LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
A DRIVE IN DEVONSHIRE.
rrO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR:] Sin,—" Nancy" has only had two slight attacks of megrims since the occasion of our calamities in the New Forest last year. She is in great force now, and as I was much concerned by seeing f`. it stated in a local paper published at the time that I had only myself to thank for taking "an old screw" about the country, I had intended to redeem her reputation as a mare of spirit and strength by taking her this year to Devonshire. But my wife objected, for two reasons. Devonshire, she said, had hills of a remarkably unique character, to climb which you ought to get a pony well accustomed to them,—the ascent of which, in Nancy's case, might, moreover, bring on megrims. Further, Nancy wanted green food to keep off these unpleasant attacks, and ought to be turned out to grass. These reasons were power- ful. At the same time, I felt that Nancy or no Nancy, the "trap" must go. Cecilia is not easily satisfied with traps. For her peace of mind, they must be four-wheeled ; they must be roomy ; they must be very low; they must admit of jumping out on the shortest notice ; they must facilitate the use of a double strap for the pair of dogs which usually accompany us in this simple auxiliary harness, and which are but seldom trusted to run alone because they are so ill-disciplined that, if free, they turn aside to chase rabbits, or even to hunt sheep. All these conditions are not easily satisfied at a few hours' notice, so we decided to take the trap by railway, and buy or hire a home-bred Devonshire pony on the spot. This was a nervous business. I don't look 'horsey,' and I don't know how to act the part. The only thing I know how to do is to poke a horse in a particular place, and remark that it is not " well ribbed-up,"—a phrase taught me by a friend. But I don't think that enough to sustain a reputation for shrewdness, and. besides, I have not the least idea what being "well ribbed-up" really is. When I consulted my landlord at Exeter, he looked at me so much in the way in which Littimer, the man-servant, looked at David Copperfield, that I could not venture to accept his offer of counsel if I would accompany him to the bazaar. He evidently, moreover, saw something ludicrous in my modest ex- pectation that I could buy a Dartmoor pony in Exeter. "Exmoor,. Sir, I suppose you mean," he said, with a tone of scorn which made me feel that I was making some great geographical. blunder. I did not defend myself, but Dartmoor was what I did mean. And why because Exeter is on the Exe you should only be to buy Exmoor ponies there, I can't understand even now.. Dartmoor is, if anything, rather nearer to Exeter than Exmoor. But these are matters on which I suppose a priori reasoning is no safe guide, so I felt rebuked. But I was quite determined not to, accompany that very cynical-looking landlord to the bazaar, and lay bare my ignorance under his eye. So we took a carriage for a drive, and I entered into friendly conversation with the driver on the subject of ponies purchasable and hireable in Exeter, and discovering that he had a friend a butcher,—and a very handsome butcher he was,—with two Exmoor, or partly Exmoor, ponies for sale, we sent for them to try in the trap, and were much surprised at their minuteness. The elder,—indeed, the mother,— was a quiet little Quakerish-looking pony, of a sober cream-colour, which, after Nancy, looked like a largish mouse. The daughter, quite as little, was described by some as iron-grey, with a dash of bay, but I should have said roan-colour was the nearest. She reminded me a little, in colour, of a high-stepping blue horse, which a friend once wanted me to buy, and to which my only objection was that it looked so very like a circus-horse that I was sure all my friends would unanimously demand that I should ride it standing and on one foot,—a feat to which lain not equal. The two ponies were called "Old Folly" and "Young Folly" by the handsome butcher, but this was a gross misnomer. There was nothing of the " Polly " in them. Evidently they were "Phoebes," —neat, demure, conscientious, and a little conventional. And after driving both up to Pennsylvania, the high down above Exeter, whence you get a distant view both of Dartmoor and Exmoor, and whence you see Pynes, the very homelike house of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, beautifully situated below you, we decided on taking "Placebe, Junior,"—" Phcebe, Senior," who was twelve years old, and had a dry cough, seeming hardly up to the exertioa. If Phcebe Senior was too old, Phoebe Junior was too young
She was only three years old, a mere baby ; but the handsome butcher intimated that the Exmoor breed were generally broken and worked young, and that this was half-Exmoor, half-Arab, her father being of the pure Caucasian race. He would answer for her going up or down the side of a house, if necessary, with sure foot. The Pennsylvania ascent, though steep, is not exactly the "side of a house," and we noticed that Phoebe Junior was not quite at her ease in descending it, so there were great searchings of heart. But I wanted to be off, and to evade the humili- ating task of going to the bazaar with that condescending cynic, our landlord. So we risked it. And Phoebe Junior, who, of course, repeatedly reminded us of Mrs. Oliphant and "the young man from 'Omerton who made an 'it," was installed in Nancy's place, which she just half- filled. My anxieties were greatly increased by patronising spec- tators,—the head ostler amongst them,—who proffered advice and criticisms of which I did not wholly fathom the drift. This function- ary advised me so decidedly to take Phoebe Junior, that I, having hitherto held it as a rule that homey persons' advice is always interested and misleading, was very near deciding on Phcebe Senior, on the simple principle that the ostler was probably engaged in the handsome butcher's interest, to advise what was most for the advantage of that gentleman and least for our own. Fortunately I abstained from pushing a sound principle into cases where I had no independent verification of its value. Phoebe Junior with care answered our purpose. Phoebe Senior's cough alone would have destroyed all our pleasure. Moreover, with broken wind, she would hardly have surmounted some of our hills. Again, I was much exercised in spirit by hear- ing several observers remark, "A breedy little pony." I knew what a well-bred pony meant, but all ponies must be bred, and whether 'breedy' meant well-bred or ill-bred I felt in great doubt. I was not quite sure from the tone whether the epithet was said in praise or blame. I was aware that weeds are very apt to breed fast, and the tormenting idea struck me that this word might be Devonshire for weedy,'—which I knew to be a homey term of great dispraise, though I hardly knew in what sense. When I asked the meaning of the term, the persons who used it gazed silently at me and were obviously grieved. This cost me many minutes of anguish. I have since had reason to believe that they meant well-bred,—which indeed Phoebe Junior was. She was a little thin-skinned, the least roughness of the harness fretted her,— a little weak in her graceful little hind-legs,—a little conventional, —she was never frisky or skittish, and did not indulge in one joke all the time, but this absence of fun was a great merit in Cecilia's eyes. A little Dartmoor pony whose acquaintance we subse- quently made had, I should think, more humour in her than Phoebe Junior, and Phoebe Senior, and all their ancestors put together.
However, perhaps this pretty and gentle pony would not have suited us. Cecilia likes humour, she says, but not in harness. Well, before our journey to Dartmoor we were bound to Lyme Regis. Cecilia had known Charmouth long years ago, and wished to revisit it. I, too, had the greatest desire to see the chief scene of Miss Austen's "Persuasion," especially that upper Cobb, from which Captain Wentworth jumped down Louisa Musgrove once too often. So we turned our little mouse's head eastwards towards Ottery St. Mary, which lay in our way, the place of Coleridge's birth, and in the neighbourhood of which the present Chief Justice of the Common Pleas still has a residence. It was a grand sight to see us drive out of Exeter, with a rampart of luggage opposite us almosthigh enough to obscure little Phoebe's diminutive form, one dog barking vehemently in the carriage, and one running extatically in the mud. The officials of the inn prophesied in low tones that the pony was not strong enough for such a vehicle. And indeed I denounced the carpet-bag, which cast its portentous shadow upon us, as Atlas flung its shadow "across the Western foam," as an article of cargo which must be sent home at once in order to lighten the ship ; so it returned by rail from Ottery St. Mary.
Our drive lay through a wide and stuffing landscape, but hardly one of high beauty, Phcebe Junior showing a well-disciplined spirit, and behaving with the utmost phlegm and propriety, even when we met a large detachment of Volunteer Artillery on the march from Honiton, which would have startled any pony with a less old head on its young shoulders. The view down the wide, bright valley of the Otter,—full of light, but full also of indolent and dreamy colour, like Coleridge's genius,—with the distant gleam of the Channel on the horizon, and the great heathery hill which divides the Otter valley from the valley of the Axe, facing us, was beautiful ; and we were glad to stay for the night in the prettily situated little town, to which, however, a great silk-mill had given something of a noisy and stirring character since Coleridge wrote his sonnet on his native stream. But the Otter itself was as limpid, its sands as bright in colour, and its margin as willowy as when he saw its water "with all its tints flowing before his eyes, and described,—
" Thy crossing plank, thy margin's willowy maze, And bedded sand, that veined with various dyes Gleamed through thy bright transparence to the gaze."
Indeed, we were glad to let both the dogs gleam through the Otter's "bright transparence" to our gaze, for they were all the brighter themselves afterwards. It was a still more lovely drive the next day to Lyme. I gave Phoebe, Junior, a ' leader ' to help her up the great hill out of Ottery, which rose up like a wall east of the little town, and Phoebe appreciated this attention. She had not turned a hair when the clumsy old horse and his driver departed from us, leaving us on a wild heath looking at a view as broad and fair as any English county contains,—the wide-based, gradually in- clined cones of the Devonshire hills stretching to the north and west of us, and the inner slopes of the cliffs of the Channel to the south. Phoebe trotted as merrily over the level table-land of the next few miles as if she had found no weight in the carriage at all. But after passing the bridge over the Axe her aplomb was tried by meeting one of those frightful traction-engines, which are preceded by a
herald with a flag of warning. Yet Phoebe's aplomb was not found wanting. Perhaps she wants imagination, but she has wonderful self-possession for a baby of three. The first glimpse of Lyme and Charmouth bay, and the Dorsetshire cliffs stretching out to Portland Island, on a sea as blue as the deepest of Italian skies, was as striking as the first glimpse of an Alpine landscape when you first surmount the shoulder of the pass. The sea was one wide sheet of deep and lustrous blue, the white town nestled beneath looked far more romantic than was at all needful for the scene of the very sober passion of any of Miss Austen's heroines,—even her best and gentlest. The richly-coloured and deeply-furrowed cliffs be- yond Charmouth,—Golden Cap, with his yellow crown, and all his many-coloured companions,—gave a splendidly-variegated setting to that still deep world of blue ; while far to the south, Portland Island melted away into theses, like some island of the blest, instead of the purgatory of convicts it is. There was not a white speck upon the ocean except a solitary sail, and the delicate curve of foam trend- ing away along the beach. But a moment of peril was approaching. The descent into Lyme is a long steep slide. Phoebe Junior's strength was in her mind rather than in her legs. Cecilia descended. I descended and went carefully to Phoebe's head. The dogs barked. The little creature struggled more and more against the weight of the carriage, but at last, when the incline was near 43°, she began to "cave in," and my belief is that she was about to adopt the expedient of some Devonshire ponies on their native hills, when they squat down and slide. Cecilia, haunted with the notion of megrims, cried to a man that the pony was having a fit. He gave it as his opinion that she was only squirming beneath the fretting of some of the harness, which had rubbed off a little of her skin, but it was all that I and another volunteer from Lyme could do to persuade her not to sit down. Cecilia tugged behind to diminish the pressure of the carriage on Phoebe Junior. A few mild-mannered and rather apathetic boys collected to watch the transit. Lyme expressed a grave interest rather than an indecent curiosity in the matter, but tendered no unneces- sary help. When we reached the inn at last in safety, the ostler remarked that for such ponies as ours, on such hills as those of Devon and Dorset, a drag was absolutely requisite, and from that day the history of our drives was the history of a lively and incessant controversy between Cecilia and myself on the pro- priety of using or not using that " irrepressible " drag. It was a sort of drag-hunt through Devonshire. —I am, Sir, your obedient