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In a Walled Garden. Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829–1925.
page: vii


THE sun is sinking behind the great screen of rose bushes and laurustinus which divides the lawn from the vegetables in this small domain, which has been a garden for two hundred years; nay, for a longer time, for if the dwelling dates, as may be seen by a legible inscription, from the year of the death of Queen Anne, the kitchen and dairy are probably the remains of an Elizabethan cottage; while the pointed tower of the parish church, just piercing above the swathing ivy of the northern wall, is centuries earlier. The foundation stone was laid by St. Anselm.

The twilight falls, the stars come out, the “Great Bear” begins its slow movement upon the darkening sky, and I hear the steps of bygone generations passing up the village street. They come in the costume which Chaucer wore when that old church was new. They come in brown page: viii straight gowns and light‐coloured tunics; they come in armour, in peaked hats and in peaked shoes, in gold chains and plentiful embroidery. Some of them are horsemen, and others monks, and there is a fair proportion of hooded goodwives and young maidens. We know that they thus came up the street to hear the news of Agincourt, and again on the day of Bosworth Field, and when Flodden was being fought to the bitter end. Do you hear the echo of the bugle thrown back from the neighbouring down? It means a royal progress—a Henry or an Edward comes to lodge in the monastery hard by. For at the head of the street, in its noble park, was a great monastery, one directly attached to the See of Canterbury. Such ecclesiastical strongholds existed at intervals of twenty miles all the way to the Land’s End. Centuries older than London without the Walls, they were once centres of vivid local life, though now the place thereof may be silent and far from a high road. Such another, and indeed far more obliterated by the dust of time, is Robertsbridge, whose Abbot was sent to find and rescue Cœur de Lion. In this autumn season a garden full of crimson hollyhocks abuts page: ix upon the great grey gable of a farm, which can only be reached by a narrow winding lane, and is itself the only remnant of that once famous Abbey of the Rother.

But here, where a stately house has incorporated the monastery, and where village life has never ceased to murmur, all the ground is haunted. It has happened to me to be aware of the faint whispers of old conversations in this garden; the talk of the masons who built successive portions of the dwelling—from those who hoisted up the beam in the dairy when Shakespeare was alive, to those who put in the parlour panels while Marlborough was fighting in Flanders—and the gossip of the women who cooked their dinners in the neighbouring cottages, by fires practically unextinguished from then till now, for as each hearth crumbled by time another was built upon the same place. The contour of the village makes it certain that the ancient cottages stood where the modern ones do now, inheriting the traditions of twenty generations.

And I hear yet one other ghostly voice. It is that of a young girl who grew up in the great house 150 years ago; her name was Barbara, page: x and so far as I know, there exists of her no portrait. In the year 1749 she made a very great marriage. She wedded the son of a famous man who had been executed on Tower Hill three years before, and whose estates had been confiscated to the Crown. Barbara, who survived what brothers and sisters she may have had, remade her husband’s fortunes. The people who lived in this old house were not her tenants; they were farming squires of mild pretension. They had dwelt in Sussex from generation to generation, and when those ghastly executions took place in London the news must have travelled very rapidly down to a house like this. It must have thrilled with horror the family at the great house, who were Catholics, and every detail must have circulated through the village. Sitting in the garden, I have seen the girl come in with her lover, James Bartholomew, a young man of five‐and‐twenty. She wears a sacque; she is dressed like Clarissa Harlowe. He has a coat of coloured silk and a three‐cornered hat. When they are married, the bells of the parish church will ring; and so also for the birth of their one boy, Antony James. Antony page: xi James and his august widow carried on the history of this village for 110 years. Is it wonderful that Barbara and her descendants should yet inhabit for me the scenes where they were born and died?