[Rye Bay—Wednesday, 8 July 1868]

Wednesday morning. Rose early for breakfast at 7—dinner at 12, tea at ½ past 5. Then dear J. said “Come to the barn.” I went, but the air was so cool and fragrant and we were seduced into a walk of 2 hours & a half further.

It is a month since we have heard from Dickens. How long the time has seemed. We talked of it last night till we fell asleep.

Wednesday afternoon July 8th We drove to Newcastle, the island at the mouth of Portsmouth harbor where there is a fort, old now and disused though a new one is begun but left unfinished. A sea-mist and a grey sky prevented us from seeing the colors of the sea and shore, so beautiful in this direction on a clear summer afternoon but the cool damp air was most delicious. J. had not visited this place since a child. It seemed to him then the Ultima Thule, the distant fountain head of holiday delights. The same three bridges remained to be crossed today which he passed over then; the little islets on either hand remained unchanged and the looks of the people. He knew the name of the old toll-keeper & inquired for him but the young girl who ran out to take the money only remembered the name of such a person as having been toll-keeper there many years ago.

There are few places in America so primitive in simplicity as this Newcastle, the small neat cottages, the chest, & pictures reminding one incessantly of Dickens’s immortal Yarmouth. One old fat man was smoking his pipe in the decayed fort as we crossed the yard but the sentry box was empty & the round tower or lookout was capped with green, recalling the famous old buildings of the same shape on the Appian Way without bringing disdain upon its own head. Visitors were evidently an unaccustomed sight. Even the minister, who was bidding “good-day” at a cottage-door as we came into view, ended his visit rather hurriedly as I alighted by the road-side, that he might plod leisurely onward, his books under his arm, and gain opportunity for an occasional furtive glance in our direction. As I have said, Mr. Fields had not seen the place since his childhood, and there was a pleasing connection in his mind between boyhood’s holiday and the quaint town delightful to see. The houses were hardly changed at all. If our horse had not proved himself more competent than ourselves to untie the clumsy fastening with which we bound him, we could easily have lost an hour around the old light-house.

Returning to Portsmouth the length of our journey was beguiled by his quaint fancies as to what the boys “Shindy Cotton,” or “Gundy Gott,” would think of this new school-house, or that widened street. Passing an old bridge he remembered to have been fishing there one day when the “boy’s company” (there was always a boys’ company in Portsmouth) drew up by the side of the bridge, and saluted him and his companions. It appears he had been the captain of the company himself previously, but graduated from that honor as he grew beyond a certain age. He christened it “The Woodbury Whites.” Also he pointed out an old-fashioned house where three young ladies, the beauties of the town, then lived. As we drove through one of the pleasantest streets he would tell me without looking what the names were on the doors. Some of the large houses looked very comfortable and lovely with their grand trees and gardens sloping to the water side.

As we drove home with the sea-mist in our faces, the road growing moist and cool as night approached, the place seemed as redolent of associations as it was of country odors. Passed the night at the Rockingham House, formerly the governor’s mansion, and as yet very little changed. The rooms are still haunted by the stately figures which so few years ago walked up and down the halls.


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