The still hour — A thrill — The wondrous circle — The shepherd — Heaps and barrows — What do you mean? — Milk of the plains — Hengist spared it — No presents.
After standing still a minute or two, considering what I should do, I moved down what appeared to be the street of a small straggling town; presently I passed by a church, which rose indistinctly on my right hand; anon there was the rustling of foliage and the rushing of waters. I reached a bridge, beneath which a small stream was running in the direction of the south. I stopped and leaned over the parapet, for I have always loved to look upon streams, especially at the still hours. ‘What stream is this, I wonder?’ said I, as I looked down from the parapet into the water, which whirled and gurgled below.
Leaving the bridge, I ascended a gentle acclivity, and presently reached what appeared to be a tract of moory undulating ground. It was now tolerably light, but there was a mist or haze abroad which prevented my seeing objects with much precision. I felt chill in the damp air of the early morn, and walked rapidly forward. In about half an hour I arrived where the road divided into two, at an angle or tongue of dark green sward. ‘To the right or the left?’ said I, and forthwith took, without knowing why, the left-hand road, along which I proceeded about a hundred yards, when, in the midst of the tongue of sward formed by the two roads, collaterally with myself, I perceived what I at first conceived to be a small grove of blighted trunks of oaks, barked and gray. I stood still for a moment, and then, turning off the road, advanced slowly towards it over the sward; as I drew nearer, I perceived that the objects which had attracted my curiosity, and which formed a kind of circle, were not trees, but immense upright stones. A thrill pervaded my system; just before me were two, the mightiest of the whole, tall as the stems of proud oaks, supporting on their tops a huge transverse stone, and forming a wonderful doorway. I knew now where I was, and, laying down my stick and bundle, and taking off my hat, I advanced slowly, and cast myself — it was folly, perhaps, but I could not help what I did — cast myself, with my face on the dewy earth, in the middle of the portal of giants, beneath the transverse stone.
The spirit of Stonehenge was strong upon me!
And after I had remained with my face on the ground for some time, I arose, placed my hat on my head, and, taking up my stick and bundle, wandered round the wondrous circle, examining each individual stone, from the greatest to the least; and then, entering by the great door, seated myself upon an immense broad stone, one side of which was supported by several small ones, and the other slanted upon the earth; and there, in deep meditation, I sat for an hour or two, till the sun shone in my face above the tall stones of the eastern side.
And as I still sat there, I heard the noise of bells, and presently a large number of sheep came browsing past the circle of stones; two or three entered, and grazed upon what they could find, and soon a man also entered the circle at the northern side.
‘Early here, sir,’ said the man, who was tall, and dressed in a dark green slop, and had all the appearance of a shepherd; ‘a traveller, I suppose?’
‘Yes,’ said I, ‘I am a traveller; are these sheep yours?’
‘They are, sir; that is, they are my master’s. A strange place this, sir,’ said he, looking at the stones; ‘ever here before?’
‘Never in body, frequently in mind.’
‘Heard of the stones, I suppose; no wonder — all the people of the plain talk of them.’
‘What do the people of the plain say of them?’
‘Why, they say — How did they ever come here?’
‘Do they not suppose them to have been brought?’
‘Who should have brought them?’
‘I have read that they were brought by many thousand men.’
‘How did they bring them?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘And what did they bring them for?’
‘To form a temple, perhaps.’
‘What is that?’
‘A place to worship God in.’
‘A strange place to worship God in.’
‘It has no roof.’
‘Yes, it has.’
‘Where?’ said the man, looking up.
‘What do you see above you?’
‘Have you anything to say?’
‘How did these stones come here?’
‘Are there other stones like these on the plains?’ said I.
‘None; and yet there are plenty of strange things on these downs.’
‘What are they?’
‘Strange heaps, and barrows, and great walls of earth built on the tops of hills.’
‘Do the people of the plain wonder how they came there?’
‘They do not.’
‘They were raised by hands.’
‘And these stones?’
‘How did they ever come here?’
‘I wonder whether they are here?’ said I.
‘So sure as the world,’ said the man; ‘and, as the world, they will stand as long.’
‘I wonder whether there is a world.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘An earth, and sea, moon and stars, sheep and men.’
‘Do you doubt it?’
‘I never heard it doubted before.’
‘It is impossible there should be a world.’
‘It ain’t possible there shouldn’t be a world.’
‘Just so.’ At this moment a fine ewe, attended by a lamb, rushed into the circle and fondled the knees of the shepherd. ‘I suppose you would not care to have some milk,’ said the man.
‘Why do you suppose so?’
‘Because, so be there be no sheep, no milk, you know; and what there ben’t is not worth having.’
‘You could not have argued better,’ said I; ‘that is, supposing you have argued; with respect to the milk you may do as you please.’
‘Be still, Nanny,’ said the man; and producing a tin vessel from his scrip, he milked the ewe into it. ‘Here is milk of the plains, master,’ said the man, as he handed the vessel to me.
‘Where are those barrows and great walls of earth you were speaking of?’ said I, after I had drunk some of the milk; ‘are there any near where we are?’
‘Not within many miles; the nearest is yonder away,’ said the shepherd, pointing to the south-east. ‘It’s a grand place, that, but not like this; quite different, and from it you have a sight of the finest spire in the world.’
‘I must go to it,’ said I, and I drank the remainder of the milk; ‘yonder, you say.’
‘Yes, yonder; but you cannot get to it in that direction, the river lies between.’
‘Avon is British,’ said I.
‘Yes,’ said the man, ‘we are all British here.’
‘No, we are not,’ said I.
‘What are we then?’
‘Ain’t they one?’
‘Who were the British?’
‘The men who are supposed to have worshipped God in this place, and who raised these stones.’
‘Where are they now?’
‘Our forefathers slaughtered them, spilled their blood all about, especially in this neighbourhood, destroyed their pleasant places, and left not, to use their own words, one stone upon another.’
‘Yes, they did,’ said the shepherd, looking aloft at the transverse stone.
‘And it is well for them they did; whenever that stone, which English hands never raised, is by English hands thrown down, woe, woe, woe to the English race; spare it, English! Hengist spared it! — Here is sixpence.’
‘I won’t have it,’ said the man.
‘You talk so prettily about these stones; you seem to know all about them.’
‘I never receive presents; with respect to the stones, I say with yourself, How did they ever come here?’
‘How did they ever come here?’ said the shepherd.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06