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bears signs of having been built toward the end of Henry VII.'s or beginning of Henry VIII.'s reign. It seems clear, from ancient documents carefully preserved, that the earlier Silchesters were an adventurous race. They went to the Crusades. They followed their kings to France. They were with Elizabeth's predatory captains, and made
many the Spanish Main. And when wild adventure of this kind came to an end, they seem to have found occupation in England that drew them away from home. They mixed with Elizabethan poets, with wits of the Caroline time. It was not till the accession of the House of Brunswick that they left the Court and London.
Hence it happened that the manor of Silchester was gradually impropriated in its outlying parts. All sorts of squatters took hold upon it, holding their bits of land by all sorts of tenures. Far in the green depths of the outstretched moorland you might come upon profitable farmlets and pleasant cottages with
orchard ground, held by the yearly service of presenting a fat capon or a bushel of wheat. These very services were forgotten. Probably the Squire might in many cases have redeemed the ancestral grants; but he had elbow-room, and preferred honest neighbours to increase of income. These small encampments on the outskirts of his manor injured him not a whit, and did infinite good to the people dwelling there. The Squire knew them all, and befriended them all; and there was not a man for miles round who would not have lost a day's work to do anything for John Silchester.
The village of Silchester is one long straggling street, with a vast number of outlying suburbs. As you enter it from the upper end, the most conspicuous objects are a dissenting chapel and an immense walnut tree. Just at the corner by that mighty tree, one of the largest in the land, a narrow lane swerves to the right, where the earliest white violets are found in spring. This lane is called The Butts,
a reminiscence of old days of archery; but modern sentiment has rechristened it Nightingale Lane. It is the favourite resort of your Devonshire Tityrus and Amaryllis.
The street winds. On the left, the Oak Tavern, kept by old Harry Withers, whose white head and brown gaiters are institutions in Silchester. The man who gets drunk at the Oak will never drink there again. Withers farms under the Squire, and brews his own ale, and stands no nonsense. The next house, hidden among trees and surrounded by a high wall, is what in these days would be called a ladies' seminary—kept by Madame Simonet, a very decided Englishwoman, who is thus called from having married a Frenchman. She bears the repute of being a rigid disciplinarian.
Just opposite, from a cottage overgrown with honeysuckle, there issues a wondrous shrillness of bird-music. If you enter that cottage, you will find two rooms full of bird-cages, fifty in each, perhaps : a true academy of music; for
one cage in each room contains a nightingale," and the others canaries, which that nightingale has to educate; and when the two nightingales are in full song, with a hundred canaries following them, the jargoning deafens all Silchester. Burrows, the owner of this ornithic cottage, drives the coach from Silchester to Exeter: a born lover of birds, he can gain answers from them at any time as he drives along in the twilight.
Now, also on the right, is Sherwood, attorneyat-law and gentleman by act of Parliament. Sherwood is a gentleman on other grounds; he is also a humorist; and, having quite enough to live upon, he has a mania for reconciling litigants. He is unpopular among the lawyers of the neighbourhood. The Squire likes him well enough to invite him to dinner now and then. The fact is that Sherwood, though a thoroughly good fellow, has a slightly boisterous humour.
Next door is Zeal the wine merchant, a
jolly old boy, whose idea of luncheon is Stilton and port wine. Further down on the left is Michael the bookseller, of whom there is nothing to be said except that he knows nothing about books. Then we
we turn the corner into the market-place—for Silchester actually has a market-place; and we see on a signboard the Silchester Arms; and we see the church and rectory and parish schools just across the rivulet which runs at the bottom of the town.
The church is rather old; the rector is rather young. His name is Arundel Saint Osyth. He is very High Church, and holds daily services, and wears the most amazing costumes. The Squire and he were at Oxford together, but there were several years between them, and in a town and gown row Saint Osyth knocked down a fellow who was just going to settle the Squire from behind. The result was a friendship which in due time made Saint Osyth rector of Silchester. The Squire does not wholly