+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

traversed Marlborough forest, and pulled up at
"The Castle," where dinner was always ready,
to stay there for the night, if he were not
pressed for time, was as sensible a thing as he
could possibly do. Several motives might
induce him: Firstif he were imaginative
the immense size of the building, with its
multitudinous rooms and Iong galleries
extending from wing to wing, suggested, or
recalled all kinds of inn-adventures: it was
impossible that such a house of entertainment
could stand there without furnishing forth
some record of the events of the roadthe
runaway match, the broken-down post-chaise,
the stoppage by highwaymen, the mail-coach
passengers dug out of the snow, or the duel
across the supper-table. Nextif he were
only matter of factthe pleasant aspect
of the jovial host and bustling attendants,
the glimpse of the larder, and the more
transitory visions of pretty faces in caps
and ribbons, testified to creature comforts
in the most unmistakable manner. He
might be bored by his stage-coach companions,
or fatigued by the journey, or desirous of a
new sensation, or eager for that warmest
welcome which Shenstone has told us, with a
sigh, is only to be found at an inn. At all
events, there being no particular reason to
the contrary, he could not be very far wrong
if he had his portmanteau taken out of the
boot of the coach, and ordered a bed at
"The Castle." I did so under one or other
of the circumstances alluded to, some twenty
years agobefore the inn was converted
into a cottageand had no cause to repent
the act.

On all the great high roads of England
there is some house that was famous
for something. At Hartley Row it used
to be stewed carp; at Godalming, a spatchcock;
at Sittingbourne, veal cutlets; trout
at St. Alban's; the sauce to eat it with
good also, tor rumpsteaksat Bedfont;
mutton and chickensmarred, however, by too
much matrimonyat Burford Bridge; eels
at Watford; spiced beef at Grantham ; and
so on of the rest. " The Castle," at
Marlborough was celebrated, I soon found, for what
you seldom get in perfection anywhere out
of Normandy: a roast capon. The rearing
of capons appears to have been
practised time out of mind, at Marlborough, for
Camden tells us that every freeman on his
admission to the guild was bound to present the
Mayor with "a couple of greyhounds, two
white capons, and a white bull."

I found my quarters extremely comfortable,
and decided upon remaining till I got
tired of them. My visit to the country had
chiefly been for change of scene and relaxation
from work, and I was as well off on the
Wiltshire downs as anywhere else. No better
exercise could be had that these steep hills
afforded, and the Roman encampments
scattered over them supplied numerous objects of
interest. How delicious the feeling was, I can
well remember, with which after climbing the
lofty ridge that runs parallel with the high
road, and threw myself down on the short
thymy grass and bared my breast to the soft
western breeze, drinking in the air that
seemed to give me new life! What a glorious
view was spread before me! I know nothing
of the locality, but a .shepherd, whom I
questioned as he passed, told me that a certain
gray line which cut the horizon to the south
was the spire of Salisbury cathedral, distant,
as he said, " ever so fur," — a definition which
to his thinking, conveyed an idea of infinite
space, and was, probably, as the crow flies,
about five and twenty miles.

" But," continued my informant, " they do
say them that's out at sea, mariners and such
like, can see the very place we're standin' on;
leastways, the white house yon, top of
Martin's hill, where the soldiers' graves

"What soldiers ? " I asked. He could'nt
tell. Some that were buried ever so long
ago; there must have been a hundred or
more, the bones were so plenty, besides
bricks and queer things that he did'nt know
the names of. Gentlefolks often come into
these parts to dig 'em up. Some said there
was treasures to be found, and his father had
told him how people that he knew had dug
down on Wick farm for a gold table. They
was'nt to speak till they'd got it up. but as
soon as they saw it they cried out, ' Here it
is! ' and it sunk out of sight, and they never
could get a look at it agin! "No!" he added,
with an air of complete conviction, "'two'nt
be seen for another hundred years! " I
observed that I saw signs of encampments in
various directions: had they all been explored?
Mostly, he thought; he had been at the
opening of several, but did'nt fancy any good
ever come of it; indeed, 'twarn't likely, ifas
folks saidthe devil had any hand in making
'em. I inquired how that personage came to
be associated with these antiquities. "Well,
it was what people believed down in those
parts. There's Wansditch." he added, pointing
to an embankment that ran along the
crest of the hill; " the devil built that on a
Wensday, — that's why they give it that

My pastoral friend proving communicative,
I encouraged the traditional vein in which
he seemed willing to indulge, and learnt from
him many particulars chiefly turning upon
subjects of popular belief. Not, as may be
supposed, all at once; but at intervals, when
I became better known on the hill-side. A
shepherd has many idle moments, and it was
a novelty for him to meet with some one to
talk to while his flock were quietly browsing.
From St. Martin's Hill, the locality which he
principally affected, all the places were visible
which in his eyes had any interest. There
was Pewsey-hill, about five miles off, " where
the cat ate the bacon," a legend he was unable
to explain further than " it was what folks said