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Jane Austen
by [?]

* * * * *

It is over a hundred years since Jane Austen lived. But when you tramp that five miles from Overton, where the railroad-station is, to Steventon, where she was born, it doesn’t seem like it. Rural England does not change much. Great fleecy clouds roll lazily across the blue, overhead, and the hedgerows are full of twittering birds that you hear but seldom see; and the pastures contain mild-faced cows that look at you with wide-open eyes over the stone walls; and in the towering elm-trees that sway their branches in the breeze crows hold a noisy caucus. And it comes to you that the clouds and the blue sky and the hedgerows and the birds and the cows and the crows are all just as Jane Austen knew them–no change. These stone walls stood here then, and so did the low slate-roofed barns and the whitewashed cottages where the roses clamber over the doors.

I paused in front of one of these snug, homely, handsome, pretty little cottages and looked at the two exact rows of flowers that lined the little walk leading from gate to cottage-door. The pathway was made from coal-ashes and the flowerbeds were marked off with pieces of broken crockery set on edge. ‘T was an absent-minded, impolite thing to do–to stand leaning on a gate and critically examine the landscape-gardening, evidently an overworked woman’s gardening, at that.

As I leaned there the door opened and a little woman with sleeves rolled up appeared. I mumbled an apology, but before I could articulate it, she held out a pair of scissors and said, “Perhaps, sir, you’d like to clip some of the flowers–the roses over the door are best!”

Three children hung to her skirts, peeking, round faces from behind, and quite accidentally disclosing a very neat ankle.

I took the scissors and clipped three splendid Jacqueminots and said it was a beautiful day. She agreed with me and added that she was just finishing her churning and if I’d wait a minute until the butter came, she’d give me a drink of buttermilk.

I waited without urging and got the buttermilk, and as the children had come out from hiding I was minded to give them a penny apiece. Two coppers were all I could muster, so I gave the two boys each a penny and the little girl a shilling. The mother protested that she had no change and that a bob was too much for a little girl like that, but I assumed a Big-Bonanza air and explained that I was from California where the smallest change is a dollar.

“Go thank the gentleman, Jane.”

“That’s right, Jane Austen, come here and thank me!”

“How did you know her name was Jane Austen–Jane Austen Humphreys?”

“I didn’t know–I only guessed.”

Then little Mrs. Humphreys ceased patting the butter and told me that she named her baby girl for Jane Austen, who used to live near here a long time ago. Jane Austen was one of the greatest writers that ever lived–the Rector said so. The Reverend George Austen preached at Steventon for years and years, and I should go and see the church–the same church where he preached and where Jane Austen used to go. And anything I wanted to know about Jane Austen’s books the Rector could tell, for he was a wonderful learned man was the Rector–“Kiss the gentleman, Jane.”

So I kissed Jane Austen’s round, rosy cheek and stroked the tousled heads of the boys by way of blessing, and started for Steventon to interview the Rector who was very wise.

And the clergyman who teaches his people the history of their neighborhood, and tells them of the excellent men and women who once lived thereabouts, is both wise and good. And the present Rector at Steventon is both–I’m sure of that.