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When William Came

The Travelling Companions
The train bearing Yeovil on his visit to Torywood slid and rattled westward through the
hazy dreamland of an English summer landscape. Seen from the train windows the stark
bare ugliness of the metalled line was forgotten, and the eye rested only on the green
solitude that unfolded itself as the miles went slipping by. Tall grasses and meadow-
weeds stood in deep shocks, field after field, between the leafy boundaries of hedge or
coppice, thrusting themselves higher and higher till they touched the low sweeping
branches of the trees that here and there overshadowed them. Broad streams, bordered
with a heavy fringe of reed and sedge, went winding away into a green distance where
woodland and meadowland seemed indefinitely prolonged; narrow streamlets, lost to
view in the growth that they fostered, disclosed their presence merely by the water-weed
that showed in a riband of rank verdure threading the mellower green of the fields. On
the stream banks moorhens walked with jerky confident steps, in the easy boldness of
those who had a couple of other elements at their disposal in an emergency; more
timorous partridges raced away from the apparition of the train, looking all leg and neck,
like little forest elves fleeing from human encounter. And in the distance, over the tree
line, a heron or two flapped with slow measured wing-beats and an air of being bent on
an immeasurably longer journey than the train that hurtled so frantically along the rails.
Now and then the meadowland changed itself suddenly into orchard, with close-growing
trees already showing the measure of their coming harvest, and then strawyard and farm
buildings would slide into view; heavy dairy cattle, roan and skewbald and dappled,
stood near the gates, drowsily resentful of insect stings, and bunched-up companies of
ducks halted in seeming irresolution between the charms of the horse-pond and the
alluring neighbourhood of the farm kitchen. Away by the banks of some rushing mill-
stream, in a setting of copse and cornfield, a village might be guessed at, just a hint of red
roof, grey wreathed chimney and old church tower as seen from the windows of the
passing train, and over it all brooded a happy, settled calm, like the dreaming murmur of
a trout-stream and the far-away cawing of rooks.
It was a land where it seemed as if it must be always summer and generally afternoon, a
land where bees hummed among the wild thyme and in the flower beds of cottage
gardens, where the harvest-mice rustled amid the corn and nettles, and the mill-race
flowed cool and silent through water-weeds and dark tunnelled sluices, and made soft
droning music with the wooden mill-wheel. And the music carried with it the wording of
old undying rhymes, and sang of the jolly, uncaring, uncared-for miller, of the farmer
who went riding upon his grey mare, of the mouse who lived beneath the merry mill-pin,
of the sweet music on yonder green hill and the dancers all in yellow—the songs and
fancies of a lingering olden time, when men took life as children take a long summer day,
and went to bed at last with a simple trust in something they could not have explained.
Yeovil watched the passing landscape with the intent hungry eyes of a man who revisits a
scene that holds high place in his affections. His imagination raced even quicker than the
train, following winding roads and twisting valleys into unseen distances, picturing farms
and hamlets, hills and hollows, clattering inn yards and sleepy woodlands.
 
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