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Thence Earth, and know how she is fair.
More than her sister Stars sweet Earth doth love us:
She holds our hearts: the Stars are high above us.
O Mother Earth! Stars are too far and rare!
Bere Regis, that "blinking little place" with a history extending back to Saxon times (identified by Doctor Stukeley with the Roman Ibernium), is a typical little Dorset town about seven miles to the north-west of Wareham. It makes a capital walk or ride from Dorchester, and it was this way I travelled. I left Dorchester by High Street East, Yellowham Hill, the "Yalbury Hill" of Troy's affecting meeting with Fanny , leaving Troy Town to pass through Puddletown and Tolpuddle. Evening had fallen when I arrived at Bere Regis, and the rising wind and flying of clouds above seemed to a wild night. I was just wondering whether, although it looked so threatening, I dared ride on to Wareham, when my eyes rested on the Royal Oak Inn, with its Elizabethan barns, mossed and red tiles and axe-hewn timbers.
"It is at such houses," I thought, "that men may stretch out weary legs and taste home-cured bacon (I heard the of a pig in the outhouse), and such places are the homes of adventure. I will go in and call for ale and a bed."
So I walked straight into the courtyard, which backs upon the church, and found there a large man with considerable girth, a square, honest face and eyes. He was wearing a cap, and wearing it in a fine rakish way too. His appearance gave me the impression that his wife had tossed the cap at him and failed to drop it on his head squarely, but had landed it in a lopsided manner, and then our friend had walked off without thinking anything more about it. He was singing a song to himself and staring at a pile of bundles of straw. He looked up and nodded good-humouredly.
"Looks like rain!" said I.
"Aw 'es, tu be sure, now you come to mention it. I dawnt think rain's far off."
"Can you tell me," said I, "if I can get a meal and a bed at this inn?"
"What you like," returned the man, with a quick of his head, which drew my eyes with a kind of to his ill-balanced cap, "but as I've nothing to do with the place I should ask the landlord avore me."
"Ah, to be sure," said I. "Sorry to trouble you. I thought you might be the landlord."
The man stopped singing his song to stare at me wide-eyed.
"Well, I beant; but it's a fine thing to be a landlord, with barrels o' beer down 'ouze and money in the bank."
"Then may I ask what trade you follow," said I, "and why you study that straw so intently?"
"Young fellow," said he, staring, "I follow a main-zorry trade in these days. I be a , and thatching to-the-truth-of-music is about done for. If you look at these thatched cottages about Dorset they will tell their own story. Why, the reed is just thrown on the roof hugger-mugger. They can't no more down this part, I can tellee; they lay it on all of a heap."
"And is this the straw for thatching?" I inquired.
"Yes," said he, smiling; "they call them bundles of reed in Dorset—but in my country, which is Devon, they call 'em 'nitches o' reed.'"
"Then you are not with your trade?"
"Not quite," answered the thatcher, his face falling. "It has always been my wish to have a little inn—and barrels o' beer down 'ouze and money...."
"Far better be a thatcher," said I.
"I'll be dalled ef I can see why."
"It's an out-of-doors life in the first place," said I.
The thatcher nodded, and his cap looked about as as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
"It is a happier life, too, I should say."
"Aw! I an't ayerd nort about that," he returned.
"And who ever heard of a starving thatcher?"
"Young fellow," he sighed, "there soon will be no thatchers to starve. Tez a lost art is thatching. I am the last of my family to follow the trade, and we can go back three hundred years."
"Then thatch is dying out?"
"Yes, chiefly on the score of it being hard to 'dout' in case of fire."
"'Dout' is a strange old word. It means extinguish, I take it," said I.
"To be sure—extinguished. Maybe you've heard the story about the Devon who went to London as a maid and when she told the mistress she had 'douted' the kitchen fire she was told to say 'extinguished' in future, and not use such ill-sounding words. 'Ess, mum,' she said, 'and shall I sting-guish the old cat before I go to bed?'"
The thatcher laughed in his deep chest.
"But thatch suits us Devon folk middlin' well," he continued. "It's warm in winter and cool in summer, and will stand more by the wind and rain than all your cheap tiles and ."
"And thatch is cheap too, perhaps?" I ventured.
"On the contrary," he answered. "Lukee, those nitches of reed cost four shillings each, and you want three hundred bundles for a good-sized roof. Then there is the best (which comes from Ireland), the spars and the labour to be counted in. It takes three weeks on the average house, but if the thatch is well laid it will last for thirty years, and if I set my heart on a job and finish it off with a layer of heath atop, well, then, it will last for ever. Ess, fay!"
"And what is the way you proceed to thatch a roof?" I asked.
"Well," he answered, "it's not easy to explain. 'Lanes' of reed—wheat straw, you would say—are first tied on the eave beams and gable beams; these are called eave locks and gable locks. A 'lane of reed' is about as long as a walking-stick and a bit thicker than a man's wrist, and a thatched roof is composed of these 'lanes' tied on the roof beams, in fashion. Then when the reeds are all tied on, each other,they are trimmed with a 'paring hook.' The reed has to be wet when put up; that is why thatchers wear leather knee-knaps. The best thatching reed comes from clay soil out Exeter and Crediton way."
"And where do you think," I asked, "can be seen the most perfect examples of thatching in England?"
"I lay you won't see any better than the cottages around Lyme Regis and Axminster. But soon Merry England will be done with thatch, for the boys of the village are too proud to learn how to cut a spar or use a thatcher's hook. Bless my soul! They all want to be clerks or school teachers."
My friend the thatcher had a profound contempt for "school larning" and he waxed when he touched upon Council School teachers.
"What poor, mimpsy-pimsy craychers they be, them teachers," he remarked. "Fancy them trying to larn others, and ha'n't got the brains to larn themselves!"
Bere Regis church is the most beautiful little building of its size in Dorset. It is the captain and chief of all the village churches, and has just managed to touch perfection in all the things that a wayside should achieve. There is an atmosphere about the old place that is and above the pleasure of physical experience. The qualities of Bere Regis can only be appreciated with that sixth sense that gross sight and touch. Upon entering the building one is captivated by the roof and the number of , half life-size, in the dress of the period, which are carved on the hammer-beams. This magnificent carved and painted timber roof is said to have been the gift of Morton, born at Milborne Stileman, in this parish. The roof effigies are supposed to represent the Twelve Apostles, but they are not easily identified. The Skerne tomb possesses a special interest for its and verse:
"I Skerne doe show that all our earthlie trust
All earthlie favours and goods and sweets are dust
Look on the worlds inside and look on me
Her outside is but painted vanity."
In the south porch will be found an interesting in the shape of some old iron grappling-hooks used for pulling the thatch off a cottage in the event of fire. An ancient altar-slab on which, perchance, sacrifices have been offered has been preserved, and there is also a fine old priest's chair, the upper arms of which have supported the leaning bodies of a great company of Dorset[Pg 129] vicars, for it must be remembered that the priest was not allowed to sit on the chair—but "leaning" was permitted. The Norman pillars in the south are striking to the eye, and the humorous on their capitals are objects of great interest. One of them gives a very good picture of a victim in the throes of toothache; the sufferer has just arrived at that stage in which the pain is mounting to a of agony, for he has inserted his eight fingers in his mouth in an attempt to battle with his tormentors. The other figure displays some poor fellow who is a to headache—perhaps a gentle and warning to those who were inclined to tarry overlong in the . But the main object of interest is the Turberville window in the south , beneath which is the ledger-stone covering the last resting-place of this wild, land-snatching family, which is lettered as follows:—
"Ostium sepulchri antiquae Famillae Turberville
24 Junij 1710."
("The door of the sepulchre of the ancient family of the Turbervilles.")
It was at this stone that Tess down and said:
"Why am I on the wrong side of this door!" Perhaps it is as well to recite the outline of 's story of Tess at this stage of our pilgrimage. Tess Durbeyfield, the daughter of poor and feeble-minded parents and descendant of a noble but somewhat wild old family, was forcibly by a wealthy young loafer whose father had taken, with no right to it, Tess's proper name of "D'Urberville." A child was born, but died. Some years after Tess became to a clergyman's son, Angel Clare. On their wedding night Tess confessed to him her past relations with Alec D'Urberville, and thereupon Clare, a man who was not without sin himself, left her. In the end Fate to force Tess back into the protection of Alec. Clare, who cannot be looked upon as anything but half-baked and insincere, returns from Canada and finds her living with D'Urberville. In order to be free to return to Clare, Tess stabbed Alec to the heart, for which she was arrested, tried and hanged.
In this romance Bere Regis figures as "Kingsbere," and the church is the subject of many references. It was on one of the "canopied, altar-shaped" Turberville tombs that poor Tess noticed, with a sudden qualm of blank fear, that the moved. "As soon as she drew close to it she discovered all in a moment that the figure was a living person; and the shock to her sense of not having been alone was so violent that she almost fainted, not, however, till she had recognised Alec D'Urberville in the form."
Here Alec D'Urberville stamped with his heel heavily above the stones of the ancient family vault, whereupon there arose a hollow echo from below, and remarked airily to Tess: "A family is it not, with these old fellows under us here?"
In the south wall a which has been long filled in can still be traced. There is nothing of special note in this , but a legend has been handed down which is worth here. It is said that one of the Turberville family quarrelled with the vicar of Bere Regis and ended a stormy meeting by declaring that he would never again pass through the old door of the church. As time went on the of the Turberville dead in the ancient shrine him and he grew to regret the haste in which he had cut himself off from the ancient possessors of his land. After some years Fate arranged a chance meeting between the vicar and Turberville at a village feast, and under the influence of the general good-fellowship and merry-making they buried the and fell to discussing old times and friends. When time came for the breaking up of the entertainment it was only Turberville's dogged determination to keep his which prevented a return to the old happy conditions before the of friendship.
"There is one thing I would ask you to do, Vicar," said Turberville as he parted. "When you attend vespers to-morrow just tell the old Turberville to sleep soundly in their vault. Although I have never to pass through the church door while I am alive, I cannot stop 'em carrying me through when I am dead—so I shall sleep with them in the end."
However, the vicar went to the town stone-mason next morning and arranged to cut a new doorway in the south wall, and thus it came to pass that the independent and stubborn Turberville once again was able to worship with the shades of his fathers and yet keep to his promise never to pass through the old door again.
The first of the family of Turberville was Sir Payne de Turberville (de Turba Villa), who came over with William the Norman. From Sir Payne down to the last descendants of the family who form the theme of Thomas Hardy's romance, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the Turbervilles were a strange, wild company. It is excusable, too, in a way, for it appears that the first of the line, after the battle of Hastings, was one of the twelve who helped Robert FitzHamon, Lord of Estremaville, in his evil work and returned to England when his commander was created Earl of Gloucester. In an ancient document of the time of Henry III. we come across a striking illustration of the unscrupulous ways of this family, for it is recorded that John de Turberville was then paying an annual fine on some land near Bere Regis, which his people before him had from the estate of the Earl of Hereford. The Turbervilles were established in the neighbourhood in 1297. Bryants , a very rude little hamlet on the River Piddle a little to the south-west of Bere, receives its title from Brian de Turberville, who was lord of the in the of Edward III. The village was anciently called "Piddle Turberville," but this name has been replaced by Bryants Puddle.
At a later period the Turbervilles came into the possession of the manor of Bere Regis at the breaking up of Tarent Abbey, and at this time the good fortune of the family was at its zenith. But with the spoils of the church came a gradual and general downfall of the old family, and with the increased riches, we may , the Turbervilles went roaring on their way more than ever. There is an entry in the parish registers of Bere, under the year 1710, of the interment of Thomas Turberville, the last of the ancient race. An intermediate stage of the house is represented by D'Albigny Turberville, the mentioned by Pepys, who died in 1696 and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral. After the year 1710 the old manor-house of the Turbervilles, near the church, was strangely silent. Their time was over and gone, the wine had been drunk, the singers had departed. But the stories of their carousals and great deeds were still a matter for dispute and discussion at the village inn, and the old house was especially regarded with feelings of and few cared to go near it after dark. It was not what they had seen, but what they might see, that caused them to the old place. I can picture the Dorset of that time (and the distance between Hodge the "Goodman" of 1710 and Hodge the driver of the motor tractor is almost nothing at all) shaking his head on being asked his reasons for avoiding the house, and saying, with a grin, as how he "shouldn't like to go about such a divered [dead] old hole."
The ancient manor-house was allowed to into ruin, and now nothing at all but a few stones:
"Through broken walls and grey
The winds blow and ;
They are all gone away.
Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill;
There is nothing more to say."
There is reason to believe that the in and Dorset who bear different forms of the name Turberville, altered into Tellafield and Troublefield, are in truth the descendants of illegitimate branches of the family. One ancient Dorset rustic with the name of Tollafield, who aroused my interest, said to me in all seriousness that he would not care to go into the history of the old Turberville people. "You depend upon it, they were a bad lot—the parson told me so. There is no telling what them folks' speerits might not be up to, if so be the old devil had got ahold on 'em." This rustic, though an old man, had an eye as keen as a hawk's, was a man of immensely powerful frame, and would sleep under a hedge any night and feel little the worse for it. When I looked at his clear, hard blue eyes and straight, nose he gave me the feeling that the Turberville blood had really survived in him. Then I learned that he was a flagrant poacher and, like the old earth-stopper in Masefield's poem,
"His made many a rabbit die.
On moony nights he found it pleasant
To stare the woods for roosting pheasants
Up near the tree-trunk on the .
He never trod behind a plough.
He and his two sons got their food
From wild things in the field and wood."
It was my fortune to run into the old fellow coming out of the Royal Oak one night with his friends. He was very and . I heard him offering to fight three men, "knock one down, t'other come on" style. Then it came over me with a sudden sense of largeness and quietude that the game old ruffian had his place in the order of things. This of the low Tudor tap-room was perhaps a Turberville, one of the rightful, immemorial owners of the land. If he has not the right to a pheasant for his Sunday dinner, then tell me who has. Perhaps when we, with our picture palaces and styles and jazzy-dances, have passed away our friend the poacher will , his feet among his clods, rooted deep in his native soil. And if all this thin of was suddenly ripped away from us, how should we emerge? Hodge would still go on poaching, sleeping under hedges, outwitting the wild things in the woods and drinking home-brewed ale. He would not even feel any temporary inconvenience. How old-fashioned and out-of-date we with all our new things would feel if we were suddenly brought into line with the eternally efficient Hodge!
From Bere Regis to Wool is a pleasant ride of five or six miles. Close to Wool station is the manor-house, now a farm, which was once the residence of a younger branch of the Turberville family, and readers will remember it is the place where Tess and Angel Clare came to spend their gloomy and . In Hardy's Tess the house is called Wellbridge Manor House, in remembrance of the days when Wool was called Welle, on account of the springs which are so in this district. Of course the house is named from the five-arched Elizabethan bridge which spans the reed-fringed River Frome at this point. Each arch of the bridge is divided by , which at the road-level form where foot-passengers may take refuge from passing motors or carts. The manor-house is of about the time of Henry VIII., and has been much . Over the doorway a date stone proclaims that the building was raised in 1635 (or 1655), but it has been suggested that this is the date of a restoration or addition to the building. The two pictures of Tess's ancestors mentioned in the novel actually exist, and are to be seen on the wall of the staircase: "two life-sized portraits on panels built into the wall. As all visitors are aware, these paintings represent women of middle age, of a date some two hundred years ago, whose lineaments once seen can never be forgotten. The long features, narrow eye, and of the one, so suggestive of merciless treachery; the bill-hook nose, large teeth, and bold eye of the other, suggesting to the point of ferocity, haunt the afterwards in his dreams."
Old records show that in ancient times a curious custom was observed on Annual Court Day at Wool. It was known as collecting smoke-pence. It appears that the head of every house was called upon to pay a penny for each of his chimneys as a token that the property belonged to the manor. The money was collected by the , who was obliged to bring twenty pence into court, or make up the money himself.
The most characteristic and altogether unique feature of this nook of earth around Bere Regis is that has not ceased to exist among the old people of the land. It is difficult to believe that there is a little district in England where superstition is still a part—a very obscure part, it is true—of the life of the people. But here I have noticed the shadow of and magic thrown across the commonplace things of rustic life again and again while talking with old cronies over their beer, or along the hill roads. But it must be understood that the Dorset man does not talk to any chance on such matters: the subject of the "Borderland" and "spiritual creatures" is set apart for the log fire and chimney corner on winter evenings. It is when the wooden are up to the windows, and the tranquillising clay pipes are sending up their to the oak cross-beams, that we may cautiously turn the conversation on to such matters. On one such occasion as I watched the keen, wrinkled faces, on which common sense, shrewdness and long experience had set their marks, I wondered if two local farmers had made such sinners of their memories as to credit their own fancy. But no, I would not believe they were in earnest. It was only their humour asserting itself. They were surely "piling it on" in order to deceive me! However, that was not the solution, for when the time came, somewhere about midnight, for one of the farmers to return home he refused to face the dark trackway back to his farm, and preferred to spend the night in the arm-chair before the fire. But let one of the on Bere Heath tell of his own . Here is old Gover coming over the great Elizabethan bridge which spans the rushy River Frome at Wool. One glance at his cheerful, weather-beaten face will tell you better than a whole chapter of a book that he is no[Pg 142] "lablolly" (fool), but a man of sound , easy notions and general good character, like Hardy's Gabriel Oak. Leaning on the ancient stonework of the bridge, and his vamplets (rough gaiters used by thatchers to defend the legs from wet) with a hazel stick, he stops to talk. A motor lorry filled with churns of milk passes on its way to drop its at Wool railway siding.
"Tellee what 'tis," said Gover to me, pointing to the lorry: "'twill be a poor-come-a-long-o'-'t now them motors are taking the place o' horses everywhere. Can't get no from them things, and the land is no good without manure. Mr Davis the farmer at Five Mile Bottom hev got five cars now where ten horses used to feed. He sez to me that he don't want any horse manure—chemical manures is good enough for him. But he dunnow nort 't-all-'bout-et! He'll eat the heart out of his soil with his chemicals, and his farm will be barren in a year or so. Ess, by Gor! You bant agwain to do justice to the soil without real manure, and them as thinks they can dawnt know A from a 'oss's 'ead."
Then I asked Gover about the Turberville ghost which we are told haunts this lane, and which is the subject of an in Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. His keen old face became serious at once. No ghosts or goblins had troubled him, he said, but John Rawles and another chap saw as plain as could be a funeral going along from Woolbridge House to Bere Regis, and they heard the priest singing in front of the , but they could not understand what he did say. There was a cattle gate across the road in those days and Rawles ran to open it, but before he could get there the coffin had passed through the gate and it had all vanished! He had often heard tell of people who had seen ghosts, and he would not be put about if he did see one himself.
"So you have not seen the blood-stained family coach of the Turbervilles?" I inquired.
"No, I never see that," said Gover, shaking his head, "nor never heard of it."
"Then, as it is a tale that every child should know," I said, "I will tell you now, and you shall believe it or no, as you choose. Once upon a time there was a Turberville who deserves to be remembered and to be called, so to speak, the limb of the 'old 'un' himself, for he spent all his days in wickedness, and went roaring to the devil as fast as all his could send him. I have heard it said that he snapped his fingers in the face of a good parson who came to see him on his death-bed, saying he did not wish to talk balderdash, or to hear it, and bade him clear out and send up his servant with fighting-cocks and a bottle of brandy. Gradually all the drinking and , which had his soul for so long, swept him into a state of temporary madness and he murdered a friend while they were riding to Woolbridge House in the family coach. The friend he struck down had Turberville blood in his too, so you may be certain the blame was not all on one side. Ever since the evil night the coach with the horses dragging it sways and rocks along the road between Wool and Bere, and the murderer rushes after it, moaning and his hands, but never having the fortune to catch it up. The spectacle of the haunted coach cannot be seen by the ordinary wayfarer; it is only to be seen by persons in which the blood of the Turbervilles is mixed."
"Ah!" nodded old Gover, "I don't hold with that story. If so be as that 'ere Turberville who murdered t'other hev a-gone up above, 'tain't likely as how he'll be wishful to go rowstering after that ripping great coach on a dalled bad road like this." And then he shook his bony finger in my face and added: "And if the dowl have a-got hold on 'im he won't be able to go gallyvanting about—he'll be kept there!"
Wool has another attraction in the ruins of Bindon Abbey, lying in the thick wood seen from the station, a few minutes to the south of the line towards Wareham. The ruins are very . A few and are still preserved, and one stone bears the in Lombardic characters:
The Abbey is in a wood by the river—a gloomy, fearsome, dark place. This is the Wellbridge Abbey of Hardy's Tess, and we read that "against the north wall of the ruined was the empty stone coffin of an abbot, in which every tourist with a turn for grim humour was accustomed to stretch himself." This is, of course, the lidless coffin in which Angel Clare, walking in his sleep, laid Tess. Woolbridge House is not so near to this spot as Thomas Hardy gives one to understand in the novel. Near the ruin is the old mill of Bindon Abbey, situated on the Frome, where Angel Clare proposed to learn milling. It is called "Wellbridge Mill" in Tess.
The old Abbey wood is full of shadows and is the kind of place that one would write down as immemorially old, barren and . The singular impressiveness of its ivy-grown walls, shadowed by heavy masses of , depresses one dreadfully. The straight beneath the trees have been worn into deep tracks by the attrition of feet for many centuries. Under the trees are the fish-ponds which played such an important part in provisioning the ' . They are so from the daylight that they take on a shining jet-black surface. A book might be written about the place—a book of terrible and fateful ghost tales.

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