Eden Phillpotts.

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to the castle walls. Time rings his rounds and forgets not this
sequestered hollow. Today, beside the entrance-gate of Compton, the
husbandman mounts his nag from that same "upping-stock" whence a Gilbert
and a Ralegh leapt to horse in England's age of gold.




BERRY POMEROY

[Illustration: BERRY POMEROY.]


Hither, a thousand years and more ago, rode Radulphus de la Pomerio,
lord of the Norman Castle of the Orchard; for William I. was generous to
those who helped his conquests. Radulphus, as the result of a hero's
achievements at Hastings, won eight-and-fifty Devon lordships, and of
these he chose Beri, "the Walled town," for his barony, or honour.

Forward we may imagine him pressing with his cavalcade, through the
wooded hills and dales, until this limestone crag and plateau in the
forest suddenly opened upon his view, and the Norman eagle, judging the
strength of such a position, quickly determined that here should his
eyrie be built. For it was a stronghold impregnable before the days of
gunpowder.

So the banner with the Pomeroy lion upon it was set aloft on the bluff,
and soon the sleep of the woods departed to the strenuous labour of a
thousand men. There is a great gap in the hill close at hand that shows
whence came these time-worn stones, when a feudal multitude of workers
were set upon their task. Then, grim, squat and stern, with a hundred
eyes from which the cross-bow's bolts might leap, arose another Norman
castle, its watch-towers and great ramparts wedged into the woods and
beetling over the valley beneath. It sprang from the solid rock,
dominated a gorge, and so stood for many hundred years, during which
time the descendants of Ralph exercised baronial rights and enjoyed the
favour of their princes. The family, indeed, continued to prosper until
1549, but then disaster overtook them and they disappeared, disgraced.
It was during this year that Devon opposed the "Act for Reforming the
Church Service." Tooth and nail she resented the proposed changes; and
among the malcontents there figured a soldier Pomeroy, now head of his
house, who had fought with distinction in France during the reign of
Henry VIII. Like many another military veteran since his time, he
assumed an exceedingly definite attitude on matters of religion, and
held tolerance a doubtful virtue where dogma was involved. Him,
therefore, the discontented gentlemen of the West elected their leader,
and, after preliminary successes, the baron lost the day at Clist Heath,
nigh Exeter. He was captured, and only escaped with his life. He kept
his head on his shoulders, but Berry Pomeroy became sequestrated to the
Crown.

By purchase, the old castle now owned new masters, for the Seymours
followed the founders in their heritage, and the great Elizabethan ruin,
that lies in the midst of the Norman work and towers above it, is of
their creation.

Sir Edward - a descendant of the Protector - it was who, when William III.
remarked to him, "I believe you are of the family of the Duke of
Somerset?" made instant reply, "Pardon, sir; the Duke of Somerset is of
my family." This haughty gentleman was the last of his race to dwell at
Berry Pomeroy; but to his descendants the castle still belongs, and it
can utter this unique boast: that since the Conquest it has changed
hands but once.

The fabric of Seymour's mansion was, it is said, never completed, but
enough still stands to make an imposing ruin; while the earlier
fragments of the original fortress, including the southern gateway, the
pillared chamber above it and the north wing of the quadrangle, complete
a spectacle sufficiently splendid in its habiliments of grey and green.

Nature had played with it and rendered it beautiful. Ivy crowns every
turret and shattered wall; its limbs writhe like hydras in and out of
the ruined windows, and twist their fingers into the rotting mortar;
while along the tattered battlements and archways, grass and wild
flowers grow rankly together and many saplings of oak and ash and thorn
find foothold aloft. Over all the jackdaws chime and chatter, for it is
their home now, and they share it with the owl and the flittermouse.

Seen from beyond the stew ponds in the valley below, the ruins of Berry
still present a noble vision piled among the tree-tops into the sky, and
never can it more attract than at autumn time, when the wealth of the
woods is scattered and only spruce and pine trail their green upon the
grey and amber of the naked forest. Then, against the low, lemon light
of a clear sunset, Berry's ragged crown ascends like a haunted castle in
a fairy story; while beneath the evening glow, the still water casts
many a crooked reflection from the overhanging branches, and the last
leaves hanging on the osiers splash gold against the gloom of the banks.
The hour is very still after wind and rain; twilight broods under
gathering vapours, while another night gently obscures detail and
renders all formless and vast as the darkness falls. The castle is
swallowed up in the woods; the first owl hoots; then there is a rush
overhead and a splash and scutter below, as the wild duck come down from
above, and, for a little while, break the peace with their noise. Their
flurry on the water sets up wavelets, that catch the last of the light
and run to bank with a little sigh. Then all is silent and stars begin
to twinkle through the network of boughs at forest edge.




BERRY HEAD

[Illustration: BERRY HEAD.]


Upon this seaward-facing headland the great cliffs slope outward like
the sides of an old "three-decker." They bulge upon the sea, and the
flower-clad scales of the limestone are full of lustrous light and
colour, shining radiantly upon the still tide that flows at their feet.
For, on this breathless August day, the very sea is weary; not a ripple
of foam marks juncture of rock and water.

The cliffs are spattered with green, where scurvy-grass and samphire,
thrift and stonecrop find foothold in every cleft; but the flowers are
nearly gone; the rare, white rock rose which haunts these crags has shed
her last petal and the little cathartic flax and centaury; the snowy
dropwort, storks-bill and carline thistles have all been scorched away
by days of sunshine and dewless nights. Only the sea lavender still
brushes the great, glaring planes of stone with cool colour, and a wild
mallow lolls here and there out of a crevice.

By the coastguard path holiday folk tramp with hot faces, but, save for
the gulls, there is little sound or movement, for land and sea are
swooning in the heavy noontide hour. The birds are everywhere - cresting
the finials of the rocks, swooping over the sea, busy teaching the
little grey "squabs" to use their wings and trust the air. Now and then
a coney thrusts his ears from a burrow, likes not the heat, and pops
back again to his cool, dark parlour. Brown hawks hang above the brown
sward. Life seems to be retreating before the pitiless sun, yet the
sear, scorched grasses will be green again in a few weeks when the
cisterns of the autumn rains open upon them. Already tiny, blue _scilla
autumnalis_ is pressing her head through the turf.

Islets lie off-shore, so full of light that they glow like bubbles blown
of air and seem to float on the surface of the sea. Their shadows fall
in delicious purple on the aquamarine waters and warm hues percolate
their ragged, silver faces, while the gulls cluster in myriads upon
them, and, black and silent among the noisy sea-fowl, stand dusky
cormorants with long necks lifted. Like pale blue silk, shot and
streamed over with pure light, the Channel rises to the mists of the
horizon. Light penetrates air and water and earth, so that the weight of
land and water are lifted off them and lost; indeed the scene appears to
be composed of imponderable hazes and vapours merging into each other;
it is wrought in planes of light - a gorgeous, unsubstantial illumination
as though the clouds were come to earth. The eternal melody of the gulls
pierces the picture with sound, hard and metallic, until their din and
racket seem of heavier substance and reality than the mighty cliffs and
sea from which it pours. Yet the birds themselves, in their floatings
and their wheelings, are lighter than feathers. They make the only
movement save for fisher craft with tan-red sails now streaming in line
round the Head to sea. For the Scruff they are bound - a great, sandy
bottom where sole and turbot dwell ten sea-miles off-shore.

Inland gleam cornfields of heavy grain ripe for harvest - pale yellow of
oats and golden brown of wheat, where the poppies stir with the gipsy
rose; and flung up upon the cliff-edge rise lofty ramparts, ribbed with
granite and bored by portholes for cannon. A modern gun a league out at
sea would crumble these masonries like sponge-cake; but they were lifted
in haste a hundred years ago, when England quaked at the threatened
advent of "Boney," whose ordnance could not have destroyed them. The
great fortresses were piled by many thousands of busy hands, yet time
sped quicker than the engineers, and before the forts were completed,
Napoleon, from the deck of the _Bellerophon_ in the bay beneath, had
looked his last on Europe.

Still the unfinished work sprawls over the cliffs, and whence cannon
were meant to stare, now thrust the blackberry, brier and eagle-fern
through the embrasures, and stunted black-thorns and white-thorns shine
green against the grey.

One clambers among them to seek the gift of a patch of shade, and
wonders what the first Napoleon would have thought of the hydroplane
purring out to sea half a mile overhead.




THE QUARRY AND THE BRIDGE

[Illustration: THE QUARRY AND THE BRIDGE.]


Lastrea and athyrium, their foliage gone, cling in silky russet knobs
under the granite ledges, warm the iron-grey stone with brown and agate
brightness, and promise many a beauty of unfolding frond when spring
shall come again. For their jewels will be unfolding presently, to
soften the cleft granite with misty green and bring the vernal time to
these silent cliffs.

The quarry lies like a gash in the slope of the hills. To the dizzy
edges of it creep heather and the bracken; beneath, upon its precipices,
a stout rowan or two rises, and everywhere Nature has fought and
laboured to hide this wound driven so deep into her mountain-side by
man. A cicatrix of moss and fern and many grasses conceal the scars of
pick and gunpowder; time has weathered the harsh edges of the riven
stone; the depths of the quarry are covered by pools of clear water, for
it is nearly a hundred years since the place yielded its stores.

One great silence is the quarry now - an amphitheatre of peace and quiet
hemmed by the broken abutments of granite, and opening upon the
hillside. The heather extends over wide, dun spaces to a blue distance,
where evening lies dim upon the plains beneath; round about a minor
music of dripping water tinkles from the sides of the quarry; a current
of air brushes the pools and for a moment frets their pale surfaces;
the dead rushes murmur and then are silent; here and there, along the
steps and steep places flash the white scuts of the rabbits. A pebble is
dislodged by one of them, and, falling to the water beneath, sets rings
of light widening out upon it and raises a little sound.

In the midst, casting its jagged shadow upon the water, springs a great,
ancient crane from which long threads of iron still stretch round about
to the cliffs. It stands stoutly yet and marks the meaning of all around
it.

At time of twilight it is good to be here, for then one may measure the
profundity of such peace and contrast this matrix of vanished granite
with the scene of its present disposal; one may drink from this cup all
the mystery that fills a deserted theatre of man's work and feel that
loneliness which only human ruins tell; and then one may open the eye of
the mind upon another vision, and suffer the ear of imagination to throb
with its full-toned roar.

For hence came London Bridge; the mighty masses of granite riven from
this solitude span Thames.

Away in the heath and winding onward by many a curve may yet be traced
the first railroad in the West Country. It started here, upon the
frontier hills of Dartmoor, and sank mile upon mile to the valleys
beneath. But of granite were wrought the lines, and over them ran
ponderous wagons. Many thousand feet of stone were first cut for the
railway, before those greater masses destined for London set forth upon
it to their destination.

Like the empty quarry this deserted railway now lies silent, and the
place of its passing on the hills and through the forest beneath is at
peace again. From the Moor the tramway drops into the woods of Yarner,
and here, between a heathery hillside and the fringes of the forest, the
broken track may still be found, its semi-grooved lengths of granite
scattered and clad in emerald moss, where once the great wheels were
wont to grind it. The line passes under interlacing boughs of beeches
and winds this way and that, like a grey snake, through the copper
brightness of the fallen leaves; it turns and twists, dropping ever, and
ceases at last at the mouth of a little canal in the valley, where
barges waited of old to carry the stone to the sea.

Here also is stagnation now, but picturesque wrecks of the ancient boats
may still be seen at Teigngrace in the forgotten waterway. They lie
foundered upon the canal with bulging sides and broken ribs. Their
shapes are outlined in grasses and flowers; sallows leap silvery from
the old bulwarks and alders find foothold there; briar and kingcups
flourish upon their decay; moss and ferns conceal their wounds; in
summer purple spires of loosestrife man their water-logged decks, and
the vole swims to and from his hidden nest therein.

Here came the Hey Tor granite, after dropping twelve hundred feet from
the Moor above. Leaving the great wains, it was shipped upon the Stover
Canal and despatched down the estuary of Teign to Teignmouth, whence
larger vessels bore it away to London for its final purpose.

It came to supersede that bridge of houses familiar in the old pictures,
the bridge that was a street; the bridge that in its turn had taken the
place of older bridges built with wood: those mediæval structures that
perished each in turn by flood or fire.

It was in 1756 that the Corporation of London obtained an order to
rebuild London Bridge; but things must have moved slowly, for not until
fifty years later was the announcement made of a new bridge to pass from
Bankside, Southwark, to Queen Street, Cheapside. The public was invited
to invest in the enterprise, and doubtless proved willing enough to do
so. The ancient structure, long a danger to the navigation of the river,
vanished, and in 1825, with great pomp and ceremony, the
foundation-stone of the "New London Bridge" sank to its place. A recent
writer in _The Academy_ has given a graphic picture of the event, and
described the immense significance attached to the occasion. From the
earliest dawn of that June morning, London flocked to waterside and
thronged each point of vantage. Before noon the roofs of Fishmongers'
Hall, of St. Saviour's Church, and every building that offered a glimpse
of the ceremony were crowded; the river was alive with craft of all
descriptions; the cofferdam for the erection of the first pier served
the purpose of a private enclosure, where notable folk sat in four tiers
of galleries under flags and awnings.

At four o'clock, by which time the great company must have been weary of
waiting, two six-pounder guns at the Old Swan Stairs announced the
approach of the Civic and State authorities. The City Marshal, the
Bargemasters, the Watermen, the members of the Royal Society, the
Goldsmiths, the Under-Sheriffs, the Lord Mayor and the Duke of York
appeared.

"His Lordship, who was in full robes," so says an eye-witness of the
event, "offered the chair to his Royal Highness, which was positively
declined on his part. The Mayor, therefore, seated himself; the Lady
Mayoress, with her daughters in elegant dresses, sat near his Lordship,
accompanied by two fine-looking, intelligent boys, her sons; near them
were the two lovely daughters of Lord Suffolk, and many other
fashionable ladies."

Then followed the ceremony. Coins in a cut-glass bottle were placed
beneath a copper plate, and upon them descended a mighty block of
Dartmoor granite. "The City sword and mace were placed upon it
crossways, the foundation of the new bridge was declared to be laid, the
music struck up 'God save the King,' and three times three excessive
cheers broke forth from the company, the guns of the Honourable
Artillery Company on the Old Swan Wharf fired a salute, and every face
wore smiles of gratulation. Three cheers were afterwards given for the
Duke of York, three for Old England, and three for the architect, Mr.
Rennie."

Then did a journalist with imagination dance a hornpipe upon the
foundation-stone - for England would not take its pleasure sadly on that
great day - and subsequently many ladies stood upon it, and "departed
with the satisfaction of being enabled to relate an achievement
honourable to their feelings!"

And still the noble bridge remains, though the delicate feet that rested
on its foundation-stone have all tripped to the shades. The bridge
remains, and its five simple spans - the central one of a hundred and
fifty-two feet - make a startling contrast with the nineteen little
arches and huge pedestals of the ancient structure. New London Bridge
is more than a thousand feet long; its width is fifty-six feet; its
height, above low water, sixty feet. The central piers are twenty-four
feet thick, and the voussoirs of the central arch four feet nine inches
deep at the crown and nine feet at the springing. The foundations lie
twenty-nine feet, six inches beneath low water; the exterior stones are
all of granite; while the interior mass of the fabric came half from
Bramley Fall and half from Derbyshire.

More than seven years did London Bridge take a-building, and it was
opened in 1831. The total costs were something under a million and a
half of money - less than is needed for a modern battleship.

And already, before it is one hundred years old, there comes a cry that
London's heart finds this great artery too small for the stream of life
that flows for ever upon it. One may hope, however, that when the
necessity arrives, this notable bridge will not be spoiled, but another
created hard by, if needs must, to fulfil the demands of traffic.
Perhaps a second tunnel may solve the problem, since metropolitan man is
turning so rapidly into a mole.

From quarry to bridge is a far cry, yet he who has seen both may dream
sometimes among the dripping ferns, silent cliff-faces and unruffled
pools, of the city's roar and riot and the ceaseless thunder of man's
march from dawn till even; while there - in the full throb and hurtle of
London town, swept this way and that amid the multitudes that traverse
Thames - it is pleasant to glimpse, through the reek and storm, the
cradle of this city-stained granite, lying silent at peace in the
far-away West Country.




BAGTOR

[Illustration: BAGTOR.]


From the little southern salient of Bagtor at Dartmoor edge, there falls
a slope to the "in country" beneath. Thereon Bagtor woods extend in many
a shining plane - from wind-swept hill-crowns of beech and fir, to
dingles and snug coombs in the valley bottom a thousand feet beneath.

On a summer day one loiters in the dappled wood, for here is welcome
shade after miles of hot sunshine on the heather above. Music of water
splashes pleasantly through the trees, where a streamlet falls from step
to step; the last of the bluebells still linger by the way, and above
them great beech-boles rise, all chequered with sun splashes. On the
earth dead leaves make a russet warmth, brighter by contrast with the
young green round about, and brilliant where sunlight winnows through.
There, in the direct beam, flash little flies, which hang suspended upon
the light like golden beads; while through the glades, young fern is
spread for pleasant resting-places. Pigeons murmur aloft unseen, and
many a grey-bird and black-bird sing beside their hidden homes.

At last the woodlands make an end, old orchards spread in a clearing,
and the sun, now turning west, has left the apple trees, so that their
blossom hangs cool and shaded on the boughs. Behind - a background for
the orchard - there rise the walls of an ancient house, weathered and
worn - a mass of picturesque gables and tar-pitched roofs with red-brick
chimneys ascending above them. No great dignity or style marks this
dwelling. It is a thing of patches and additions. Here the sun still
burns radiantly, makes the roof golden, and flashes on the snow-white
"fan-tails" that strut up and down upon it.

Great Scotch firs tower to the south, and the light burns redly in their
boughs against the blue sky above them. A farmhouse nestles beside the
old mansion under a roof of ancient thatch, that falls low over the
dawn-facing front, and makes ragged eyelashes for the little windows.
The face of the farm is nearly hidden in green things, and a colour note
of mauve dominates the foliage where wistaria showers. There are
climbing roses too, a Japanese quince, and wallflowers and columbines in
the garden plot that subtends the dwelling. Mossy walls enclose the
garden, and beneath them spreads the farmyard - a dust-dry place to-day
wherein a litter of black piglets gambol round their mother. Poultry
cluck and scratch everywhere, and a company of red calves cluster
together in one corner. A ploughman brings in his horses. From a byre
comes the purr of milk falling into a pail.

On still evenings bell music trickles up to this holt of ancient peace
from a church tower three miles away; for we stand in the parish of
Ilsington on the shoulder of Dartmoor, and the home of the silver
"fan-tails" is Bagtor House - a spot sanctified to all book-lovers. Here,
a very mighty personage first saw the light and began his pilgrimage; at
Bagtor was John Ford born, the first great decadent of English letters,
the tragedian whose sombre works belong to the sunset time of the
spacious days.

In April of 1586 the infant John received baptism at Ilsington church;
while, sixteen years later, he was apprenticed to his profession and
became a member of the Middle Temple. At eighteen John Ford, who wrote
out of his own desire and under an artist's compulsion only, first
tempted fortune; and over his earliest effort, _Fame's Memorial_, a veil
may be drawn; while of subsequent collaborations with Webster and
Decker, part perished unprinted and Mr. Warburton's cook "used up" his
comedies. Probably they are no great loss, for a master with less sense
of humour never lived. But _The Witch of Edmonton_ in Swinburne's
judgment embodies much of Ford's best, and his greatest plays all
endure.

The man who wrote _The Lover's Melancholy_, _'Tis Pity She's a Whore_,
_The Broken Heart_ and _Love's Sacrifice_ was born in this sylvan scene
and his cradle rocked to the murmur of wood doves. True he vanished
early from Devonshire, and though uncertain tradition declares his
return, asserting that, while still in prime and vigour, he laid by his
gown and pen and came back to Bagtor, to end his days where he was born,
and mellow his stormy heart before he died, no proof that he did so
exists. His life's history has been obliterated and contemporary records
of him have yet to appear.

As an artist he must surely have loved horror for horror's sake, and,
too often, our terror arouses not that pity to which tragedy should lift
man's heart, but rather generates disgust before his extraordinary plots
and the unattractive and inhuman characters which unravel them. One
salutes the intellectual power of him, but merely shudders, without
being enchained or uplifted by the nature of his themes. It has been
well said of Ford that he "abhorred vice and admired virtue; but
ordinary vice or modern virtue were to him as light wine to a dram
drinker.... Passion must be incestuous or adulterous; grief must be
something more than martyrdom, before he could make them big enough to
be seen."

There is a little of Michaelangelo about Ford - something excruciating,
tortured. The tormented marble of the one is reflected in the wracked
and writhing characters of the other; but whether Ford felt for the
sorrow of earth as the Florentine; whether he shared that mightier man's
fiery patriotism, enthusiasm of humanity and tragic griefs before the


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Online LibraryEden PhillpottsA west country pilgrimage → online text (page 2 of 5)