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Among The Quantock Hills
by [?]

My little Dorothea was the only one of the merry crowd who cared to turn aside with me from the beaten tourist-track, and give up the sight of another English cathedral for the sake of a quiet day among the Quantock Hills. Was it the literary association of that little corner of Somersetshire with the names of Wordsworth and Coleridge that attracted her, I wonder? Or was it the promise that we would hire a dog-cart, if one could be found, and that she should be the driver all through the summer day? I confess my incompetence to decide the question. When one is fifteen years old, a live horse may be as interesting as two dead poets. Not for the world would I put Dorothea to the embarrassment of declaring which was first in her mind.

When she and I got out of the railway carriage, in the early morning, at the humble station of Watchet, (barely mentioned in the guide-book,) our travelling companions jeered gently at our enterprise. As the train rumbled away from the platform, they stuck their heads out of the window and cried, “Where are you going? And how are you going to get there?” Upon my honour, I did not know. That was just the fun of it.

But there was an inn at Watchet, though I doubt whether it had ever entertained tourists. The friendly and surprised landlady thought that she could get us a dog-cart to drive across the country; but it would take about an hour to make ready. So we strolled about the town, and saw the sights of Watchet.

They were few and simple; yet something, (perhaps the generous sunshine of the July day, or perhaps an inward glow of contentment in our hearts,) made them bright and memorable. There were the quaint, narrow streets, with their tiny shops and low stone houses. There was the coast-guard station, with its trim garden, perched on a terrace above the sea. There was the life-boat house, with its doors wide open, and the great boat, spick and span in the glory of new paint, standing ready on its rollers, and the record of splendid rescues in past years inscribed upon the walls. There was the circular basin-harbour, with the workmen slowly repairing the breakwater, and a couple of ancient looking schooners reposing on their sides in the mud at low tide. And there, back on the hill, looking down over the town and far away across the yellow waters of the Bristol Channel, was the high tower of St. Decuman’s Church.

“It was from this tiny harbour,” said I to Dorothea, “that a great friend of ours, the Ancient Mariner, set sail on a wonderful voyage. Do you remember?

“‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.’

“That was the kirk to which he looked back as he sailed away to an unknown country.”

“But, father,” said Dorothea, “the Ancient Mariner was not a real person. He was only a character!”

“Are you quite sure,” said I, “that a character isn’t a real person? At all events, it was here that Coleridge, walking from Nether Stowey to Dulverton, saw the old sailor-man. And since Coleridge saw him, I reckon he lived, and still lives. Are we ever going to forget what he has told us?

“‘He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.'”

Just then a most enchanting little boy and his sister, not more than five years old, came sauntering down the gray street, hand in hand. They were on their way to school, at least an hour late, round and rosy, careless and merry, manifest owners of the universe. We stopped them: they were dismayed, but resolute. We gave each of them a penny; they radiated wonder and joy. Too happy for walking, they skipped and toddled on their way, telling everyone they met, children and grown-up people, of the good fortune that had befallen them. We could see them far down the street, pausing a moment to look in at the shop-windows, or holding up their coppers while they stopped some casual passer-by and made him listen to their story–just like the Ancient Mariner.