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"who is Mrs. Day?" and "Where is Comb Hill?" asks the impatient, go-a-head reader, gifted with the new spirit of progress, which desires to arrive at a journey's end before starting, and will, in no wise, be contented with the old fashion of beginning all things at the beginning. Patience! patience! my volatile friend. You shall learn the answer to both those questions in due time. It is, indeed, the express business of this present article to enlighten you on the subject.
To begin with the second question—" Where is Comb Hill?" You know, I suppose, the quiet village of Linley. No? You astonisli me! Well then, of course, you know the post-town of Topham. No? How very extraordinary! What would the Topham people think, I wonder, if they heard of such ignorance? You don't know the town 0f Topham! You never heard of it in your life! Well, well! I would advise you to keep that ignorance to yourself whenever you chance to walk through the said town. Why, the very children would point the finger at you, in scorn, and say, "There's a fellow that never beared tell of our town. Ain't he a bit outlandish, I expect!"
As your geographical knowledge is so very limited, I am compelled to take a wider range at once, and ask you if you ever heard of an English county called Kent? Oh! you have heard of that—have even been into it? Now then, be pleased to take a map of the said county, and somewhere between Greenwich and Dover, and between Heme Bay and Seven Oaks, you will find the small town of Topham, within six miles of which is Linley; and two miles to the north of Linley stands Comb Hill. Though the map will show you the latitude and longitude of the place, it will give you no idea of what it is like. That, I must endeavour to do. It will be a pleasant task; for I love
Linley and Comb Hill, and I should like to make other people love them, too.
Linley is a small village quite unknown to tourists; it is six miles off a turnpike road. The old by-roads leading to it are scarcely worthy to be called roads at all. I don't suppose they have been mended for the last fifty years. They remind me of the famous Scotch couplet, which we give in plain English—
"If you had seen these roads before they were made You'd hold up your hands and bless General Wade."
And they also convince me that there is nothing of the nature of an Irish bull in the said couplet, for the roads all about Linley are roads before they are made. They want making terribly. Any wheeled thing light cr or more elegant than a farm waggon, feels the shock of the journey to Linley very much. In dry weather, they consist of century-old ruts and large flint stones, bristling up, thick as children in St. James's Park on a Sunday evening; in wet weather, of mud a foot thick, and innumerable pools formed by drippings from the over-hanging boughs of the hedges, which are rarely cut, and when they are cut, the boughs are left lying over the road till they rot away. You may get over the ground tolerably well on horse-back, but in a chaise or light carriage, or on foot, progress through the Linley lanes is not easy. To add to the difficulty of these lanes, they are all up or down hill; for there is no level ground about Linley. The pretty village itself lies on a hill in a broad valley. Its situation is very beautiful, and reminds those familiar with the scenery in the north of England of some places in Westmoreland and Cumberland, only the hills are less lofty than the fells there. The great characteristics of the place are its secluded, old-world look, its perfect quiet, and extreme simplicity. The valley of Linley is broad and winding—no river passes through it; the hills are high and have the most beautifully bold and varied outlines, occasionally gliding imperceptibly one into another, and forming new folds in the valley at every turn. The soil hereabouts is not rich; there is little wood and no water; the chalky soil is, however, prolific in wild flowers, which throng all the hedgerows, and every uncultivated patch of ground, of which there are many on the tops of the hills, mingled with gorse and broom, heath and briars; while the finely sweeping sides of the hills are covered with corn-fields, at this season (the end of July) yellowing to the harvest. The barley and wheat on these upland ranges do not grow quite so thick and rich as in the lower part of Kent, but they are as beautiful to look at; indeed, more beautiful, because you can see the wind rush up or down the whole of the side of a steep hill, and bend the graceful ears before it. It is a pleasant thing to stand on the top of a hill, planted from top to bottom with oats, and see the slightest breeze ripple tlicir surface like the waters of a lake on a calm day. This Linley Valley is all one farm, of about nine hundred acres. It belongs to Mr. Richard Chester, who manages it himself, and lives in the old Linley Court-IIousc, with his family. Linley Court is i »trange old place, half farm and half manor-house. Straight, ugly, and convenient on one side—ivyfrown and ruinous on another—straggling, picturesque, snug, and home-like on a third. The bosky, dd-fashioned garden lies on this side of the house; ind, separated from it by a low stone wall, is the churchyard, ia the midst of which, right opposite Mrs. Chester's parlour-window, rises the ivy-mantled tcwer of the church. When I first went down on a visit to Linley Court, I was particularly struck with this arrangement of things, and was very fond of sitting tm the said stone wall, under the shade of the hage old yew-tree, in the corner of the churchyard. Tie advantages of this position were obvious. I commanded the old garden, with its thickets of sweet-smelling flowers—roses, lilies, houcysuckles, jessamine, sweet peas, and clove pinks, which seemed 10 spring up of themselves, in all corners, in the greatest luxuriance. I could see into the parlour— even see myself reflected in the high looking-glass over the mantelpiece, if I were disposed to lean forward for that purpose. I could hear the merry voices ind sweet laughter of Mary and Carey Chester as they went about the house engaged in their ordinary domestic employments. I could hear the younger ones, at the far end of the garden, engaged in their childish games. Then, I had but to turn my head half round, and, from the spacious house, ringing with the sounds of life, I was transported, in a moment, to the narrow silent houses of the dead. Beneath the long, green, sunny grass,
"Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap, Each in bis narrow cell for ever laid The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep."
I loved in those days to "muse on graves,and worms, and epitaphs;"—all young people are inclined to be | "sad as night for very wantonness." When they ■ grow older they find that the sadness of night will come unbidden, unwished for; and that it is no pleasure, any more, to be very wretched. Still, even now, that I have grown older, I love to sit on the churchyard wall at Linley and listen to the domestic sounds from the house mingling with the full, solemn, imaginary ausic sent up from the silcut graves so close at hand. i And while I listen and muse, (for I can't call it think13;.) my eye wanders away to the north, where Comb Hill rises, capped by what, in this chalky district, is a respectable sweep of wood. From this scat under the yew-tree you have a very good view of Comb Hill: ind a very fine, bold elevation it is, with its great sides rich with waving crops.
One morning, during a July spent at Linley, I rose early, intending to finish a water-colour sketch of Comb Mill from my favourite seat, before the heat of the day came on. By six o'clock I had established my1 self, my book, and my colour-box, to my satisfaction, and was beginning to work, when I thought I heard a •ob near me. Somewhat startled, I looked round, (without rising,) first in the garden and then in the churchyard, and could sec nothing. Again the sob came; and other sobs, deeper and more convulsive,
followed. This time I was sure the sound came from the churchyard;—from the other side of the yew-tree. I shifted my position a little, and then I saw a woman on the other side of the tree. She knelt beside a grave—a child's grave—which I had often noticed, because it was so carefully trimmed. The woman had her back turned towards me. She was bowed down, with her head nearly resting on the grave; occasionally she uttered parts of her prayer aloud, and her voice sounded touchingly pathetic. She was poorly dressed. Though I did not recognise her, I concluded she was one of the villagers, and, feeling that involuntary respect which deep grief always inspires, 1 moved away gently, and did not return to my place till an hour afterwards, when she was gone. At breakfast I mentioned the circumstances, and asked if any one could conjecture who the poor woman was. I was told at once that it was " Mrs. Day, of Comb Hill."
"Is that her child," I asked, "that is buried under the yew-tree?"
"Yes. It is fifteen years ago since it died," said Mrs. Chester.
"Her grief is long-lived. Has she any other children?" I asked.
"No; and she never had any but this one. Little Alice Day was nine years old when she died. She was an intelligent little creature, and the prettiest child in these parts. Her mother almost broke her heart when Alice died; and though she has become externally cheerful again, and resigned to her loss, yet I have always thought she has not forgotten the child. It was about this time in the year she died. Indeed, I think this day, the twenty-fourth of July, is the anniversary."
"If it is so, mother," said Carey Chester, "wehad better put off our intention of going up to Comb Hill
to-day. We were all going there to show J the
prospect from Day's cottage, and we had promised the children they were to go too, and have tea with Mrs. Day under the great walnut-tree."
"I certainly think you had better defer your visit
for a day or two, after what J tells us she saw
this morning. Go on Monday; Mrs. Day will be glad to see you all, especially the little ones."
When the important Monday arrived, I was up in the history of the Days. John Day was the owner of a small farm on Comb Hill, called by that name. Sixty acres of freehold elevated him above the rauk of labourer, though he laboured hard enough, nearly all the year round, on his little estate. He was very industrious, and chose for his wife a young woman who had lived as a housemaid with Mrs. Chester when she was first married. Sarah was a jewel of a wife, as John Day soon discovered. She was affectionate, good-tempered, and sensible; thrifty, active, and a capital manager. When they had a thriving, healthy girl, there were no people in all Kent happier than John Day and his wife; now, though they were a much sadder couple than formerly, they were believed to be contented. They lived alone in their cottage upon Comb Hill Farm, far away from any habitation; they seldom saw any one but the two men who worked for them, and the girl who helped Mrs. Day in her dairy and house work.
It was a fine afternoon when we set off to go to Comb Hill Farm. The sky was cloudy, which was a great relief from the burning heat of the sun. I and one of the little girls, who were not considered capable of walking so far, without being knocked up at the end of the journey, were mounted upon ponies. The others, Mary and Carey, William and Richard, Phoebe and Jack, with their eldest brother Charles armed with a thick stick, to keep us all in order, as he said, were to walk. We were a merry party, and the elder portion soon got into some pleasant talk about travelling, and foreign countries, and celebrated mountains and lakes. I, however, did not take part in it long, for my attention was irresistibly attracted to the beautiful scene wound. When we left Linky Court, the old road first went down a hill, and then began to ascend again; which the reader will not think very surprising, as I have already informed him that the place was built on a hill in the midst of a valley, and that consequently every road from it must first go down a hill, and then up another. This ascending road was overshadowed by tall, impending hedges, for the first half mile; and nothing could be seen but the lovely greenery on each side, and the profusion of wild flowers, which the children, as usual, stopped to gather by haudsfull. At last we came out on the'edge of a wide piece of upland common, from which there was a beautiful view of part of the valley. Over this common our grass-grown road lay. Even a stranger in these parts could have found out the road, by the deep cart ruts in it; but in nothing else did it differ from the rough stony grass land of the common. Higher and higher we went, and every five minutes I gave my pony a rest that I might look behind me, over the gradually widening landscape. Hills behind hills seemed to be piled up in every direction, as far as the eye could reach. Near at hand, just below us, lay Linley village, with its church and court-house, nestling, as it seemed, in the deepest part of the valley. At last we had reached the edge of the wood which skirted the top of the fine hill; and before we plunged into the narrow road which led through part of it, to the house which was our destination, we all turned to look back again. All the Chester family, unlike many people born and bred in the country, had a full appreciation of the beauties of nature which surrounded them, and I heard little Kitty, who was ten, tell little Jack, who was nine years old, that she liked this prospect better than the famous one from Blue Bell Hill between Maidstone and Rochester, which she had seen the week before. When I asked her why she liked it best, she said, "Oli! for a great many reasons." First, because " home was in it;" then again, "because it did not look as if any one had tried to make it look pretty, as the Blue Bell Hill view did." Then "she liked this best because there were so few houses to be seen;" she "liked to see nothing but beautiful hills like those, with
sheep on them, or great fields of com." Lastly, "she liked this view because she always saw it when she went to see dear Mrs. Day."
I did not think Kitty's reasons so bad;—although Charles patted her on the shoulder compassionately, and said, "Well, well, Kitty! Let us live in hope that you may be able to give something like a reason for a preference some day."
Kitty was quite satisfied with her reasons;—arid pushing her pony close to mine, said she hoped I wa^ so too. This Comb AVood, although in nothmg like an American primeval forest, gave me the idea of great antiquity. The trees were none of them lofty or large; they were, for the most part, of stunted growth, gnarled and fantastic, sending out all their strength on one side, and leaving the other withered and twigless. Their knotted entangled boughs, their moss-covered trunks, and roots half bare of earth, looked very old; as if they had lived in their deformed state, beyond the length of life of more favoured, fullgrown trees. Ferns grew in profusion, and to a good height here, "muffling the feet" of the old oaks and elms. The wood was very dark and cool, and the smell of the ferns and the underwood was delicious, as we went slowly through it. No sound of birds was heard; it was too early in the afternoon, and too late in the year. No sound of brook or bubbling stream was there;—all was still, solemnly still, in that old wood;—and as we pass through, we look on this side and on that, in silence; or, if we spoke, we spoke in a subdued tone, as if there were a sort of sanctity in this leafy solitude. We had gone on for a quarter of a mile when the trees became fewer, it was lighter, and the air blew on our faces again more freely.
"Here we are, at the beginning of Day's farm," said Charles Chester, who led the way, and my pony, lest it should stumble in the dark wood.
We were now fairly out of the wood; but its still seclusion was not gone. There were some fields of corn, a small meadow with some pretty cows feeding, a fine old orchard full of apple and cherry trees; and in the midst of this little farm stood a little house, sheltered by a large tree;—the very walnut tree under which we were to take tea, and of the fruitfulness of which I had heard such marvels. How, last year, John Day had gathered forty sieves for pickling, and then left more than as many again to ripen. It was famous through all the country round, was John Day's walnut tree. Our party made for the house. Some of the younger ones ran on first, to give notice of our coming, and brought out Mrs. Day to meet us. She was the same person I had seen weeping in the churchyard. Now she looked somewhat different. Her gown, instead of being of cotton, was of black stuff, her cap and muslin kerchief were as white as soft water and pure air would make them; she had a little black and grey shawl pinned crosswise over her breast, and over the ends of it was tied a white holland apron. Her dress was highly characteristic. Neat, clean, and without any shadow of adornment, or of indication that any changes in fashion came under her notice. Now that I could see her face, I admired it. She was upwards of fifty, and though she looked older, there was a great deal of activity and vigour about her. Her blue eye was dimmed, but wa3 full of intelligence; the hair was grey, and the face was pale, but not much withered;—and the mouth had nothing of the coarseness which I had observed among the older men and women of the labouring class in this part of Kent. Mrs. Day had a pure Saxon look and expression. She did not abound in words, which is also another Saxon point of character;—but it is very likely it was a habit acquired from living so much alone, in a situation where nothing new ever happened ;— and so there was nothing to talk about. She looked pleased to see her "young mistresses," as she called Mary and Carey; and brightened all over with pleasure when she was surrounded by a group of clamorous children.
"How do you do?"—"Did you expect us?" "Mamma sent a cake—has it come?" "We. want to have tea under the walnut-tree, Mrs. Day." "Ah! may we make a fire and boil the kettle out here?" "Oh! Mary, Mary, she says we may; aud that we 'may have the little tea-things out." "Oh! what i dear, kind old creature she is!" And the little i things fell to jumping round Mrs. Day, and kissing her after the manner of young human beings when they have got what their hearts are set on. ! Mrs. Day welcomed me with the courtesy of a kind heart, and led mc into her house, that I might sit down to rest. There was a small garden inimcI dotetw round the cottage, and this was literally 'I crammed with flowers. They were not of rare kinds, but tiiey were fine, and so closely planted, that the garden looked like a small flower show,—one variegated mass of colour. Mrs. Day seemed pleased to tare her garden commented on.
"I wish you had come up here a week ago, ladies. Now, all my best flowers are going off. Here is one damask rose-tree, ma'am; isn't that a fine one? I can't count the roses; and see what a many more buds there are to come out. I shall have some very fine carnations out in a day or two."
As I looked round, 1 cast my eye upon a small square piece of ground under one of the windows, which was more brilliant than the rest; in the midst was a white rose-tree, still in flower. Carey Chester stopped me as I was about to make some remark on this.
"Don't say anything about that. It was her little eiri's garden, and she still takes more pains with that than with all the rest of the garden put together. If she likes you, she will, perhaps, give you a rose from Alice's tree. It will be a great mark of favour."
Mrs. Day led the way into her cottage. There was a passage paved with red-brick, which led straight through the house. On one side of this passage, a door opened into what Mrs. Day called her best room, and on the other side was a door which opened into the kitchen. As there was an old sofa in the best room, and as it teas the best room, I was made to go
there to rest. Not that I was in the least tired, but everybody chose to fancy I was. When Mrs. Day had established mc to her satisfaction on the sofa, the children came tumbling over the uneven bricks of the passage, asking where they were to put their hats and gloves, and what they could do towards getting tea ready. A door in the best room was opened, which I had thought was a closet-door, and displayed an upward staircase. As the children expressed a wish to go up stairs, and see what there was new, since they were thcra last, Mrs. Day took them up; and I heard their little feet and their merry voices over head for some moments; then they came down again, and Mrs. Day iu the midst of them, carrying Kitty in her arms.
"Now, you must get out the playthings, dear Mrs. Day," said Kitty—" I know where they are. They are in that thing," pointing to an old walnut-wood book-case. "We only want to look at them, you know; and then you must tell us about little Alice again. I love to hear of her." And the pretty overindulged darling pointed her little white finger at the book-case, and then looked coaxingly in Mrs. Day's face. Mrs. Day could not resist that look; but began feeling in her pocket immediately for a bunch of keys, and selecting one, she put it into the lock of the bookcase. The door was opened, and displayed, carefully arranged, the mother's treasure—her dead child's playthings. There were the little tea-things all in a row. These were taken out, and put on a table, to the great delight of the children. There was a wax doll all discoloured, and with its face sadly cracked, that lay in a doll's cradle. The children looked at this with reverent, half-dismayed faces. They did not quite understand what it was to die; but they knew that Alice had been like themselves, a great many years before; that she took great pride and pleasure iu her doll; and that she had never lived to be a woman; but had died when she was nine years old, and was buried under the yew-tree. • Then there was a little wooden cart she had had given her, when she was two years old, by their own mamma; and a box of Tonbridge-warc toys. Mrs. Day took the lid off, for them to see, but she would not let them touch one of the things inside, because little Alice had last put them in, with her own hands. There was a little thimble aud a housewife and a pair of scissors; and there was a Bible and prayer-book. All these things Mrs. Day held in her own hands, while the children stood in a group round her, and asked their simple questions about how long Alice had this or that, in a whisper. It seemed as if they half fancied she was near, and might hear them. At last everything had been seen and talked of;—Mrs. Day closed the book-case once more; and they all went slowly out into the garden, leaving mc to meditate on what I had seen. In less than ten minutes I heard a loud shout of young voices under the walnut-tree, and, peeping out at the window, I saw Mrs. Day giving little Jack a ride on her back. She looked as if the presence of children could always make her gay. Finding that my proper companions had disappeared, I got up and stole into the kitchen, -which I liked much better than the best room. It was small, low, and scrupulously clean. It had a wide, projecting chimney, in which no fire was, nor had been all that summer, if I was to judge by the brightness of the bars, and the gorgeoua beau-pot of double poppies, which filled up the space within them. There were two old arm-chairs, beside the fire-place, under the chimney. I had to stoop my head to sit down in one of these chairs; beside it was a little round table, on which lay an old Bible, Mrs. Day's spectacles, a thimble, and some thread; and in a little recess in the wall, beside the fire, a few old books of a religious nature,—" The Whole Duty of Man," "Blair's Sermon's," " Hervey's Meditations." I got out from the chimney-ingle again, and examined one or two plants in pots, which stood in the room. These were a small orange-tree, a fine geranium, a calceolaria, and a cineraria. These looked as if she had bestowed much pains upon them. On the walls were some strange, old, coloured engravings, representing Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, as female figures, in the most wonderful costumes, and with singular attendants, selected from the wildest beasts. There was an old telescope supported by two iron nails in the wall; there was also a tall, narrow lookingglass, hung, slantingdicular, on the wall. Over the low-browed chimney was a shelf, and on this were ranged a few bright brass candlesticks, a spice-box, a tobacco-box, and a flour-dredger. The floor was covered with a patched carpet, the windows had little dimity curtains; there was a walnut-wood bureau, and a table of the same wood. I couid see no signs of any kitchen work ever being performed there. Upon further investigation of the premises, I found Ann, a stout girl who was Mrs. Day's maid, domesticated in the washhouse, which was a much larger apartment than any other in the house, and did duty as kitchen, and dairy, and scullery. I had scarcely got back to my place on the sofa in the best room, when Carey and little Kitty came to fetch the cups and saucers, and to tell Ann to carry out the large table from the best room. In a few moments we were all actively engaged in setting out the evening meal, under the walnut-tree. I must not forget to state that there was a small table as well as a large one; and, that at the small table the small folks sat, and drank tea out of the small cups and saucers which had once belonged to little Alice. These playthings Mrs. Day always brought out when any well-behaved children came to see her, though she never allowed any one but kerself to handle anything else which had belonged to her darling. It is said that little Alice used to have the little cups placed on a table beside her bed during her last illness, and would play at having a party to tea; and that just before she died, when she knew that she was dying, she told her mother to be sure and let any little girls, who came to the house when she was dead and buried, make tea in those pretty cups; "for you know, mother dear, it will remind you of the happy times I spent with them,
when you would pretend to be a lady come to take tea with me. You must play at that sometimes when I am gone."
And Mrs. Day played at pretending to be a lady come to take tea with Kitty that evening, and though she looked pale at first, and the tears were in her eyes, yet Kitty and Jack played such odd tricks, and said so many droll things, that her bitter recollections passed away. Mary Chester presided at the large tea-table, and made tea for us grown-up people, while Mrs. Day sat with the children.
"Look at her," whispered Charles; "is Pascal's aphorism applicable to her, 'Pen de chose nous console parceque peu de chose nous qfflige /"'or would you say rather, 'Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning ?'"
"I would say neither. Pascal's mot is a little too contemptuous of human nature, and the 'weeping that endureth for a night' designates a sorrow of a short and violent nature; not one like this, which has endured for fifteen years. It is out of the very depths of the grief which has endured so long, that Mrs. Day can take part in the joy of children, and this joy is indeed but the inversion of her grief. She is evidently a woman whose heart would have been ' too happy in its happiness,' had she been jthe mother of many children. God saw fit to deprive her of her only one, and she has learned to be resigned to His will, even while the sorrow has clouded her life. Let us go and talk with her. It must be good for all of us to converse with such a being. She looks like a trulygood woman."
"She is what she looks like," said Charles; "her husband told my father once, that ' her price is above rubies,' and that ' he verily believed God had taken her child away from her to try her spirit, and see whether it would become rebellious; that there never was a woman who put more control upon her feelings ; not even before him, in the first, year after her loss, would she weep aloud for little Alice.'"
I thought of the passionate sobs and the fervent prayers which I had heard uttered under the yew-tree over the grave, a few days before, and I could not but respect the woman whose heart was so steadfast, that even the sorrow of years long passed by, lived within her, and became a bond of union between her and God.
When our evening meal was finished, we sent the little ones to play in the orchard, while we sat round our hostess, under the walnut-tree, and she told us many a simple tale, stored in her mind during the fifty years of her life; tales of which she knew the. actors; often, indeed, she was an actor in them herself. They were all, or chiefly, about Linley folks; and many of them were about children who died young. Children seemed ever dearer to her heart than adults. With what tenderness she spoke of them; how she loved to repeat their clever sayings and descant on their pretty ways! She was a real "Children's Friend," and was in high favour with all
(1) A little thing consoles us because a little thing affects us.