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CHAPTER VII

Rom NEY MARSH (continued)

THERE is no fault to be found with the present condition of the road that leads from Warehorne to Snargate. It winds amazingly, but the surface is good and the width sufficient to keep the most inexpert drivers of traps or riders of cycles from steering into the black dykes that line it. Far otherwise, however, is it with the tracks that branch off boldly here and there and lure the unwary into extraordinary remotenesses where the guide-book measurements and acreage of the marsh seem a mockery, and its limits recede with every step. Lonely cottages, where the “lookers,” or shepherds, or the dykers live, are passed at infrequent intervals, each one a forbidding box of dull brick, with its generally unkempt garden and numerous chickens, and its great pile of faggots or brushwood for winter's firing. In this wilderness may be found many of those deserted sites already mentioned; the shapeless walls of ruined churches alone telling silently of the great flood and the drowned villages. Fastbridge Chapel, Orgarswick, Blackmanstone, and Hope Chapel are the chief of these. Newchurch and Ivychurch are striking exceptions to this old tale of destruction. They belong to the same Early English period, with later additions, and are large, handsome structures. Standing on ground rising ever so slightly higher than the sites of their unfortunate neighbours, they escaped destruction, to tell us how well, and on how grand a scale they builded who first brought the marsh under cultivation. Romney Marsh is still so greatly in a state of nature that the black-headed gull breeds freely in its reedy dykes, although, to be sure, the demand for plovers' eggs causes much havoc to be wrought among its nests by denizens of the neighbourhood, who earn a very excellent livelihood by supplying London poulterers. The simple native and the honest poulterer both do very well, and so long as the London consumer of expensive “plover's" eggs knows no better, why, no harm is done. Snargate stands on that fine, straight, broad, and level road from Appledore to New Romney which bears the strongest evidence of having once been a raised causeway across the morasses, and is in fact identical with the Rhee Wall, already mentioned as having been built by the Romans to keep out the river Rother. “Snargate” was originally the name given to a sluice from the marsh into the river at this point. An inn, the church, a few old cottages, the vicarage—that is now the sum-total of Snargate, whose flint and stone battlemented church-tower peeps over the surrounding trees, and forms a pretty picture for a great distance down the long perspective of the road. A near approach shows it to be not only surrounded with trees, but hemmed in by them, and so closely that they obscure the light from the plain, leaded casement windows,

and cast a green, mildewy, fungoid shade over all. Great gloomy churchyard yews, planted, perhaps, by the first church-builders, grow at close quarters and carpet the ground with thick and vivid moss, and two giant trees that look like pollard beeches, but on closer inspection are seen to be ashes, stand sentinel by the south porch, and lift eerie phalanginous branches dramatically upright. It is a fine old church, built in the graceful Early

SNARGATE.

English style, and on quite a large scale ; but now uncared for and horribly damp. When, having obtained the keys, you swing back the groaning door, the reek of the dampness smites you coldly in the face, and the odour of it produces a sneeze that goes hollowly reverberating up and down the mildewed interior. Emptiness and damp are the interior characteristics of Snargate church—its pavements slimy with moisture, the walls alternately livid and green with it. It is not surprising that Barham preferred to live at Warehorne.

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Brenzett village is larger and livelier than Snargate. From it Brookland, Ivychurch, and Newchurch are most easily reached—the first, on the right-hand side of this causeway road to New Romney, in Walling Marsh; the others to the left, in the Marsh of Romney. Brookland is distant one mile from the main road, on a by-way that, if you follow it long enough, brings you dustily into Rye ; dustily, because the traffic that resorts to Brookland station cuts up the surface to an astonishing extent; astonishing, because that traffic is necessarily of small dimensions, seeing that this is merely a branch railway leading to the very verge and outer rim of the world at Dungeness. An infallible sign of this scarcity of road traffic is the action of the keeper of the level crossing by the station, whom one suspects to be also station-master, ticket-collector, porter, and signalman combined. He touches his hat to the passing tourist, and, glad to hear the voice of a stranger, exchanges remarks on the weather.

From afar off, along the flat road, the whimsical bell-tower of Brookland church rises, like some strange portent. If the stranger has not heard of it before, he speculates, perplexed, as to what it can possibly be, for, seen in silhouette against the sky, it presents the weirdest kind of outline. Imagine three old-fashioned candle-extinguishers, placed one upon the other, and you have that odd campanile very closely imitated. It stands apart from the church, is of massive oak framing, weatherboarded, and thickly and most liberally tarred. The wildest local legends exist, purporting to account for this freak, the most specious of all telling how the builder of the church finding he had lost by the contract, set this up in place of the stone tower originally contemplated. The real reason for this detached wooden belfry is found in the old-time nature of the site, too waterlogged to be capable of giving support to so heavy a structure as a stone tower. A wicked old satirical allusion to this unusual feature, still current in the village—or perhaps rather, considering its nature, in the surrounding villages—declares that when a bachelor and a maid

BROOKLAND.

are married in Brookland church, the belfry will leap up and occupy a place on the roof. As marriages here are not uncommon, and the belfry keeps its place, this, it will be allowed, is a grievous saying. An old writer, with a naive assumption of innocence, noting this example of local humour, pretends not to understand the libellous gibe. “What it doth portend,” he remarks, “I know not.” He should have inquired, say, at Brenzett—or, indeed, anywhere save at Brookland, whose inhabitants are still touchy on the subject ; as well they may be, since

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