Page images

Other famous Cotswold towns are "Stow-on-the-Wold, where the wind blows cold;" Northleach in the middle of the downs, desolate now, but once full of the activities of those wool-merchants commemorated by quaint brasses in the splendid church-brasses which show them snugly at rest in their furred gowns, with feet comfortably planted on stuffed woolpack or the fleecy back of a sheep, or, more precariously, on a pair of shears; Burford, whose High Street and church are as noteworthy as Campden's own; Winchcombe, once a residence of the Mercian kings and a famous shrine of pilgrimage; Cirencester, the "Capital of the Cotswolds," built above a ruined Roman city and possessing a church of surpassing richness. How we longed for months of free-footed wandering over these exhilarating uplands with their grey settlements like chronicles writ in stones ! But Father Time was shaking his hour-glass just behind us, in his marplot fashion, and since it had to be a choice, we took the evening train to Chipping Norton.

I regret to say that Chipping Norton, the highest town in Oxfordshire, showed little appreciation of the compliment. It was not easy to find lodging and wellnigh impossible to get carriage conveyance back to Campden the next day. It is a thriving town, ranking third in the county, and turns out a goodly supply of leather gloves and the “Chipping Norton tweeds.” The factory folk were, many of them, having their holiday just then; their friends were coming for the week-end and had one and all, it would seem, set their hearts on being entertained by a Saturday drive; the only victoria for hire in the place was going to Oxford to bring an invalid lady home; altogether the hostlers washed their handsmerely in metaphor-of the two gad-abouts who thought Chipping Norton not good enough to spend Sunday in. Before we slept, however, we had succeeded in engaging, at different points, a wagonette, a gaunt horse and a bashful boy, and the combination stood ready for us at nine o'clock in the morning

Meanwhile we had seen the chief sights of this ancient

town, whose name is equivalent to Market Norton. Its one wide street, a handsome, tree-shadowed thoroughfare with the Town Hall set like an island in its midst, runs up the side and along the brow of a steep plateau. A narrow way plunges down from this central avenue and passes a sevengabled row of delectable almshouses, dated 1640. Indeed, no buildings in these Midland counties have more architectural charm than such antique shelters for indigent old age. The abrupt lane leads to a large grey church, square-towered and perpendicular, like the church of Chipping Campden, but with a few Early English traces. Its peculiar feature is the glass clerestory,—great square windows divided from one another by the pillars of the nave. The sexton opened the doors for us so early that we had leisure to linger a little before the old altar-stone with its five crosses, St. Mary's banner bordered with her own blue, the warrior pillowed on his helmet and praying his last prayer beside his lady whose clasped hands, even in the timeworn alabaster, have a dimpled, chubby, coaxing look; and those characteristic merchant brasses, the men in tunics with close sleeves and girdles, one of them standing with each foot on a woolpack, the women in amazing head-dresses, "horned" and "pedimented," and all the work so carefully and elaborately wrought that the Cotswold brasses are authorities for the costume of the period.

One of the main objects of this expedition, however, was the drive back over the hills with their far views of down and wold to whose vegetation the limestone imparts a peculiar tint of blue. We deviated from the Campden road to see the Rollright Stones, a hoary army with their leader well in advance. He, the King Stone, is across the Warwickshire line, but, curiously enough, a little below the summit which looks out over the Warwickshire plain. This monolith eight or nine feet high, fantastically suggests a huge body drawn back as if to brace itself against the Aling of some tremendous curse. The tale tells how, in those good old times before names and dates had to be remembered, a

[graphic][merged small]
[graphic][merged small]

petty chief, who longed to extend his sway over all Britain, had come thus far on his northward march. But here, when he was almost at the crest of the hill—when seven strides more would have brought him where he could see the Warwickshire village of Long Compton on the other side, out popped an old witch, as wicked as a thorn-bush, with the cry:

"If Long Compton thou canst see,

King of England thou shalt be.” On bounded the chief-what were seven steps to reach a throne !—but the wooded summit still shutting off his view, rose faster than he, and again the eldritch screech was heard:

"Rise up, stick! stand still, stone!

King of England thou shalt be none." And there he stands to this day, even as the spell froze him, while the sorceress, disguised as an elder tree, keeps watch over her victim. The elves steal out from a hole in the bank on moonlight nights and weave their dances round him. No matter how securely the children of the neighborhood fit a flat stone over the hole at bedtime, every morning finds it thrust aside. We would not for the world have taken liberties with that fairy portal, but if we had been sure which of the several elder trees was the witch, we might have cut at her with our penknives and seen—it is averred by many-as her sap began to flow and her strength to fail, the contorted stone strain and struggle to free itself from the charm. And had we seen that, I am afraid we should forthwith have desisted from our hacking and taken to our heels. As it was the place had an uncanny feel, and we went back into Oxfordshire some eighty yards to review the main body of the army.

"a dismal cirque
Of Druid stones upon a forlorn moor."

These mysterious monuments, which in the day of the Venerable Bede were no less remarkable than Stonehenge, have been ravaged by time, but some sixty of them—their magic

« PreviousContinue »