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Rome. France would not be colder for such triumphs to-day than she was in 1778.
But ought we to wish to have to undergo that decisive trial, from which the navy of Louis XVI. emerged triumphantly ? May Heaven keep such thoughts aloof from ardent minds! Up to the last moment I shall believe that it is not for this mournful struggle that, on both sides of the Channel, the hammers are incessantly tapping on the anvils. I prefer to think that such warlike preparations and martial activity will have no other result than to settle the peace of Europe on a firmer basis. "But to try and ensure a doubtful friendship by giving weight to unjust suspicions, to wish for peace, and deliberately restrict our maritime power, would not be the way to render war impossible: it would, perhaps, render it inevitable, by leaving the enemy too great facility for waging it without danger.
These words might have been written by an Englishman, and we think our readers will welcome them heartily. The alliance between England and France can only be permanent so long as both nations are in such a state of preparation as to render victory on either side dubious. So long as France continues to increase her navy, and try every experiment to gain the upper hand, so long it is our duty not to lag in the race. We have no right to blame France for maintaining her position as a great nation; it is our duty to prevent her from gaining a dangerous supremacy.
YESTERDAY, TO-DAY, AND TO-MORROW.
BY EDGAR A, BOWRING.
'Twas yesterday that I was first a lover,
And loved as none can love but lovers true;
The happy moments o’er me swiftly flew,
To-day, alas ! that happy dream is over,
And everything is darkness to my view;
Instead of those bright hopes that then I knew,
And next draws nigh the end of all, -to-morrow
For those few hours of love of yesterday.
THE HOUSE, BLASWICK.
PART THE FIRST.
THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER.
A LONG, dusty road leads from the quiet country town of Kelton to the little fishing village of Blaswick. It lies over undulating ground, and is for ever mounting the steep hills to descend again to the same level as before. The hedges on either hand are low and tangled, being overgrown with bramble, honeysuckle, weeds, and wild flowers. Here and there pieces of heather peep out, and gorse-bushes and broom force themselves almost upon the road. Now and then a low wall replaces the hedge, the stones are loosely piled together, covered with yellow and grey lichen, and at times matted with thick-growing weeds. Trees, with gaunt, ill-clothed arms, rear their heads on either side, sometimes forming an arch over the road, sometimes standing alone. They are small, but strong and sinewy, capable of resisting the withering blasts: of the northern winter and spring, but affording little shade to the pedestrian who threads his way along that road beneath the hot midsummer sun. To the left, a wild bleak country stretches away as far as the distant horizon, a tract of waste land, clothed with gorse and heather, over which flocks of sheep are scattered, nibbling the short grass, pruning the prickly gorse-bushes, or lying down, exhausted and tormented by their unrelenting enemies the flies. To the right, long undulating corn-fields extend to the sea; no object arrests the attention; there is nothing to animate the scene; nothing, save a cold, grey, stone-built farmhouse, upon the hill-top, to tell that human beings inhabit the country.
There lies the white road, straight and uniform, now rising, now falling, but always in a direct line, as straight as the crow fies east and west. Suddenly its course is interrupted by a toll-bar; and not thirty yards beyond it the road divides, branching off at right angles. At this spot a sign-post has been erected : it is somewhat time-worn, and stained by moisture, but the names written upon it are still legible : “ Kelton, six miles; “Blaswick, one mile ;"* " Kleppington and the House, two miles."
Beneath the sign-post, seated on the grass, was a workman eating his breakfast. In the palm of his left hand he held, within easy
distance of his mouth,
hunch of dark-coloured bread and a slice of hard cheese, whilst he scooped pieces out with his clasped knife, and, by a dexterous jerk, precipitated them into his open mouth. There were no witnesses of his morning meal save an inquisitive wasp and a swarm of troublesome flies, when presently the slow rumble of wheels became audible, and then a little cart appeared in sight, with an old man seated in it.. The cart stopped at the toll-bar, and the old man had a prose with the buxom woman, who stood, with her baby in her arms, at the door. They were evidently well acquainted; and strange, indeed, it would have been if they were not so, for the old postman of Blaswick passed that way twice every day, and twice every day had he a word for Mistress Dixon
of the toll-bar. The workman was too busy with his bread and cheese to take any notice of the new arrivals, till the words, “ Yoop, Janny!" pronounced somewhat loudly in a sharp voice, made him look up. There was the donkey-cart in the middle of the road a little behind him, at a dead stand-still, and the expression of the donkey's face, drawn all on one side by the reins though it was, indicated that there the little cart might remain some time longer, if it had not its own way respecting the direction that it was to take.
“Y'oop, Janny! ye wad na ha’ me use the stick, wad ye? Cum, than, be a gude jassie.”
Seeing the state of affairs, the workman kindly offered to lead the donkey down the lane.
"Maybe 't 'ill be best, thankee kindly,” said the old man; and then, smiling, he added, “Janny kens her ain gait well enoo'. They ha' na carl for yon sign-post for sic as she, boot ye see, yung maan, thur's a letter in ma baag for t’ Hoose doone yonder, and she kens that it's naa the right road.”
The donkey did not appreciate being led any more than driven out of its usual course, but it was forced to yield to circumstances, and with a resigned expression of countenance, and doubtless with a feeling of supreme pity for its poor old master at its heart, it jogged slowly down the lane. They had not gone far, however, when a shout from the workman they had left behind caused the old postman to pull up.
“Ei, thur noo, Janny, it's arì theer fault,” exclaimed he, on perceiving that the workman flourished a large but light-looking parcel in his band. “ Thee wad ha' maad Mistress Jackson need a Soonday bonnet arl ť 800mmer.”
Descending with difficulty from his cart—for he was very stiff and rheumatic-the old man drew the donkey to one side of the road, and allowed it to nibble the grass, whilst he hobbled at his best pace up the hill. It was lucky that the good people of Blaswick were never in a hurry for their letters. They were well accustomed to the slow progression of their postman, and as the idea even of substituting a horse for a donkey had not yet occurred to them, they were little likely to be incommoded by the unusual delay of their letters that morning.
“Ye are an honest laad, and ye ha' keppit me oot o'sad trooble wi’ the laadies, thankee." Here the old man took the parcel tenderly in his arms. “A fashed misell to pin it to ma ain coat-tail
, not to spoil the flooers wi' the joolting, boot a s'pose it cam oot!"
The workman, who was munching a crust of bread, then asked why he was obliged to go round by the House. If he were only the letter-carrier for Blaswick, he could have nothing to do with it, he thought.
“ Ye'r wrang thur. A ha'nought to di wi' Kleppington, boot to Hoose stands in t' parish of Blaswick. They doan't fash me often, so there's naa carl foor complaint. The maister has he's letters at t' post in Kelton, an he cums in an gits 'em noows and thens. Tack ma woord for 't, yung man,” added the old postman, with a shake of his head, as he
thur's naa gude cumen o' this letter, thoogh.” Once more the donkey-cart was set in motion-jog, jog they went down the hill. There sat the old man in the midst of numerous parcels; his letter-bag, slung over his shoulders, beat a tattoo upon his round back
with the motion of the cart—sure proof that there was not much in it to keep it steady.
The aspect of the country was now considerably changed; there was no longer a distant horizon. Each jog of the donkey took them lower and lower, the hills closed in around them, trees grew to a larger size, there were cottages with gardens, and children played in the lane, running beside the cart and shouting after the old man. The things they said did not always testify to the respect for age inculcated in the young of Kleppington. “Whare are ye gooin, hookback?" &c. &c. One little urchin, stimulated by his companions, picked up a handful of sand and threw it after the imperturbable man and his donkey, who would not even vouchsafe to look at them, still less lash them with his whip. When they saw the cart turn down the lane leading to the House, they all stopped, and whispering together “He's gooin to t’ Hoose wi' a letter,” they came to the conclusion that they would do best not to follow him any longer. The proprietor of “ The House” had more than once administered corporal punishment to some of their number, and the recollection of it had the desired effect of keeping the lane in the neighbourhood of his abode clear of the village children, who, ragged, stockingless, and shoeless, were in the habit of spending the whole of the summer out of doors.
Old John Hillingham, or Hill'njum, as the people called him, was a well-known character throughout the district. He had been postman at Blaswick thirty years come Christmas, as he would have told you, and all the thirty years never had he wanted a new letter-bag. There it was still, a venerable relic. That dark, greasy-looking leather bag was part and parcel with old John himself. They were inseparables : it had had two patches put on the side where it rubbed his back, but that was all, and for thirty long years it had been the faithful sharer of the old postman's monotonous life. John Hillingham had an affection for it; he loved it as he would have loved his wife, had he had one; perhaps he loved it better than this. Who can say ? John was the old bachelor of Blaswick. There were a good many old maids, but he was the only bachelor, and he had to supply food for all the gossips of the village. John was the link between them and the world, as they thought, but small world it was-the world of an out-of-the-way little country town, such as Kelton-still what little news they had came from there; and it was more interesting to them to hear how Mark Baillie was picked up on the road drunk, and how Lizzie Menim had a quarrel with her son, and how she turned him out of doors, than it would have been to receive intelligence of the latest telegraphic message from Italy, with the announcement of a bloody battle fought at a place the name of which they could not pronounce. Such news as they obtained came through old John, and he loved a bit of gossip as much as any of them. He had the art of being able to talk to every one, and of worming out every bit of real news they had to tell in the shortest possible time. This was an invaluable art to him, for gossip was part of his business. He was asked to bring many a parcel from Kelton which might have waited till market day, and only because the owner was anxious to hear the news. John must bring the parcel, and he knew quite well that he was expected to take a chair in the kitchen and “rest a while.” His back was not so strong as it used to be-that was his excuse--and as he acted in the double capacity of
postman and carrier, he could not be expected to deliver the letters in the same way as other men.
On trudged the donkey, its every movement expressing its imperturbable determination, and there sat old John, his head bent down, and his twinkling eyes looking from under his grizzled eyebrows straight before him at the dark red brick chimneys peering out from amongst the trees. He was chuckling to himself about the letter 'he held in his hand. Here was news for Mistress Jackson when he gave her her new bonnet. He could
that he had actually delivered a letter at 6 The House," and it was not directed to the present owner, but to Miss Douglas, who had been dead many a year, he knew that well enough.
“Deed men nor women neither doan't often get sic notish taken on 'em,” chuckled old John, as he jerked the reins and emitted a sound which, to ordinary ears, seemed calculated to make the donkey quicken her
pace, instead of which, however, it had quite the contrary effect, and Janny pulled up short, with her fore-legs extended and body thrown back. They had arrived before the House, but there was nothing visible except a large wooden gate across a carriage-road, and a smaller one at the side. Sharp iron spikes fringed the top of each, and there was a warlike look about the bars and bolts, and the little reconnoitring hole in the smaller door, protected by a grating, which might well have struck awe into the heart of the old postman as he rang the bell and awaited the result. Love of gossip is generally coupled with great curiosity, and John formed no exception to the rule. He wondered if the little door would open from the outside; he wanted to get a view of the interior of this fortified abode, and so, poking his whip through the bars of the grating, he gave the little wooden door shutting up the reconnoitring-hole a knock; the result was highly unsatisfactory, as it was immovable. There was yet another experiment to be tried; perhaps the little door was made to slide back. John tried this; and just when he thought that he was in the act of succeeding, and his whip was pressed against the wood, a hand within drew it suddenly back, and the end of the whip went with considerable force against the face which was now brought into view. A broad oath and then a volley of abuse was the result. John listened patiently, and when he thought the man was tired, began in a meek manner to testify his sorrow; but he was cut short by the abrupt inquiry, "What do you want ?”
“ I'm the postmaan of Blaswick, and this hoose stands joost i the parish.”
“ Well, have you a letter ?” asked the face.
thare's ony rooad atwixt this hoose and the warld below?"
A frown mantled on the brow of the face which was now advanced close to the grating, and a pair of dark, savage-looking eyes were fixed upon the letter John held in his hand.
“ What do you want to know for ?”
“Weel, ye see, a haan't the poower o deliv'rin' this letter into ť reeght haands, unless ye caan tell me trooad, and as it is joost directed to this hoose, I joodged likely ye wad be able to gie me'a hint."
“ Who is the letter for ?”