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    Chapter 14

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    Chapter 14
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    The Return of the Native

    That "going back" about which I wrote in the second chapter to
    a place where an unexpected beauty or charm has revealed
    itself, and has made its image a lasting and prized possession
    of the mind, is not the same thing as the revisiting a famous
    town or city, rich in many beauties and old memories, such as
    Bath or Wells, for instance. Such centres have a permanent
    attraction, and one who is a rover in the land must return to
    them again and again, nor does he fail on each successive
    visit to find some fresh charm or interest. The sadness of
    such returns, after a long interval, is only, as I have said,
    when we start "looking up" those with whom we had formed
    pleasant friendly relations. And all because of the illusion
    that we shall see them as they were--that Time has stood still
    waiting for our return, and by and by, to our surprise and
    grief, we discover that it is not so; that the dear friends of
    other days, long unvisited but unforgotten, have become
    strangers. This human loss is felt even more in the case of a
    return to some small centre, a village or hamlet where we knew
    every one, and our intimacy with the people has produced the
    sense of being one in blood with them. It is greatest of all
    when we return to a childhood's or boyhood's home. Many
    writers have occupied themselves with this mournful theme, and
    I imagine that a person of the proper Amiel-like tender and
    melancholy moralizing type of mind, by using his own and his
    friends' experiences, could write a charmingly sad and pretty
    book on the subject.

    The really happy returns of this kind must be exceedingly
    rare. I am almost surprised to think that I am able to recall
    as many as two, but they hardly count, as in both instances
    the departure or exile from home happens at so early a time of
    life that no recollections of the people survived--nothing, in
    fact, but a vague mental picture of the place. One was of a
    business man I knew in London, who lost his early home in a
    village in the Midlands, as a boy of eight or nine years of
    age, through the sale of the place by his father, who had
    become impoverished. The boy was trained to business in
    London, and when a middle-aged man, wishing to retire and
    spend the rest of his life in the country, he revisited his
    native village for the first time, and dicovered to his joy
    that he could buy back the old home. He was, when I last saw
    him, very happy in its possession.

    The other case I will relate more fully, as it is a very
    curious one, and came to my knowledge in a singular way.

    At a small station near Eastleigh a man wearing a highly
    pleased expression on his face entered the smoking-carriage in
    which I was travelling to London. Putting his bag on the
    rack, he pulled out his pipe and threw himself back in his
    seat with a satisfied air; then, looking at me and catching my
    eye, he at once started talking. I had my newspaper, but
    seeing him in that overflowing mood I responded readily
    enough, for I was curious to know why he appeared so happy and
    who and what he was. Not a tradesman nor a bagman, and not a
    farmer, though he looked like an open-air man; nor could I
    form a guess from his speech and manner as to his native
    place. A robust man of thirty-eight or forty, with blue eyes
    and a Saxon face, he looked a thorough Englishman, and yet he
    struck me as most un-English in his lively, almost eager
    manner, his freedom with a stranger, and something, too, in
    his speech. From time to time his face lighted up, when,
    looking to the window, his eyes rested on some pretty scene--a
    glimpse of stately old elm trees in a field where cattle were
    grazing, of the vivid green valley of a chalk stream, the
    paler hills beyond, the grey church tower or spire of some
    tree-hidden village. When he discovered that these hills and
    streams and rustic villages had as great a charm for me as for
    himself, that I knew and loved the two or three places he
    named in a questioning way, he opened his heart and the secret
    of his present happiness.

    He was a native of the district, born at a farmhouse of which
    his father in succession to his grandfather had been the
    tenant. It was a small farm of only eighty-five acres, and as
    his father could make no more than a bare livelihood out of
    it, he eventually gave it up when my informant was but three
    years old, and selling all he had, emigrated to Australia.
    Nine years later he died, leaving a numerous family poorly
    provided for; the home was broken up and boys and girls had to
    go out and face the world. They had somehow all got on very
    well, and his brothers and sisters were happy enough out
    there, Australians in mind, thoroughly persuaded that theirs
    was the better land, the best country in the world, and with
    no desire to visit England. He had never felt like that;
    somehow his father's feeling about the old country had taken
    such a hold of him that he never outlived it--never felt at
    home in Australia, however successful he was in his affairs.
    The home feeling had been very strong in his father; his
    greatest delight was to sit of an evening with his children
    round him and tell them of the farm and the old farm-house
    where he was born and had lived so many years, and where some
    of them too had been born. He was never tired of talking of
    it, of taking them by the hand, as it were, and leading them
    from place to place, to the stream, the village, the old stone
    church, the meadows and fields and hedges, the deep shady
    lanes, and, above all, to the dear old ivied house with its
    gables and tall chimneys. So many times had his father
    described it that the old place was printed like a map on his
    mind, and was like a picture which kept its brightness even
    after the image of his boyhood's home in Australia had become
    faded and pale. With that mental picture to guide him he
    believed that he could go to that angle by the porch where the
    flycatchers bred every year and find their nest; where in the
    hedge the blackberries were most abundant; where the elders
    grew by the stream from which he could watch the moorhens and
    watervoles; that he knew every fence, gate, and outhouse,
    every room and passage in the old house. Through all his busy
    years that picture never grew less beautiful, never ceased its
    call, and at last, possessed of sufficient capital to yield
    him a modest income for the rest of his life, he came home.
    What he was going to do in England he did not consider. He
    only knew that until he had satisfied the chief desire of his
    heart and had looked upon the original of the picture he had
    borne so long in his mind he could not rest nor make any plans
    for the future.

    He came first to London and found, on examining the map of
    Hampshire, that the village of Thorpe (I will call it), where
    he was born, is three miles from the nearest station, in the
    southern part of the county. Undoubtedly it was Thorpe; that
    was one of the few names of places his father had mentioned
    which remained in his memory always associated with that vivid
    image of the farm in his mind. To Thorpe he accordingly went
    --as pretty a rustic village as he had hoped to find it. He
    took a room at the inn and went out for a long walk--"just to
    see the place," he said to the landlord. He would make no
    inquiries; he would find his home for himself; how could he
    fail to recognize it? But he walked for hours in a widening
    circle and saw no farm or other house, and no ground that
    corresponded to the picture in his brain.

    Troubled at his failure, he went back and questioned his
    landlord, and, naturally, was asked for the name of the farm
    he was seeking. He had forgotten the name--he even doubted
    that he had ever heard it. But there was his family name to
    go by--Dyson; did any one remember a farmer Dyson in the
    village? He was told that it was not an uncommon name in that
    part of the country. There were no Dysons now in Thorpe, but
    some fifteen or twenty years ago one of that name had been the
    tenant of Long Meadow Farm in the parish. The name of the
    farm was unfamiliar, and when he visited the place he found it
    was not the one he sought.

    It was a grievous disappointment. A new sense of loneliness
    oppressed him; for that bright image in his mind, with the
    feeling about his home, had been a secret source of comfort
    and happiness, and was like a companion, a dear human friend,
    and now he appeared to be on the point of losing it. Could it
    be that all that mental picture, with the details that seemed
    so true to life, was purely imaginary? He could not believe
    it; the old house had probably been pulled down, the big trees
    felled, orchard and hedges grabbed up--all the old features
    obliterated--and the land thrown into some larger neighbouring
    farm. It was dreadful to think that such devastating changes
    had been made, but it had certainly existed as he saw it in
    his mind, and he would inquire of some of the old men in the
    place, who would perhaps be able to tell him where his home
    had stood thirty years ago.

    At once he set about interviewing all the old men he came upon
    in his rounds, describing to them the farm tenanted by a man
    named Dyson about forty years ago, and by and by he got hold
    of one who knew. He listened for a few minutes to the
    oft-repeated story, then exclaimed, "Why, sir, 'tis surely
    Woodyates you be talking about!"

    "That's the name! That's the name," he cried. "Woodyyates-
    how did I ever forget it! You knew it then--where was it?"

    "I'll just show you," said the old man, proud at having
    guessed rightly, and turning started slowly hobbling along
    till he got to the end of the lane.

    There was an opening there and a view of the valley with
    trees, blue in the distance, at the furthest visible point.
    "Do you see them trees?" he said. "That's where Harping is;
    'tis two miles or, perhaps, a little more from Thorpe.
    There's a church tower among them trees, but you can't see it
    because 'tis hid. You go by the road till you comes to the
    church, then you go on by the water, maybe a quarter of a
    mile, and you comes to Woodyates. You won't see no difference
    in it; I've knowed it since I were a boy, but 'tis in Harping
    parish, not in Thorpe."

    Now he remembered the name--Harping, near Thorpe--only Thorpe
    was the more important village where the inn was and the
    shops.

    In less than an hour after leaving his informant he was at
    Woodyates, feasting his eyes on the old house of his dreams
    and of his exiled father's before him, inexpressibly glad to
    recognize it as the very house he had loved so long--that he
    had been deceived by no false image.

    For some days he haunted the spot, then became a lodger at the
    farm-house, and now after making some inquiries he had found
    that the owner was willing to sell the place for something
    more than its market value, and he was going up to London
    about it.

    At Waterloo I wished him happiness in his old home found again
    after so many years, then watched him as he walked briskly
    away--as commonplace-looking a man as could be seen on that
    busy crowded platform, in his suit of rough grey tweeds, thick
    boots, and bowler hat. Yet one whose fortune might be envied
    by many even among the successful--one who had cherished a
    secret thought and feeling, which had been to him like the
    shadow of a rock and like a cool spring in a dry and thirsty
    land.

    And in that host of undistinguished Colonials and others of
    British race from all regions of the earth, who annually visit
    these shores on business or for pleasure or some other object,
    how many there must be who come with some such memory or dream
    or aspiration in their hearts! A greater number probably than
    we imagine. For most of them there is doubtless
    disappointment and disillusion: it is a matter of the heart, a
    sentiment about which some are not given to speak. He too, my
    fellow-passenger, would no doubt have held his peace had his
    dream not met with so perfect a fulfilment. As it was he had
    to tell his joy to some one, though it were to a stranger.
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    Chapter 14
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