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A CARVED JOKE
have reasoned with himself somewhat in this fashion : Angels fly; now all birds and creatures that fly have wings, therefore angels must have wings; and so he added them to the human form, to represent a spirit. The medieval craftsman could invent demons — veritable monsters who breathed and struggled in wood and stone, and looked goodnaturedly diabolical with leering, wicked eyes, yet hardly dreadful — monsters that appeared quite possible in some other and most undesirable worldthese were pure creations, but his angels were simply winged humanity, neither original nor interesting, for their even placid features, if without guile, were equally without character.
The roof was supported by stone corbels, that in turn supported carved oak figures of mitred bishops, from which sprang the great rafters with the angels on. One of these corbels was most cleverly carved so as to represent a roundish head with a hand held over one eye in a very roguish way, and tears running down the cheek from the other; the expression of the features, one half merry and the other grieved, was marvellous, especially the mouth, part jocund and part miserable ; it was an odd conceit that compelled one to laugh, the comicality was irresistible. Were I to worship in that church, I am afraid that the most serious sermon would hardly affect me with that droll face peering grinningly down—one half at least—and looking so knowing ! A carved joke! That is art in truth that converts the amorphous stone into a thing of life, with the expressions of grief and joy. Compare such living work with the lumpy, inexpressive, and meaningless stone-carving that disfigures so many of our modern churches built “ to the glory of God” cheaply and by contract, and how great and distressing the contrast !
As we drove out of Buckden, we noticed what a fine coaching inn it boasted once, namely the “George and Dragon.” The original extent of the whole building, in spite of alterations, can still be easily traced; its former size and importance may be gathered from the fact that there are thirteen windows in one long line on its front, besides the great archway in the centre, that is such a prominent feature in most old-fashioned hostelries.
A couple of miles or so beyond Buckden stands the pretty village of Brampton, and here we made a short halt, as, besides its picturesqueness, Brampton had a further interest for us in being the birthplace of that celebrated Diarist and old-time road-traveller the worthy Mr. Samuel Pepys, who was born here on 23rd February 1632, though the event is not to be found in the parish register, for the excellent reason that “these records do not commence until the year 1654.” I find in the preface to the new edition of Lord Braybrooke's Diary of Samuel Pepys, edited by H. B. Wheatley, it is stated : “Samuel Knight, D.D., author of the Life of Colet, who was a connection of the family (having married Hannah Pepys, daughter of Talbot Pepys of Impington), says positively that it was at Brampton” Pepys was born. The father and mother of the everentertaining Diarist lived and died at Brampton, and were buried there.
The number of birthplaces of famous Englishmen that we came accidentally upon during the course of our journey was a notable feature thereof. Besides the instance just mentioned, there was Cromwell's at Huntingdon, Jean Ingelow's at Boston, Sir John Franklin's at Spilsby, Lord Tennyson's at Somersby, Sir Isaac Newton's at Woolsthorpe, with others of lesser note, the last four being all in Lincolnshire.
But to return to Brampton. Pepys makes frequent mention of this place in his notes, and gives some very amusing and interesting experiences of one of his visits there under the date of the roth and uth of October 1667, when he came to search for and to recover his buried treasure. It appears, after the Dutch victory in the Thames, and the rumours that they intended to make a descent upon London, Pepys, with many others, became alarmed about the safety of his property, so he sent a quantity of gold coins in bags down to his father's home at Brampton, with instructions that they should be secretly buried in the garden for security! A primitive proceeding truly, giving a curious insight of the state of the times: one would have imagined that the money would really have been safer hidden in London than risked on the road, where robberies were not infrequent.
When all fear of the Dutch invasion had vanished, Pepys journeyed down to Brampton to get back his own, which caused him to moralise upon the obvious thus—“How painful it is sometimes to keep money, as well as to get it.” Having
recovered his money, or nearly all of it, he relates how about ten o'clock he took coach back to London. “My gold I put into a basket, and set under one of the seats ; and so my work every quarter of an hour was to look to see whether all was well; and I did ride in great fear all day.” And small wonder, for if any of the “gentlemen of the road” had “got wind” of Mr. Pepys's exploit, it is more than probable that they would have eased him of his treasure; even without such knowledge, there was just a possibility of a misadventure at their hands. The only pleasant part of that memorable journey must have been the ending thereof. I wonder whether Mr. Pepys ever heard of the tradition, which has found its way as historic fact into some of our school-books, that “in Saxon times the highways were so secure that a man might walk safely the whole length and breadth of the land, with a bag of gold in his hand.” The “in Saxon times,” however, calls to my mind the inevitable beginning of the good old-fashioned fairy stories, “Once upon a time.” Both terms are rather suggestive of romancing; at least they put back dates to a safely distant period !
On the church tower at Brampton, which stands close to the roadside, is the date 1635 plainly carved in stone, and to-day as sharp and clear as when first chiselled over two eventful centuries ago. From Brampton we drove to Huntingdon. About midway between those places we passed, on a triangular bit of green, a gray stone obelisk surmounted by a ball. At first we imagined that we had come across
another wayside monument, but it disappointed us, proving to be merely a glorified sign-post with hands pointing out the various directions, and the various distances given below. Then leaving, to our left, the historic home of Hinchinbrook, where the Protector spent some of his boyish days with his uncle and godfather Sir Oliver Cromwell, we soon entered the pleasant town of Huntingdon. Here we sought out the “George,” one of the famous trio of coaching houses on the road that, with its namesake at Stamford and the “ Angel” at Grantham, disputed the premier place for comfort, good living, and high charges. At either of these well-patronised hostelries our forefathers were sure of excellent fare and rare old port such as they delighted in: it was the boast of some of the hosts, in the prime of the coaching age, that they could set down before their guests better wine than could be found on His Majesty's table. If this were a fiction, it were a pleasant fiction ; and tired travellers, as they sipped their old bottled port, after feasting well, doubtless deemed their landlord's boast no idle one.
Unfortunately the “George” at Huntingdon, unlike its two rivals aforementioned, has externally been rebuilt, not, alas! on the picturesque old lines, but in the square, commonplace fashion of plain walls pierced with oblong holes for windows-a fashion so familiar to us all. But upon driving beneath the archway and entering the courtyard, a pleasant surprise awaited us. We found a picture in building presented to our admiring gaze. It was one of those delightful experiences that are so delightful because