News From Nowhere or An Epoch of Rest
by William Morris
Chapter 21: Going Up the RiverWhen I did wake, to a beautiful sunny morning, I leapt out of bed with my over-night apprehension still clinging to me, which vanished delightfully however in a moment as I looked around my little sleeping chamber and saw the pale but pure-coloured figures painted on the plaster of the wall, with verses written underneath them which I knew somewhat over-well. I dressed speedily, in a suit of blue laid ready for me, so handsome that I quite blushed when I had got into it, feeling as I did so that excited pleasure of anticipation of a holiday, which, well-remembered as it was, I had not felt since I was a boy, new come home for the summer holidays.
It seemed quite early in the morning, and I expected to have the hall to myself when I came into it our of the corridor wherein was my sleeping chamber; but I met Annie at once, who let fall her broom and gave me a kiss, quite meaningless I fear, except as betokening friendship, though she reddened as she did it, not from shyness, but from friendly pleasure, and then stood and picked up her broom again, and went on with her sweeping, nodding to me as if to bid me stand out of the way and look on; which, to [Page 166] say the truth, I thought amusing enough, as there were five other girls helping her, and their graceful figures engaged in the leisurely work were worth going a long way to see, and their merry talk and laughing as they swept in quite a scientific manner was worth going a long way to hear. But Annie presently threw me back a word or two as she went on to the other end of the hall: "Guest," she said, I am glad that you are up early, though we wouldn't disturb you; for our Thames is a lovely river at half-past six on a June morning: and as it would be a pity for you to lose it, I am told just to give you a cup of milk and a bit of bread outside there, and put you into the boat: for Dick and Clara are all ready now. Wait half a minute till I have swept down this row."
So presently she let her broom drop again, and came and took me by the hand and led me out on to the terrace above the river to a little table under the boughs, where my bread and milk took the form of as dainty a breakfast as any one could desire, and then sat by me as I ate. And in a minute or two Dick and Clara came to me, the latter looking most fresh and beautiful in a light silk embroidered gown, which to my unused eyes was extravagantly gay and bright; while Dick was also handsomely dressed in white flannel prettily embroidered. Clara raised her gown in her hands as she gave me the morning greeting, and said laughingly: "Look, guest! you see we are at least as fine as any of the people you felt inclined to scold last night; you see we are not going to make the bright day and the flowers feel ashamed of themselves. Now scold me!"
Quoth I: "No, indeed; the pair of you seem as if you were born out of the summer day itself; and I will scold you when I scold it."
"Well, you know," said Dick, this is a special [Page 167] day -- all these days are, I mean. The hay-harvest is in some ways better than corn-harvest because of the beautiful weather; and really, unless you had worked in the hay-field in fine weather, you couldn't tell what pleasant work it is. The women look so pretty at it, too," he said, shyly; "so all things considered, I think we are right to adorn it in a simple manner."
"Do the women work at it in silk dresses?" said I, smiling.
Dick was going to answer me soberly; but Clara put her hand over his mouth, and said, "No, no, Dick; not too much information for him, or I shall think that you are your old kinsman again. Let him find out for himself: he will not have long to wait."
"Yes," quoth Annie, don't make your description of the picture too fine, or else he will be disappointed when the curtain is drawn. I don't want him to be disappointed. But now it's time for you to be gone, if you are to have the best of the tide, and also of the sunny morning. Good-bye, guest."
She kissed me in her frank friendly way, and almost took away from me my desire for the expedition thereby; but I had to get over that, as it was clear that so delightful a woman would hardly be without a due lover of her own age. We went down the steps of the landing-stage, and got into a pretty boat, not too light to hold us and our belongings comfortable, and handsomely ornamented; and just as we got in, down came Boffin and the weaver to see us off. The former had now veiled his splendor in a due suit of working clothes, crowned with a fantail hat, which he took off, however, to wave us farewell with his grave old-Spanish-like courtesy. Then Dick pushed off i nto the stream, and bent, vigorously to his sculls, and Hammersmith, with its noble trees and beautiful water-side houses, began to slip away from us. [Page 168]
As we went, I could not help putting beside his promised picture of the hay-field as it was then the picture of it as I remembered it, and especially the images of the women engaged in the work rose up before me: the row of gaunt figures, lean, flat-breasted, ugly, without a grace of form or face about them; dressed in wretched skimpy print print gowns, and hideous flapping sun-bonnets, moving their rakes in a listless mechanical way. How often had that marred the loveliness of the June day to me; how often had I longed to see the hay-fields peopled with men and women worthy of the sweet abundance of midsummer, of its endless wealth of beautiful sights, and delicious scents. And now, the world had grown old and wiser, and I was to see my hope realised at last.
Chapter 10 Hampton Court. And a Praiser of Past TimesSo on we went, Dick rowing in an easy tireless way, and Clara sitting by my side admiring his manly beauty and heartily good-natured face, and thinking, I fancy, of nothing else. As we went higher up the river, there was less difference between the Thames of that day and Thames as I remembered it; for setting aside the hideous vulgarity of the cockney villas of the well-to-do, stockbrokers and other such, which in older time marred the beauty of the bough-hung banks, even this beginning of the country Thames was always beautiful; and as we slipped between the lovely summer greenery, I almost felt my youth come back to me, and as if I were on one of those water excursions which used to enjoy so [Page 169] much in the days when I was too happy to think that there could be much amiss anywhere.
At last we came to a reach of the river where on the left hand a very pretty little village with some old houses in it came down to the edge of the water, over which was a ferry; and beyond these houses the elm-beset meadows ended in a fringe of tall willows, while on the right hand went the tow-path and a clear space before a row of trees, which rose up behind huge and ancient, the ornaments of a great park: but these drew back still further from the river at the end of the reach to make way for a little town of quaint and pretty houses, some new, some old, dominated by the long walls and sharp gables of a great red-brick pile of building, partly of the latest Gothic, partly of the style of Dutch William, but so blended together by the bright sun and beautiful surroundings, including the bright blue river, which it looked down upon, that even amidst the beautiful buildings of that new happy time it had a strange charm about it. A great wave of fragrance, amidst which the lime-tree blossom was clearly to be distinguished, came down to us from its unseen gardens, as Clara sat up in her place, and said:
"O Dick, dear, couldn't we stop at Hampton Court for today, and take the guest about the park a little and show him those sweet old buildings? Somehow, I suppose because you have lived so near it, you have seldom taken me to Hampton Court."
Dick rested on his oars a little, and said: "Well, well, Clara, you are lazy today. I didn't feel like stopping short of Shepperton for the night; suppose we just go and have our dinner at the Court, and go on again about five o'clock?"
"Well," she said, so be it; but I should like the guest to have spent an hour or two in the Park." [Page 170]
"The Park!" said Dick; why, the whole Thames-side is a park this time of the year; and for my part, I had rather lie under and elm-tree on the borders of a wheat-field, with the bees humming about me and the corn-crake crying from furrow to furrow, than in any park in England. Besides -- "
"Besides," said she, you want to get on to your dearly-loved upper Thames, and show your prowess down the heavy swathes of the mowing grass."
She looked at him fondly, and I could tell that she was seeing him in her mind's eye showing his splendid form at its best amidst the rhymed strokes of the scythes; and she looked down at her own pretty feet with a half sigh, as though she were contrasting her slight woman's beauty with his man's beauty; as women will when they are really in love, and not spoiled with conventional sentiment.
As for Dick, he looked at her admiringly a while, and then said at last: "Well, Clara, I do wish we were there! But, hilloa! we are getting back way." And he set to work sculling again, and in two minutes we were all standing on a gravelly strand below the bridge, which as you may imagine, was no longer the old hideous iron abortion, but a handsome piece of very solid oak framing.
We went into the Court and straight into the great hall, so well remembered, where there were tables spread for dinner, and everything arranged much as in Hammersmith Guest Hall. Dinner over, we sauntered through the ancient rooms, where the pictures and tapestry were still preserved, and nothing was much changed, except that the people whom we met there had an indefinable kind of look of being at home and at ease, which communicated itself to me so that I felt that the beautiful old place was mine in the best sense of the word; and my pleasure [Page 171] of past days seemed to add itself to that of to-day, and filled my whole soul with content.
Dick (who, in spite of Clara's gibe, knew the place very well) told me that the beautiful old Tudor rooms which I remembered had been the dwellings of the lesser fry of Court flunkies, were now much used by people coming and going; for, beautiful as architecture had now become and although the whole face of the country had quite recovered its beauty there was still a sort of tradition of pleasure and beauty which clung to that group of buildings, and people thought going to Hampton court a necessary summer outing, as they did in the days when London was so grimy and miserable. We went into some of the rooms looking into the old garden and were well received by the people in them, who got speedily into talk with us, and looked with politely half-concealed wonder at my strange face. Besides these birds of passage, and a few regular dwellers in the place, we saw out in the meadows near the garden, down "the Long Water," as it used to be called, many gay tents with men, women, and children round about them. As it seemed, this pleasure-loving people were fond of tent-life, with all its inconveniences, which, indeed, they turned into pleasure also.
We left this old friend by the time appointed, and I made some feeble show of taking the sculls but Dick repulsed me, not much to my grief, I must say, as I found I had quite enough to do between the enjoyment of the beautiful time and my own lazily blended thoughts.
As to Dick, it was quite right to let him pull, for he was as strong as a horse, and had the greatest delight in bodily exercise, whatever it was. We really had some difficulty in getting him to stop when it was getting rather more than dusk, and the moon [Page 172] was brightening just as we were off Runnymede. We landed there, and were looking about for a place whereon to pitch our tents (for we had brought two with us), when an old man came up to us, bade us good evening, and asked if we were housed for the night; and finding that we were not bade us home to his house. Nothing loth, we went with him, and Clara took his hand in a coaxing way which I noticed she used with old men; and as we went on our way, made some commonplace remark about the beauty of the day. The old man stopped short and looked at her and said: "You really like it then?"
"Yes," she said, looking very much astonished, don't you?"
"Well," said he, perhaps I do. I did, at any rate, when I was younger; but now I think I should like it cooler."
She said nothing, and went on, the night growing about as dark as it would be; till just at the rise of the hill we came to a hedge with a gate in it, which the old man unlatched and led us into a garden at the end of which we could see a little house, one of whose little windows was already yellow with candle-light. We could see even under the doubtful light of the moon and the last of the western glow that the garden was stuffed full of flowers; and the fragrance it agave out in the gathering coolness was so wonderfully sweet, that it seemed the very heart of the delight of the June dusk; so that we three stopped instinctively and Clara gave forth a little sweet "O," like a bird beginning to sing.
"What's the matter?" said the old man, a little testily, and pulling at her hand. "There's no dog; or have you trodden on a thorn and hurt your foot?"
"No, no, neighbour,"she said; but how sweet, how sweet it is!" [Page 173]
"Of course it is," said he, but do you care so much for that?"
She laughed out musically, and we followed suit in our gruffer voices; and then she said: "of course I do, neighbour, don't you?"
"Well, I don;t know," quoth the old fellow; then he added, as if somewhat ashamed of himself: "Besides, you know, when the waters are out and all Runnymede is flooded, it's none so pleasant."
"I should like it,"quoth Dick. What a jolly sail one would get about here on the floods on a bright frosty January morning!"
"Would you like it?" said our host. Well, I won't argue with you, neighbour; it isn't worth while. Come in and have some supper."
We went up a paved path between the roses, and straight into a very pretty room, panelled and carved, and as clean as a new pin; but the chief ornament of which was a young woman, light-haired and grey-eyed, but with her face and hands and bare feet tanned quite brown with the sun. Though she was very lightly clad, that was clearly from choice, not from poverty, though these were the first cottage-dwellers I had come across; for her gown was of silk, and on her wrists were bracelets that seemed to me of great value. She was lying on a sheep-skin near the window, but jumped up as soon as we entered, and when she saw the guests behind the old man, she clapped her hands and cried out with pleasure, and when she got us into the middle of the room, fairly danced round us in delight of our company.
"What!" said the old man, you are pleased, are you Ellen?"
The girl danced up to him and threw her arms round him, and said: "Yes I am, and so ought you to be, grandfather." [Page 174]
"Well, well, I am," said he, as much as I can be pleased. Guests, please be seated."
This seemed rather strange to us; stranger, I suspect, to my friends than to me; but Dick took the opportunity of both the host and his grand-daughter being out of the room to say to me softly: "A grumbler: there are a few of them still. Once upon a time, I am told, they were quite a nuisance."
The old man came in as he spoke and sat down beside us with a sigh, which, indeed, seemed fetched up as if he wanted us to take notice of it; but just then the girl came in with the victuals, and the carle missed his mark what between our hunger generally and that I was pretty busy watching the grand-daughter moving about as beautiful as a picture.
Everything to eat and drink, though it was somewhat different to what we had had in London, was better than good, but the old man eyed rather sulkily the chief dish on the table, on which lay a leash of fine perch, and said:
"H'm, perch! I am sorry we can't do better for you, guests. The time was when we might have had a good piece of salmon up from London for you; but the times have grown mean and petty."
"Yes, but y ou might have had it now," said the girl, giggling, "if you had known that they were coming."
"It's our fault for not bringing it with us, neighbours,"said Dick, good-humouredly. "But if the times have grown petty, at any rate the perch haven't; that fellow in the middle there must have weighed a good two pounds when he was showing his dark stripes and red fins to the minnows yonder. And as to the salmon, why, neighbour, my friend here, who comes from the outlands, was quite surprised yesterday morning when I told him we had plenty of [Page 175] salmon at Hammersmith. I am sure I have heard nothing of the times worsening."
He looked a little uncomfortable. And the old man, turning to me, said very courteously:
"Well, sir, I am happy to see a man from over the water; but I really must appeal to you to say whether on the whole you are not better off in your country; where I suppose, from what our guest says, you are brisker and more alive, because you have not wholly got rid of competition. You see, I have read not a few books of the past days, and certainly they are much more alive than those which are written now; and good sound unlimited competition was the condition under which they were written, -- if we didn't know that from the record book of history, we should know it from the books themselves. There is a spirit of adventure in them and signs of a capacity to extract good out of evil which our literature quite lacks now; and I cannot help thinking that our moralists and historians exaggerate hugely the unhappiness of the past days, in which such splendid works of imagination and intellect were produced."
Clara listened to him with restless eyes, as if she were excited and pleased; Dick knitted his brow and looked still more uncomfortable, but said nothing. Indeed, the old man gradually, as he warmed to his subject, dropped his sneering manner, and both spoke and looked very seriously. But the girl broke out before I could deliver myself of the answer I was framing:
"Books, books! always books, grandfather! When will you understand that after all it is the world we live in which interests us; the world of which we are a part and which we can never love too much? Look!" she said, throwing open the casement wider and showing us the white light sparkling between the [Page 176] black shadows of the moonlit garden, through which ran a little shiver of the summer night-wind, "look! these are our books these days!L -- and these,"she said, stepping lightly up to the two lovers and laying a hand on each of their shoulders; "and the guest there, with his oversea knowledge and experience; -- yes, and even you, grandfather "(a smile ran over her face as she spoke), "with all your grumbling and wishing yourself back again in the good old days, -- in which,as far as I can make out, a harmless and lazy old man like you would either have pretty nearly starved, or have had to pay soldiers and people to take the folk's victuals and clothes and houses away from them by force. Yes, these are our books; and if we want more, can we not find work to do in the beautiful buildings that we raise up all over the country (and I know there was nothing like them in past times), wherein a man can put forth whatever is in him, and make his hands set forth his mind and his soul."
She paused a little, and I for my part could not help staring at her, and thinking that if she were a book, the pictures in it were most lovely . The colour mantled in her delicate sunburnt cheeks; her grey eyes, light amidst the tan of her face, kindly looked on us all as she spoke. She paused, and said again:
"As for your books, they were well enough for times when intelligent people had but little else in which they could take pleasure, and when they must needs supplement the sordid miseries of their own lives with imaginations of the lives of other people. But I say flatly that in spite of all their cleverness and vigour, and capacity for story-telling, there is something loathsome about them. Some of them, indeed, do here and there show some feeling for those whom the history-books call `poor,' and of [Page 177] the misery of whose lives we have some inkling; but presently they give it up, and towards the end of the story we must be contented to see the hero and heroine living happily in an island of bliss on other people's troubles; and that after a long series of sham troubles (or mostly sham) of their own making, illustrated by dreary introspective nonsense about their feelings and aspirations, and all the rest of it; while the world must even then have gone on its way, and dug and sewed and baked and built and carpentered round about these useless -- animals."
"There!" said the old man, reverting to his dry sulky manner again. "There's eloquence! I suppose you like it?"
"Yes,"sais I, very emphatically.
"Well," said he, now the storm of eloquence has lulled for a little, suppose you answer my question?: -- that is, if you like, you know,"quoth he, with a sudden access of courtesy.
"What question>"said I. For I must confess that Ellen's strange and almost wild beauty had put it out of my head.
Said he: "First of all(excuse my catechising), is there competition in life, after the old kind, in the country whence you come?"
"Yes," said I, it is the rule there.And I wondered as I spoke what fresh complications I should get into as a result of this answer.
"Question two," said the carle: Are you not on the whole much freer, more energetic -- in a word, healthier and happier -- for it?"
I smiled. "YOu wouldn'[t talk so if you had any idea of our life. To me you seem here as if you were living in heaven compared with us of the country from which I came."
"Heaven?" said he: you like heaven, do you? [Page 178]
"Yes," said I -- snappishly, I am afraid; for I was beginning rather to resent his formula.
"Well, I am far from sure that I do," quoth he. I think one may do more with one's life than sitting on a damp cloud and singing hymns."
I was rather nettled by this inconsequence, and said: "Well, neighbour, to be short, and without using metaphors, in the land whence I come, where the competition which produced those literary works which you admire so much is still the rule, most people are thoroughly unhappy; here, to me at least, most people seem thoroughly happy."
"No offence, guest -- no offence," said he; but let me ask you; you like that, do you?"
His formula, put with such obstinate persistence, made us all laugh heartily; and even the old man joined in the laughter on the sly. However, he was by no means beaten, and said presently:
"From all I can hear, I should judge that a young woman so beautiful as my dear Ellen yonder would have been a lady, as they called it in the old time, and wouldn't have had to wear a few rags of silk as she does now, or to have browned herself in the sun as she has to do now. What do you say to that, eh? "
Here Clara, who had been pretty much silent hitherto, struck in, and said: "Well, really I don't think that you would have mended matters, or that they want mending. Don't you see that she is dressed deliciously for this beautiful weather? And as for the sun-burning of your hay-fields, why, I hope to pick up some of that for myself when we get a little higher up the river. Look if I don't need a little sun on my pasty white skin!"
And she stripped up the sleeve from her arm and laid it beside Ellen's who was now sitting next her. To say the truth, it was rather amusing to me to see [Page 179] Clara putting herself forward as a town bred fine lady, for she was as well-knit and clean-skinned a girl as might be met with anywhere at the best. Dick stroked the beautiful arm rather shyly, and pulled down the sleeve again, while she blushed at his touch; and the old man said laughingly: "Well, I suppose you do like that; don't you?"
Ellen kissed her new friend, and we all sat silent for a little, till she broke out into a sweet shrill song, and held us all entranced with the wonder of her clear voice; and the old grumbler sat looking at her lovingly. The other young people sang also in due time; and then Ellen showed us to our beds in small cottage chambers, fragrant and clean as the ideal of the old pastoral poets; and the pleasure of the evening quite extinguished my fear of the last night, that I should wake up in the old miserable world of worn-out pleasures, and hopes that were half fears.
Chapter 23 An Early Morning By RunnymedeThough there were no rough noises to wake me, I could not lie long abed the next morning, where the world seemed so well awake, and, despite the old grumbler, so happy; so I got up, and found that, early as it was, some one had been stirring, since all was trim and in its place in the little parlour, and the table laid for the morning meal. Nobody was afoot in the house as then, however, so I went out a-doors, and after a turn or two round the super-abundant garden, I wandered down over the meadow to the river-side, where lay our boat, looking quite familiar and friendly to me. I walked up-stream [Page 180] a little, watching the light mist curling up from the river till the sun gained power to draw it all away; saw the bleak speckling the water under the willow boughs, whence the tiny flies they fed on were falling in myriads; heard the great chub splashing here and there at some belated moth or other, and felt almost back again in my boyhood. Then I went back again to the boat, and loitered there a minute or two, and then walked slowly up the meadow towards the little house. I noted now that there were four more houses of about the same size on the slope away from the river. The meadow in which I was going was not up for hay; but a row of flake-hurdles ran up the slope not far from me on each side, and in the field so parted off from ours on the left they were making hay busily by now, in the simple fashion of the days when I was a boy. My feet turned that way instinctively, as I wanted to see how haymakers looked in these new and better times, and also I rather expected to see Ellen there. I came to the hurdles and stood looking over into the hay-field, and was close to the end of the long line of haymakers who were spreading the low ridges to dry off the night des. The majority of these were young women clad much like Ellen last night, though not mostly in silk, but in light woollen most gaily embroidered in bright colours. The meadow looked like a gigantic tulip-bed because of them. All hands were working deliberately but well and steadily, though they were as noisy with merry talk as a grove of autumn starlings. Half a dozen of them, men and women, came up to me and shook hands, gave me the sele of the morning, and asked a few questions as to whence and whither, and wishing me good luck, went back to their work. Ellen, to my disappointment, was not [Page 181] amongst them, but presently I saw a light figure come out of the hay-field higher up the slope, and make for our house; and that was Ellen, holding a basket in her hand. But before she had come to the garden gate, out came Dick and Clara, who, after a minute's pause, came down to meet me, leaving Ellen in the garden; then we three went down to the boat, talking mere morning prattle. We stayed there a little, Dick arranging some of the matters in her, for we had only taken up to the house such things as we thought the dew might damage; and then we went toward the house again; but when we came near the garden, Dick stopped us by laying a hand on my arm and said:
"Just look a moment."
I looked, and over the low hedge saw Ellen, shading her eyes against the sun as she looked toward the hay-field, a light wind stirring in her tawny hair, her eyes like light jewels amidst her sunburnt face, which looked as if the warmth of the sun were yet in it.
"Look, guest," said Dick; doesn't it all look like one of those very stories out of Grimm that we were talking about up in Bloomsbury? Here are we two lovers wandering about in the world, and we have come to a fairy garden, and there is the very fairy herself amidst of it; I wonder what she will do for us."
Said Clara demurely, demurely, but not stiffly: "Is she a good fairy, Dick?"
"O yes," said he; and according to the card, she would do better, if it were not for the gnome or wood-spirit, our grumbling friend of last night."
We laughed at this; and I said, "I hope you see that you have left me out of the tale."
"Well," said he, that's true. You had better consider that you have got the cap of darkness, and are seeing everything, yourself invisible." [Page 182]
That touched me on my weak side of not feeling sure of my position in this beautiful new country; so in order not to make matters worst, I held my tongue, and we all went into the garden and up to the house together. I noticed by the way that Clara must really rather have felt the contrast between herself as a town madam and this piece of summer country that we all admired so, for she had rathe r dressed after Ellen that morning as to thinness and scantiness, and went barefoot also, except for light sandals.
The old man greeted us kindly in the parlour, and said: "Well, guests, so you have been looking about to search into the nakedness of the land: I suppose your illusions of last night have given way a bit before the morning light? Do you still like it, eh?"
"Very much," said I, doggedly; it is one of the prettiest places on the lower Thames."
"Oho!" said he; so you know the Thames, do you?
I reddened, for I saw Dick and Clara looking at me, and scarcely knew what to say. However, since I had said in our early intercourse with my Hammersmith friends that I had known Epping Forest, I thought a hasty generalisation might be better in avoiding complications than a downright lie; so I said:
"I have been in this country before; and I have been on the Thames in those days."
"O,"said the old man, eagerly, so you have been in this country before. Now really, don't you find it(apart from all theory, you know) much changed for the worse?"
"No, not at all," said I; I find it much changed for the better."
"Ah," quoth he, I fear that you have been prejudiced by some theory or another. However, of [Page 183] course the time when you were here before must have been so near our own days that the deterioration might not be very great: as then we were, of course, living under the same customs as we are now I was thinking of earlier days than that."
"In short," said Clara, you have theories about the change which has taken place.
"I have facts as well," said he. Look here! from this hill you can see just four little houses, including this one. Well, I know for certain that in old times, even in the summer, when the leaves were thickest, you could see from the same place six quite big and fine houses; and higher up the water, garden joined garden right up to Windsor; and there were big houses in all the gardens. Ah! England was an important place in those days."
I was getting nettled, and said: "What you mean is that you de-cockneyised the place, and sent the damned flunkies packing, and that everybody can live comfortably and happily, and not a few damned thieves only, who were centres of vulgarity and corruption wherever they were, and who, as to this lovely river, destroyed its beauty morally, and had almost destroyed it physically, when they were thrown out of it."
There was silence after this outburst, which for the life of me I could not help, remembering how I had suffered from cockneyism and its cause on those same waters of old time. But at last the old man said, quite coolly:
"My dear guest, I really don't know what you mean by either cockneys, or flunkies, or thieves or damned; or how only a few people could live happily and comfortably in a wealthy country. All I can see is that you are angry, and I fear with me: so if you like we will change the subject." [Page 184]
I thought this kind and hospitable in him, considering his obstinacy about his theory; and hastened to say that I did not mean to be angry, only emphatic. He bowed gravely, and I thought the storm was over, when suddenly Ellen broke in:
"Grandfather, our guest is reticent from courtesy; but really what he has in mind to say to you ought to be said; so as I know pretty well what it is, I will say it for him; for as you know, I have been taught these things by people who -- "
"Yes," said the old man, by the sage of Bloomsbury, and others."
"O," said Dick, so you know my old kinsman Hammond?
"Yes," said she, and other people too, as my grandfather says, and they have taught me things: and this is the upshot of it. We live in a little house now, not because we have nothing grander to do than working in the fields, but because we please; for if we liked, we could go and live in a big house amongst pleasant companions."
Grumbled the old man: "Just so! As if I would live amongst those conceited fellows; all of them looking down upon me!"
She smiled on him kindly, but went on as if he had not spoken. "In the past times, when those big houses of which grandfather speaks were so plenty, we must have lived in a cottage whether we liked it or not; and the said cottage, instead of having in it everything we want, would have been bare and empty. We should not have got enough to eat; our clothes would have been ugly to look at, dirty and frowsy. You, grandfather, have done no hard work for years now, but wander about and read your books and have nothing to worry you; and as for me, I work hard when I like it, because I like it, and think [Page 185] it does me good, and knits up my muscles, and makes me prettier to look at, and healthier and happier. But in those past days you, grandfather, would have had to work hard after you were old; and would have been always afraid of having to be shut up in a kind of prison along with other old men, half-starved and without amusement. And as for me, I am twenty years old. In those days my middle age would be beginning now, and in a few years I should be pinched, thin, and haggard, beset with troubles and miseries, so that no one could have guessed that I was once a beautiful girl."
"Is this what you have had in your mind, guest?" said she, the tears in her eyes at thought of the past miseries of people like herself.
"Yes," said I, much moved; that and more. often -- in my country I have seen that wretched change you have spoken of, from the fresh handsome country lass to the poor draggle-tailed country woman."
The old man sat silent for a little, but presently recovered himself and took comfort in his old phrase of "Well, you like it so, do you?"
"Yes." said Ellen, I love life better than death.
"O, you do, do you?" said he. Well, for my part I like reading a good old book with plenty of fun in it, like Thackeray's `Vanity Fair.' Why don't you write books like that now? Ask that question of your Bloomsbury sage."
Seeing Dick's cheeks reddening a little at this sally, and noting that silence followed, I thought I had better do something. So I said: "I am only the guest, friends; but I know you want to show me your river at its best, so don't you think we had better be moving presently, as it is certainly going to be a hot day?" [Page 186]
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