MACKERY END, IN HERTFORDSHIRE
Bridget Elia has been
my housekeeper for many a long year. I have obligations to Bridget,
extending beyond the period of memory. We house together, old
bachelor and maid, in a sort of double singleness; with such tolerable
comfort, upon the whole, that I, for one, find in myself no sort
of disposition to go out upon the mountains, with the rash king's
offspring, to bewail my celibacy. We agree pretty well in our
tastes and habit -- yet so, as "with a difference."
We are generally in harmony, with occasional bickerings as it
should be among near relations. Our sympathies are rather understood,
than expressed; and once, upon my dissembling a tone in my voice
more kind than ordinary, my cousin burst into tears, and complained
that I was altered. We are both great readers in different directions.
While I am hanging over (for the thousandth time) some passage
in old Burton, or one of his strange contemporaries, she is abstracted
in some modern tale, or adventure, whereof our common reading-table
is daily fed with assiduously fresh supplies. Narrative teazes
me. I have little concern in the progress of events. She must
have a story -- well, ill, or indifferently told -- so there be
life stirring in it, and plenty of good or evil accidents. The
fluctuations of fortune in fiction -- and almost in real life
-- have ceased to interest, or operate but dully upon me. Out-of-the-way
humours and opinion -- heads with some diverting twist in them
-- the oddities of authorship please me most. My cousin has a
native disrelish of any thing that sounds odd or bizarre Nothing
goes down with her, that is quaint, irregular, or out of the road
of common sympathy. She "holds Nature more clever."
I can pardon her blindness to the beautiful obliquities of the
Religio Medici; but she must apologise to me for certain disrespectful
insinuations, which she has been pleased to throw out latterly,
touching the intellectuals of a dear favourite of mine, of the
last century but one -- the thrice noble, chaste, and virtuous,
-- but again somewhat fantastical, and original-brain'd, generous
It has been the lot
of my cousin, oftener perhaps than I could have wished, to have
had for her associates and mine, free-thinkers leaders, and disciples,
of novel philosophies and systems; but she neither wrangles with,
nor accepts, their opinions. That which was good and venerable
to her, when a child, retains its authority over her mind still.
She never juggles or plays tricks with her understanding.
We are both of us inclined
to be a little too positive; and I have observed the result of
our disputes to be almost uniformly this --- that in matters of
fact, dates, and circumstances, it turns out, that I was in the
right, and my cousin in the wrong. But where we have differed
upon moral points; upon something proper to be done, or let alone;
whatever heat of opposition, or steadiness of conviction, I set
out with, I am sure always, in the long run, to be brought over
to her way of thinking.
I must touch upon the
foibles of my kinswoman with a gentle hand, for Bridget does not
like to be told of her faults. She hath an awkward trick (to say
no worse of it) of reading in company: at which times she will
answer yes or no to a question, without fully understanding its
purport -- which is provoking, and derogatory in the highest degree
to the dignity of the putter of the said question. Her presence
of mind is equal to the most pressing trials of life, but will
sometimes desert her upon trifling occasions. When the purpose
requires it, and is a thing of moment, she can speak to it greatly;
but in matters which are not stuff of the conscience, she hath
been known sometimes to let slip a word less seasonably. Her education
in youth was not much attended to; and she happily missed all
that train of female garniture, which passeth by the name of accomplishments.
She was tumbled early, by accident or design, into a spacious
closet of good old English reading, without much selection or
prohibition, and browsed at will upon that fair and wholesome
pasturage. Had I twenty girls, they should be brought up exactly
in this fashion. I know not whether their chance in wedlock might
not be diminished by it; but I can answer for it, that it makes
(if the worst come to the worst) most incomparable old maids.
In a season of distress,
she is the truest comforter; but in the teazing accidents, and
minor perplexities, which do not call out the will to meet them,
she sometimes maketh matters worse by an excess of participation.
If she does not always divide your trouble upon the pleasanter
occasions of life she is sure always to treble your satisfaction.
She is excellent to be at a play with, or upon a visit; but best,
when she goes a journey with you.
We made an excursion
together a few summers since, into Hertfordshire, to heat up the
quarters of some of our less-known relations in that fine corn
The oldest thing I
remember is Mackery End; or Mackarel End, as it is spelt, perhaps
more properly, in some old maps of Hertfordshire; a farmhouse,
delightfully situated within a gentle walk from Wheathampstead.
I can just remember having been there, on a visit to a great-aunt,
when I was a child, under the care of Bridget; who, as I have
said, is older than myself by some ten years. I wish that I could
throw into a heap the remainder of our joint existences, that
we might share them in equal division. But that is impossible.
The house was at that time in the occupation of a substantial
yeoman, who had married my grandmother's sister. His name was
Gladman. My grandmother was a Bruton, married to a Field. The
Gladmans and the Brutons are still flourishing in that part of
the county, but the Fields are almost extinct. More than forty
years had elapsed since the visit I speak of; and, for the greater
portion of that period, we had lost sight of the other two branches
also. Who or what sort of persons inherited Mackery End -- kindred
or strange folk -- we were afraid almost to conjecture, but determined
some way to explore.
By somewhat a circuitous
route, taking the noble park at Luton in our way from Saint Alban's,
we arrived at the spot of our anxious curiosity about noon. The
sight of the old farm-house, though every trace of it was effaced
from my recollection, affected me with a pleasure which I had
not experienced for many a year. For though I had forgotten it,
we had never forgotten being there together, and we had been talking
about Mackery End all our lives, till memory on my part became
mocked with a phantom of itself, and I thought I knew the aspect
of a place, which, when Present, O how unlike it was to that,
which I had conjured up so many times instead of it!
Still the air breathed
balmily about it; the season was in the "heart of June,"
and I could say with the poet,
But thou, that didst appear so fair
To fond imagination,
Dost rival in the light of day
Her delicate creation !
Bridget's was more a waking bliss than
mine, for she easily remembered her old acquaintance again --
some altered features, of course, a little grudged at. At first,
indeed, she was ready to disbelieve for joy; but the scene soon
re-confirmed itself in her affection -- and she traversed every
out-post of the old mansion, to the wood-house, the orchard, the
place where the pigeon-house had stood (house and birds were alike
flown) -- with a breathless impatience of recognition, which was
more pardonable perhaps than decorous at the age of fifty odd.
But Bridget in some things is behind her years.
The only thing left
was to get into the house -- and that was a difficulty which to
me singly would have been insurmountable; for I am terribly shy
in making myself known to strangers and out-of-date kinsfolk.
Love, stronger than scruple, winged my cousin in without me; but
she soon returned with a creature that might have sat to a sculptor
for the image of Welcome. It was the youngest of the Gladmans;
who, by marriage with a Bruton, had become mistress of the old
mansion. A comely brood are the Brutons. Six of them, females,
were noted as the handsomest young women in the county. But this
adopted Bruton, in my mind, was better than they all -- more comely.
She was born too late to have remembered me. She just recollected
in early life to have had her cousin Bridget pointed out to her,
climbing a style. But the name kindred, and of cousinship, was
enough. Those slender ties, that prove slight as gossamer in the
rending atmosphere of a metropolis, bind faster, as we found it,
in hearty, homely, loving Hertfordshire. In five minutes we were
as thoroughly acquainted as if we had been born and bred up together;
were familiar, even to the calling each other by our Christian
names. So Christians should call one another. To have seen Bridget,
and her -- it was like the meeting of the two scriptural cousins!
There was a grace and dignity, an amplitude of form and stature,
answering to her mind, in this farmer's wife, which would have
shined in a palace -- or so we thought it. We were made welcome
by husband and wife equally -- we, and our friend that was with
us -- I had almost forgotten him -- but B. F. will not so soon
forget that meeting, if peradventure he shall read this on the
far distant shores where the Kangaroo haunts. The fatted calf
was made ready, or rather was already so, as if in anticipation
of our coming; and, after an appropriate glass of native wine,
never let me forget with what honest pride this hospitable cousin
made us proceed to Wheathampstead, to introduce us (as some new-found
rarity) to her mother and sister Gladmans, who did indeed know
something more of us, at a time when she almost knew nothing.
-- With what corresponding kindness we were received by them also
-- how Bridget's memory, exalted by the occasion, warmed into
a thousand half-obliterated recollections of things and persons,
to my utter astonishment, and her own -- and to the astoundment
of B. F. who sat by, almost the only thing that was not a cousin
there, -- old effaced images of more than half-forgotten names
and circumstances still crowding back upon her, as words written
in lemon come out upon exposure to a friendly warmth, -- when
I forget all this, then may my country cousins forget me; and
Bridget no more remember, that in the days of weakling infancy
I was her tender charge -- as I have been her care in foolish
manhood since -- in those pretty pastoral walks, long ago about
Mackery End, in Hertfordshire.