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An essay by Jenny Wren

On The Country

Title:     On The Country
Author: Jenny Wren [More Titles by Wren]

At which season, I wonder, is the country most lovely, most enjoyable! Is it in the spring, with its richly-colored carpet, its young green leaves, its delicious perfumes, its glorious freshness? Ah, why cannot we, like the trees, put off our old sinful world-steeped habits, and year by year bud out in purest innocence once again? The hedges, but a week ago barren and bare, are now clothed in brightest apparel, the greenest of cloaks thrown over them, lifting up their heads and sharing in the general rejoicing, in the glory of their annual resurrection. Is it in summer, with its myriads of blooms, and its thousand thousand happy voices, the silent torpid river, basking in the light of the sun, and responding only to the fishes as they frisk near the surface? Or is it in the autumn, with its many shades, with its long avenues on which nature has lavished whole tubes of burnt sienna and vermilion; when you tread on gorgeous paths heavy with golden leaves? Oh, why are we not as lovely in our autumn of life as nature is in hers? Why, when she decks herself in the gayest coloring, do we don our soberest garb? _We_ do not gain in splendor as we grow older. We lose our beauties and our charms one by one, till at last we stand destitute. Oh, cruel Time to treat us so!

"Time that doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in Beauty's brow."

And yet "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." While He takes from us our youth He also takes away the inclination to be young. We pine for the happy days of childhood; yet, if the power were given us, who would wish himself back in the past? We feel we should always like to be young, but should we not get very weary of the world, should we not wish for some kind of change?

Or is nature at her best when the year is dead and the earth puts on her spotless white shroud, when everything around has fallen asleep, and only robins are left to join in the wake?

Unanswerable question. There are too many opinions. Some prefer winter, some summer; some like the heat, some like the cold. Only in one thing do we agree, and that is, in our taste for variety, for change. Much as we admire the country, lovely as it is, it would not suit many to live there all the year round. The peace and quiet of our woodland scenes make us enjoy the town life all the more, while the unceasing turmoil of the season makes us hail with delight the idea of once more being

"Far from the madding crowd."

The very thought refreshes you. There is something exhilarating in our journey country-wards, long and tiring though it may be. Few people care about a railway journey, and yet with one or two kindred spirits I think it most enjoyable.

Traveling alone in the midst of strangers, you do feel rather melancholy. You try to read, and when you are tired of chasing the words up and down the page, you look out of the window and admire the scenery as you flit past until your eyes ache to such an extent you are obliged to withdraw your gaze and be satisfied with the study of human nature, as far as it can be procured from the inmates of your compartment. Finally you go to sleep, only to wake up after a few minutes, to find the eyes of all your fellow passengers upon you, and this serves to make you nervous and uncomfortable. You dare not close your eyes again. You feel sure it is the signal for everyone to turn in your direction, and you will not gratify them.

Then comes luncheon time, when we all begin to grow fidgety, and take surreptitious looks at our watches, and then glance round at our companions to see if anyone is taking the first plunge. Hopeless quest! Nobody ever _will_ be the first to begin to eat in a railway carriage. Why is it, I wonder? Are they afraid none of the others will follow suit, and they be left to eat all alone? It would be nervous work, certainly. You would feel so dreadfully greedy, and yet if you offered any of your fellow travelers even a sandwich, they would peek up their heads, give you an astonished look, and decline shortly but with decision. You are made to feel you have insulted them, and yet they had such a hungry expression! Rarely indeed, though, do you undergo such an experience. You only have to rise, and reach down your basket, and behold! the next moment all the carriage is feeding. We are nothing but sheep after all. One leads the way, and we all follow.

When you have once made a start, eating on a railway journey is easy enough work; it is when you grow thirsty that the difficulty comes in. You pour the sherry, claret, whatever you have (some take milk in a green bottle--not a very tempting beverage to look at!) on to the floor, over your gown, on your neighbor's foot (thereby eliciting a most unholy frown from the recipient of your bounty), anywhere, indeed, except in your glass. Even if you are fortunate enough to catch a few drops, it is another Herculaean effort to take it to your mouth. No, drinking in the train, while it is in motion, requires years of practice.

Then again, your fellow passengers are not always all that can be desired. Often they are neither pleasant in themselves nor interesting as a study. I traveled with an awful old lady the other day. She had six small packages with her in the carriage, besides her hand-bag and umbrellas and half the contents of an extra luggage van. The long-suffering porter who had looked after her boxes and finally put her in the train, was crimson with his exertions. The generous lady, having searched several pockets before finding the necessary coin, bestowed on him a threepenny piece for his trouble! "Thank yer, mum," he went off muttering grimly, "I'll bore a 'ole in the middle and 'ang it round my neck."

This good dame never ceased to worry all through the journey. She pulled her things from under the seat and put them up in the rack, and then reversed their locality. At each station she called frantically to the guard to know where she was and if she ought to change. Finally, when we reached our destination, it was proved that she had taken her ticket to one place and had her luggage labelled to another; and there she was, standing on the platform gesticulating violently, while the train was steaming off with her belongings. What happened I do not know, for I was hurried off by my friends; but I should think it would be long before she and her luggage met again.

Fortunately she never knew how near she was to her death. If ever I had murderous intentions in my heart, it was on that journey north.

You do not feel very affectionate toward the country on a wet day. Indeed, it is a most mournful affair altogether, unless you have a particularly merry house party. There is absolutely nothing to do. The heavens weep at such inopportune moments too. There is sure to be some large picnic, some delightful gathering on the "tapis," when they choose to exhibit their griefs. And they never notice how unwelcome such a display of feelings is, but go on weeping, weeping, weeping all day long, until at last you catch the malady yourself, and are obliged perforce to mingle a few of your own tears with theirs.

No, there is simply nothing to be done, and Satan has quite a difficulty to find enough work for all the idle hands. Some can be perfectly happy in spending all their time in solving the intricacies of those many wonderful puzzles which have appeared lately as a sort of antidote to the mischief generally supposed to be perpetrated by the aforesaid gentleman. Unfortunately, an entirely contrary effect is produced on me. They did not look far enough ahead when they made me. They could not conceive the wonderful minds of this time, and so did not endow me with a sufficient quantity of patience. If they could have imagined those marvelous little tin saucers, with shot running in and out of horse-shoes, &c.;, with _me_ in the perspective, well, I think they would have gone about their work more carefully, and perhaps brought about a happier result. As it is, the puzzles are always swept away now at my approach. I have smashed so many.

It is base ingratitude, too, on my part, to bring them to so speedy an end; for what I owe to those dear little things I am powerless to express. Those entertaining people who sit speechless, and only answer yes and no with an eternal smile on their faces: give them a puzzle. There is no further effort to amuse them required on your part. They are at once absorbed in "shot." Their only idea is to successfully get them into their places. They never do; but being good thorough-going characters will never give up the attempt.

You meet several of these people in the country, but they never get very friendly. You shock them too much with your "London manners." They vote you "fast," and turn aside, fearful of contamination for their daughters.

Oh, the dreariness, the heaviness of a country dinner party! It seems to last four times as long as any other--parish, horses, or crops the only topic of conversation. How can you be interested in old Jane Smith's rheumatism when you have never heard of her before; in the swelling of a favorite mare's hock, when you did not know it possessed such a thing. People's views grow so dreadfully narrow, shut up in their small parish. Their stock of conversation is so very small. It is wise to find out your dinner partner at once, and avoid that man as you would a disease until the meal is announced. If not, if you accidentally get in his neighborhood, and he talks to you, all his conversation is at once exhausted, and you are obliged to hear it over again at table, or submit to an interesting silence.

Dinner parties anywhere are, I think, a mistake. It is a wicked waste of time to spend nearly three hours over eating and drinking. And you require such a very interesting "taker-in" to make it bearable at all.

The river is the nicest way of spending a holiday, in my opinion; you are so free and untrammeled. Mrs. Grundy even waives some of her laws on the river. The smaller the cottage, the more primitive the place, the more enjoyable it is. You can spend your time on the water, and when you are tired of that, you can hire a pony and trap and drive through some of the loveliest bits of English scenery, to your heart's content.

Only be careful before engaging your pony to find out its previous occupations. It is a necessary caution, I assure you. It once took me nearly an hour to drive out of one of the smallest villages imaginable. And why? Because my pony had formerly belonged to the butcher, and insisted on first going his rounds! I coaxed, I persuaded, I lashed him, but it was all of no avail. On he trotted until he reached the familiar doors of his late customers, and then he stopped and _would_ not go on for at least five minutes. One place was worse than any. I could not get him away for over a quarter-of-an-hour. This rather mystified me until I was told later that the butcher was on "walking out" terms with the cook residing there!

[The end]
Jenny Wren's essay: On The Country