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And how deep and rich were the luscious reflections where the woods doubled themselves in the glassy flood! How peace-bestowing it all was! We would, for the moment, that we were simple fishermen, and that this were our journey's end! Great was the temptation to stop and laze a while, but we resisted it and drove on. We feared, perhaps, though we did not confess this to ourselves, that too close an inspection might rob us of our pleasant impressions. We had an ideal, and wished to keep it! There is an art in knowing how much to leave unseen!
On now we drove, through a land of broad and luxuriant meadows, cool and tree-shaded, till we reached Eaton Socon, a pretty village with a small green and a fine large church. Within the sacred edifice we discovered little of interest, only portions of a rather good timber roof, a carved oak screen of fair workmanship, and the remains of a squint blocked up. If there were anything else noteworthy we managed very successfully to miss it.
Then a short stretch of road brought us once more to the blue winding Ouse ; at least it looked very blue that day. This we crossed on an ancient, time-worn bridge, that had great recessed angles at the sides wherein pedestrians might retreat and watch the long track of the glimmering river, and dream day-dreams, should they be so minded, safely out of the way of road traffic, and undisturbed by the passing and repassing of those afoot. On the other side of the river we found ourselves at once in the wide market-place of St. Neots. At the bridge the country ended and the town began ; there were no straggling suburbs to traverse. Close at hand, right in the market-place, we caught sight of an inviting hostelry, the “Cross Keys" to wit. The first glance at the old inn was enough to decide us in its favour. Relying on the instinct begotten of long years of road travel, we had no hesitation in directly driving under the archway thereof, where we alighted in the courtyard, and sought and obtained, just what we then mostly needed, comfortable quarters for the night. In the case of the selection of an hostelry, we had learnt to judge by outside appearances, in spite of the proverb to the contrary effect. Even in proverbs there are exceptions to the rule!
I should imagine, from the glance we had on passing over, that the bridge at St. Neots forms a sort of outdoor club for a number of the townsfolk. There is something magnetic about a river that equally attracts both the young and the old ; it is bright and open, it has the charm of movement, and there is nearly always life of some kind to be found by the waterside. Thither, too, at times the fisherman, or at any rate the fisher-urchin, comes; and what a fascination there is for most minds in watching an angler pursuing his sport, even though in vain ! I have frequently observed that in country towns where there is a widish river and a convenient bridge over it, there on that bridge do certain of the citizens regularly congregate at evening-time, when the day's work is done, for a chat, a quiet smoke, and “a breath of air before turning in.” The town
bridge has become quite an institution in some places!
As we went out to do a little shopping, we were amused and instructed to hear the different ways that the natives pronounced the name of their town. One would have imagined that there was only one way of doing this, but we discovered three: the first party we conversed with distinctly called it St. Notes, a second as emphatically declared it to be St. Nots, and still another would have it St. Neets, whilst we as strangers had innocently pronounced it as spelt; and now I do not feel at all certain as to which is the prevailing local appellation, or if there may still be another variety.
Our bedroom window faced the old marketsquare-a large,open, and picturesque space, pleasant to look upon ; and at the window we sat for a time watching the life of the place and the odd characters coming and going. It was all as entertaining to us as a scene in a play, and a good deal more so than some, for there was no indifferent acting in our players, and no false drawing in the backgroundthe perspective was perfect! And, as we watched, the light in the west gradually faded away, whilst the moon rose slowly and shone down, large and solemn, through the haze that gathered around when the dusk descended. The gentle radiance of the moonlight made the mist luminous with a mellow lighta light that lent the magic charm of mystery to the prospect. The houses, grouped irregularly round the square, were indistinctly revealed, all their harsher features being softened down; then one after another lights gleamed forth from their manypaned windows, with a warm yellow cheerfulness in marked contrast with the cold silvery moonshine without. The mist-damped roadway was reflective, and repeated vaguely the yellow gleams above, and imparted to the scene quite a Turneresque effect. Above the low-roofed houses, dimly discernible, rose the tall tower of the stately parish church, so grand a church that it has earned the epithet of "the cathedral of Huntingdon.” It was a poetic vision, very beautiful and bewitching to look upon, we thought; but, after all, much of the beauty in a prospect lies in the imaginative qualities of the beholder : we may all see the same things, yet we do not see them in the same manner!
The charm of small towns—The Ouse—A pleasant land—Buckden
Palace—A joke in stone—The birthplace of Samuel PepysBuried treasure-Huntingdon-An old-time interior—A famous coaching inn-St. Ives—A church steeple blown down !-A quaint and ancient bridge-A riverside ramble— Cowper's country—Two narrow escapes.
One of the special charms of small towns like St. Neots is that you can readily walk out of them in any direction right into the country; and what a boon it must be to the inhabitants of such places to have the real country all around them, easily accessible even to children, and this without having to take to cab or railway! So next morning, after starting early, as was our wont, we soon found ourselves amongst the green fields and trees again. It was a bright sunshiny day, with a fleecy sky above and a brisk breeze below — the very weather for driving.
Just outside St. Neots we came to a gateway on the road with the gate closed and barring our path ; there was, however, a man at hand to open it, and a very prominent notice-board facing us inscribed“The man who attends to the common-gate is not paid any wage, and is dependent upon the free gifts of the public." This notice struck us as being