Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
or
to get started!
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 10

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 10
    Previous Chapter
    The Last of His Name

    I came by chance to the village--Norton, we will call it, just
    to call it something, but the county in which it is situated
    need not be named. It happened that about noon that day I
    planned to pass the night at a village where, as I was
    informed at a small country town I had rested in, there was a
    nice inn--"The Fox and Grapes"--to put up at, but when I
    arrived, tired and hungry, I was told that I could not have a
    bed and that the only thing to do was to try Norton, which
    also boasted an inn. It was hard to have to turn some two or
    three miles out of my road at that late hour on a chance of a
    shelter for the night, but there was nothing else to do, so on
    to Norton I went with heavy steps, and arrived a little after
    sunset, more tired and hungry than ever, only to be told at
    the inn that they had no accommodation for me, that their one
    spare room had been engaged! "What am I to do, then?" I
    demanded of the landlord. "Beyond this village I cannot go
    to-night--do you want me to go out and sleep under a hedge?"
    He called his spouse, and after some conversation they said
    the village baker might be able to put me up, as he had a
    spare bedroom in his house. So to the baker's I went, and
    found it a queer, ramshackle old place, standing a little back
    from the village street in a garden and green plot with a few
    fruit trees growing on it. To my knock the baker himself came
    out--a mild-looking, flabby-faced man, with his mouth full, in
    a very loose suit of pyjama-like garments of a bluish floury
    colour. I told him my story, and he listened, swallowing his
    mouthful, then cast his eyes down and rubbed his chin, which
    had a small tuft of hairs growing on it, and finally said, "I
    don't know. I must ask my wife. But come in and have a cup
    of tea--we're just having a cup ourselves, and perhaps you'd
    like one."

    I could have told him that I should like a dozen cups and a
    great many slices of bread-and-butter, if there was nothing
    else more substantial to be had. However, I only said, "Thank
    you," and followed him in to where his wife, a nice-looking
    woman, with black hair and olive face, was seated behind the
    teapot. Imagine my surprise when I found that besides tea
    there was a big hot repast on the table--a ham, a roast fowl,
    potatoes and cabbage, a rice pudding, a dish of stewed fruit,
    bread-and-butter, and other things.

    "You call this a cup of tea!" I exclaimed delightedly. The
    woman laughed, and he explained in an apologetic way that he
    had formerly suffered grievously from indigestion, so that for
    many years his life was a burden to him, until he discovered
    that if he took one big meal a day, after the work was over,
    he could keep perfectly well.

    I was never hungrier than on this evening, and never, I think,
    ate a bigger or more enjoyable meal; nor have I ever ceased to
    remember those two with gratitude, and if I were to tell here
    what they told me--the history of their two lives--I think it
    would be a more interesting story than the one I am about to
    relate. I stayed a whole week in their hospitable house; a
    week which passed only too quickly, for never had I been in a
    sweeter haunt of peace than this village in a quiet, green
    country remote from towns and stations. It was a small rustic
    place, a few old houses and thatched cottages, and the ancient
    church with square Norman tower hard to see amid the immense
    old oaks and elms that grew all about it. At the end of the
    village were the park gates, and the park, a solitary, green
    place with noble trees, was my favourite haunt; for there was
    no one to forbid me, the squire being dead, the old red
    Elizabethan house empty, with only a caretaker in the
    gardener's lodge to mind it, and the estate for sale. Three
    years it had been in that condition, but nobody seemed to want
    it; occasionally some important person came rushing down in a
    motor-car, but after running over the house he would come out
    and, remarking that it was a "rummy old place," remount his
    car and vanish in a cloud of dust to be seen no more.

    The dead owner, I found, was much in the village mind; and no
    wonder, since Norton had never been without a squire until he
    passed away, leaving no one to succeed him. It was as if some
    ancient landmark, or an immemorial oak tree on the green in
    whose shade the villagers had been accustomed to sit for many
    generations, had been removed. There was a sense of something
    wanting something gone out of their lives. Moreover, he had
    been a man of a remarkable character, and though they never
    loved him they yet reverenced his memory.

    So much was he in their minds that I could not be in the
    village and not hear the story of his life--the story which, I
    said, interested me less than that of the good baker and his
    wife. On his father's death at a very advanced age he came, a
    comparative stranger, to Norton, the first half of his life
    having been spent abroad. He was then a middle-aged man,
    unmarried, and a bachelor he remained to the end. He was of a
    reticent disposition and was said to be proud; formal, almost
    cold, in manner; furthermore, he did not share his neighbours'
    love of sport of any description, nor did he care for society,
    and because of all this he was regarded as peculiar, not to
    say eccentric. But he was deeply interested in agriculture,
    especially in cattle and their improvement, and that object
    grew to be his master passion. It was a period of great
    depression, and as his farms fell vacant he took them into his
    own hands, increased his stock and built model cowhouses, and
    came at last to be known throughout his own country, and
    eventually everywhere, as one of the biggest cattle-breeders
    in England. But he was famous in a peculiar way. Wise
    breeders and buyers shook their heads and even touched their
    foreheads significantly, and predicted that the squire of
    Norton would finish by ruining himself. They were right, he
    ruined himself; not that he was mentally weaker than those who
    watched and cunningly exploited him; he was ruined because his
    object was a higher one than theirs. He saw clearly that the
    prize system is a vicious one and that better results may be
    obtained without it. He proved this at a heavy cost by
    breeding better beasts than his rivals, who were all
    exhibitors and prizewinners, and who by this means got their
    advertisements and secured the highest prices, while he, who
    disdained prizes and looked with disgust at the overfed and
    polished animals at shows, got no advertisements and was
    compelled to sell at unremunerative prices. The buyers, it
    may be mentioned, were always the breeders for shows, and they
    made a splendid profit out of it.

    He carried on the fight for a good many years, becoming more
    and more involved, until his creditors took possession of the
    estate, sold off the stock, let the farms, and succeeded in
    finding a tenant for the furnished house. He went to a
    cottage in the village and there passed his remaining years.
    To the world he appeared unmoved by his reverses. The change
    from mansion and park to a small thatched cottage, with a
    labourer's wife for attendant, made no change in the man, nor
    did he resign his seat on the Bench of Magistrates or any
    other unpaid office he held. To the last he was what he had
    always been, formal and ceremonious, more gracious to those
    beneath him than to equals; strict in the performance of his
    duties, living with extreme frugality and giving freely to
    those in want, and very regular in his attendance at church,
    where he would sit facing the tombs and memorials of his
    ancestors, among the people but not of them--a man alone and
    apart, respected by all but loved by none.

    Finally he died and was buried with the others, and one more
    memorial with the old name, which he bore last was placed on
    the wall. That was the story as it was told me, and as it was
    all about a man who was without charm and had no love interest
    it did not greatly interest me, and I soon dismissed it from
    my thoughts. Then one day coming through a grove in the park
    and finding myself standing before the ancient, empty,
    desolate house--for on the squire's death everything had been
    sold and taken away--I remembered that the caretaker had
    begged me to let him show me over the place. I had not felt
    inclined to gratify him, as I had found him a young man of a
    too active mind whose only desire was to capture some person
    to talk to and unfold his original ideas and schemes, but now
    having come to the house I thought I would suffer him, and
    soon found him at work in the vast old walled garden. He
    joyfully threw down his spade and let me in and then up to the
    top floor, determined that I should see everything. By the
    time we got down to the ground floor I was pretty tired of
    empty rooms, oak panelled, and passages and oak staircases,
    and of talk, and impatient to get away. But no, I had not
    seen the housekeeper's room--I must see that!--and so into
    another great vacant room I was dragged, and to keep me as
    long as possible in that last room he began unlocking and
    flinging open all the old oak cupboards and presses. Glancing
    round at the long array of empty shelves, I noticed a small
    brown-paper parcel, thick with dust, in a corner, and as it
    was the only movable thing I had seen in that vacant house I
    asked him what the parcel contained. Books, he replied--they
    had been left as of no value when the house was cleared of
    furniture. As I wished to see the books he undid the parcel;
    it contained forty copies of a small quarto-shaped book of
    sonnets, with the late squire's name as author on the title
    page. I read a sonnet, and told him I should like to read
    them all. "You can have a copy, of course," he exclaimed.
    "Put it in your pocket and keep it." When I asked him if he
    had any right to give one away he laughed and said that if any
    one had thought the whole parcel worth twopence it would not
    have been left behind. He was quite right; a cracked dinner
    --plate or a saucepan with a hole in it or an earthenware
    teapot with a broken spout would not have been left, but the
    line was drawn at a book of sonnets by the late squire.
    Nobody wanted it, and so without more qualms I put it in my
    pocket, and have it before me now, opened at page 63, on which
    appears, without a headline, the sonnet I first read, and
    which I quote:--

    How beautiful are birds, of God's sweet air
    Free denizens; no ugly earthly spot
    Their boundless happiness doth seem to blot.
    The swallow, swiftly flying here and there,
    Can it be true that dreary household care
    Doth goad her to incessant flight?
    If not How can it be that she doth cast her lot
    Now there, now here, pursuing summer everywhere?
    I sadly fear that shallow, tiny brain
    Is not exempt from anxious cares and fears,
    That mingled heritage of joy and pain
    That for some reason everywhere appears;
    And yet those birds, how beautiful they are!
    Sure beauty is to happiness no bar.

    This has a fault that doth offend the reader of modern verse,
    and there are many of the eighty sonnets in the book which do
    not equal it in merit. He was manifestly an amateur; he
    sometimes writes with labour, and he not infrequently ends
    with the unpardonable weak line. Nevertheless he had rightly
    chosen this difficult form in which to express his inner self.
    It suited his grave, concentrated thought, and each little
    imperfect poem of fourteen lines gives us a glimpse into a
    wise, beneficent mind. He had fought his fight and suffered
    defeat, and had then withdrawn himself silently from the field
    to die. But if he had been embittered he could have relieved
    himself in this little book. There is no trace of such a
    feeling. He only asks, in one sonnet, where can a balm be
    found for the heart fretted and torn with eternal cares; when
    we have thought and striven for some great and good purpose,
    when all our striving has ended in disaster? His plan, he
    concludes, is to go out in the quiet night-time and look at
    the stars.

    Here let me quote two more sonnets written in contemplative
    mood, just to give the reader a fuller idea not of the verse,
    as verse, but of the spirit in the old squire. There is no
    title to these two:--

    I like a fire of wood; there is a kind
    Of artless poetry in all its ways:
    When first 'tis lighted, how it roars and plays,
    And sways to every breath its flames, refined
    By fancy to some shape by life confined.
    And then how touching are its latter days;
    When, all its strength decayed, and spent the blaze
    Of fiery youth, grey ash is all we find.
    Perhaps we know the tree, of which the pile
    Once formed a part, and oft beneath its shade
    Have sported in our youth; or in quaint style
    Have carved upon its rugged bark a name
    Of which the memory doth alone remain
    A memory doomed, alas! in turn to fade.

    Bad enough as verse, the critic will say; refined, confined,
    find--what poor rhymes are these! and he will think me wrong
    to draw these frailties from their forgotten abode. But I
    like to think of the solitary old man sitting by his wood
    fire in the old house, not brooding bitterly on his frustrate
    life, but putting his quiet thoughts into the form of a
    sonnet. The other is equally good--or bad, if the critic
    will have it so:--

    The clock had just struck five, and all was still
    Within my house, when straight I open threw
    With eager hand the casement dim with dew.
    Oh, what a glorious flush of light did fill
    That old staircase! and then and there did kill
    All those black doubts that ever do renew
    Their civil war with all that's good and true
    Within our hearts, when body and mind are ill
    From this slight incident I would infer
    A cheerful truth, that men without demur,
    In times of stress and doubt, throw open wide
    The windows of their breast; nor stung by pride
    In stifling darkness gloomily abide;
    But bid the light flow in on either side.

    A "slight incident" and a beautiful thought. But all I have
    so far said about the little book is preliminary to what I
    wish to say about another sonnet which must also be quoted.
    It is perhaps, as a sonnet, as ill done as the others, but the
    subject of it specially attracted me, as it happened to be one
    which was much in my mind during my week's stay at Norton.
    That remote little village without a squire or any person of
    means or education in or near it capable of feeling the
    slightest interest in the people, except the parson, an old
    infirm man who was never seen but once a week--how wanting in
    some essential thing it appeared! It seemed to me that the
    one thing which might be done in these small centres of rural
    life to brighten and beautify existence is precisely the thing
    which is never done, also that what really is being done is of
    doubtful value and sometimes actually harmful.

    Leaving Norton one day I visited other small villages in the
    neighbourhood and found they were no better off. I had heard
    of the rector of one of these villages as a rather original
    man, and went and discussed the subject with him. "It is
    quite useless thinking about it," he said. "The people here
    are clods, and will not respond to any effort you can make to
    introduce a little light and sweetness into their lives."
    There was no more to be said to him, but I knew he was wrong.
    I found the villagers in that part of the country the most
    intelligent and responsive people of their class I had ever
    encountered. It was a delightful experience to go into their
    cottages, not to read them a homily or to present them with a
    book or a shilling, nor to inquire into their welfare,
    material and spiritual, but to converse intimately with a
    human interest in them, as would be the case in a country
    where there are no caste distinctions. It was delightful,
    because they were so responsive, so sympathetic, so alive.
    Now it was just at this time, when the subject was in my mind,
    that the book of sonnets came into my hands--given to me by
    the generous caretaker--and I read in it this one on "Innocent
    Amusements":-

    There lacks a something to complete the round
    Of our fair England's homely happiness
    A something, yet how oft do trifles bless
    When greater gifts by far redound
    To honours lone, but no responsive sound
    Of joy or mirth awake, nay, oft oppress,
    While gifts of which we scarce the moment guess
    In never-failing joys abound.
    No nation can be truly great
    That hath not something childlike in its life
    Of every day; it should its youth renew
    With simple joys that sweetly recreate
    The jaded mind, conjoined in friendly strife
    The pleasures of its childhood days pursue.

    What wise and kindly thoughts he had--the old squire of
    Norton! Surely, when telling me the story of his life, they
    had omitted something! I questioned them on the point. Did
    he not in all the years he was at Norton House, and later when
    he lived among them in a cottage in the village--did he not go
    into their homes and meet them as if he knew and felt that
    they were all of the same flesh, children of one universal
    Father, and did he not make them feel this about him--that
    the differences in fortune and position and education were
    mere accidents? And the answer was: No, certainly not! as
    if I had asked a preposterous question. He was the squire,
    a gentleman--any one might understand that he could not come
    among them like that! That is what a parson can do because he
    is, so to speak, paid to keep an eye on them, and besides it's
    religion there and a different thing. But the squire!--their
    squire, that dignified old gentleman, so upright in his
    saddle, so considerate and courteous to every one--but he
    never forgot his position--never in that way! I also asked if
    he had never tried to establish, or advocated, or suggested to
    them any kind of reunions to take place from time to time, or
    an entertainment or festival to get them to come pleasantly
    together, making a brightness in their lives--something which
    would not be cricket or football, nor any form of sport for a
    few of the men, all the others being mere lookers-on and the
    women and children left out altogether; something which would
    be for and include everyone, from the oldest grey labourer no
    longer able to work to the toddling little ones; something of
    their own invention, peculiar to Norton, which would be their
    pride and make their village dearer to them? And the answer
    was still no, and no, and no. He had never attempted, never
    suggested, anything of the sort. How could he--the squire!
    Yet he wrote those wise words:--

    No nation can be truly great
    That hath not something childlike in its life
    Of every day.

    Why are we lacking in that which others undoubtedly have, a
    something to complete the round of homely happiness in our
    little rural centres; how is it that we do not properly
    encourage the things which, albeit childlike, are essential,
    which sweetly recreate? It is not merely the selfishness of
    those who are well placed and prefer to live for themselves,
    or who have light but care not to shed it on those who are not
    of their class. Selfishness is common enough everywhere, in
    men of all races. It is not selfishness, nor the growth of
    towns or decay of agriculture, which as a fact does not decay,
    nor education, nor any of the other causes usually given for
    the dullness, the greyness of village life. The chief cause,
    I take it, is that gulf, or barrier, which exists between men
    and men in different classes in our country, or a considerable
    portion of it--the caste feeling which is becoming increasingly
    rigid in the rural world, if my own observation, extending over
    a period of twenty-five years, is not all wrong.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 10
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a W. H. Hudson essay and need some advice, post your W. H. Hudson essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?