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life and happy wedding might truthfully be told in the poet's strains; and time had as yet thrown no darker shade than that of long separation over the loving inmates of the old hall and the dear boy who had returned to place his own children on his parents' knees. Nothing therefore that was sad now mingled with their welcomes and happy greetings.
The party that assembled at Derley Manor were invited to be present at the Christmas festivities ; but as Colonel Howard was speedily to return to his command in India, and it was felt by all that their separation must be one for a long and uncertain period, many of the near relatives had been invited to spend together the closing month of the year. The month of December 18 was one of those fine clear mild seasons, which we occasionally experience as the last days of the old year draw near a close. Bright, sharp frosty mornings tempted the youths of the party to arrange for long rambles into the country, occasionally diversified with games of cricket and foot-ball. Parties that included the older and graver guests were made up to visit some of the most interesting spots in the neighbourhood. In these the ladies were invited to join, and were foremost in preparation for their thorough enjoyment by diligent inquiry beforehand into all the associations connected with such scenes.
Ampthill Park, the beautiful seat of Lord Holland, lay invitingly near, with its fine undulating and richly wooded knolls, commanding a view for many miles over the lovely park scenery with which it is surrounded, and the fertile landscape, diversified here and there with the old tower or tapering spire, that told where “the Homes of England” were clustered round the simple village church. There little groups of the merry party from Derley Manor daily strolled, tripping lightly over the mossy turf, crisp with the spangled crystals of hoar-frost, or wading through the brown leaves which the wind had gathered into the more sheltered nooks, as if to keep them for her sport when she renewed her boisterous play.
This fine old English park, however, had other features to interest the ramblers, both young and old, besides the intricacies of its sylvan dells, and the richly wooded landscape which attracted the view on ascending the rising grounds that vary the undulating copse. Ampthill House, once the residence of Lord Holland, the friend of Byron and the generous enemy of the Captive of St Helena, is a plain, comfortable, but unpretending country dwelling, sheltered among
trees in one of the most retired nooks of these beautiful grounds. Not far from it there once stood a fine Gothic mansion, the residence and last retreat of a pious and unfortunate Queen whose name is intimately associated with some of the most memorable events in English history. On the highest ground in the centre of that lovely scenery, there stands an ancient Gothic cross, elevated on a flight of steps so as to form a prominent object in the landscape. The inscription which it bears informs the reader that in the ancient mansion once occupying this commanding site the good Queen Katharine spent the closing years of her life, after her separation from Henry VIII. to make way for the hapless Anne Boleyn. The sight of this interesting memorial immediately led to an animated conversation among the little party who first discovered it. It was described by them on their return to Derley Manor, and several others set off to inspect it, or arranged to accompany some of the older ones in a ramble through the Park on the morrow.
The old Hall was quite an interesting scene that night. Mrs Howard had to tell the younger folks over and over again about the cruel King Henry and his poor Queen, with the lovely Anne Boleyn, and the good Prince Edward, who afterwards became King. Mr. Howard accompanied several of his elder guests to the library, to seek for more minute information on the same interesting subject. Presently some were to be seen drawing in a chair towards the fire, and busily engaged in reading a history of the period; while others had turned to Shakspere, and were reading in his delightful pages the lively picture of the same eventful time.
Thus did the day pass away in healthful relaxation, while the evenings were devoted to no less delightful conversation and study. Several successive days were spent in the same manner, in riding or strolling about the magnificent parks of the Duke of Bedford surrounding Woburn Abbey. The trees indeed were bare, and the air keto and frosty, yet the sun shone brightly at noon, and the large herds of deer bounded through the sylvan glades, or peaceably grazed in large groups amid the fallen leaves. The pretty little town of Bedford was visited by nearly all the party at the Manor-House, and its associations suggested reflections that engaged them all in animated conversation. There was the scene of John Bunyan's labours, and of his long imprisonment in its jail. There had been the spot whereof the Dreamer telis–As I
walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep, and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.'
The Pilgrim's Progress was produced from the library shelves that evening after tea, and both old and young gathered round a cheerful fire in the great hall, and listened to one who read aloud some of its interesting pages, or discoursed of the pleasing associations which the remembrances connected with their first reading of it revived. From Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress the conversation again reverted to its author. Many curious questions were put by the younger members of the company, and old Mrs. Howard especially was occasionally somewhat puzzled how to satisfy her eager young inquirers, or to explain to them so much of the allegory as became necessary to reconcile them to the idea that John Bunyan himself had not actually fought with Apollyon, or escaped from Doubting Castle, or seen old Giant Pope, in his dotage, grinning at him from the mouth of his cave. So much interested, however, were the whole party in the celebrated “Tinker of Bedford,” that it was de. termined the very next day they should proceed in a body to visit the picturesque little hamlet of Elstow,