - Mysterious roadside monuments — Great North Road versus Great Northern Railway-Stevenage—Chats by the way-Field life - Nature as a painter-Changed times.
LEAVING Barnet, we soon reached a bit of triangular green enlivened by a pond that was just then monopolised by geese ; here, where the old and formerly famous “Parliamentary and Mail Coach Turnpike” to Holyhead diverges from the almost equally famous Great North Road of the pre-railway days, stands a gray stone obelisk that challenges the attention of the passer-by, and is inscribed with history thus :
I regret to have to record that immediately below this inscription, cut also in the stone, and in the same kind and size of lettering, is the obtrusive warning notice, so over - familiar to nineteenthcentury eyes,“ Stick no Bills.” What bathos this !
Here at Hadley the ancient church tower is surmounted by a rare and interesting relic of the never-returning past in the shape of an iron cresset or fire-beacon. The last time that this was used seriously was in 1745, during the scare occasioned by the Stuart rising in the North. The story goes that at the late hour in the evening when the beacon was lighted, a large party from London, who had been feasting at the “ Red Lion” at Barnet upon the best that mine host could lay before them, all rushed out during the excitement and quite forgot to return and pay their reckoning! A curious example of forgetfulness caused by excitement, as the fact that their bill remained unpaid never appears to have occurred to any of the party in after days! This is a sample of one of the stories of the road that, improved upon and embellished to fancy, the coachmen of the past used to entertain their passengers with; there was hardly a house, and certainly very few inns, on the way but had some little incident, history, or tradition connected with it; these latter afforded the jehus of the period (past-masters in the art of embroidering fiction upon fact) plenty of raw material for the production of their wonderful fund of anecdotes. My grandfather, who had travelled a good deal by coach in his early life, said that the virtue of these stories lay not so much in the matter as in
AN ANCIENT BEACON
the inimitable way in which they were told; but therein is the art of story-telling—the craft of making much out of simple materials.
The primitive mode of signalling events by beacon had this serious drawback, that, should any one beacon by accident or set purpose be set alight, needless alarm was forthwith spread throughout the land, and no amount of care in watching the various collections of piled-up wood and other inflammable material could, experience proved, prevent mischievous or designing persons from sometimes surreptitiously lighting them; on the other hand, when they were lighted legitimately, possibly fraught with warning of great import to the State, sudden fogs and storms occasionally prevented the message from speeding on its way. It must have been both a picturesque and a thrilling sight in “the brave days of old” for the expectant watchers on some commanding eminence to observe the progress of the blazing beacons, as one answered the other from height to height, the ruddy glare of the fiery signals gleaming plainly forth against the darkness of the night.
On from Hadley to Hatfield we had an excellent road, that led us through a prettily wooded and pleasantly undulating country. As we drove along, rejoicing in the pure sweet air and rural quietude after the smoke-laden atmosphere and noise of town, the sunshine kept struggling through the gray clouds overhead, and great gleams of golden light came and went, warming and brightening up the little world around us, and enhancing the natural beauty
of the scenery by the varied effects they produced on the landscape. A gleamy day is a picture-making and picture-suggesting day, as artists full well know. By the time we reached Hatfield the sun above had obtained complete mastery of the situation, and was doing his best to make all things below pleasant for us.
At Hatfield we pulled up at another “Red Lion,” and there we elected to rest a while and “refresh the inner man,” as the country-paper reporters have it, for our halt at Barnet was solely for the benefit of our horses. In the coffee-room we found a party of four gentlemen lunching; laughing and talking, their conversation was carried on in so loud a tone of voice that, willing or unwilling, we could not help hearing nearly all they said ; their jovial jokes they made public property, and the general good-humour and enjoyment of the party was quite infectious. Manifestly they had no fear of strangers overhearing their tales and talk, which rather surprised us, as sundry anecdotal reminiscences of famous personages were freely related, which, if one could only have felt sure of their veracity, would have been most entertaining. It was indeed a right merry, possibly an inventive, and certainly a rather noisy, quartet. Truly the various people that the roadtraveller comes in contact with from time to time often dispute interest with the scenery. As Sir Arthur Helps says, “In travel it is remarkable how much more pleasure we obtain from unexpected incidents than from deliberate sight-seeing," and it certainly appears to me that a driving tour specially
ARTIST AND AUTHOR
lends itself to meeting with incidents. Such an informal and unusual way of wandering puts you as a rule on a friendly, companionable footing with everybody you meet: people take an interest in your journey, they confide in you and you in them, there is a sort of freemasonry about the road that has its attractions, you seem to belong to the countryside, to be a part and parcel of your surroundings for the time being, in strong contrast with the stranger suddenly arriving by the railway from somewhere far away. He is brought, the driving tourist comes -a distinction with a difference!
But to return to the coffee-room of our inn. Amongst the anecdotes that were forced upon our attention, one still remains in my memory, and this I think worth repeating as a fair sample of the rest, and because it deserves to be true, though possibly it is not, or only in part ; however, here it is, and I trust if any one of that merry company should by chance read this, they will pardon the liberty I have taken-or else be more careful of their conversation for the future in public! The story is of a perfectly harmless nature, and characteristic of the parties concerned, or I would not repeat it. It appears then that one day Carlyle was making a first call upon Millais at his fine mansion in Palace Gate. After looking around the sumptuous interior, Carlyle presently exclaimed, in his gruff manner, “What ! all from paint ? ” Millais made no reply at the moment, but as his guest was leaving he quietly remarked, “By the way, what a reputation you've got, Carlyle—and all from ink.”