Page:Household Words - Volume 12.djvu/179

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"Familiar in their Mouths as HOUSEHOLD WORDS"- Shakespeare.


HOUSEHOLD WORDS.

 

A WEEKLY JOURNAL.

CONDUCTED BY CHARLES DICKENS.

 


No. 287.] SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1855. Price 2d.
Stamped 3d.


 

THE BUCKLER SQUIERS.

Ten years have passed since my first visit to Eiverport there railways had not yet penetrated. A lumbering cross between an omnibus and an ancient stage-coach crawled up and rumbled down many little hills. We left the castle and the cathedral, the half- deserted city melancholy in spite of gay uniforms, scarlet and blue ; for round-about railways, rejected by city pride, have taken away all the trade of thirty-four gallantly appointed coaches, with consequential coach- men and Lothario guards, who, bugle in hand, charmed and broke the hearts of un- numbered chambermaids. We travelled slowly but steadily ; for the roads were hard and sound sometimes be- tween high chalk banks, encumbering many a rood of fertile soil, sometimes between thin plantations of young upright trees, ex- tending for miles, where the loud crack of the driver's whip waked up some combative cock- pheasant from his doze after an early morning meal. We passed fields destined for wheat, where two great strapping fellows, with four strong horses dragging a clumsy wooden plough, slowly and with monstrous dignity turned up miles of light soil. This was a county of hops, for whose benefit all other crops were starved. When all his science, and capital, and credit, had been exhausted on the hop-garden, the farmer treated the poor corn-fields to a sort of Barmecide feast, by scratching them with, a superfluity of horse and man's labour, and nothing more. Next, we passed hop-gardens in their winter state. The creeping vines with the green foliage, the clustering flowers, and rich perfume, wei-e gone. The late gardens were a waste, bare as a deserted camp, with huts (of hop-poles) left standing. So, first ascending as if by steps of short ascent, and then as steadily descending, we reached the brow of the hill, where the vale of Biverport opened before us. It is a vale, such, in summer true, as we dream of in dreams, or fancy in school-days, if exiled to some school among the dreary flats of a ieu country, after reading Easselas. The last part of the road creeps down along one side of a steep turf-covered hill, thinly sprinkled over with yew-trees of unknown age, that seem stretching their monstrous arms, and point to where a Druids' cairn marks the interval between the skin-clad Britons, whom Caesar conquered, and the smock-frocked natives, who drink, not mead, but beer. Sheep feed on the sweet turf of the hill sides, in great flocks, white-faced and black-faced : with few traces of the ancient homed breed of the county, that made the wealth of the yeomen of Kent in Eobin Hood's day, before the invasion of the " hops, carp, and pickerel." On the descending side, the mighty basin, smooth as if scooped out by Titan navigators' spades, is lined over with the many divisions of the varying fields. Here stubble fields, where the brown par- tridges cower as we pass. There pastures dotted with speckled cattle, black and white, more picturesque in the meadow than pro- fitable to the butcher, hop-grounds and the richly brown red of lately-ploughed fields. These repeated, again and again, carry the eye from the steep winding road which we skid down, beyond the fields, and the high banked hedges, to an ancient park of un- dulating slopes, thickly timbered with oaks, fast changing colour in the winter winds. Lower still, Eiverport appears, with its solid church-tower, a grey speck upon the landscape. Masts and brown sails mysteri- ously moving, tell of unseen barges slowly creeping up a winding river before a favour- ing wind. More farms, farm-houses, with dusky thatched roofs, and long wooden barns. Then, on the other side the river, up rose, by degrees, the rounding hills, half-fields and half-plantations, where more hop-poles grow and more pheasants breed. It was very pretty, ten years ago, to, look down on this scene, and to take in the details as they grew with sight. But, when we reached the boundary of the park we had admired in the distance, it was impossible not to be struck with the signs of desolation. The park palings broken down in a score of places ; the lodge weather- stained, covered with mangy thatch ; its little garden overgrown with weeds, and vegetables run to seed ; a brood of dirty- children staring and shouting as we passed ; the mansion itself a large, many-windowed brick building absolutely deserted. Our coachman a cross-breed between an VOL. XII.