Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

Jesse Cliffe
by [?]

Living as we do in the midst of rivers, water in all its forms, except indeed that of the trackless and mighty ocean, is familiar to our little inland county. The slow majestic Thames, the swift and wandering Kennett, the clear and brimming Loddon, all lend life and verdure to our rich and fertile valleys. Of the great river of England–whose course from its earliest source, near Cirencester, to where it rolls calm, equable, and full, through the magnificent bridges of our splendid metropolis, giving and reflecting beauty,* presents so grand an image of power in repose–it is not now my purpose to speak; nor am I about to expatiate on that still nearer and dearer stream, the pellucid Loddon,–although to be rowed by one dear and near friend up those transparent and meandering waters, from where they sweep at their extremest breadth under the lime-crowned terraces of the Old Park at Aberleigh, to the pastoral meadows of Sandford, through which the narrowed current wanders so brightly–now impeded by beds of white water-lilies, or feathery-blossomed bulrushes, or golden flags–now overhung by thickets of the rich wayfaring tree, with its wealth of glorious berries, redder and more transparent than rubies–now spanned from side to side by the fantastic branches of some aged oak;–although to be rowed along that clear stream, has long been amongst the choicest of my summer pleasures, so exquisite is the scenery, so perfect and so unbroken the solitude. Even the shy and foreign-looking kingfisher, most gorgeous of English birds, who, like the wild Indian retiring before the foot of man, has nearly deserted our populous and cultivated country, knows and loves the lovely valley of the Loddon.

* There is nothing finer in London than the view from Waterloo-bridge on a July evening, whether coloured by the gorgeous hues of the setting sun reflected on the water in tenfold glory, or illuminated by a thousand twinkling lights from lamps, and boats, and houses, mingling with the mild beams of the rising moon. The calm and glassy river, gay with unnumbered vessels; the magnificent buildings which line its shores; the combination of all that is loveliest in art or in nature, with all that is most animating in motion and in life, produce a picture gratifying alike to the eye and to the heart–and the more exhilarating, or rather perhaps the more soothing, because, for London, so singularly peaceful and quiet. It is like some gorgeous town in fairyland, astir with busy and happy creatures, the hum of whose voices comes floating from the craft upon the river, or the quays by the water side. Life is there, and sound and motion; but blessedly free from the jostling of the streets, the rattling of the pavement, the crowd, the confusion, the tumult, and the din of the work-a-day world. There is nothing in the great city like the scene from Waterloo bridge at sunset. I see it in my mind’s eye at this instant.

It is not, however, of the Loddon that I am now to speak. The scene of my little story belongs to a spot quite as solitary, but far less beautiful, on the banks of the Kennett, which, a few miles before its junction with the Thames, passes through a tract of wild, marshy country–water-meadows at once drained and fertilised by artificial irrigation, and totally unmixed with arable land; so that the fields being for the most part too wet to admit the feeding of cattle, divided by deep ditches, undotted by timber, unchequered by cottages, and untraversed by roads, convey in their monotonous expanse (except perhaps at the gay season of haymaking) a feeling of dreariness and desolation, singularly contrasted with the picturesque and varied scenery, rich, glowing, sunny, bland, of the equally solitary Loddon meadows.

A large portion of these English prairies, comprising a farm called the Moors, was, at the time of which I write, in the occupation of a wealthy yeoman named John Cobbam, who, the absentee tenant of an absentee landlord, resided upon a small property of his own about two miles distant, leaving the large deserted house, and dilapidated outbuildings, to sink into gradual decay. Barns half unthatched, tumble-down cart-houses, palings rotting to pieces, and pigsties in ruins, contributed, together with a grand collection of substantial and dingy ricks of fine old hay–that most valuable but most gloomy looking species of agricultural property–to the general aspect of desolation by which the place was distinguished. One solitary old labourer, a dreary bachelor, inhabited, it is true, a corner of the old roomy house, calculated for the convenient accommodation of the patriarchal family of sons and daughters, men-servants and maid-servants, of which a farmer’s household consisted in former days; and one open window, (the remainder were bricked up to avoid taxes,) occasionally a door ajar, and still more rarely a thin wreath of smoke ascending from one of the cold dismal-looking chimneys, gave token that the place was not wholly abandoned. But the uncultivated garden, the grass growing in the bricked court, the pond green with duckweed, and the absence of all living things, cows, horses, pigs, turkeys, geese, or chickens–and still more of those talking, as well as living things, women and children–all impressed on the beholder that strange sensation of melancholy which few can have failed to experience at the sight of an uninhabited human habitation. The one solitary inmate failed to relieve the pressing sense of solitude. Nothing but the ringing sound of female voices, the pleasant and familiar noise of domestic animals, could have done that; and nothing approaching to noise was ever heard in the Moors. It was a silence that might be felt.