Sing on, thou sweet mavis, thy song to the ev’ning, Thou’rt dear to the echoes of Calderwood Glen; Sae dear to this bosom, sae heartless and winning, Is charming young Jessie, the flower o’ Dunblane. TANNAHILL.

“Here is the old house, and here we are at last, Newton,” said my uncle,
as an abrupt turn of the private path through the woodlands brought us
suddenly in front of the ancient mansion, in which, after the early
death of my father, I had spent my boyhood.

It stands in a well-wooded hollow, or glen, overlooked by the three
Lomonds of Fife—a county which, though not renowned for its picturesque
scenery, can show us many peaceful and beautiful landscapes.

Calderwood is simply an old manor-house, or fortalice, like some
thousand others in Scotland, having a species of keep, with adjacent
buildings, erected during quieter or more recent periods of Scottish
history than the first dwelling, which had suffered severely during the
wars between Mary of Guise and the Lords of the Congregation, when the
soldiers of Desse d’Epainvilliers blew up a portion of it by
gunpowder—an act terribly revenged by Sir John Calderwood of the Glen,
who had been chamberlain of Fife and captain of the castle of St.
Andrew’s for Cardinal Beaton. Overtaking a party of the Bandes
Françaises in Falkland Woods, he routed them with considerable
slaughter, and hung at least a dozen of them on the oak trees in the
park of the palace.

The latest additions had been made under the eye of Sir William Bruce of
Kinross, the architect of Holyrood—the Scottish Inigo Jones—about a
hundred and ninety years before the present period, and thus were
somewhat florid and Palladian in their style, their fluted pilasters and
Roman cornices and capitals contrasting singularly with the grim
severity and strongly-grated windows of the old tower, which was founded
on a mass of grey rock, round which a terraced garden lies.

Within this, the older portion, the rooms were strange and quaint in
aspect, with arched roofs, wainscoted walls, and yawning fireplaces,
damp, rusty, cold, and forlorn, where the atmosphere felt as if the dead
Calderwoods of other times visited them, and lingered there apart from
the fashionable friends of their descendants in the more modern mansion;
and within the tower Sir Nigel treasured many old relics of the palace
of Dunfermline, which, when its roof fell in, in 1708, was literally
plundered by the people.

Thus, in one room, he had the cradle of James VI., and the bed in which
his son, Charles I., had been born; in another, a cabinet of Anne of
Denmark, a chair of Robert III., and a sword of the Regent Albany.

The demesne (Scotice, “policy”) around this picturesque old house was
amply studded with glorious old timber, under which browsed herds of
deer, of a size, strength, and ferocity unknown in England. The stately
entrance-gate, bearing the palm-tree of the Calderwoods, a crusading
emblem, and the long avenue, of two Scottish miles, and the
half-castellated mansion which terminated its leafy vista, well befitted
the residence of one whose fathers had ridden forth to uphold Mary’s
banner at Langside, and that of James VIII. at the battle of Dunblane.

Here was the well where the huntsman and soldier, James V., had slaked
his thirst in the forest; and there was the oak under which his
father—who fell at Flodden—shot the monarch of the herd by a single bolt
from his crossbow.

In short, Calderwood, with all its memories, was a complete epitome of
the past.

The Eastern Lomond (so called, like its brothers, from Laomain, a Celtic
hero), now reddened by the setting sun, seemed beautiful with the green
verdure that at all seasons covers it to the summit, as we approached
the house.

Ascending to the richly-carved entrance-door, where one, whilom of oak
and iron, had given place to another of plate-glass, a footman,
powdered, precise, liveried, and aiguilletted, with the usual amplitude
of calf and acute facial angle of his remarkable fraternity, appeared;
but ere he could touch the handle it was flung open, and a handsome
young girl, with a blooming complexion, sparkling eyes, and a bright and
joyous smile, rushed down the steps to meet us.

“Welcome to Calderwood, Newton,” she exclaimed; “may our new year be a
happy one.”

“Many happy ones be yours, Cora,” said I, kissing her cheek. “Though I
am changed since we last met, your eyes have proved clearer than those
of uncle, for, really, he did not know me.”

“Oh, papa, was it so?” she asked, while her fine eyes swam with fun and
pleasure.

“A fact, my dear girl.”

“Ah! I could never be so dull, though you have those new dragoon
appendages,” said she, laughingly, as I drew her arm through mine, and
we passed into a long and stately corridor, furnished with cabinets,
busts, paintings, and suits of mail, towards the drawing-room; “and I am
not married yet, Newton,” she added, with another bright smile.

“But there must be some favoured man, eh, Cora?”

“No,” she said, with a tinge of hauteur over her playfulness, “none.”

“Time enough to think of marrying, Cora; why, you are only nineteen, and
I hope to dance at your wedding when I return from Turkey.”

“Turkey,” she repeated, while a cloud came over her pure and happy face;
“oh, don’t talk of that, Newton; I had forgotten it!”

“Yes; does it seem a long, or a doubtful time to look forward to?”

“It seems both, Newton.”

“Well, cousin, with those soft violet eyes of yours, and those black,
shining braids (the tempting mistletoe is just over your head), and with
loves of bonnets, well-fitting gloves and kid boots, dresses ever new
and of every hue, you cannot fail to conquer, whenever you please.”

She gave me a full, keen glance, that seemed expressive of annoyance,
and said, with a little sigh—

“You don’t understand me, Newton. We have been so long separated that I
think you have forgotten all the peculiarities of my character now.”

“What the deuce can she mean?” thought I.

My cousin Cora was in her fullest bloom. She was pretty, remarkably
pretty, rather than beautiful; and by some women she was quite eclipsed,
even when her cheek flushed and her eyes, a deep violet grey, were most
lighted up.

She was fully of the middle height, and finely rounded, with exquisite
shoulders, arms, and hands. Her features were small, and perhaps not
quite regular. Her eyes were alternately timid, inquiring, and full of
animation; but, in fact, their expression was ever varying. Her hair
was black, thick, and wavy; and while I looked upon her, and thought of
her present charms and of past times—and more than all of my uncle’s
fatherly regard for me—I felt that, though very fond of her, but for
another I might have loved her more dearly and tenderly. And now, as if
to interrupt, or rather to confirm the tenor of such thoughts as these,
she said, as a lady suddenly approached the door of the drawing-room,
which we were about to enter—

“Here is one, a friend, to whom I must introduce you.”

“No introduction is necessary,” said the other, presenting her hand. “I
have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Norcliff before.”

“Lady Louisa!” I exclaimed, in a breathless voice, and a heart that
trembled with sudden emotion, as I touched her hand.

“I am so glad you have come before we leave. I shall have so much to
ask you about our mutual friends—who are engaged, and who have
quarrelled; who have come home, and who gone abroad. We have been no
less than four months in Scotland. Meantime,” she added, glancing at
her tiny watch, “we must dress for dinner. Come, Cora; we have barely
half an hour, and old General Rammerscales is so impatient—he studies
’military time,’ and with a ’military appetite.’”

And with a bow and smile of great brightness and sweetness she passed
on, taking with her Cora, who playfully kissed her hand to me as they
glided up the great staircase into which the long corridor opened.

Lady Louisa was taller and larger in person than Cora. Her features were
singularly beautiful, and clearly cut; her forehead was low; and her
nose had the gentlest approach to the aquiline. She was without colour,
her complexion being pale, perhaps creamy; while in strange contrast to
this aristocratic pallor of delicacy, her thick, wavy hair, her long
double eyelashes, and her ever-sparkling eyes, were black as those of a
Spanish gitano or a Welsh gipsy.

To this pale loveliness was added a bearing alternately haughty and
playful, but at all times completely self-possessed; an exquisite taste
in dress and jewellery; a very alluring voice; a power of investing even
trifles with interest, and of conversing fluently and gracefully on any
subject—whether she was mistress of it or not mattered little to Lady
Louisa.

She was about my own age, perhaps a few months younger; but in
experience of the fashionable world, and in knowledge of the manners and
ideas of the upper ten thousand, she was a hundred years my senior.

Suffice it to say that I had lost my heart to her—that I thought she
knew it well, but feared or disdained to acknowledge a triumph so small
as the conquest of a lieutenant of lancers among the many others she had
won. So thought I, in the angry humility and jealous bitterness of my
heart.

For a minute I felt as one in a dream. I was sensible that my uncle had
said something about changing his costume, and, suggesting some change
in mine, had apologised, and left me to linger in the corridor, or in
the drawing-room, as I chose; but now a personage, who had been lounging
on a _fauteuil_ in the latter, intent on a volume of _Punch_, and the
soles of whose glazed boots had been towards me, suddenly rose and
approached, in full evening costume.

He proved to be no other than Berkeley of ours, who had been in the room
alone, or, at least, alone with Lady Louisa Loftus. He came slowly
forward, with his sauntering air, as if the exertion of walking was a
bore, and with his eyeglass retained in its place by a muscular
contraction of the right eyebrow. His whole air had the “used-up”
bearing of those miserable Dundrearys who affect to act as if youth,
wealth, and luxury were the greatest calamities that flesh is heir to,
and that life itself was a bore.

“Ah, Norcliff—haw—glad to see you here, old fellow. Haw—heard you were
coming. How goes it with you, and how are all at Maidstone?”

“Preparing for foreign service,” said I, curtly, as the tip of his
gloved hand touched mine.

“Horrid bore! Too late to send in one’s papers now, or, by Jove, I’d
hook the service. Don’t think I was ever meant for it.”

“Ere long many more will be of your way of thinking,” said I, coolly.

Berkeley had a cold and cunning eye, which never smiled, whatever his
mouth might do. His face was, nevertheless, decidedly handsome, and a
thick, dark moustache concealed a form of lip which, if seen, would have
indicated a thorough sensualist. His head was well shaped; but the
accurate division of his well-oiled head over the centre of the caput
gave him an air of intense insipidity. Mr. De Warr Berkeley never was a
favourite of mine, though we had both joined the lancers on the same
day, and it was with very ill-concealed annoyance I found myself
compelled, with some apparent cordiality, to greet him as a brother
officer and an inmate of my uncle’s mansion.

“And—haw—what news from the regiment?” he resumed.

“I really have no news, Berkeley,” said I.

“Indeed. You have got a month’s leave?”

“Between returns, yes.”

“Is the route come?”

“A strange question, when you and I are here.”

“Haw—yes, of course—how devilish good.”

“It has _not_,” said I, coldly; “but we are under orders for foreign
service, and may look to have our leaves cancelled by a telegram any day
or hour.”

“The devil—really!”

“Fact, though, however unpleasant it may be. So my uncle, Sir Nigel,
met you at—where was it?”

“Chillingham’s shooting-box, in the Highlands.”

“I was not aware that you knew the earl.”

“Losing my gillies—I think you call them in Scotland—one evening in the
dark, I lost my way, and luckily stumbled on his lordship’s shooting
quarters, in a wild and savage place, with one of your infernally
unpronounceable Scotch names.”

“Oh, you think changes more euphonious at times; but I suppose your
father, honest man, could have pronounced it with ease,” said I,
quietly, for Berkeley’s, or Barclay’s affectation of being an Englishman
was to me always a source of amusement. “You have to learn Russ yet,
and it will prove, doubtless, more unpalatable than the tongue your
father spoke. In the north, did you appear _en montagnad_?”

“Hey—haw, the devil! no; as the Irish Gil Blas says, ’Every one’s legs
can’t afford publicity,’ and mine are among the number. Leather
breeches, when I don the pink, must be all the length. I don’t care
about going, though Lady Louisa pressed me hard to join the Mac Quaig,
the Laird of Mac Gooligan, and other natives in tartan at a gathering.
I had a letter from Wilford yesterday. He writes of a famous match
between Jack Studhome and Craven, on which the whole mess had a heavy
book, that great stakes were pending, and that Craven won, scoring
forty-two running off the red ball; and considering that the pockets of
the table were not bigger than an egg-cup, I think Craven a trump.”

“I heard something of this match at morning parade on the day I left;
but being a bad stroke, you know, I seldom play billiards.”

“Why was Howard’s bay mare scratched at the last regimental race?”

“Don’t know,” said I, so dryly that he bit his nether lip.

“Some nice people visiting here,” said he, staring at me steadily, so
that his eyeglass glared in the light of the lustre, which was now lit;
“and some very odd ones too. Lady Loftus is here, you see, in all her
glory, and with her usual come-kiss-me-if-you-dare kind of look.”

“Berkeley, how can you speak thus of one in her position?”

“Well, you-don’t-dare-to-do-so-again sort of expression.”

“She is my uncle’s guest; not a girl in a cigar-shop or a casino!” said
I, with growing _hauteur_.

“Sir Nigel’s guest—haw—so am I, and I mean to make the best use of my
time as such. Nice girl, Miss Wilford, from York—cousin of Wilford of
ours—a doocid good style of girl; but have no intentions in that
quarter—can’t afford to chuck myself away, as I once heard my groom
observe.”

“You must learn to quote another style of people to make yourself
understood here. You don’t mean to infer that you have any intentions
concerning Lady Louisa!” said I, with an air which was really
impertinent.

“Why not?” he asked, failing completely to see it. “I have often such
attacks, or affections of the heart, as she has given me.”

“How?”

“Just as I had the measles or the chicken-pox in childhood—a little
increase of the pulse, a little restlessness at night, and then one gets
over it.”

“Take care how you address her in this bantering fashion,” said I,
turning sharply away; “excuse me, but now I must dress for dinner.”

And preceded by old Mr. Binns, the white-headed old butler, who many a
time in days of yore had carried me on his back, and who now welcomed me
home with a hearty shake of the hand, in which there was nothing
derogatory to me, though Berkeley’s eyes opened very wide when he saw
our greeting, I was conducted to my old room in the north wing, where a
cheerful fire was blazing, with two lights on each side of the
toilette-table (the manor-house was amply lit with gas from the
village), and there was Willie Pitblado arranging all my traps and
clothes. But dismissing him to visit his family (to his no small joy),
I was left to my own reflections and proceeded to dress. A subtle and
subdued tone of insolence and jealousy that pervaded the few remarks
made by Berkeley irritated and chafed me; yet he had said nothing with
which I could grapple, or with which I could openly find fault. I was
conscious, too, that my own bearing had been the reverse of courteous
and friendly, and that, if I showed my hand thus, I might as well give
up the cards. Suspicion of his native character, and a foreknowledge of
the man, had doubtless much to do with all this; and while making my
toilet with more than my usual care—conscious that Lady Louisa was
making hers in the next room—I resolved to keep a lynx-like eye upon Mr.
De Warr Berkeley during our short sojourn at Calderwood Glen. My
irritation was no way soothed, or my pique lessened, by the information
that for some time past, and quite unknown to me, he had been residing
here with Lady Louisa, enjoying all the facilities afforded by hourly
propinquity and the seclusion of a country house.

Had he already declared himself? Had he already proposed? The deuce! I
thrust aside the thought, and angrily gave my hair a finishing rasp with
a pair of huge ivory-handled hair-brushes.

Continue Reading

Pure as the silver wreath of snow That lies on yonder wintry hill, Are all the thoughts that peaceful flow, And with pure joy my bosom fill. Soft as the sweet spring’s morning breath, Or summer’s zephyr, forth they roam; Until my bosom grows more kind, And dreams of thee and all at home.

The winter day was cold and clear, but without frost, save on the
mountain tops, where the snow was lying. Though vegetation should have
been dormant, the swelling uplands, the pastoral hills and braes of
Fife, looked green and fertile; and there was a premature budding of
young shoots, which the bitter frost of to-morrow might totally destroy.

Fires glowed redly through the little square windows of the wayside
cottages, and from their massive stone chimneys the smoke ascended into
the thin air in heavy volumes, that told of warmth, of comfort, and
industry within. Ere long I could see the woods, all bare and leafless,
that covered the slopes of Calderwood Glen, and the vanes of the old
house shining in the light of the setting sun, which streamed along the
green slope of the western Lomond.

I passed unnoticed through the secluded village which stood, I knew,
upon the verge of my good uncle’s property, and where the old signboards
of the smithy, the bakery, and alehouse were familiar to me. The clock
of the old Gothic kirk struck the hour of three, slowly and
deliberately, as only such clocks do in the country.

Many years ago, in boyhood, I remembered the familiar voice of that
village monitor. What changes had taken place since then, in myself and
others, and even in the scene around me! How many, whose daily routine,
and whose labours—the heritage of toil—were timed by its bell and dial,
were now in other lands, or sleeping in their humble graves beneath the
shadow of the spire, and yet the old moss-grown clock ticked on!

Since then I had grown to manhood, had seen many of the dearest of my
kindred die. Since then I had become a soldier, and had served in
India, and on the staff in the late Burmese war. At the bombardment of
Rangoon, I received a wound in the night attack made by the enemy on our
camp at the heights of Prome.

Thousands of stirring scenes and strange faces had flitted before me. I
had traversed twice the great Atlantic and Indian oceans, and had twice
passed the Cape, on the first occasion looking with anxious eyes and
envious heart at every homeward-bound sail; and now all these events
seemed as a long dream, and as if it were but yesterday when last I
heard the voice of the old village clock.

In that timeworn fane, Row, the Covenanter, had preached, and the great
archbishop, too—Sharpe, the recreant, or the martyr (which you will),
who died on Magus Muir; and, that the marvellous may not be wanting,
there is a legend which tells us that, in the year before the
Covenanters invaded England, and stormed Newcastle, thereby seriously
injuring the London coal market, there used to issue from the empty loft
where, in old Catholic times, the organ stood, the sound of such an
instrument in full play, together with the voices of the choristers
singing a grand old Gregorian chant. These sounds were only heard in
the night, or at other times when Calderwood kirk was empty, for the
moment any one entered they ceased, and all became still—still as the
dead Calderwoods of the Glen and of Piteadie, stretched in effigy, each
upon his pedestal of stone, in St. Margaret’s aisle; but this marvel was
universally believed to portend the ultimate return of prelacy.

So rapidly and totally does the speed of the railway annihilate alike
the extent of time and space, that it seemed difficult to embody the
fact that, but four-and-twenty hours ago, I had been in my quarters at
Maidstone barracks, or amid the splendour of a fashionable hotel in
London; and yet it was so.

Treading deep among the last year’s crisp and withered leaves, I
proceeded down the sombre and winding avenue, with a heart that beat
quicker as I drew near a man, whose figure I remembered instantly, for
he was my early friend, my second father, my maternal uncle, good old
Sir Nigel Calderwood. Occupied with a weeder, which he always carried,
and with which the ends of all his walking-sticks were furnished, he was
intent on up-rooting some obnoxious weed; thus I could approach him
unobserved. He seemed as stout and hale as when I saw him last. The
grey hair, that was wont to escape under his well-worn wide-awake, was
thinner and more silvery, perhaps; but the old hat had its usual row of
flies and fishhooks, and his face was as ruddy as ever, and spoke of
high health and spirits. He stooped a little more, certainly; but his
figure was still sturdy, and clad, as usual, in a rough suit of grey
tweed, with his stout legs encased in long brown leather leggings, that
had seen much service in their time among the turnips and heather in the
shooting season, and in the trouting streams that traverse the fertile
Howe of Fife.

An old, half-blind, and wheezing otter terrier crept close to his heels
as I came up. With a polite bow the worthy baronet surveyed, but failed
to recognise me, and waited, with a glance of inquiry, until I should
speak; for, sooth to say, in the tall, rather well-knit figure, bronzed
face, and heavy moustaches I exhibited, he could scarcely be expected to
recognise the slender and beardless lad, whose heart was so heavy when
he was conveyed away from his mother’s arms, to push his way in the
world as a cornet of cavalry some six years before.

“Uncle—Sir Nigel!” said I, in a voice that became tremulous.

“Newton—my dear boy, Newton—am I blind that I did not recognise you?” he
exclaimed, while he grasped my hand and threw an arm round me; “welcome
back to Calderwood—welcome home—and on the second day of the New Year,
too! may many many joyous returns of the season be yours, Newton! What
a manly fellow you have become since I saw you last in London—quite a
dragoon!”

“And how is Cora—she is with you, of course?”

“Cora is well; and though not a dashing girl, she has grown up an
amiable and gentle little pet, who is worth her weight in gold; but you
shall see—you shall see, and judge for yourself. The house is full of
visitors just now—I have some nice people to present you to.”

“Thanks, uncle; but you and Cora were all I cared to see.”

“But how came you to be here alone, and on foot too?”

“I left the train at Calderwood station, and wished to come quietly back
to the old house, without any fuss.”

“To steal a march upon us, in fact?”

“Yes, uncle, you understand me,” said I, looking into his clear dark
eyes, which were regarding me with an expression of great affection,
which recalled the memory of my mother, his youngest and favourite
sister. “Pitblado will drive over with my traps before dinner.”

“Ah, Willie, the old keeper’s son?”

“Yes.”

“And how is he?”

“Quite well, and become so smart a lancer, that I fear there will be a
great pulling of caps among the housemaids. I am loth to keep him out of
the ranks, but the worthy fellow won’t leave me.”

“Many a good bag of grouse from yonder fields and the Lomonds, and many
a good basket of trout from the Eden, has poor Willie carried for me.
But, come this way; we shall take the near cut by the keeper’s lodge to
the house; you have not forgotten the way?”

“I should think not, uncle; by the Adder’s Craig and the old Battle
Stone.”

“Exactly. I am so glad you have come at this time; I have such news for
you, Newton—such news, boy.”

“Indeed, uncle?”

“Yes,” he continued, laughing heartily.

“How?”

“Calderwood Glen is a mere man-trap at present.”

“In what manner?”

“We have here old General Rammerscales, of the Bengal army, who has come
home with the liver complaint, and a face as yellow as a buttercup, and
his pale niece—a girl worth heaven knows how many sacks or lacs of
rupees (though, for the life of me, I never knew what or how much a lac
is.) We have also Spittal of Lickspittal and that Ilk, M.P. for the
Liberal interest (and more particularly for his own), with his two
daughters, rather pretty girls; and we have that beautiful blonde, Miss
Wilford, who has a cousin in your regiment—a Yorkshire heiress, whom all
the men agree would make such a wife! We have also the Countess of
Chillingham, and her daughter, Lady Louisa Loftus, really a very
charming girl; so, as I told you, Newton, the old house is baited like a
regular man-trap for you.”

Had my uncle’s perception been clearer, or had he been less vigorously
using his weeder, as he ran on thus, he could not have failed to observe
how powerfully the last name he uttered affected me.

After a pause—”In none of your letters,” said I, “did you mention that
Lady Loftus was here.”

“Did I not? But Cora is your chief correspondent, and no no doubt she
did.”

“On the contrary, my cousin never once referred to her.”

“Strange! Lord Chillingham left us a week ago in haste to attend a
meeting of the Cabinet; but his women folks have been rusticating here
for nearly three months. Charming person the countess—charming, indeed;
but the daughter is quite a Diana. You have met her before—she told us
so, and I have made up my mind—ah, you know for what, you rogue—eh?”

What my uncle had made up his mind for was not very apparent; but he
concluded his sentence by poking the weeder under my short ribs.

“To have me marry in haste and repent at leisure, eh, uncle—is it for
this that your mind is made up?”

“I am a man of the old school, Newton; yet I hate proverbs, and
everything old, except wine and good breeding.”

“You are aware, uncle,” said I, to change the subject, “that the lancers
are under orders for Turkey?”

“Where women are kept under lock and key, bought, and secluded from
society; just as in Britain they are thrust into it for sale.”

“And so, my dear uncle, supposing that a lively young lancer will make a
most excellent husband for your noble and beautiful _protégée_, you are
resolved to make a victim of me, is it not so?”

“Precisely; but according to the old use and wont in drama and romance,
you must not be a willing one; you must be prepared to hate her
cordially at first sight, and to prefer some one else—of course, some
amiable village damsel, of humble but respectable parentage,” replied
Sir Nigel, laughing.

“Hate _her_—prefer another!” I exclaimed; “on the contrary, I—I——”

I know not what I was about to say, or how far I might have betrayed
myself. The blood rushed to my temples, and I felt giddy and confused,
for the kind old baronet knew little of the hopeless passion with which
the fair one of whom he spoke had inspired me already.

“You have met the Lady Lousia before, you say?”

“Nay, ’twas she who said she had met me,” said I, glad to recall by this
trifling remark that I was not forgotten by her.

“Ah, indeed—indeed; where?”

“Oh, at Canterbury, at Tunbridge Wells, Bath; all those places where
people are to be met. In London, too, I saw her presented at Court.”

“The deuce! You and she seem to have gone in a leash,” said Sir Nigel,
laughing, while the colour deepened on my cheek again; “but you must
look sharp, for one of your fellows who is here is for ever dangling
after her.”

“One of _ours_?” I exclaimed, with astonishment.

“Yes; a solemn, dreary, dandified fellow, whom I met at Chillingham’s
shootings in the north, and invited to spend the last weeks of his leave
of absence here, as we were to have you with us; and he spared no pains
to impress upon me that he was a particular chum of yours.”

“Is he Captain Travers—Vaughan Travers? He is on leave.”

“No; he is Lieutenant De Warr Berkeley.”

“Berkeley!” I repeated, with some disgust, and with an emotion of such
inconceivable annoyance that I could scarcely conceal it; for decidedly
he was the last man of ours whom I should have liked to find
domesticated at Calderwood Glen.

Berkeley was well enough to meet with in men’s society, at mess, on
parade, on the turf, or in the hunting-field; but though handsome and
perfectly well-bred, for his manners were generally unexceptionable, he
was not a man for the drawing-room. He was master of a splendid fortune,
which was left him by his father, a plain old Scotchman, who had begun
life as a drayman, and whose patronymic was simply John Dewar Barclay.
He became a wealthy brewer, and somehow his son like all such
_parvenus_, despising his name, was gazetted to the lancers as De Warr
Berkeley, and as such his name figured in the “Army List.”

The carefully-acquired fortune of the plodding old brewer he spent
freely, and without being lavish, though as an Eton boy, and afterwards
as a gentleman commoner of Christchurch, he had plunged into dissipation
that made his name proverbial. He was one of those systematic _roués_
whom prudent mothers would carefully exclude from the society of their
daughters, nathless his commission, his cavalry uniform, his fortune,
his decidedly handsome person and bearing, which had all the “tone of
society”—whatever that may mean.

Hence I was rather provoked to find that the kind and well-meaning but
blundering old baronet had, as a favour to me, installed him at
Calderwood, as a friend for my pretty cousin Cora, and an admirer of
Lady Louisa. As I thought over all this, her name must have escaped me,
for my uncle roused me from a reverie by saying—

“Yes; she is a charming, a splendid girl, really! A little too stately,
perhaps; but I would rather have my little rosebud, Cora, with her
peculiar winning ways. Lady Louisa may be all head—as I believe she is;
but our Cora is all heart, Newton—all heart!”

“And Lady Louisa is all head, you think, uncle?”

“I could see that at a glance—yes, with half an eye; and yet there are
times when I wish Cora had been a boy——”

My uncle leaned on his stick, and sighed.

His eldest son had been killed in the 12th Lancers, at the battle of
Goojerat; the other had died prematurely at College—a double loss, which
had a most fatal effect on their delicate mother, then in the last stage
of a mortal disease. Now the affection of the lonely Sir Nigel was
centred in Cora, his only daughter, the child of his declining years;
and thus he had a great regard for me as the son of his youngest sister;
but he sorrowed in secret that his baronetcy—one of the oldest in
Scotland, having been created in 1625 by Charles I.—should pass out of
his family.

Sir Norman Calderwood of the Glen, who had attended the Scottish
princess, Elizabeth Stuart, to Bohemia, was the first patented among the
baronets of Nova Scotia; and was therefore styled _Primus Baronettorum
Scotiæ_, a prefix of which my uncle, as his ancestors had been, was not
a little vain.

“The estates are entailed,” said he, pursuing this line of thought;
“they were among the first that were so, when the Scottish parliament
passed the Entail Act in 1685; and though they go, as you know, to a
remote collateral branch, the baronetcy ends with myself. Cora shall be
well and handsomely left; for she shall have the Pitgavel property,
which, with its coal and iron mines, yields two thousand per annum
clear. And you, my boy, Newton, shall find that, tide what may, you are
not forgotten.”

“Uncle, you have already done so much for me——”

“Much, Newton?”

“Yes, my dear sir.”

“Stuff! fitted you out for the lancers—that is all.”

“You have done more than that, uncle——”

“I have lodged the purchase money for your troop with Messrs. Cox and
Co.; but most of this money must, under other circumstances, have been
spent on your cousins, had they lived. So, thank fate and the fortune
of war, not me, boy, not me. But there are times, especially when I am
alone, that it grieves me to think that instead of leaving an heir to
the old title, one boy lies in his grave in the old kirk yonder; and the
other, far, far away on the battle-field of Goojerat.”

He shook his white head, and his voice became tremulous, his chin sank
on his breast, and he added—

“My poor Nigel!—my bonnie Archie!”

The baronet was a handsome man, above six feet in height, and, though he
stooped a little now, had been erect as a pike. He possessed fine
aquiline features, a ruddy and healthy complexion; clear, and bright
dark grey eyes; a well-shaped, though not very small, mouth; and a
Scottish chin, of a curve that evinced perseverance and decision. His
hair was nearly white, but there was plenty of it; his hands, though
browned by exposure and seldom gloved—for the gun, the rod, the
riding-whip, and the curling stone were ever in them by turns—were well
shaped, and showed by their form and nails that he was a gentleman of
good blood and breeding. His plain costume I have described, and he was
without ornament, save a silver dog-whistle at his button-hole, and a
large gold signet-ring, which belonged to his grandfather, Sir Alexander
Calderwood, who commanded a frigate under Admiral Hawke, in the fleet
which, in 1748, fought and vanquished the Spanish galleons between
Tortuga and the Havannah.

A sturdy old Fifeshire laird, proud of a long line of warlike Scottish
ancestors, uncrossed by any taint of foreign blood, he was fond of
boasting that neither Dane nor Norman—the Englishman’s strange vaunt and
pride—could be found among them; but that he came of a race, which—as
our Highlanders forcibly phrase it—had sprung from the soil, and were
indigenous to it.

But, indeed, the alleged foreign descent of nearly the whole Scottish
aristocracy is a silly sham, existing in their own imagination, having
arisen from the ignorance of the monkish Latin writers, who in rolls and
histories prefixed the Norman _de_ or _le_, in many instances, to the
most common Celtic patronymics and surnames.

Sir Nigel had “paraded,” to use a barrack phrase, more than one man in
his youth, and enjoyed the reputation of being an unpleasantly good shot
with his pistol. He could remember sharing in the rage of the
high-flying Tory party among the Fife lairds, when Sir Alexander
Boswell, of Auchinleck, was shot by James Stuart, of Dunearn, in a
solemn duel, where personal and political rancour were combined, at
Balmuto, for which the victor had to fly to England, and from thence to
France.

“It seemed strange on reflection, Newton,” I have frequently heard Sir
Nigel, say, “that poor Boswell was the first to propose in Parliament
the repeal of our old Scottish statutes anent duelling, and that, after
all, he should fall by the pistol for a mere newspaper squib, in which
Sir Walter Scott was, perhaps, as much to blame as he.”

Continue Reading

To be handsome, young, and twenty-two, With nothing else on earth to do; But all day long to bill and coo, It were a pleasant calling.—THACKERAY.

I was just in the act of humming the above verse, when the following
announcement was put into my hand—

“Regimental Orders.—Head-quarters, Maidstone, December 31st.

“As the regiment is to be held in readiness for foreign service in
spring, captains of troops will report to Lieutenant and Adjutant
Studhome, for the information of the commanding officer, on the state of
the saddlery, the holsters and lance-buckets; and the horses must be all
re-shod under the immediate inspection of the veterinary surgeon and
Farrier-Sergeant Snaffles.

“Leave of absence to the 31st proximo is granted to Lieutenant Newton
Calderwood Norcliff, in consequence of his urgent private affairs.”

“Hah! this is what most concerns _me_,” I exclaimed, as I read the
foregoing, and then handed the order-book, a squat vellum-bound quarto,
to the orderly-serjeant who was in waiting.

“Any idea of where we are likely to go, sir?” he asked.

“The East, of course.”

“So say the men in the barracks; for the present, good-bye, sir,” said
he, as he wheeled about on his spurred heel, and saluted; “I wish you a
pleasant journey.”

“Thanks, Stapylton,” said I; “and now to be off by the night train for
London and the north. Ugh! the last night of December; I shall have a
cold journey of it.”

Despatching my man, Willie Pitblado—of whom more hereafter—to the
mess-house to report that I should not dine there that evening, I
proposed at once to start for home, resolved to make the most of the
favour granted me—leave between returns, as it is technically termed.

I propose to give the story of my own adventures, my experiences of
life, or autobiography (what you will); and this I shall do, in the face
of a certain writer, who asserts, with some truth, doubtless, that she
does not “believe that there was, or could be in the world, a wholly
true, candid, and unreserved biography, revealing all the dispositions,
or even, without exception, _all the facts of any existence_. Indeed,”
she adds, “the thing is next to impossible; since, in that case, the
subject of the biography must be a man or woman without reserve, without
delicacy, and without _those secrets_ which are inevitable even to the
most stainless spirit.”

With all due deference to this fair writer, I beg to hope that such a
candid spirit may exist; and that, without violating the delicacy of
this somewhat (externally) fastidious age on the one hand, and without
prudish or hypocritical reserve on the other, I, Mr. Newton Norcliff,
will relate the plain, unvarnished story of a cavalry subaltern’s life
during the stirring events of the last ten years.

My regiment was a lancer one. I need not designate it further; though,
by the way, it has always struck me as somewhat peculiar in our cavalry
of the line, that while we have our Scottish corps, the famous old
Greys, and no less than three Irish, we have not one English regiment,
provincially designated as such.

I despatched a note of thanks to the colonel, handed over my cattle to
the care of my friend Jack Studhome, the adjutant, and had a hasty
interview with Saunders M’Goldrick, our Scots paymaster—not that I wish
the reader to infer that he was my chief factor and reliance (heaven
help those in a dragoon regiment who find him so!).

Glad to escape, even for the brief period of a month, from the monotony
of routine parades, the stable duty, the barrack life, and useless
hurly-burly of Maidstone—to be free from all bother, mess, band, and
ball committees, courts-martial, and courts of inquiry; from having to
remember when this parade took place, and when that particular drill,
and all that sort of thing—glad, I say, to escape from being saluted by
soldiers and sentinels at every turn and corner, and to be once again
lord of my own proper person, I relinquished my gay lancer trappings,
and resumed the less pretending mufti of the civilian—a suit of warm and
strong heather-mixture tweed—and about nine o’clock P.M. found myself,
with some light travelling baggage, my gun-case, railway rugs, &c. (in
care of Willie Pitblado, who was attired in very orthodox livery—boots,
belt, and cockade), awaiting the up train for London, at the Maidstone
station, and enjoying a last friendly chat and a cigar with Studhome, as
we promenaded to and fro on the platform, and talked of the different
work that would soon be cut out for us, too probably, about the time my
short leave expired.

The British fleet was already in the Bosphorus; the field of Oltenitza
had seen the terrible defeat of the Russians by the troops of Omar
Pasha, generalissimo of the Porte, avenge the recent naval massacre at
Sinope. Ere long, the Turks were to be again victorious at Citate.
General Luders was about to force his way into the Dobrudcha; Britain,
France, Russia, Turkey, and Sardinia were gathering their hosts for the
strife; and amid these serious events, that absurdity might not be
wanting, the sly broad-brims and popularity-hunters of the Peace Society
sent a deputation to the Emperor Nicholas, to expostulate with him on
the wickedness of his ways.

“Egad! if the weather proves cold here, what will you find it at home,
in Scotland?” said Studhome, as we trod to and fro; for there is no
knocking the idea out of an Englishman’s head that the distance of some
four hundred miles or so must make a more than Muscovite difference in
soil and temperature; but it was cold—intensely so.

The air was clear, and amid the blue ether the stars sparkled brightly.
Snow, white and glistening, covered all the roofs of the houses and the
line of the railway, and the Medway shone coldly, like polished silver,
under the seven arches of its bridge, in the light of the rising moon;
and now, with a shrill, vicious whistle, and many a rapidly iterated
grunt and clank, came the iron horse that was to bear me on my way, as
it tore into the station, with its mane of smoke, and its red
bull’s-eyes that shed two steady flakes of light along the snow-covered
line of rails.

The passengers were all muffled to their noses, and their breath coated
and obscured the glasses of the carefully-closed windows.

Pitblado brought me _Punch_, the _Times_, and “Bradshaw,” and then
rushed to secure his second-class seat; Studhome bade me farewell, and
retired to join Wilford, Scriven, and some others of the corps, who
usually met at a billiard-room, near the barracks, leaving me to arrange
my several wrappers, and enjoy the society of one whom he laughingly
termed my railway belle—a stout female with a squalling imp, whom,
notwithstanding my secret and confidential tip of half-a-crown, the
deceitful guard had thrust upon me; and then, with another shriek and a
steady and monotonous clanking, the train swept out of the station. The
town vanished with its county court house, barracks, river, and the fine
tower of All Saints’ Church; and in a twinkling I could survey the
snow-covered country stretching for miles on each side of me, as we
scoured along the branch line to the Paddock Wood, or Maidstone Road
Junction, of the London and Dover Railway, where I got the up train from
Canterbury.

Swiftly went the first-class express. The fifty-six miles were soon
done, and in an hour I was amid the vast world, the human wilderness of
London, even while worthy Jack Studhome’s merry smile and hearty
good-bye seemed to linger before me. How glorious it is to travel thus,
with all the speed and luxury that money in these our days can command!

A hundred years hence how will they travel—our grandchildren? Heaven
alone knows.

I was now four-and-twenty. I had been six years with the lancers, and
already the novelty of the service—though loving it not the less—was
gone; and I was glad, as I have said, to escape for a month from a life
of enforced routine, and the nightly succession of balls, card and
supper parties among the garrison hacks or _passé_ belles, whose names
and flirtations are standing jokes at the messes of our ungrateful
lancers, hussars, and dragoon guards, wherever they are stationed, from
Calcutta to Colchester, and from Poonah to Piershill.

A day soon passed amid the whirl of London, and night saw me once more
seated in the _coupé_ of a well-cushioned carriage for the north.

This time I was alone, and had the ample seat all to myself, thereon to
lounge with all the ease of a sybarite; and with the aid of a
brandy-flask, cigars, and warm wrappers and plaids, prepared for the
dreary journey of a winter night.

On, on went the train!

Lights, crimson and green, flashed at times out of the darkness. Here
and there the tall poplars of the midland counties stood up, like
spectres in the moonlight, above the snow-clad meadows. Hollowly we
rumbled through the subterranean blackness of a tunnel; out in the snow
and moonlight again, amid other scenes and places. Anon, a hasty shout
from some pointsman would make me start when just on the eve of dropping
asleep; or it might be a sudden stoppage amid the lurid glare of
furnaces, forges, and coalpits, where, night and day, by spells and
gangs the ceaseless work went on. Then it was the shrill whistling and
clanking of the train, the bustle, running to and fro of men with
lanterns, the banging of doors, tramping, and voices, with the clink of
hammers upon the iron wheels, as their soundness was tested, which
announced that we were at Peterborough, at York, or Darlington.

But every station, whether we tarried or rushed past it, seemed
wonderfully alike. There were always repetitions of the same glazed
advertisements in gilt frames; the same huge purple mangold-wurzel, with
its tuft of green leaves; the same man in the hat and surtout, with the
alpaca umbrella, under the ceaseless shower of rain; Lea and Perrin’s
sauce-bottles; somebody else’s patent shirt; the florid posters of
_Punch_, the _Illustrated News_, and the _London Journal_; and the same
parti-coloured volumes of railway literature.

Rapidly we rushed through England. Yorkshire and its Ridings were left
behind, and now the Borders, the old land of a thousand battles and a
thousand songs, drew near—the brave green Borders, with all their solemn
hills, upheaved in the light of the faded stars.

Grey dawn of the coming day saw us traversing the fertile Merse, with
glimpses of the gloomy German sea, tumbling its whitened waves upon
bleak promontories of rock, such as Dunbar, Fastcastle, and the bare,
black headland of St. Abb. Then, as I neared home, and saw the sun
brightening on the snow-covered summits of Dirlton and Traprainlaw, many
an old and long-forgotten idea, and many a sad and affectionate thought
of the past years, came back to memory, in the dreary hour of the early
winter morning.

I have said I was but four-and-twenty then. When I had last traversed
that line of rail, it was in the sweet season of summer, when the
heather was purple on the Lammermuirs; and a sea of golden grain clothed
all the lovely valley of the Tyne. I was proceeding to join my
regiment, a raw, heedless, and impulsive boy, with bright hope and vague
ambition in his heart, and with a poor mother’s tears yet wet upon his
cheek.

I had been six years with the lancers, and four of these were spent in
India. While there, my dear mother died; and the memory of the last
time when I saw her kind and affectionate face, and heard her broken
voice, as she prayed God to bless my departing steps, came vividly,
powerfully, and painfully before me.

It was on the morning when I was to leave home and her to join the
corps. Overnight, with all a boy’s vanity and glowing satisfaction, I
had contemplated my gay lancer trappings, had buckled on my sword,
placed the gold cartouche-belt and glittering epaulettes on my
shoulders.

At that moment I would not have exchanged my cornetcy for the kingdom of
Scotland. These alluring trappings were the last things I thought of
and looked on ere my eyes were closed by slumber, and the grey dawn of
the next eventful day saw them still lying unpacked on the floor, when
my poor mother, pale, anxious, unslept, and with her sad eyes full of
tears, and her heart wrung with sorrow, stole softly into my room, to
look for the last time upon her sleeping boy, and her mournful and
earnest face was the first sight that met my waking eyes, when roused by
a tear that dropped upon my cheek.

I started up, and all the consciousness of the great separation that was
to ensue—the terrible wrench of heart from heart that was to come—burst
upon me. Then sword and epaulettes, cap and plume, and the lancers,
were forgotten; and throwing my arms around her neck, as I had done in
the days of childish grief, I wept like the boy I was, rather than the
man I had imagined myself to be.

I was going home now; but I should see that beloved face no more, and
her voice was hushed for ever.

In that home were others, who were kind and gentle, and who loved me
well, awaiting my arrival, and to welcome me. And there was my cousin
Cora Calderwood—she was unmarried still.

Cora I was about to see again. It seemed long, long since we had last
met, though we had frequently corresponded, for my uncle had a horror of
letter-writing; and certain it was that she had inspired the first
emotion of love in my schoolboy heart, and during my sojourn in India,
and amid the whirl and gaiety of barrack-life at Bath, at Maidstone, at
Canterbury and elsewhere, her image had lingered in my mind, more as a
pleasing memory connected with ideas of Scotland and my home, rather
than with those of a passionate or enduring attachment.

Indeed, I had just been on the point of forming that elsewhere; but now,
having no immediate attraction beside me, I began to wonder whether Cora
had grown up a beauty; how tall she was, whether she was engaged, and so
forth; whether she still remembered with pleasure the young playmate who
had left her sorely dissolved in tears, half lover and wholly friend.

As we progressed northward, and crossed the Firth of Forth, the snow
almost entirely disappeared, save on the lofty summits of the Ochil
mountains, whose slopes looked green and pleasant in the meridian sun;
and my friend Studhome, had he been with me, might have been much
surprised in finding the atmosphere warmer north of Stirling Bridge than
we found it at Maidstone—so variable is our climate.

We changed carriages at Stirling, where I was to imbibe some hot coffee,
while Pitblado looked after my baggage, and swore in no measured terms
at the slowness of an old, cynical, and hard-visaged porter, on whose
brass badge was engraved a wolf—the badge of Stirling.

“Now then, look alive, you old duffer!” I heard Willie shouting.

“Ou, aye!” replied the other slowly, with a grin on his weather-beaten
and saturnine face; “ye think yoursel’ a braw chiel in your mustaches
and laced jacket—there was a time when I thocht mysel’ one too.”

“What do you mean?” asked Pitblado, whose dragoon air even his livery
failed to conceal.

“Mean!” retorted the other; “why, I mean that at the point o’ the
bayonet I helped to carry Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo to boot; and now,
for sax baubees, I’m thankfu’ to carry your bag. Sae muckle for
sodgerin’!”

“It is not very encouraging, certainly,” said my man, with a smile.

“Ten years’ service, two wounds, and a deferred pension of threepence
per diem,” growled the other, as he threw my traps, with an oath, on the
roof of the carriage.

“What regiment, my friend?” I inquired.

“The old Scots brigade, second battalion, sir,” he replied, with a
salute, as I slipped a trifle into his hand.

“The weather seems open and fine here.”

“Aye,” said he, with another saturnine grin; “but a green yule maketh a
fat kirkyard.”

In five minutes more we were _en route_, sweeping along the little
lonely branch line, that through grassy glens, where the half-frozen
runnels oozed or gurgled among withered reeds and bracken bushes, led us
into the heart of Fife—”the kingdom,” as the Scots call it; not that it
ever was so in any time of antiquity, but because the peninsular county
contains within its compact and industrious self every means and
requisite for the support of its inhabitants, independent of the produce
of the whole external world—at least, such is their boast.

I was drawing nearer and nearer home; and now my heart beat high and
happily. Every local feature and casual sound, the little thatched
cottages, with rusty, antique risps on their doors,[*] and the clatter
of the wooden looms within, were familiar to me. We swept past the
quaint town, and the tall, gaunt castle of Clackmannan, where its aged
chatelaine—the last of the old Bruce line—_knighted_ Robert Burns, with
the sword of the victor of Bannockburn, saying, dryly, that she “had a
better right to do it than _some people_,” and ere long I saw the spires
that overshadow the graves of Robert I. and many a Scottish monarch, as
we glided past Dunfermline, old and grey, with its glorious ruined
palace, where Malcolm drank the blood-red wine, and where Charles I. was
born, and its steep, quaint streets covering the brow of a sloping ridge
that ends abruptly in the wooded glen of Pittencrief.

[*] The old Scottish tirling-pin—to be found now nowhere save in Fife—in
lieu of bells and knockers.

My delight was fully shared in by Willie Pitblado, my servant, the son
of old Simon, my uncle’s keeper. He was a lancer in my troop, for whom
I had procured a month’s furlough; thus the hedgerows where he had
bird-nested, the fields where he had sung and whistled at the plough,
the farm-gates on which he had swung for hours—a truant boy from
school—the woods of Pitrearie and Pittencrief, the abbey’s old grey
walls, and the square tower that covers Bruce’s grave, were all hailed
by Willie as old friends; and strange to say, his Doric Scotch came back
to his tongue with the air he breathed, though it had been nearly
well-nigh quizzed out of him by our lancers, nearly all of whom were
English.

He was a smart, handsome, and soldier-like fellow, who bade fair to be
“the rage” among the servant-girls at the old house, the home-farm, and
the adjacent village, and a source of vexation to their hobnailed
country admirers.

A few miles beyond the old city I quitted the train, and leaving him to
follow with my baggage in a dog-cart, I struck across the fields by a
near path that I remembered well, and which I knew would bring me
straight to Calderwood Glen, the residence of my uncle, Sir Nigel—save
Cora, almost the last relation I had now on earth.

Continue Reading

THE INCOMPARABLE BLACKWATER

TIME was when I agreed with the popular, and the guide-book, verdict
that the Orwell is the finest estuary in these parts; but now that I
know it better, I unhesitatingly give the palm to the Blackwater. It is
a nobler stream, a true arm of the sea; its moods are more various, its
banks wilder, and its atmospheric effects much grander. The defect of
it is that it does not gracefully curve. The season for cruising on the
Blackwater is September, when the village regattas take place, and the
sunrises over leagues of marsh are made wonderful by strange mists.

Last September the _Velsa_ came early into Mersea Quarters for Mersea
Regatta. The Quarters is the name given to the lake-like creek that is
sheltered between the mainland and Mersea Island–which is an island only
during certain hours of the day. Crowds of small yachts have their home
in the Quarters, and the regatta is democratic, a concourse or medley
of craft ranging from sailing dinghies up through five-tonners to
fishing-smacks, trading-barges converted into barge-yachts, real
barge-yachts like ourselves, and an elegant schooner of a hundred tons
or so, fully “dressed,” and carrying ladies in bright-colored jerseys,
to preside over all. The principal events occur in the estuary, but
the intimate and amusing events, together with all the river gossip and
scandal, are reserved for the seclusion of the Quarters, where a long
lane of boats watch the silver-gray, gleaming sky, and wait for the tide
to cover the illimitable mud, and listen to the excessively primitive
band which has stationed itself on a barge in the middle of the lane.

We managed to get on the mud, but we did that on purpose, to save the
trouble of anchoring. Many yachts and even smacks do it not on purpose,
and at the wrong state of the tide, too. A genuine yachtsman paid us a
visit–one of those men who live solely for yachting, who sail their
own yachts in all weathers, and whose foible is to dress like a sailor
before the mast or like a longshore loafer–and told us a tale of an
amateur who had bought a yacht that had Inhabited Mersea Quarters all
her life. When the amateur returned from his first cruise in her,
he lost his nerve at the entrance to the Quarters, and yelled to a
fisherman at anchor in a dinghy, “Which is the channel?” The fisherman,
seeing a yacht whose lines had been familiar to him for twenty years,
imagined that he was being made fun of. He drawled out, “_You_ know.” In
response to appeals more and more excited he continued to drawl out,
“_You_ know.” At length the truth was conveyed to him, whereupon he
drawlingly advised: “Let the old wench alone. Let her alone. _She_ ’ll
find her way in all right.” Regattas like the Mersea are full of tidal
stories, because the time has to be passed somehow while the water
rises. There was a tale of a smuggler on the mud-flats, pursued in the
dead of night by a coast-guardsman. Suddenly the flying smuggler turned
round to face the coast-guardsman. “Look here,” said he to the
coast-guardsman with warning persuasiveness, “you’d better not come any
further. _You do see such ‘wonderful queer things in the newspapers
nowadays_.” The coast-guardsman, rapidly reflecting upon the truth of
this dark st-guardsman with warning persuasiveness, “you’d better not
come any further. _You do see such ‘wonderful queer things in the
newspapers nowadays_.” The coast-guardsman, rapidly reflecting upon the
truth of this dark saying, accepted the advice, and went home.

The mud-flats have now disappeared, guns begin to go off, and presently
the regatta is in full activity. The estuary is dotted far and wide with
white, and the din of orchestra and cheering and chatter within the
lane of boats in the Quarters is terrific. In these affairs, at a given
moment in the afternoon, a pause ensues, when the minor low-comedy
events are finished, and before the yachts and smacks competing in
the long races have come back. During this pause we escaped out of the
Quarters, and proceeded up the river, past Brad-well Creek, where Thames
barges lie, and past Tollesbury, with its long pier, while the high tide
was still slack. We could not reach Maldon, which is the Mecca of the
Blackwater, and we anchored a few miles below that municipal survival,
in the wildest part of the river, and watched the sun disappear over
vast, flat expanses of water as smooth as oil, with low banks whose
distances were enormously enhanced by the customary optical delusions of
English weather. Close to us was Osea Island, where an establishment for
the reformation of drunkards adds to the weird scene an artistic touch
of the sinister. From the private jetty of Osea Island two drunkards in
process of being reformed gazed at us steadily in the deepening gloom.
Then an attendant came down the jetty and lighted its solitary red eye,
which joined its stare to that of the inebriates.

[Illustration: 0313]

Of all the estuary towns, Maldon, at the head of the Blackwater, is the
pearl. Its situation on a hill, with a tine tidal lake in front of it,
is superb, and the strange thing in its history is that it should not
have been honored by the brush of Turner. A thoroughly bad railway
service has left Maldon in the eighteenth century for the delight of
yachtsmen who are content to see a town decay if only the spectacle
affords esthetic pleasure.

There is a lock in the river just below Maldon, leading to the
Chelmsford Canal. We used this lock, and found a lock-keeper and
lock-house steeped in tradition and the spirit of history. Beyond
the lock was a basin in which were hidden two beautiful Scandinavian
schooners discharging timber and all the romance of the North. The
prospect was so alluring that we decided to voyage on the canal, at any
rate as far as the next lock, and we asked the lock-keeper how far off
the next lock was. He said curtly:

“Ye can’t go up to the next lock.”

“Why not?”

“Because there’s only two feet of water in this canal. There never was
any more.”

We animadverted upon the absurdity of a commercial canal, leading to a
county town, having a depth of only two feet.

He sharply defended his canal.

“Well,” he ended caustically, “it’s been going on now for a hundred or
a hundred and twenty year like that, and I think it may last another day
or two.”

We had forgotten that we were within the influences of Maldon, and we
apologized..

Later–it was a Sunday of glorious weather–we rowed in the dinghy
through the tidal lake into the town. The leisured population of Maldon
was afoot in the meadows skirting the lake. A few boats were flitting
about. The sole organized amusement was public excursions in open
sailing-boats. There was a bathing-establishment, but the day being
Sunday and the weather hot and everybody anxious to bathe, the place
was naturally closed. There ought to have been an open-air concert, but
there was not. Upon this scene of a population endeavoring not to
be bored, the ancient borough of Maldon looked grandly down from its
church-topped hill.

Amid the waterways of the town were spacious timber-yards; and
eighteenth-century wharves with wharfinger’s residence all complete, as
in the antique days, inhabited still, but rotting to pieces; plenty
of barges; and one steamer. We thought of Sneek, the restless and
indefatigable. I have not yet visited in the _Velsa_ any Continental
port that did not abound in motor-barges, but in all the East Anglian
estuaries together I have so far seen only one motor-barge, and that was
at Harwich. English bargemen no doubt find it more dignified to lie
in wait for a wind than to go puffing to and fro regardless of wind.
Assuredly a Thames barge–said to be the largest craft in the world
sailed by a man and a boy–in full course on the Blackwater is a
noble vision full of beauty, but it does not utter the final word of
enterprise in transport.

The next morning at sunrise we dropped slowly down the river in company
with a fleet of fishing-smacks. The misty dawn was incomparable. The
distances seemed enormous. The faintest southeast breeze stirred the
atmosphere, but not the mirror of the water. All the tints of the pearl
were mingled in the dreaming landscape. No prospect anywhere that was
not flawlessly beautiful, enchanted with expectation of the day. The
unmeasured mud-flats steamed as primevally as they must have steamed two
thousand years ago, and herons stood sentry on them as they must have
stood then. Incredibly far away, a flash of pure glittering white, a
sea-gull! The whole picture was ideal.

At seven o’clock we had reached Goldhanger Creek, beset with curving
water-weeds. And the creek appeared to lead into the very arcana of the
mist. We anchored, and I rowed to its mouth. A boat sailed in, scarcely
moving, scarcely rippling the water, and it was in charge of two old
white-haired fishermen. They greeted me.

“Is this creek long?” I asked. A pause. They both gazed at the creek
with the beautiful name, into which they were sailing, as though they
had never seen it before.

“Aye, it’s long.”

“How long is it? Is it a mile?”

“Aye, it’s a mile.”

“Is there anything up there?” Another pause. The boat was drawing away
from me.

“Aye, there’s oysters up there.” The boat and the men withdrew
imperceptibly into the silver haze. I returned to the yacht. Just below,
at Tollesbury pier, preparations were in progress for another village
regatta; and an ineffable melancholy seemed to distil out of the extreme
beauty of the estuary, for this was the last regatta, and this our last
cruise, of the season.

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