Compared with most watering places, the country about Hastings is certainly fine, there being some tolerably pretty sand slopes, though not equal to those about Battel, and some very bold sand stone cliffs on both sides of the town. We went to the base of the first cliff west of the town, on which the ruins of the castle stand, and then ascended the first cliff to the east of which we explored both the summit and the base, as well as part of the base of the second cliff, and a little woody dell between them.
As cliffs, they are not equal to the chalk cliffs about Beachy Head; but being of a different composition, viz. The vegetation is, of course, of a character very different from that of the South Downs and so many rare plants are set down in the neighbourhood of Hastings, that we expected a rich harvest. We found the Sedum anglicum on sand rocks in the dell already spoken of, and the Crithmum maritimum samphire on the second cliff, together with a tall grass probably the Festuca rubra; but could find none of the plants peculiarly attributed to Hastings.
I should however state that the cliffs are absolutely covered with Statice armeria and Linum angustifolium; but these we had found previously and they were therefore of less value to us. From Hastings at the Swan Inn we proceeded by one of the London coaches to Lamberhurst, on the border of Kent, through a very hilly and sandy country, rather pretty but containing nothing extraordinary and differing in nothing from any other sand hills except in the multitude of hop gardens which we met with as we approached Kent.
From Lamberhurst we walked across, through the same sort of country to Tunbridge Wells, continually looking for Waterdown forest in a part of the country where it was laid down in our map of Sussex, but Edition: current; Page: [ ] where it really is not and passing through some pretty woods in the domain of Bayham Abbey belonging to Lord Camden, 17 which woods we took for Waterdown forest until we were informed of the contrary.
We employed the greater part of this day in seeing the country and the various sights in the neighbourhod of Tunbridge Wells. This place, though nearly as large as Dorking, has no church, being in three different parishes and in two counties, Kent and Sussex. It is a straggling place scattered about on the two slopes and in the bottom of a broad sandy dell. One side the north side of the dell constitutes the common, on the top of which, as we are informed by the guide book, there are magnificent rocks, containing caverns which remind one of that of the robbers in Gil Blas.
After amusing ourselves for some time with this piece of humbug, we returned to breakfast at the Royal Kentish Hotel and after breakfast proceeded to the westward up the valley in which Tunbridge Wells is situated. The country about Tunbridge Wells is composed of sandy ridges and dells, tolerably well wooded, and on the whole decidedly pretty, though by no means striking to any one who has seen the beautiful parts of Surrey. This valley we found to be among the prettiest parts of it. We followed the valley for about a mile, till we arrived at what are called the High Rocks, that is to say a long ledge of perpendicular sand stone rocks intersected by natural fissures, and from forty to seventy feet high.
These rocks, being ornamented and in some measure shrouded by trees, have very much the appearance of real mountain scenery, and appeared to us worthy of the praise which they copiously received in the guide book. We now kept on the top of the hill for some distance towards the west, in the direction of East Grinstead, but left that road at Langton Green, whence we redescended into the valley, here spread out into a plain, crossed a large open warren belonging to Lord Abergavenny in the low and boggy parts of which we found the Abama ossifraga Narthecium ossifragum of Smith 21 in great abundance, and entered into Waterdown forest.
This forest belongs to Lord Abergavenny, and is beautifully laid out almost in the stile of a pleasure ground. It is intersected in all directions by broad grassy drives, one of them extending for nearly a mile along the base of a ledge of rocks, almost as pretty though not so high as the High Rocks already described. A large portion of this forest consists entirely of birch. We wandered through almost every part of it, for it is much reduced in extent since it was a royal chase , enjoying the beauty of the spot and searching for some of the numerous rare plants said by Forster in his Flora Tunbridgensis to grow there: but though we purchased the book on purpose to assist us we met with no success in our search for the plants.
On leaving the forest by the eastern side, we experienced another disappointment by finding that Eridge Castle and Park, belonging to the same nobleman, and mentioned in the Guide Book as a great shewplace, was not to be shewn. The baths are situated close to the Parade, which is well furnished with shops, and, for a watering place, tolerably pretty and cheerful. The rest of the town, village, or hamlet call it which you will is dull and watering-place-like enough.
After dinner we walked six miles across the country to Tunbridge 23 an ugly old town consisting of one street, about a mile in length, situated on the Medway and contriving two bridges over as many branches of that river two of them considerable streams from which multitude of bridges it derives it name Town of bridges, or Tunbridge. We stopped at the Crown Inn. We commenced the operations of this day by seeing the Castle, one of the best preserved and most curious specimens of that sort of building which we had seen in our tour. Of the outer enceinte a very small portion is preserved, but the high part, Edition: current; Page: [ ] or citadel, remains almost entire and consists of a high quadrangular tower, with circular turrets at the four corners, nearly equalling in diameter the breadth of the building.
Figure 1 exhibits the base of the building, Figure 2 its appearance when seen on its broad side, Figure 3 when seen on the narrow. It is now joined to a more modern, and inhabited mansion, but continues to be exhibited to those who visit the place. On leaving Tunbridge, we pursued the Maidstone road, through an uninteresting country enough, as far as Hadlow, where we turned off to the left, crossed several fields, and a park of no particular beauty, and then came to the range of sand hills which begins at Reigate and runs parallel to the chalk hills of Surrey and Kent.
From these beautifully wooded hills we discovered the chalky range of which Box hill and the Ranmer hills form a part: It now lay directly before us and we could perceive that it does not stop at Wrotham but merely opens into a gap similar to that at Dorking and lets through the Medway just as the other lets through the Mole. Our distance from Rochester through this gap would appear not to have been great. After allowing the Medway to pass through it, the range of chalk hills rises again, but changes its direction: instead of running from west to east, as it does from Guildford to Wrotham, it turns into a direction considerably south of east, and we could perceive it slanting away to so great a distance, that on comparing the face of the country as we perceived it with the map of Kent, we had no doubt that it runs a little north of Ashford, leaves Romney marsh to the south, and joins the sea about Folkestone; and that the chalk cliffs from Folkestone to Dover, and even those north of Dover, are formed by these hills, as those of Seaford and Beachy Head are formed by the South Downs.
The view from the summit of the chalk hills is extensive, but far less diversified and interesting than that which may be perceived from the parts of this range nearest to Dorking, or even to Godstone and Reigate. We however proceeded by field paths along the summit of the hill, and did not redescend into the valley until we came nearly opposite to Sevenoaks, which, as we could not see it from the hill, we had some difficulty in finding. It lies a little way up the range of sand hills which still continues to run parallel, or nearly parallel, with the great chalky range: and the town is situated near the head of the Darent, and almost Edition: current; Page: [ ] opposite to another gap in the range of chalk hills, through which that river flows to empty itself into the Thames.
In the little that we could perceive of the declivity of the chalk hills towards the north, it appeared gradual, but not spreading out into Downs as between Dorking and Reigate, or as the range of the South Downs does between Shoreham and Newhaven. The width of the ridge, at this point, seemed about equal to what it is near Oxted.
In beauty of appearance, whether at the summit, or as seen from the plain, it was somewhat inferior to the part above Godstone, still more to that above Dorking. We stopped at the Rose and Crown, Sevenoaks, and while dinner was preparing, we inspected Knole Castle and Park, the old residence of the Dorset family. The castle seems of an age posterior to that in which castles were built for defence; I should say somewhat older than Herstmonceux.
The internal arrangement and the furniture, of a great part of it, is carefully kept in the same state as formerly: two miles of rooms, which were fitted up for James I and II respectively when on certain occasions they honoured Knole Castle with their presence are still retained precisely in the same state in which they were left by those monarchs. Another is a large collection of pottery etc. There is also a collection of very ancient china.
But the most interesting, to many spectators, of all the sights to be seen at this place, is the extensive and fine collection of pictures, both by the ancients and modern masters. I am so indifferent a judge of painting, that I will not venture to say any thing of their merits, though I was greatly struck with several pictures. A rarer and to me a more interesting characteristic of this collection was, its containing portraits of almost all persons who have distinguished themselves in English history, whether as public or literary characters, whether as statesmen, poets, orators or philosophers.
This day we concluded our tour by walking from Westerham to Dorking, through Godstone where we breakfasted , Bletchingly, Nutfield and Reigate.
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Our course lay between the chalky and the sandy ranges during the whole of our course, and we were now upon ground which was familiar to me. We remained at Dorking the rest of the day. My two friends returned to town this morning and I myself in the afternoon. I subjoin an account of the expenses of our tour for the information of myself and others on future occasions:. Thursday 3rd July We set off from the Black Lion, Water Lane, by a Reading coach, which leaves that inn at half past eight, and which we chose as well for its early hour, as because it possesses the privilege of driving through Windsor Great Park.
The road as far as Staines Bridge is tame and common place enough but becomes interesting immediately on entering Surrey. The river to the right, St. Shortly after passing through the neat town of Egham, we left the great western road, and ascending a hill to the right, came upon some high flat ground intersected by waste and plantations, not like any thing which I ever remember to have seen. This is composed of a large tract of sand hill, gradually sloping down toward the Castle and Town, and forming in its descent some exceedingly fine broken ground, the whole with the exception of some copse and shrubbery about the Royal Cottage of which we could but just see the chimnies over the trees beautifully laid out in the forest stile with large trees and glades.
Our road led us along the brow of the hill, and afforded us numerous shifting views of the castle and town, which are situated on a hill at the northern extremity of the Great Park. The castle is at the top of the hill; the town on its side, and like all towns so situated, very striking. We saw it, first by occasional glimpses through the trees, then in full view, then down the fine avenue called the Long Walk, of which it formed a magnificent termination. The Park, with the exception of this Walk and some other avenues, has completely the air of a forest, with the common deer and the red deer with their noble antlers moving about it or reposing themselves.
When we left the Edition: current; Page: [ ] Park, we descended the hill, and found ourselves in a corn country the greater part of which was to appearance newly inclosed, and had indeed been taken in from Bagshot Heath at no very long interval. It appeared to yield tolerably good corn, and there were some fir plantations on it, but these were less good, the quantity of other trees intermixed and profiting by their shelter not being sufficient.
We left Ascot Race Course to our left, within sight, and rejoined the Bath Road at the village of Bracknel, a place on a hill, which, as we observed in most of the places which we passed through, resembled more a town in the West of England, than those near London, the houses being smaller and less ornamented, and the general appearance of the place not so neat.
The truth is that we were now out of the range of the houses and white cottages of persons living in London and passing a day or two days of the week in the country. The ground near us continued for some distance further, to be nearly of the same character as before, but it gradually became more woody, and at the approach to Oakingham a fine view opened to the left. Bagshot Heath appeared to form a fine long ridge dropping suddenly down at its western extremity near Sandhurst, and two round hills appeared between it and Oakingham, one of them nearly bare, the other with a large tree or clump of trees at the top, bearing a considerable resemblance in shape to the round volcanic hills of Cette and Agde on the coast of Languedoc.
In the outskirts, the houses are shabby enough: in the centre there is a large open market place, on which several good houses look out, although rather in the old stile, and one of them that of the surgeon so like an inn, that we looked about us for the sign. From Oakingham to Reading it is a common-place corn country, not ugly, nor very beautiful. Reading is an exceedingly large country town, with a considerable number of long wide streets, neatly built, and apparently of rapidly increasing size, long rows of new houses in the London stile appearing on the different avenues to the town.
We here met M. We went down to the old bridge at Caversham about Edition: current; Page: [ ] a mile from the town, and explored the chalk pits and hills on the other side of the river: We found no plants, but had a magnificent view of the river and its valley. The valley is filled with beautiful meadows very like those at Marlow: a range of chalk hills cultivated at the top comes close to the river on the north side; on the south the hills are lower and more remote.
We found near the bridge a plant which I believe is the Myagrum sativum. The meadows, as I have already observed, are exactly like those at Marlow, and the hay is just cut, in some places not yet carried. The immediate fringe of the river is just beginning to come into its highest beauty; the towing path is nothing more than a pretty footpath through a meadow, and therefore takes away nothing from the beauty of the scene.
The river is broad, but quiet, and not very deep, as is proved by the rushes and other weeds from which in some places no part of the channel is free. The valley becomes presently deeper and closer; the hills on the left approach to the river, leaving at last only a small strip of meadow between. The side of the hill on our left is covered with a beautiful wood, and the chalk hills on the right become woody instead of cultivated. The river first approaches to the road, and comes so near that we could see at the top of the hill, a house on the road, and could hear and see carriages on it.
The river then makes a bend to the right, and the towing path crosses for a short time to the Oxfordshire side in order to avoid a pretty house and pleasure ground on the declivity of the hill. At Mapledurham lock, one of the most beautiful spots on the river, it again bends to the left, and the valley widens, being still filled with meadows.
The ridge of high chalk hills to the right now changes its character, becoming bare and irregular, and resembling less the chalk hills of Surry 6 than the descent from Salisbury plain. Having seen yesterday that there was much ground worth exploring on the north side of the river, and wishing to pass another entire day in the vicinity of so beautiful an object, we resolved to dine at Pangbourn and not proceed further than Streatley tonight.
We accordingly crossed the river by the wooden bridge which connects Pangbourn with Whitchurch, and after passing through some meadows by the river side, we commenced ascending the first woody hill in the direction of Reading. We crossed the wood by a very beautiful path, and came to a deep dell, filled with corn fields and woods, which with one or two fallow fields composed a mixture of light green, dark green, and red, of extreme beauty.
We found the corn Edition: current; Page: [ ] fields quite full of the Iberis amara, or candy tuft, which is here one of the commonest of all weeds. Having crossed this dell, another small wood, and a beautiful sandy green, we came out upon a high range of corn fields on the ridge of the hill, overlooking not immediately the valley of the Thames though turned towards it, but a dell, the bottom of which was mostly filled with wood, which ascended from the valley of the river near Mapledurham, and turned round to the left.
Over the declivity of this dell, which was covered with fine wavy corn fields, we saw the chalk hills of Berkshire sloping away to the south and beyond them a high range of bold sand hills shaped like those of Leith Hill, which on enquiry we found to be called in this neighbourhood the Hampshire hills, and the highest of them Scoddington Hill. We descended to Mapledurham, a neat little village with a church, like all in this neighbourhood, furnished with a square tower, of a tesselated appearance. We loitered for some time in the beautiful meadows about the river, explored another woody hill something like the wood of Denbies near Dorking, and returned by the bottom of the woody dell before mentioned.
After dining at Pangbourn, we proceeded to Streatley, for the first two miles by water as the towing path crosses the river about half way, and it was doubtful whether the ferry boat would be on the right side for us to push ourselves over by the chain. On leaving Pangbourn we had to the left a fine steep bare chalk hill, like those formed by the refuse of the chalk pits. The road from Pangbourn to Streatley was close to the river, and at the foot of this hill. It is a road considerably frequented, as we had reason to observe, having seen several stage coaches stop at Pangbourn which go from Brighton to Oxford and Cheltenham through Reading and Wallingford.
This continued for some time, with the exception that the hills on the left approached the river, and then receded when the hills on the right approached it, forming a fine line of beech wood, to which the last gleams of the setting sun gave a rich yellow colour. We here left the punt in which we had ascended thus far, and took the towing path on the Oxfordshire side.
The hills on the right now receded and appeared gradually to drop down, while on the left they grew high and steep, and came close to the river, leaving scarcely room for a pretty house and small pleasure ground between the river and the steep part of the ascent. Near the end of these hills are the villages of Goring and Streatley, the former on the north, the latter on the south side of the river: we crossed by a ferry, and took up our abode at the upper extremity of Streatley, which is a very neat village, and the main street of which, by a gentle declivity, ascends the chalk hill.
Before leaving Streatley, we climbed the hill above it, by an old road commanding a magnificent view of the valley of the Thames down to Pangbourn and up almost to Wallingford, as well as of the sloping sides of the Stoken Church Hills, on the other side of the river, which commence at Chinnor and end here. The Edition: current; Page: [ ] river in this place runs nearly north and south.
To the north of us on the Berkshire side we could perceive no more than one elevated slope, with wood at the top and down on the side next us, which joins a little higher up, the hill which we were upon. To our left, at the top of the hill, was an extensive wood which covers the entire top of the hill overhanging Streatley: We found a path which led us directly through it, and to the edge of a dell running up from the valley of the river, filled with corn fields, and the opposite side of it covered with a thick and extensive wood.
In a field in this dell we found a rare plant, the Bupleurum rotundifolium. We returned into the first wood, and crossing it in another direction, came out on the crest of the hill directly above Streatley, on what is called the High Down, a fine chalky and grassy slope like that of Brockham Hill. Turning off to the right from the direct road to Woodcote on the top of the hill, we got into another of the woody dells which so beautifully run up from the valley of the Thames into the chalk hills on both sides. By following this dell we reached the top of the hill, and had a fine view to the east, in several places, seeing the Hampshire hills in the distance, and the plain of Oxfordshire and Berkshire between, with some hills which we imagined from their position to be those of Henley.
We pursued our course through corn fields and woods to Nettlebed, along the top of the hill, which runs from S. The summit of the range is tame enough, like most table land, and it had even lost the character of chalk, being covered with clay to a considerable depth. In ascending the hills, all the woods we had passed through were of beech: but as we advanced they were of oak and beech, or oak alone.
The woods are the great beauty of this country. They are real woods, not copse, that is, they are not cut down for fire wood, but allowed to grow into timber, though not to any great age, nor are there as far as we could perceive, many very large or fine trees among them. Towards Nettlebed, we had to cross some deep dells, which appear to run up into the hills on the eastern side: which was the cause of our seeing Nettlebed which lies high on the top of the hill long before we came near it. In one of the woods we found that elegant and rare plant, the Pyrola media. We passed through the hamlet of Woodcote and the village of Checkendon, 7 but the last is the only place which can be mentioned as having any beauty, either in itself or its vicinity.
We stopped at the White Hart, Nettlebed, for the night, and in the evening walked down the hill by the Oxford road towards Henley. It passes through a fine forest-like beech wood, and on the whole the ascent to Nettlebed from Henley is far more beautiful than any thing else which we have seen in its vicinity. On leaving Nettlebed, we still kept the line of the hills, crossing over occasionally from one side of the ridge to the other, but in general keeping close to the side next Oxfordshire, and descending as often as we could into the woods which skirt that side of the hill.
The summit of all these hills is clay, the foundation chalk, the sides are consequently chalk, and the woods mostly of beech. We only had an occasional peep of the plain until we came out upon the brow of the hill just above Watlington, a large market town which does not appear to lie on any thoroughfare from London.
The plain as seen from this point, appeared a flat tract of corn land, with scarcely any hedgerows, but studded with numerous villages surrounded by trees; like some parts of France, particularly the Haute Normandie. There is on this part of the hill a park of some extent, called Watlington Park, one corner of which we cut off by a footpath. Here for the first time the sides of the chalk hill seemed to be bare and grassy, and the plain to come quite up to the foot of the hill; a small range of low hills having appeared at the last place where we observed the plain, to intervene between it and the great range of hills.
Just before we met the other Oxford road, by Beconsfield 8 and Wycombe, we passed above a projecting elbow of the hill, sloping gradually down into the plain in a manner which need not be described to any person who has seen chalk hills. Before proceeding farther on our route I left my three companions at Stoken Church, and went in quest of a place of some botanical celebrity called Penley Hangings. By enquiring of the woman who keeps the first turnpike, I discovered that it was necessary here to leave the road, and crossing a part of the above-mentioned wood, and an extremely green and beautiful meadow to enter another and thicker wood, on the side of a deep dell, one of the most secluded and romantic spots which I had seen even in this country, and of which I had taken a fine view from the meadow through which I had previously passed.
Descending through this wood, which was enriched with the finest vegetable productions of a chalky soil, by a path so steep as to be almost precipitous, I came into a grass field less fertile than the other, but completely embosomed in woods, and full of the Chlora perfoliata and other beautiful creataceous plants. At the lower end of this field, which was still on the declivity was the wood called Penley Hangings, which I was in search of, and Edition: current; Page: [ ] which must be of very considerable length, since I followed a path which led through it along the bottom of the dell, for nearly a mile.
I here found the Paris quadrifolia; and this with the Linaria monspessulana or repens which I had found near Nettlebed in the morning, formed all the botanical acquisitions of this day. The wood called Penley Hangings appeared to cover one declivity of the dell entirely, and a small part of the other, and is one of the finest beech woods in this country. I returned to Stoken Church nearly by the way I came from it, and we reached the brow of the hill by so beautiful a path through fields and woods, that we may readily pronounce the environs of Stoken Church to be very delightful.
From one part of this path we had a distinct view of what we had only seen by glimpses in our way from Goring; that the range of the Stoken Church hills is a double range, having a valley in the midst, and a narrower at first a lower line of chalk hills parallel to the other on the side next to Henley. When we attained the summit, we had a splendid view of this immense plain, illuminated by the horizontal sun, by which alone this country should be surveyed as it casts long shadows, and by the contrast between gleams of bright yellow, and deep shade; gives to the large expanse that variety which it would otherwise want.
Another and smaller elbow, feathered with wood to a considerable depth, here runs out into the plain: this we crossed, keeping as near the edge as possible, and obtained in one part a glorious peep of the fields close under the foot of the hill, through a very romantic spot in the wood, where the trees being not so close together, left room for us to see through them, and allowed gleams of sunshine to penetrate the leaves and illuminate the fine chalky turf at their feet. We then issued out upon the bare top of the hill, and came to the edge of it, where the range of the Stoken Church hills nearly drops down to the ground, and the low hills which succeed it after forming a semicircular basin, rise again into the higher and more beautiful range of the Chiltern Hills.
Here we stopped and surveyed on the one hand, the line of hills which we had passed, and which formed a segment of a circle with the concave side turned towards the plain, the elbow of the hill on the other side of the Oxford road being the other extreme point: on the other hand, the beautiful jutting out elbows of the part of the hill we were upon called Chinnor Hill, and the hill which follows it called Wain Hill, or as the people of the country pronounce it Wynle Hill, a woody hill which recedes from the other hills, and ends the Stoken Church range.
The plain below us was the rich vale of Aylesbury, bounded in the right half of the prospect by a series of low hills, near the foot of which was Aylesbury itself: while a line of villages at the foot of the hill, Rowant, Aston, Crowell, Chinnor, and Henton, running parallel with the hills, and surrounded by trees, gave to this country something of the appearance of the plain of the Garonne seen from the Frontin and Pompignan hills, with trees marking the course of the river across it.
It was Edition: current; Page: [ ] now becoming dark, and we saw little in the remainder of our route. We however crossed the brook which separates Oxfordshire from Buckinghamshire, and passed through several villages in the semicircular basin of which I have spoken already. The generality of the houses appeared far less neat and elegant than at Pangbourn and Whitchurch, where every cottage had its pretty and well-kept strip of flower garden, and had an appearance of neatness and modernness about the whole building. Here, on the contrary, the cottages were hovels, and appeared to be almost falling down.
We stopped at the Cross Keys. We walked to Wendover before breakfast, along the foot of the Chiltern hills, which present to the plain a singularly irregular and diversified edge, shaped in some places very oddly. We passed through or near a multitude of villages, each with its church after the fashion of those mentioned yesterday.
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Many dells run up into the line of hills, but of these I shall have occasion to speak more fully hereafter. Having arrived at Wendover, we took up our headquarters there at the Red Lion for two or three days. It is of tolerable dimensions, though appearing very small when seen from the high ground above it. The people seem poor and miserable, as is usually the case where the British lace manufacture as it is termed exists—and here it exists universally every female having her pillow and bobbins.
Beyond this hill a dell runs up from the plain, in the middle of which are the house and park of Chequers, formerly belonging to Oliver Cromwell, now to Russell, the member of parliament for I believe Bletchingly, who is descended from Cromwell in a female line. Of the park we saw only the part next the house reserving the lower and most celebrated part for another day. It contains fine trees, and being surrounded by woody hills, it is pretty, although finer when seen from Combe Hill than from the valley. Viewed from above the trees of the park being prettily grouped, and backed by a rather thick wood of the same large trees, had a fine effect.
We ascended the dell, which above Chequers continues well wooded and pretty but without anything very striking, to Hampden, the estate and house of the celebrated John Hampden, and of his descendant the present Viscount Hampden. The ground about it is in the usual character of these hills, which in the interior much resemble any other chalk hills, their peculiar beauty consisting in the edge.
We returned over Combe Hill, and in the evening ascended Halton Hill beyond Wendover which projects from the range to a very great length towards the plain. It is steep, with fine turf on the sides and beech woods on the top, commanding a fine view of the plain, of the valley of Wendover, and of a dell which intersects the hills, from the valley of Wendover towards Tring in Hertfordshire. We set out from Wendover this morning to explore that part of the Chiltern Hills which is beyond it.
We took the road to Tring, which goes round the foot of Halton Hill the further side of which is called Aston Hill. The bare part of this hill I have described: Beyond the most projecting point it recedes and forms itself into a magnificent amphitheatre of wood, at the other extremity of which it again projects forward into the plain, and we here left the road, crossed a field or two, and climbing the hill at the edge of the amphitheatre, found that it became again bare on the sides and woody at and near the top.
We skirted the wood to its further extremity and then ascended to the top of the hill, from which we had an entirely new prospect. The direction of the hills here changes—and as the elbow near Stoken Church had once been the boundary of our prospect, and Chinnor Hill and Edition: current; Page: [ ] Wain Hill afterwards, so now Aston Hill became, as long as we continued on this side of it, the limit of our view. The view from the top of this hill was the noblest we had yet seen.
Another valley here opens through the hills, and beyond this valley a long line of them again projected forward into the plain, still further into it indeed than Aston Hill. We could distinctly perceive, at the foot of the last mentioned hill, the little town of Ivinghoe and a great number of villages with their churches together with several considerable pieces of water serving as feeders to the Grand Junction Canal which passes through these hills by Tring and Berk Hampstead.
There is a Navigable Feeder which runs from Wendover to this canal, and conveys thither a large quantity of water which rises from beneath the chalk. The low range of hills which we had seen beyond Aylesbury, here comes nearer to the chalk hills, and we perceived several little hills which seemed to possess considerable beauty, particularly two bare round ones between Ivinghoe and Aylesbury. This dell was extremely irregular and beautiful, covered with corn fields and woods with occasional patches of bare open corn fields in the midst of the wood, and surrounded by it on all sides.
This opened into the valley of Tring, at which place we speedily arrived. Tring is a considerable town, situate on the high road from London to Aylesbury, in the gap of the hills above spoken of and in a long strip or tongue of Hertfordshire which here runs up into Buckinghamshire from Berkhampstead almost to Wingrave. The high hills about Tring form a sort of natural basin, overlooking that town and its valley.
We crossed the valley, the canal, and a fine large clear brook which runs close to it, and crossing several fields and slight elevations, ascended a chalk hill of considerable height, which, seen from Tring or from Aston Hill, appears to be one of the range of hills projecting towards Ivinghoe but which in reality stands out from them an insulated hill in the midst of this very wide gap or valley. I have called it bare and so indeed it was on the side next us, and at the top being an extremely fine chalky turf, resembling the edge of the South Downs toward the plain of Sussex—Its shape too resembled that of the South Down range, in its sinuosities—but when we reached the top we found, that besides a large clump of trees in one spot, which serves as a landmark to a distance, the other side of the hill Edition: current; Page: [ ] was covered with a noble wood of full grown trees, the first which we had yet seen of that character.
Here for the first time on these hills we found box growing. On the declivity turned towards the wood, was a thicket of box—and we could perceive other similar thickets lower down. Beyond this hill was another gap or valley, after which the range of chalk hills rose again, and pushed itself forward to a great distance into the plain as before.
We now crossed a little bottom, much like those of the South Downs, which separated us from the Beacon Hill, the highest and most projecting of all. Through this gap the Icknield Way, an ancient British road which had run along the foot of the hills almost if not entirely from Goring to this place, now cuts over the hill towards Dunstable.
We ascended the Beacon Hill or rather its higher summit, for it has two summits connected by a waving line, and is the only absolutely bare hill which we had seen. There is much beauty at this point in the plain itself, which besides the open corn fields and villages surrounded by trees, offered a considerable variety of gentle eminences, which although insignificant when seen from the high chalk hills, must be sufficient to give no inconsiderable beauty to the details of the country. We descended the Beacon Hill in order to return to Wendover by the foot of the hills; and passed close to the town of Ivinghoe, the church of which though bearing a general resemblance to the ordinary Gothic stile of the village churches in this neighbourhood is still more beautiful, being in the cathedral stile, with two aisles crossing one another in the middle and a steeple rising from the point of intersection.
The road to Wendover from this place, and the footpaths with which we occasionally varied it, are extremely beautiful. Towards the foot of any range of high hills it is usually found that the ground gradually rises to a considerable height, before the hills can be said to commence; and this road, being an old road now very little used, was carried over these eminences in order to avoid the plain, which must formerly have been a marsh incapable of being crossed except on causeways. We had thus the pleasure of overlooking the plain, and at the same time observing closely the beautiful and often singular shape of the hills; and our satisfaction would have been unalloyed had not an extremely heavy rain come on, accompanied with thunder, which had just time to soak us thoroughly to the skin before we arrived at Wendover.
This however did not altogether prevent us from taking exercise, though it induced us to confine ourselves to the roads. We took the road towards London, which runs along a valley intersecting the hills in their widest part. Two lines of hills, sometimes gradually sloping, sometimes precipitously ascending, were on the right and left, and were not hid even by the thick clouds which covered the whole sky. Rather more than three miles from Wendover on this road, is a village, as it is termed, though it is fully as large as Wendover, called Great Missenden. It is the prettiest village we had as yet seen in this district.
A short distance before arriving at this town, there rises in the valley a clear stream or brook of considerable size such as is rarely seen in a valley bounded on both sides by chalk hills. Beyond Missenden to the left a portion of the side of the hill, as well as of the valley, is inclosed, and forms a park, in which stands a place called the Abbey, which could be seen from the fields adjoining the road, and appears a handsome but not very large building. The brook, or little river, the Misbourne as it is called, runs by the side of the road, constantly increasing in size.
It runs into the Coln some miles further. Had we continued in the valley, we should have shortly reached the old town of Amersham or Agmondesham, a place of considerable dimensions: But we turned off to the right a short way before arriving at the village of Little Missenden, and entered into a pretty lane, which winds over the hill. The soil, we here found to be sandy, and we were led over a great variety of grounds over little commons and deep woody dells, never seeing more than a hundred yards before us till we came out upon Wycombe Heath, a piece of sandy table land, of no particular beauty of situation, about three miles from High Wycombe.
We returned by the way we came, and the rain now coming on violently we were again soaked. On this account it is perhaps to be desired that the district should be a place of more resort. Cockneys, though they destroy seclusion, have this advantage that they cause increased traffic and consequently improved communications. Missenden fortunately for itself is not a borough, and therefore looks thriving and increasing in size.
In Missenden there are new houses, in Wendover none, or next to none; all appears old and decaying. There is but one inn and one or two public houses in the place; a Edition: current; Page: [ ] large house at the bottom of the hill on which the town stands, was once an inn but is now deserted.
A great quantity of beautiful water comes up in different places close to the town, from under the chalk, and supplies the navigable feeder. I have already intimated that Chequers stands in one of these dells, which is bounded towards Wendover by Combe Hill, towards Risborough by another long and high hill, which descends very gradually into the plain. I had not however previously mentioned that at the embouchure of the dell, between these two hills rises another hill, round and insulated, presenting a mount-like form to the plain, which like the hill over Ivinghoe and no doubt for the same reason, is called Beacon Hill.
Between this hill and the furthermost of the two hills between which it stands, we now perceived the finest hollow which we had yet seen. It is a little ravine, flat at the bottom, and running up between two hill sides, until stopped by the almost perpendicular ascent. I have known several such in the Surrey chalk hills, especially about Box Hill, but never one so deep, and so long, or with three of its sides so precipitous. The whole of the further declivity of this beautiful hollow is covered with box, as thick as in the thickest part of Box Hill, and interspersed with beech.
On the other side, and at the extremity, the box and other wood was not so thick, but left several spaces nearly bare and chalky. At the foot, and in the flat part of the bottom, lay a fine green turfy lawn, which has received the well merited name of Velvet Lawn. After going nearly round this beautiful hollow, we descended into it, by a path through the box, and enjoyed it in its whole extent. We then reascended the further side. That side of the hollow which is formed by the Beacon Hill, descends to a flat grassy table, which gently rises at the further extremity and forms a low grassy steep hill, on which there is an old Roman camp.
The opposite side forms itself into a variety of fantastic shapes, and slopes in several lines down to the plain leaving several deep ravines between. The first of these is thickly wooded with box and other wood; this is only separated by a single ridge from the Velvet Lawn. Above it is a flat down of some extent spangled with flowers, which we crossed and went down the side of the dell to some distance, and then crossing another ridge, came to a ravine of a very different character.
This is extremely bare and stony both at the bottom and on the sides, although with occasional thickets here and there. It is extremely deep, but rises rapidly, and Edition: current; Page: [ ] divides itself, about the middle, into two parts, leaving a round bare hill between them. A chalky path is practised in the side of the hill we were upon, looking towards the ravine. We followed this path until we came to the place where the ravine divides itself and forms a fork: Some distance above this point we crossed one of the two divisions of the ravine, climbed the intermediate bare hill, went round the other prong of the fork, and went down the opposite ridge, which is covered with a mossy turf, to a round insulated eminence which it forms at its extremity overlooking the plain.
At this point we rested some time, and took our last view of the Vale of Aylesbury, previously to departing for the south. As this was the part of these hills in which I had observed the greatest variety of plants, although none which to me, who have explored the Surrey chalk hills, were rare or curious, I will enumerate the plants which a young botanist may expect to find here: Buxus sempervirens, the staple of the county, Sedum acre, Hyosciamus niger, Atropa belladonna, Reseda luteola and lutea, Conium maculatum which I mention, because though common in most places I have never seen it in the Surrey chalk hills these in the bare parts of the hill.
In the turfy parts are the Orchis pyramidalis, Epipactis ovata, Ophrys apifera, etc. In the woods, Hypericum hirsutum in immense quantity, Valeriana officinalis, Cornus mas, etc. We followed the edge of the hill we were on, cut off the corner of a wood, and came out on one side of this last mentioned valley; which is deep, and extremely diversified and beautiful. Directly opposite to us lay Risborough Hill, the same which, on its side next the plain, has inscribed on it the large white cross which has been mentioned in a previous part of this journal. On the side next to us, it is an irregularly wooded hill, with all the sinuosities of ridges and hollows, so common in chalk hills—with tongues of land covered only with down, projecting out from the wood, while the intervening dells, the side of the hill and even the declivity of these tongues are covered with wood.
The general effect of this is extremely beautiful—while in the valley there was on a smaller scale as much diversity of hill and dale as would have sufficed to form a prettily diversified country if the larger hills had been taken away. We here met a road, which, after winding along the side of the hill, and through a wood, conducted us to the bottom of the valley; which we found in due time to be the same which we had crossed three days ago, in going from Wendover to Hampden: and in fact it is a valley which intersects the hills, and divides itself near Hampden into two parts, one of which is the valley of Chequers, and the other, that into which we had now descended.
In taking the field path to High Wycombe, we now had an opportunity of again passing Hampden House, to which we ascended by the path which we had before taken in descending from it, and which I am thus enabled further to describe. The house stands on the top of the ridge on the right hand, that Edition: current; Page: [ ] is, west, and south, of the valley in which we were. There is no immediate beauty of prospect from the house: Its ornament is a number of fine trees, and some very rich meadows.
We ascended the hill along a line of stately beeches; and going round the further side of the house, saw some very fine cedars and limes. The church of Great Hampden is close to the house, or rather to the solid and old looking stables, which are in full view of the windows but shrouded by a belt of high trees. Passing between the house and the stables, and between the house and the church, we came out into a sort of park-like meadow: for park properly so called this house does not possess: but in this meadow, which is one of the finest whether for beauty or pasture which I ever beheld, is a long irregular avenue of the most magnificent limes.
We crossed this field and several others and coming to the edge of the hill, beheld another deep valley: it was not however that of Risborough, but one which either branches out of it, or does not go entirely through the hills but ends near Hampden. We were now on the sand, and there was consequently a brook in the valley, which in this high part was covered with brushwood and fern on both sides to the very top, like the valley of Broadmoor on Leith Hill, to which it bears a great resemblance. We could see the valley for the length of miles before us, winding down towards the plain, among cornfields and woods, until stopped and closed by the high chalk hill beyond Wycombe.
We kept for some time the top of the hill which bounds this valley on the left, and which forms part of Wycombe Heath. We then followed the side of this same hill, by field paths and roads, and at last got into a road which runs along the bottom, close to the brook before mentioned, which has here attained a considerable size. In this manner we reached High Wycombe, a town embosomed in hills, and decidedly larger and more thriving than any we had seen except Reading. It is indeed a large and handsome place.
It is bounded on the north by the hills which we had now descended; on the south by the high chalk hill called Wycombe Hill, the greater part of which is inclosed to form a beautiful park about a fantastic looking building called Wycombe Abbey. We dined at Wycombe at the Crown and within sight of the church, with the beauty of which we were much struck.
It is in a very superior stile of Gothic architecture, containing many of the beauties peculiar to that stile, without any frippery or meretricious ornament whatever. The steeple especially—which is high, square and pointed like those of Westminster Abbey—is a model which it were much to be wished that our stupid race of London architects had consulted before they had deformed the capital with a race of new churches, the ugliest surely which ever were built by man.
This church is extremely old, but they have restored two large windows and are repairing some other parts in a taste entirely conformable to the original. He was a quiet little old roan, with a bright eye and legs like gate-posts, but he never fell down with us boys, for all that. If we fell off he stopped still and began to feed, so that he suited us all to pieces. We soon got sharp enough to flail him along with a quince stick, and we used to bring up the milkers, I expect, a good deal faster than was good for them.
After a bit we could milk, leg-rope, and bail up for ourselves, and help dad brand the calves, which began to come pretty thick. There were only three of us children — my brother Jim, who was two years younger than I was, and then Aileen, who was four years behind him. I know we were both able to nurse the baby a while after she came, and neither of us wanted better fun than to be allowed to watch her, or rock the cradle, or as a great treat to carry her a few steps. A free man! Mother was a Roman Catholic — most Irishwomen are; and dad was a Protestant, if he was anything.
However, that says nothing. Father was one of those people that gets shut of a deal of trouble in this world by always sticking to one thing. As for turning him, a wild bull half-way down a range was a likelier try-on. They knew it was so much lost labour. I sometimes thought Aileen was a bit like him in her way of sticking to things. But then she was always right, you see. So that clinched it. Mother gave in like a wise woman, as she was. The clergyman from Bargo came one day and christened me and Jim — made one job of it. But mother took Aileen herself in the spring cart all the way to the township and had her christened in the chapel, in the middle of the service all right and regular, by Father Roche.
We learned to ride pretty well — at least, that is we could ride a bare-backed horse at full gallop through timber or down a range; could back a colt just caught and have him as quiet as an old cow in a week. We could use the axe and the cross-cut saw, for father dropped that sort of work himself, and made Jim and I do all the rough jobs of mending the fences, getting firewood, milking the cows, and, after a bit, ploughing the bit of flat we kept in cultivation. We had often ridden over to help at the muster of the large cattle stations that were on the side of the range, and not more than twenty or thirty miles from us.
I do now. We could do a few things besides riding, because, as I told you before, we had been to a bit of a school kept by an old chap that had once seen better days, that lived three miles off, near a little bush township. That was about all. But it is true, I can tell you. Howard, that had been a friend or a victim or some kind of pal of his in old times, near Sydney, and got him to come and keep school. He was a curious man, this Mr. What he had been or done none of us ever knew, but he spoke up to one of the squatters that said something sharp to him one day in a way that showed us boys that he thought himself as good as he was.
And he stood up straight and looked him in the face, till we hardly could think he was the same man that was so bent and shambling and broken-down-looking most times. He used to live in a little hut in the township all by himself. It was just big enough to hold him and us at our lessons. He had his dinner at the inn, along with Mr. She was always kind to him, and made him puddings and things when he was ill. Mostly he drank nothing but tea.
He used to smoke a good deal out of a big meerschaum pipe with figures on it that he used to show us when he was in a good humour. But two or three times a year he used to set-to and drink for a week, and then school was left off till he was right. All the same, poor old Mr. Then he died, poor old chap — found dead in his bed one morning. Many a basting he gave me and Jim with an old malacca cane he had with a silver knob to it.
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We were all pretty frightened of him. I defy any village in Britain to turn out such girls — plenty of rosy-cheeked gigglers — but the natural refinement and intelligence of these little damsels astonishes me. Well, the old man died suddenly, as I said, and we were all very sorry, and the school was broken up. But he had taught us all to write fairly and to keep accounts, to read and spell decently, and to know a little geography. After school broke up father said Jim and I knew quite as much as was likely to be any good to us, and we must work for our living like other people.
All this time we had lived in a free kind of way — we wanted for nothing. We had plenty of good beef, and a calf now and then. Just as I sit here, and these cursed irons rattle whenever I move my feet, I can see that very evening, and father and the old dog with a little mob of our crawling cattle and half-a-dozen head of strangers, cows and calves, and a fat little steer coming through the scrub to the old stockyard. Anyhow, between father and the dog and the old mare he always rode, very few beasts ever broke away.
These strange cattle had been driven a good way, I could see. He was a savage old wretch was Crib. Like all dogs that never bark — and men too — his bite was all the worse. It was pretty empty; we had been living on eggs, bacon, and bread and butter for a week. It came into my head now to wonder why the sergeant and two policemen had come down from Bargo, very early in the morning, about three months ago, and asked father to show them the beef in his cask, and the hide belonging to it.
I wondered at the time the beast was killed why father made the hide into a rope, and before he did that had cut out the brand and dropped it into a hot fire. The police saw a hide with our brand on, all right — killed about a fortnight. Father certainly knew most things in the way of working on the cross. The brand was in the corner, but mother got between me and it, and stretched out her hand to father as if to stop me and him. There was an old villain of a shanty-keeper that lived on a back creek. He had a regular savage temper, father had, though he was quiet enough and not bad to us when he was right.
But the grog always spoiled him. He gave poor mother a shove which sent her reeling against the wall, where she fell down and hit her head against the stool, and lay there. Aileen, sitting down in the corner, turned white, and began to cry, while father catches me a box on the ear which sends me kicking, picks up the brand out of the corner, and walks out, with me after him.
After this all was made right to kill a beast. The gallows was ready rigged in a corner of the yard; father brought his gun and shot the yellow steer. We helped father to skin and hang up the beast, and pretty late it was when we finished. Mother had laid us out our tea and gone to bed with Aileen. We had ours and then went to bed. Father sat outside and smoked in the starlight. Hours after I woke up and heard mother crying. Before daylight we were up again, and the steer was cut up and salted and in the harness-cask soon after sunrise.
Father said nothing, but sat very dark-looking, and ate his food as if nothing was the matter. Then things went on the old way. So the years went on — slow enough they seemed to us sometimes — the green winters, pretty cold, I tell you, with frost and hail-storms, and the long hot summers. We were not called boys any longer, except by mother and Aileen, but took our places among the men of the district. We lived mostly at home, in the old way; sometimes working pretty hard, sometimes doing very little. When the cows were milked and the wood chopped, there was nothing to do for the rest of the day.
The creek was that close that mother used to go and dip the bucket into it herself, when she wanted one, from a little wooden step above the clear reedy waterhole. Now and then we used to dig in the garden. There was reaping and corn-pulling and husking for part of the year; but often, for weeks at a time, there was next to nothing to do. No hunting worth much — we were sick of kangarooing, like the dogs themselves, that as they grew old would run a little way and then pull up if a mob came, jump, jump, past them. No shooting, except a few ducks and pigeons. No fishing, except an odd codfish, in the deepest waterholes; and you might sit half a day without a bite.
Now this was very bad for us boys. Lads want plenty of work, and a little play now and then to keep them straight. Well, Jim and I used to get our horses and ride off quietly in the afternoon, as if we were going after cattle; but, in reality, as soon as we were out of sight of mother, to ride over to that old villain, Grimes, the shanty-keeper, where we met the young Dalys, and others of the same sort — talked a good deal of nonsense and gossip; what was worse played at all-fours and euchre, which we had learned from an American harvest hand, at one of the large farms.
What burning nasty stuff I thought it at first; and so did we all! But every one wanted to be thought a man, and up to all kinds of wickedness, so we used to make it a point of drinking our nobbler, and sometimes treating the others twice, if we had cash. There was another family that lived a couple of miles off, higher up the creek, and we had always been good friends with them, though they never came to our house, and only we boys went to theirs. They were the parents of the little girl that went to school with us, and a boy who was a year older than me. Their father had been a gardener at home, and he married a native girl who was born somewhere about the Hawkesbury, near Windsor.
Her father had been a farmer, and many a time she told us how sorry she was to go away from the old place, and what fine corn and pumpkins they grew; and how they had a church at Windsor, and used to take their hay and fruit and potatoes to Sydney, and what a grand place Sydney was, with stone buildings called markets for people to sell fruit and vegetables and poultry in; and how you could walk down into Lower George Street and see Sydney Harbour, a great shining salt-water plain, a thousand times as big as the biggest waterhole, with ships and boats and sailors, and every kind of strange thing upon it.
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Storefield was pretty fond of talking, and she was always fond of me, because once when she was out after the cows, and her man was away, and she had left Grace at home, the little thing crawled down to the waterhole and tumbled in. Another minute or two would have finished her, but I was off the old pony and into the water like a teal flapper. I had her out in a second or two, and she gasped and cried a bit, but soon came to, and when Mrs.
He laughed, and held out his hand. He was too steady and hardworking altogether for Jim and me. He worked all day and every day, and saved every penny he made. Catch him gaffing! He called the Dalys and Jacksons thieves and swindlers, who would be locked up, or even hanged, some day, unless they mended themselves.
As for drinking a glass of grog, you might just as soon ask him to take a little laudanum or arsenic. I work all day, have a read in the evening, and sleep like a top when I turn in. What do I want more? I believe in a man enjoying himself as well as you do, but my notion of that is to have a good farm, well stocked and paid for, by and by, and then to take it easy, perhaps when my back is a little stiffer than it is now.
Andrews for a lot of fencing stuff.
It will pay us wages and something over. I know what hands you both are at splitting and fencing. What do you say? He was that good-hearted that a kind word would turn him any time.
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He was just the same as ever, with a smile on his face. We looked at one another for a moment. Our eyes met. We rode up to the door of our cottage without speaking. The sun had set, and some of the stars had come out, early as it was, for it was late autumn. Aileen was sitting on a bench in the verandah reading, mother was working away as usual at something in the house. Aileen ran out to us, and stood while we let go our horses, and brought the saddles and bridles under the verandah.
He wants you to meet him. Aileen can tell me after tea. I think she was fonder of us two than she was of Aileen. Mothers are generally fonder of their sons. Why I never could see; and if she thought more of one than the other it was Jim. He was the youngest, and he had that kind of big, frolicsome, loving way with him, like a Newfoundland pup about half-grown. Besides, I could see that she was very serious over it, and I thought there might be something in it more than common.
Has he been talking to you about me? What right has he to meddle with my business? But what did he tell you? Jim and I are quite able to manage our own affairs, as I told him this evening, when I refused to have anything to do with his fencing arrangement. I made sure Jim would have liked it so, for only last week he said he was sick and tired of having nothing to do — that he should soon lose all his knack at using tools that he used to be so proud of.
I came away by myself, and only saw him just before we crossed the range. That will be the end of it, depend upon it, Dick. Let a man act and think for himself. Here she let go my hands, and sobbed and cried as if she was a child again, much as I remember her doing one day when my kangaroo dog killed her favourite cat. She was a quiet girl, too, very determined, and not much given to talking about what she was going to do; but when she made up her mind she was sure to stick to it. I used to think she was more like father than any of us.
I can see the place now — the mountain black and dismal, the moon low and strange-looking, the little waterhole glittering in the half-light, and this dark bird hooting away in the night. An odd feeling seemed to come over my mind, and if it had been the devil himself standing on the dead limb it could not have had a worse effect on me as I stopped there, uncertain whether to turn to the right or the left. I remember the whole lot of bad-meaning thoughts coming with a rush over my heart, and I laughed at myself for being so soft as to choose a hard-working, pokey kind of life at the word of a slow fellow like George, when I might be riding about the country on a fine horse, eating and drinking of the best, and only doing what people said half the old settlers had made their money by.
Some people would call the first, after years of honest work, and being always able to look every one in the face, being more of a man than the other. But people have different ways and different ideas. Father sent word you and Jim were to meet him at Broken Creek and bring your whips with you. You need never ask him for another meal; you can earn an easy living in half-a-dozen ways, you and Jim. Why should you let him spoil your life and ruin your soul for evermore? She was as regular in her prayers and crossings and beads and all the rest of it as mother herself, and if there ever was a good girl in the whole world she was one.
She turned faint as she said this, and I thought she was going to drop down. If anything could have turned me then it would have been this. If that can be made safe, death and pain and poverty and misery are all little things. We made out the source of it too well — far too well. It was a hollow, faint, distant roaring that gradually kept getting louder.
It was the strange mournful bellowing that comes from a drove of cattle forced along an unknown track. As we listened the sound came clearly on the night wind, faint, yet still clearly coming nearer. It is a big mob and no mistake. She knew it was no use talking to me now. The idea of going out to meet a large lot of unknown cattle had strongly excited us, as would have been the case with every bush-bred lad. All sorts of wonders passed through our minds as we walked down the creek bank, with our bridles in our hands, towards where our horses usually fed.
One was easy to catch, the other with a little management was secured. In ten minutes we were riding fast through the dark trees and fallen timber towards the wild gullies and rock-strewed hills of Broken Creek. It was not more than an hour when we got up to the cattle. We could hear them a good while before we saw them. I had a kind of idea, but I thought he would never be so rash. When we got up I could see the cattle had been rounded up in a flat with stony ridges all round. There must have been three or four hundred of them, only a man and a boy riding round and wheeling them every now and then.
Their horses were pretty well knocked up. The boy was a half-caste that father had picked up somewhere; he was as good as two men any day. With our fresh horses and riding round so we kept the cattle easily enough. We did not tell Warrigal he might go to rest, not thinking a half-caste brat like him wanted any. They sniffed at him once or twice, some of the old cows, but none of them horned him; and daylight came rather quicker than one would think. What a mob of calves! What in the world does father intend to do with them?
Father was up, and came over where we stood with our horses in our hands before we had time to say more. It seems a pity what he did was no use to him, as it turned out; for he was a man, was old dad, every inch of him. Jim did the same on his side. How easy is it for chaps to take the road to hell! The track we were driving on led along a narrow rocky gully which looked as if it had been split up or made out of a crack in the earth thousands of years ago by an earthquake or something of that kind.
The hills were that steep that every now and then some of the young cattle that were not used to that sort of country would come sliding down and bellow as if they thought they were going to break their necks. The water rushed down it like a torrent in wet winters, and formed a sort of creek, and the bed of it made what track there was. There were overhanging rocks and places that made you giddy to look at, and some of these must have fallen down and blocked up the creek at one time or other.
We had to scramble round them the best way we could. Well done, old man.
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Father never took any notice of the poor brute as he came limping along the stones. It looks like it, at any rate. I saw how it was; father had given Crib a cruel beating the night before, when he was put out for some trifling matter, and the dog had left him and run home. But now he had thought better of it, and seen our tracks and come to work and slave, with his bleeding feet — for they were cut all to pieces — and got the whip across his back now and then for his pains.
When we got right to the top of this confounded gully, nearly dead-beat all of us, and only for the dog heeling them up every now and then, and making his teeth nearly meet in them, without a whimper, I believe the cattle would have charged back and beat us.
There were wild horses in troops there, and a few wild cattle, so Jim and I knew the place well; but it was too far and too much of a journey for our own horses to go often. We had kept the cattle going for three or four miles through the thickest of the country, every now and then steering our course by the clear round top of Sugarloaf, that could be seen for miles round, but never seemed to get any nearer, when we came on a rough sort of log-fence, which ran the way we were going.
The cattle ran along the fence, as if they expected to get to the end of their troubles soon. The scrub was terribly thick in places, and every now and then there was a break in the fence, when one of us had to go outside and hunt them until we came to the next bit. Just on the south side of the yard, which was built of great heavy stringy-bark trees cut down in the line of the fence, and made up with limbs and logs, the range went up as steep as the side of a house. The cattle were that tired and footsore — half their feet were bleeding, poor devils — that they ran in through the sliprails and began to lay down.
Jim rushed off at once, while I sulkily began to put some bark and twigs together and build a fire. Never say I kept you against your will. You may as well lend a hand to brand these calves; then you may clear out as soon as you like. Draw back, indeed! Jim at this came running out of the cave with a face of joy, a bag of ship-biscuit, and a lot of other things.
Get the fire right, Dick, while I get some water. The tea was made, and we all had a good meal. Father found a bottle of rum, too; he took a good drink himself, and gave Jim and me a sip each. I felt less inclined to quarrel with father after that. Fine strong calves, and in rare condition, too.
We could see they were all belonging to Mr. Hunter and Mr. Very careless they often are on these large cattle-stations, so that sharp people like father and the Dalys, and a lot more, get an easy chance at them. If calves are weaned, and have only one brand on, it is very hard for any man to swear that they are not the property of the man to whom that brand belongs. The great dart is to keep the young stock away from their mothers until they forget one another, and then most of the danger is past. How did I learn it? I had plenty of time in Berrima Gaol — worse luck — my first stretch. Father mounted the old mare.
We threw down the rails. Away the cattle rushed out, all in a long string. The dog worried those that wanted to stay by the yard or turn another way. In five minutes they were all a-moving along in one mob at a pretty sharpish trot like a lot of store cattle. Father knew his way about, whether the country was thick or open. It was all as one to him. What a slashing stockman he would have made in new country, if he only could have kept straight.
These young things is generally soft. Come here, Dick. We walked our horses up to the edge of the mountain and looked over. It was like the end of the world. Far down there was a dark, dreadful drop into a sort of deep valley below. The trees on the mountain side looked like bushes, and they were big ironbarks and messmates too. On three sides of us was this awful, desolate-looking precipice — a dreary, gloomy, God-forsaken kind of spot.
The sky got cloudy, and the breeze turned cold and began to murmur and whistle in an odd, unnatural kind of way, while father, seeing how scared and puzzled I was, began to laugh. I shuddered. A thought crossed my mind that it might be the Enemy of Souls, in his shape, going to carry us off for doing such a piece of wickedness. He had lengthened the bridle of the mare, and tied the end of a light tether rope that he had round her neck to it. I saw her follow him slowly, and turn down a rocky track that seemed to lead straight over a bluff of the precipice.
Mind this, that they were so footsore and tender about the hoofs that they could not have run away from us on foot if they had tried. Cattle will do that. If he went straight, and swam across, all the cattle would follow him like sheep. Well, when the old mare got to the bluff she turned short round to the right, and then I saw that she had struck a narrow path down a gully that got deeper and deeper every yard we went. It wound and wound and got deeper and deeper till the walls of rock were ever so far above our heads.
Our work was done then; the cattle had to walk on like sheep in a race. We led our horses behind them, and the dog walked along, saving his sore feet as well as he could, and never tried to bite a beast once he got within the walls. He looked quite satisfied, and kept chuckling almost to himself. Well, he knew a lot, and no mistake.
She was the laziest old wretch bringing up the cows at home, or running in the horses. Jim and I walked along, leading our horses and yarning away as we used to do when we were little chaps bringing in the milkers. I wonder where it leads to? How high the rock-walls are getting above us! He said the Government men used to hide the cattle and horses there in old times, and that it was never found out. I never did. I never seen any good come out of them yet. But I wish father had broke his leg, and was lying up at home, with mother nursing him, before he found out this hell-hole of a place.
The gully seems getting wider, and I can see a bit of open country through the trees. The leading cattle are beginning to run. So it was. The deep, rocky gully gradually widened into an open and pretty smooth flat; this, again, into a splendid little plain, up to the knees in grass; a big natural park, closed round on every side with sandstone rockwalls, as upright as if they were built, and a couple of thousand feet above the place where we stood. This scrub country was crossed by two good creeks; it was several miles across, and a trifle more in length.
We could see other mobs of cattle, some near, some farther off; horses, too; and the well-worn track in several ways showed that this was no new grazing ground. Jump off, and let your horses go. Our poor nags were something like the cattle, pretty hungry and stiff. They put their heads down to the thick green grass, and went in at it with a will. We turned back towards the rocky wall, near to where we had come in, and there, behind a bush and a big piece of sandstone that had fallen down, was the entrance to a cave.
The walls of it were quite clean and white-looking, the floor was smooth, and the roof was pretty high, well blackened with smoke, too, from the fires which had been lighted in it for many a year gone by. A kind of natural cellar had been made by scooping out the soft sandstone behind a ledge. From this father took a bag of flour and corn-meal. We very soon made some cakes in the pan, that tasted well, I can tell you. Tea and sugar too, and quart pots, some bacon in a flour-bag; and that rasher fried in the pan was the sweetest meat I ever ate in all my born days.
Then father brought out a keg and poured some rum into a pint pot. He took a pretty stiff pull, and then handed it to us. A dreadful fear it is. I can stand what any other man can, and without the hard stuff, either. We finished our meal, and a first-rate one it was. A man never has the same appetite for his meals anywhere else that he has in the bush, specially if he has been up half the night.
Not like the close-feeling, close-smelling, dirty-clean graveyard they call a gaol. We were young men, and free, too. By all the devils in hell, if there are devils — and there must be to tempt a man, or how could he be so great a fool, so blind a born idiot, as to do anything in this world that would put his freedom in jeopardy? And what for? For folly and nonsense.
For a bit of sudden pride or vanity or passion. I could cry like a child when I think of it now. Yes, fool, three times over — a hundred times — to put my liberty and life against such a miserable stake — a stake the devil that deals the pack is so safe to win at the end. I may as well go on. Never see the river rippling under the big drooping trees, or the cattle coming down in the twilight to drink after the long hot day. Never, never more! And whose fault is it? Who have I to blame? Perhaps father helped a bit; but I knew better, and no one is half as much to blame as myself.
Where were we? Oh, at the cave-mouth, coming out with our bridles in our hands to catch our horses. We soon did that, and then we rode away to the other cattle. They were a queer lot, in fine condition, but all sorts of ages and breeds, with every kind of brand and ear-mark. Some had no brands at all — full-grown beasts, too; that was a thing we had very seldom seen.
Some of the best cattle and some of the finest horses — and there were some real plums among the horses — had a strange brand, JJ. That brand belongs to Starlight, and he was the only man left alive of the men that first found it and used it to put away stock in. He wanted help, and told me five years ago. He took in a half-caste chap, too, against my will. He helped him with that last lot of cattle that you noticed.
All got the JJ brand on, too, and nothing else; all about three year old. He was here for a year. And now ye have the lot. Poor Jim! Jim looked at the brown colt that just came trotting up as dad finished speaking — trotting up with his head high and his tail stuck out like a circus horse. Then his eyes began to glitter. We all three looked at each other. No one spoke. The colt stopped, turned, and galloped back to his mates like a red flyer with the dogs close behind him.
It was not long. We all began to speak at once. But that colt I must have. After that we got on more sociably. Father took us all over the place, and a splendid paddock it was — walled all round but where we had come in, and a narrow gash in the far side that not one man in a thousand could ever hit on, except he was put up to it; a wild country for miles when you did get out — all scrub and rock, that few people ever had call to ride over.
There was splendid grass everywhere, water, and shelter. It was warmer, too, than the country above, as you could see by the coats of the cattle and horses. Towards the north end of the paddock was a narrow gully with great sandstone walls all round, and where it narrowed the first discoverers had built a stockyard, partly with dry stone walls and partly with logs and rails. This led into another yard, which opened into the narrowest part of the gully. Once in this, like the one they came down, and the cattle or horses had no chance but to walk slowly up, one behind the other, till they got on the tableland above.
Here, of course, every kind of work that can be done to help disguise cattle was done. Ear-marks were cut out and altered in shape, or else the whole ear was cropped off; every letter in the alphabet was altered by means of straight bars or half-circles, figures, crosses, everything you could think of. He was to meet him at the Hollow on purpose to help him out with the mob of fat bullocks we had looked at. Father, it appears, was coming here by himself when he met this outlying lot of Mr. And a mighty good haul it was.
Father said we should share the weaners between the three of us; that meant 50 Pounds a piece at least. The devil always helps beginners. We put through a couple of days pleasantly enough, after our hardish bit of work. Jim found some fish-hooks and a line, and we caught plenty of mullet and eels in the deep, clear waterholes.
We found a couple of double-barrelled guns, and shot ducks enough to last us a week. See that smoke? We had plenty of time to get ourselves or anything else ready. In about four hours we began to look at them through a strong spyglass which father brought out. By and by we got sight of two men coming along on horseback on the top of the range the other side of the far wall. I can see the half-caste holding him on. We saw them come to the top of the wall, as it were, then they stopped for a long while, then all of a sudden they seemed to disappear.
But he has the pluck of the devil, sure enough. We rode over to the other side, where there was a kind of gully that came in, something like the one we came in by, but rougher, and full of gibbers boulders. There was a path, but it looked as if cattle could never be driven or forced up it. Father showed us a sort of cave by the side of the track, where one man, with a couple of guns and a pistol or two, could have shot down a small regiment as they came down one at a time.
We stayed in there by the track, and after about half-an-hour we heard the two horses coming down slowly, step by step, kicking the stones down before them. Is it far now? Just then the leading horse came out into the open before the cave. We had a good look at him and his rider.
I never forgot them. It was a bad day I ever saw either, and many a man had cause to say the same. The horse held up his head and snorted as he came abreast of us, and we showed out. He came stepping down that beastly rocky goat-track, he, a clean thoroughbred that ought never to have trod upon anything rougher than a rolled training track, or the sound bush turf. He was as pale as a ghost. His eyes — great dark ones they were, too — were staring out of his head. I thought he was dead, and called out to father and Jim that he was. They ran up, and we lifted him off after undoing some straps and a rope.
He was tied on that was what the half-caste was waiting for at the top of the gully. When we laid him down his head fell back, and he looked as much like a corpse as if he had been dead a day. Then we saw he had been wounded. There was blood on his shirt, and the upper part of his arm was bandaged. What pluck he must have had to ride down there! How did he get hit, Warrigal? Then the sergeant fire at him again; hit him in the shoulder with his pistol.
Then Starlight come to his senses, and we clear. But they was miles away then. Before the wild boy had come to the end of his story the wounded man had proved that it was only a dead faint, as the women call it, not the real thing. And after he had tasted a pannikin full of brandy and water, which father brought him, he sat up and looked like a living man once more.
We washed it, and relieved the wounded man by discovering that the other bullet had only been spent, after striking a tree most like, when it had knocked the wind out of him and nearly unhorsed him, as Warrigal said. Who the devil are these lads? We want another hand or two to work things right. Starlight going to turn parson? Pull up and hold up my hands? There was nowhere else to go; and that new sergeant rode devilish well, I can tell you, with a big chestnut well-bred horse, that gave old Rainbow here all he knew to lose him.
Now, once for all, no more of that, Marston, and mind your own business. Father growled out something, but did not offer to deny it. We could see plainly that the stranger was or had been far above our rank, whatever were the reasons which had led to his present kind of life. With care and rest, it soon healed. He was pleasant enough, too, when the pain went away. He had been in other countries, and told us all kinds of stories about them. He said nothing, though, about his own former ways, and we often wondered whatever could have made him take to such a life.
Unknown to father, too, he gave us good advice, warned us that what we were in was the road to imprisonment or death in due course, and not to flatter ourselves that any other ending was possible. Your father had a long account to square with society, and he has a right to settle it his own way. That yellow whelp was never intended for anything better. Now, mind what I tell you, and keep your own counsel. By and by, the day came when the horses were run in for father and Mr.
Starlight and Warrigal, who packed up to be off for some other part. By George! He was a dark bay horse, nearly brown, without a white hair on him. He had a short back, and his ribs went out like a cask, long quarter, great thighs and hocks, wonderful legs, and feet of course to do the work he did. His head was plainish, but clean and bony, and his eye was big and well opened, with no white showing. All his paces were good too. I believe he could jump — jump anything he was ridden at, and very few horses could get the better of him for one mile or three. I afterwards found out that he was stolen before he was foaled, like many another plum, and his dam killed as soon as she had weaned him.
So, of course, no one could swear to him, and Starlight could have ridden past the Supreme Court, at the assizes, and never been stopped, as far as this horse was concerned. Sticking up a bank, or boning a flock of maiden ewes to take up a run with? They seem to be game for anything. Windhall gave Pounds for? People say Windhall keeps him locked up at night, and his box is close to his house. And if we could get a few colts by him out of thoroughbred mares we might win half the races every year on our side and no one a bit the wiser.
It lies partly between that and the dry weather. And no change, maybe, for months. The ground like iron and the sky like brass, as the parson said, and very true, too, last Sunday. I shall remember her to my dying day. It seems as if I had put that brand on my own heart when I jammed it down on her soft skin. The next morning Jim and I started off home. Father said he should stay in the Hollow till Starlight got round a bit.
Poor Norah! Dashed if I ever heard father say a soft thing before. I always thought he was ironbark outside and in. But he seemed real sorry for once. And with that he walked off from the yard where we had been catching our horses, and never looked nigh us again. We rode away to the low end of the gully, and then we led the horses up, foot by foot, and hard work it was — like climbing up the roof of a house. We were almost done when we got to the tableland at the top. We made our way to the yard, where there were the tracks of the cows all round about it, but nothing but the wild horses had ever been there since.
They lived on kangaroos at first. Then, by degrees, they used to crawl out by moonlight and collar a horse or two or a few cattle. They managed to live there years and years; one died, one was killed by the blacks; the last man showed it to the chaps that passed it on to Starlight. The old place looked very snug, clean, and comfortable, too, after all the camping-out, and it was first-rate to have our own beds again.
Then the milk and fresh butter, and the eggs and bacon — my word! Jim was alongside of mother by this time, lying down like a child on the old native dogskin rug that we tanned ourselves with wattle bark. She had her hand on his hair — thick and curly it was always from a child. I went off to bed, I remember, and left them to it. Next morning Jim and I were up at sunrise and got in the milkers, as we always did when we were at home.
Aileen was up too. She had done all the dairying lately by herself. There were about a dozen cows to milk, and she had managed it all herself every day that we were away; put up the calves every afternoon, drove up the cows in the cold mornings, made the butter, which she used to salt and put into a keg, and feed the pigs with the skim milk. It was rather hard work for her, but I never saw her equal for farm work — rough or smooth. She could frighten a wildish cow and bail up anything that would stay in a yard with her. She could ride like a bird and drive bullocks on a pinch in a dray or at plough, chop wood, too, as well as here and there a one.
And she was so handsome with it. But her heart was that good that she was always thinking of others and not of herself. She had more sense than all the rest of us put together. As for riding, I have never seen any one that could sit a horse or handle him through rough, thick country like her. We could all ride a bit out of the common, if it comes to that. Anyhow, I think Aileen was about the best of the lot of us at that, as in everything else. Well, for a bit all went on pretty well at home. Jim and I worked away steady, got in a tidy bit of crop, and did everything that lay in our way right and regular.
We milked the cows in the morning, and brought in a big stack of firewood and chopped as much as would last for a month or two. We mended up the paddock fence, and tidied the garden. Aileen used to read something out of the paper that she thought might amuse us. A man can learn as much out of a book or a paper sometimes in an hour as will save his work for a week, or put him up to working to better purpose. Anyhow, Aileen could read pretty near as fast as any one I ever saw, and she used to reel it out for us, as we sat smoking over the fire, in a way that kept us jolly and laughing till it was nearly turning-in time.
Now and then George Storefield would come and stay an hour or two. He could read well; nearly as well as she could. I remember he had a fight with a little bull-calf, about a week old, that came in with a wild heifer, and Aileen made as much of his pluck as if it had been a mallee scrubber. But Jim picked up a loose leg of a milking-stool, and the two went at it hammer and tongs.
I could hardly stand for laughing, till the calf gave him best and walked. Aileen pulled him out, and carried him in to mother, telling her that he was the bravest little chap in the world; and I remember I got scolded for not going to help him. How these little things come back! The oats look better. We have as good a right to our share of the land and some other good things as they have, and why should we be done out of it? God Almighty, I suppose, made the land and the people too, one to live on the other.
Why should we pay for what is our own? I believe in getting my share somehow. Why should he have it and not me? Nobody can work better than you and Jim, when you like. Everybody knows how they got their stock and their money. See how they live. He was an Englishman that had come young to the colony, and worked his way up by degrees. He had had no money when he first came, people said; indeed, he often said so himself. There were very few countries where idle, unsteady people got rich. What more did he want? Unfortunately, these last were highly popular professions; and many people, high and low, belonged to them here — and everywhere else.
We were all well up in this kind of talk, because for the last two or three years, since we had begun to shear pretty well, we had always shorn at his shed. He was one of those gentlemen — and he was a gentleman, if ever there was one — that takes a deal of notice of his working hands, particularly if they were young.
Jim he took a great fancy to the first moment he saw him. We should like to see you all have farms of your own — to be all well taught and able to make the best of your lives — not driven to drink, as many of you are, because you have no notion of any rational amusement, and anything between hard work and idle dissipation. But your class might, I think, always rely upon there being enough kindness and wisdom in ours to prevent that state of things.
Unfortunately, neither side trusts the other enough. And now the bell is going to ring, I think. Jim and I stopped at Boree shed till all the sheep were cut out. Shearers work pretty hard, and as they buy their own rations generally, they can afford to live well. But we were mostly strong and hearty, and at that age a man takes a deal of killing; so we used to have a little card-playing at night to pass away the time. Very few of the fellows had any money to spend. It was strange how soon we managed to get into big stakes.
One day I got a couple of letters from home — one from Aileen and another in a strange hand. It had come to our little post-office, and Aileen had sent it on to Boree. He was quite well, it said; and to look out for him about Christmas time; he might come home then, or send for us; to stop at Boree if we could get work, and keep a couple of horses in good trim, as he might want us. A couple of five-pound notes fell out of the letter as I opened it. When I looked at them first I felt a kind of fear.
I knew what they came from. And I had a sort of feeling that we should be better without them. However, the devil was too strong for me. I had begun to think the fellows looked a little cool on us the last three or four nights, as our losses were growing big. I flung down my note, and Jim did his, and told them that we owed to take the change out of that and hand us over their paper for the balance. Shearers, as a rule, come from their homes in the settled districts very bare.
They are not very well supplied with clothes; their horses are poor and done up; and they very seldom have a note in their pockets, unless they have managed to sell a spare horse on the journey. So we were great men for the time, looked at by the others with wonder and respect. We were fools enough to be pleased with it. Strangely, too, our luck turned from that minute, and it ended in our winning not only our own back, but more than as much more from the other men. Falkland liked these goings on. However, the shearing hut was our own, in a manner of speaking, and as long as we shore clean and kept the shed going the overseer, Mr.
He was anxious to get done with the shearing, to get the wool into the bales before the dust came in, and the grass seed ripened, and the clover burrs began to fall. I suppose some of us chaps are like the poor stupid tribes that the Israelites found in Canaan, only meant to live for a bit and then to be rubbed out to make room for better people.
When the shearing was nearly over we had a Saturday afternoon to ourselves. So we got on our horses and took a ride into the township just for the fun of the thing, and for a little change. The horses had got quite fresh with the rest and the spring grass. Their coats were shining, and they all looked very different from what they did when we first came. Our two were not so poor when they came, so they looked the best of the lot, and jumped about in style when we mounted. All the men washed themselves and put on clean clothes.
Then we had our dinner and about a dozen of us started off for the town. Poor old Jim, how well he looked that day! No wonder all the girls used to think so much of him. He could do anything and everything that a man could do. He was as strong as a young bull, and as active as a rock wallaby — and ride! Well, he sat on his horse as if he was born on one. With his broad shoulders and upright easy seat he was a regular picture on a good horse. And he had a good one under him today; a big, brown, resolute, well-bred horse he had got in a swap because the man that had him was afraid of him.
Now that he had got a little flesh on his bones he looked something quite out of the common. And Mr. Blest if I understand a word of it. Answer me that, Jeems. Well, away we went to this township. Bundah was the name of it; not that there was anything to do or see when we got there. Some people can work away day after day, and year after year, like a bullock in a team or a horse in a chaff-cutting machine. They must have life and liberty and a free range.
And people may talk as much as they like; boys, and men too, will like it, and take to it, and hanker after it, as long as the world lasts. So it was very good fun to us, simple as it might sound to some people.
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