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THE way from Tewkesbury to Derby is through Burton and Birmingham, and that is a tale of a smoky, dull lookout. The air had become misty, and the sullen atmosphere of these great manufacturing cities had spread over all the intervening country. Of course we changed at Birmingham, but luckily we had no wait there, and soon got beyond the cloud which hung over busy Derby before the sunset hour.
A chipper old gentleman invaded our carriage at Derby, and at once began conversation by asking us if we were off for a tour. When, by our answer, he discovered us to be from the United States, he at once proceeded to enlighten us about the small towns we were passing.
The mist was rising in the meadow-land which lay far below the track, and beatified sheep and legless cattle appeared grazing there on clouds, dipping their heads solemnly into the ethereal food; the sky was full of the glory of an after-sunset glow, and the mist took from it the soft tints of rose petals. Here and there on the side of the hills were mysterious swirls, as though the elves were starting out for an evening lark under a cloud just their size.
The old gentleman left us at a station with the surprising name of Whatstandwell, after he had filled us with local information. At Duffield, he told us, lived George Eliot for a time, when she was writing "Adam Bede," a novel which has its action among this scenery and in the town of Derby. There is also at Duffield the remains of a great Norman castle, which must have been very splendid in its day.
At Belper a great plague devastated the whole town early in the seventeenth century, and in its churchyard fifty-three of the victims lie buried. We didn't see much of the town at the time this sad tale was being told us. We were then under the earth in one of the numerous tunnels hereabouts, but we trusted the old gentleman. Where Whatstandwell got its name we failed to discover. Our chatty acquaintance left us so abruptly that not until he had departed did we see the extraordinary name of his home village.
The scenery became after this, with each mile, more interesting. Derbyshire at first looks somewhat dreary to eyes accustomed to the smiling gardens and orchards of Worcestershire. The gray rocks crop out of the dark green hillside, the houses are built of dull-coloured stone from the near-by quarries, and long lines of carefully constructed stone fences stretch away for miles. The river Derwent winds and twists, first on one side of the track and then on the other. The narrow valley is here a picturesque gorge, with the villages of Matlock Bridge and Matlock Bath hanging on the precipitous sides and looking like bits from Tyrol.
Rowsley is a little dark group of stone houses lying together in the hollow, and it was not until we had left the train that we saw how broad the valley had grown since we looked out on Matlock Bridge, or how much more smiling the soft green hills became when topped with purple at the twilight hour.
It is but a step down the road from the station to the Peacock Inn, a hostelry noted all over England. The house was built as a hunting-lodge for the Dukes of Rutland. The date above the door is 1552. Ivy climbs all over the porch, sparing only the carved peacock which crowns the top. It drapes with its shining green the stone casements, and even encroaches upon the roof. The entrance-hall is low and square, with those decorations of rods and guns so dear to the sportsman. The serious old lady who came forward to inquire our wishes had all the airs and graces of a duchess. Her black silk gown, her lace collar, and her lack of the usual hostess's welcoming smile rather disturbed even Polly's assurance. She heard our names, acknowledged our telegram, and waved us off to the care of a maid, who, quite as seriously as her mistress, conducted us to our sitting-room.
Polly as usual recovered first from the chill, and began to order about the maid in her haughtiest manner, a proceeding which had the desired effect. All our small belongings were carried humbly before her when she went to select the bedrooms.
"The flowers at least are giving us warm greeting," remarked the Matron, as she looked out through glass doors upon the beautiful garden, skilfully hidden from the road by a stone wall and tall shrubs and trees. We had not even suspected there was a garden as we passed on our way from the station. The twilight was shedding a misty spell over the great clumps of many-coloured flowers with which the smooth lawn was broken, and the maid, less stolid since Polly had disciplined her, was laying the cloth for our dinner, so we wandered out upon the gravelled path, down to the river which bathes the foot of the garden.
"Which is this, the Wye or the Derwent?" demanded the Matron.
"You won't know this evening," answered Polly, "for the maid, of course, can't tell, and I won't ask the Duchess."
"The Wye goes in detached pieces all over the map of England, so we will say it is the Wye until we know better," decided the Invalid.
That satisfied the Matron for the moment, and the little murmuring stream, no wider then a brook, went whispering over its stones indifferent to a name, the water so clear that, even in the fading light, we could see tiny fishes darting about. It curved away here at the edge of the garden walk, then ran under two bridges and thickly clustering trees, an ideal spot for a poetic fisherman. Somewhere beyond our sight the Derwent went bustling along, and the two waters met on the other side of the town, before a charming little house, to tell each other all the gossip they have gathered in their long running.
The moon came up and joined herself to the picture before we went in to our dinner, and the next morning all the fog and mist had vanished, leaving only a few diamonds on the rose-petals in the garden.
We were off for Haddon Hall before the trippers arrived from Bakewell, or the first tourist train from the north had discharged its sightseers. The walk is from the Peacock, through the straggling village street, and then over the fields until suddenly Haddon Hall shows itself among the trees, breaking the side of the thickly wooded hill.
So much has been written and said of this ancient dwelling-place of peaceful noblemen, untouched since the finishing touches were put to the last building in 1696, that any description is only an oft-repeated tale. The race of Vernons of Haddon Hall was a race of wise, politic men, men who knew how to capture heiresses, and always to keep on the right side in royal disturbances. They built their home for peace, not war, and war left them unmolested.
Haddon Hall is a striking example of how the inequalities of a hillside may be turned to the greatest advantage in architecture. Walls that sink low in the foreground, towers and battlements that start up in the background, a broad terrace looking over a green precipice at the side, and a wide gateway by which the upper courtyard was entered from the road at the hilltop. This is how Haddon was built. Great forest trees grow above, behind, and on all sides of the Hall, while down from the walls to the roadside roll billowy meadow-lands.
We were the first sightseers to arrive. There was not a tourist in sight when we paid our fee of fourpence, and were admitted into the first courtyard. The keeper's daughters, very bright, intelligent-looking girls, were preparing far the day as we entered, arranging the photographs and guide-books for sale on the table under the gateway.
"I think you ladies may wander on by yourselves, if you choose," said the elder girl, smiling. "You would not scribble on the walls, I am sure."
"Not unless our name were Pummel," muttered Polly, with recollections of Winchester. The girl promised to join us before we got to any locked doors, and cautioned us about the dangerous stairways, so we strolled about the bare rooms around the lower courtyard; into the chapel, the old kitchens, and the great dining-hall with its raised dais, where old-time feasts were held, and where at Christmas the monstrous Yule log burned in the great chimney, and peacocks were served dressed in their feathers, with their proud tails spread over the roasted flesh; where the boar's head was carried high, and followed by a long train of pages.
The Vernons built the Hall at Haddon as they needed it, putting up here a set of chambers, there a lady's bower, and again a tower when they wanted space for pages. They began to build the present structure in 1070, and the south aisle of the chapel, together with portions of the wall along the south front, remain to show what was done before 1300. Then the great hall and kitchens were built, and the upper court began to grow.
Before 1470 the east part of the chapel and the east side of the upper court were finished. Between that date and 1550 inside of the building under the long gallery was finished, including the enchanting little dining-room, carved and wainscoted to the very top, where are to be seen the portraits of King Henry VII, his queen, and his jester, Will Somers, carved in the wainscot. The west range of buildings was put up and the west end of the north range built at this same period.
By 1524, the entire outside of the Hall was finished. Sir John Manners, the husband of Dorothy Vernon, finished the ballroom, notwithstanding the romantic legend that makes him steal away that fair lady during a dance in this same apartment. He even built the steps down which she is said to have eloped. Being a most eligible match, a husband of whom her father thoroughly approved, it is not in the least likely that she had to run away at all.
This ballroom – the long gallery as it is called – is one of the most beautiful rooms in England. The crest of the Manners first appears here, where on the frieze the peacock alternates with the boar's head, the rose and the thistle.
The great square recesses of the many-paned windows look out at an enchanting view across the loveliest terrace known to artists. Out of the great gallery is the bedchamber consecrated to Queen Elizabeth. We believed firmly in the relics of her visit, even to an ingenious wash-list said to have been used by her. Whoever owned this laundry-list wore "shirtes and half-shirtes" and registered the number sent to be washed on a disk very like a perpetual calendar, a most clever contrivance in a day when writing was not popular.
With the exception of a few pieces of furniture in this wing, Haddon is completely dismantled. Fine old tapestries hang on the walls, and in some places have furnished many a meal for the all-devouring moth. The great-great-grandson of Dorothy Vernon deserted Haddon to make his home at Belvoir when he became Duke of Rutland by the failure of heirs in direct line. It is said that the inconvenience of the various stairways at Haddon led to the final desertion of the Hall as a place of residence. Many of the apartments are quite exposed, and most inconvenient, but, with the maze of rooms which lead out one from another, and the lack of corridors, these outside staircases are the only means of entrance to many of the apartments. "Haddon would make a delightful home, I am sure," was the comment of the Matron, but so much restoring would be necessary to make the Hall habitable that its present perfect character might then be entirely destroyed. We felt, after a few hours in the old place, that it was better to reconstruct it in our imagination than to have any part of the ancient buildings touched by modern hands.
We walked slowly back under the oaks of the park, along the banks of the Wye to Rowsley, and by following the little stream to its meeting-place with the Derwent discovered which one of the rivers murmured along below the garden of the Peacock.
"I knew it was the gentle Wye. The rushing Derwent of Matlock Bridge could not change its temper so suddenly," said Polly.
It is quite possible to walk from Haddon to Chatsworth across the hill, but we had lingered at Haddon until long after lunch-hour, so we decided to leave the Duke of Devonshire's great place until the following day.
"And we may escape the crowd if we go early."
Our brilliant garden at the Peacock, little Grey Rowsley village, and the broad moor on the hilltop beyond the railway station, served to fill our afternoon hours with occupation and pleasure.
From the steep road which winds up the hillside to Beeley Moor there were lovely views. Haddon Hall, its slender, gray, square towers and graceful lines, were visible among the dark oak-trees of the hill on our right, the great white Chatsworth Palace far away lay in the lowland on our left, with the magnificent undulating park spreading about on all sides over hill and dale.
The clouds hung low on Beeley Moor late in the afternoon when we finally climbed to the hilltop, but great patches of yellow furze spread over the rough ground like waves of warm sunshine. When we left Rowsley for Hardwick the following day, we rode across this high moorland, by the road poor Mary, Queen of Scotland, followed often with Bess of Shrewsbury! That lady was too jealous of her lord, when she looked after her building at the new hall at Hardwick, to leave the fair prisoner with him alone at Chatsworth.
Early though it was when we got to Chatsworth, before the hour named in the guidebook as the opening time, we were not the first arrivals. A great "charry-bang," as the natives called this particular sort of conveyance, had disgorged a party of twenty trippers. Heaven knows where they had fallen from, but they were good British subjects of the tradesman class, each armed with a shilling to buy an admission ticket, and with a store of stolid admiration which would find no outlet in unnecessary words.
A gorgeous Mr. Bumble, in gold lace and bright cloth, looked at us all condescendingly through the grating of the entrance portal until the clock struck the time of admittance, when he kindly opened the gates and amiably took our shillings. He then marched us away over the court, and delivered us silently into the hands of a solemn-looking housekeeper, who trotted the whole party quickly through the mansion. Not a glimpse did we get of the treasures we knew to be in Chatsworth, and which we really longed to see.
Claude Lorraine's wonderful sketch-book was locked up at the library. We only peeked through a glass door, and most of the original sketches by great masters, over which we longed to linger, were covered with linen curtains.
"'Ah, that! "The Burgermaster" it's called, by Rembrank, I believe. It ain't nothink much! Only a work of h'art! Not one of the family, you know,"' quoted Polly from Punch, while we halt at malachite tables "from the Czar of Russia to the duke," New Zealand canoe presented "the late duke," and portraits of race-horses of the duke's stables, which the housekeeper-shepherdess, with the good English flock at her heels, halts long and lovingly to gaze upon.
"Given to the duke by the Emperor of Russia." Ah-h-h-h!
"Won a great race for the duke." Oh-o-o! "Sent to the duke by the savages!" Eh-e-e! The shepherdess had a lesson, and she said it well, without changing a word.
Polly indulged in low-spoken criticism on the great, sprawling frescoes.
The Invalid objected to the excessive display of carved woodwork.
The Matron had to be dragged away from a Landseer picture.
Altogether my party was troublesome, and not properly impressed by the magnificence of this great palace.
After racing us through the house, the shepherdess delivered her sheep into the hands of a shepherd, who steered us around the great gardens ("jardeen," he pronounced the word). He pointed out every tree planted by royalty, while the Matron made disparaging remarks about the architectural beauties of Chatsworth House, and the Invalid admired the gilded window-frames. My companions were not at all in the proper spirit, and I was glad to get them out of the gate of this innermost sanctuary, into which hordes of sight-seers were waiting their turn for admission. Dog-carts and carriages, drags, a couple of motor-cars, and bicycles by the score were waiting, and more were coming over the road down the hill.
"Think of the shillings Bumble will collect!" sighed mercenary Polly.
As we had assuredly walked several miles while we stared at "The Duke's" possessions for nearly two hours, we were ready for luncheon.
The park at Chatsworth is a great natural tract of woodland and meadow sweeps. The Derwent goes rushing through, falling down artificial weirs, and watering the banks of a great rabbit city, where little cottontails frisk about under the very feet of the fallow deer.
We made our way to the Devonshire Arms just outside of the gate of the park, but the number of vehicles about the door made the Invalid stop short and declare she would never make one of that crowd.
"We sha'n't get anything decent."
"And be charged three shillings for it," said the Treasurer.
"I saw a dear little cottage back in the park, with a 'Tea' sign hung out," the Matron told us.
So back we went to the dear little cottage buried in flowers. There was no perceptible path leading to the door, but we ran down one green bank and up another into the garden. A cheery woman offered us tea, eggs, some cold ham, bread, butter, and jam, a feast which we devoured among the sunflowers and dahlias, and paid one whole shilling each for our pastoral luncheon.
After this we passed on our way to Edensor, a modern village built for those employed on the estate. Within its church lies buried that Earl of Shrewsbury who was the keeper of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the husband of Bess of Hardwick. His tomb is a most remarkable construction, erected by his lady to his memory and to that of his brother. Not content with henpecking the earl as long as he lived, and of turning him out of his own mansion that she might bestow it upon her sons, in death she denuded him even of his flesh. He lies in effigy, a bare skeleton, while his brother is wrapped in a marble winding sheet. The state robes and armour, carved in stone, hang by the side of the tomb. The shrewish countess cannot disturb the earl's last sleep in Edensor unless she comes a long way. Her body lies buried in Derby. Edensor church is a specimen of the ugliest architecture of 1867. It replaces one that was built in 1545, which was taken down to make way for the present very commonplace structure.
The surroundings of Chatsworth House will ever be interesting as associated with the ill-fated Mary of Scotland. The great oaks looked down on the weary walks of the captive queen, and the bubbling river echoed her sighs. The old mansion in which she was confined was destroyed by fire. Mary was kept there many years, her only excitement being intrigue and flirtations with her jailor, the Earl of Shrewsbury. Nature and education had done everything to make Mary irresistible to the male sex, and she kept the Shrewsbury household in a state of commotion which was not conducive to her own comfort, and rendered life miserable indeed for the earl.
Our shortest way back to Rowsley was along the river-bank, where we saw the trout in the stream, and the frisking rabbits, which are so tame that they do not even skurry away to their warrens as we pass by. We managed to spend our entire day in the park, and enjoyed every moment, although we all agreed that the great palace interested us less than was altogether proper for right-minded tourists.
"The house looks to me like an overgrown piece of furniture," criticized the Invalid, with her bold and republican air.
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