A FOOTPATH WALK AND ITS INCIDENTS - HARVEST ASPECTS - ENGLISH AND AMERICAN SKIES - HUMBLER OBJECTS OF CONTEMPLATION - THE DONKEY: ITS USES AND ABUSES.
Immediately after breakfast the following morning, my kind host accompanied me for a mile on my walk, and put me on a footpath across the fields, by which I might save a considerable distance on the way to Saffron Walden, where I proposed to spend the Sabbath. After giving me minute directions as to the course I was to follow, he bade me good-bye, and I proceeded on at a brisk pace through fields of wheat and clover, greatly enjoying the scenery, the air, and exercise. Soon I came to a large field quite recently ploughed up clean, footpath and all. Seeing a gate at each of the opposite corners, I made my way across the furrows to the one at the left, as it seemed to be more in the direction indicated by my host. There the path was again broad and well-trodden, and I followed it through many fields of grain yellowing to the harvest, until it opened into the main road. This bore a little more to the left than I expected, but, as I had never travelled it before, I believed it was all right. Thaxted was half way to Saffron Walden, and there I had intended to stop an hour or two for dinner and rest, then push on to the end of the day's walk as speedily as possible. At about noon, I came suddenly down upon the town, which seemed remarkably similar to the one I had left, in size, situation, and general features. The parish church, also, bore a strong resemblance to the one I had noticed the previous evening. These old Essex towns are "as much alike as two peas," and you must make a note of it, as Captain Cuttle says, was the thought first suggested by the coincidence. I went into a cosy, clean-faced inn on the main street, and addressed myself with much satisfaction to a short season of rest and refreshment, exchanging hot and dusty boots for slippers, and going through other preliminaries to a comfortable time of it. Rang the bell for dinner, but before ordering it, asked the waiting-maid, with a complacent idea that I had improved my walking pace, and made more than half the way -
"How far is it to Saffron Walden?"
"Twelve miles, sir."
"Twelve miles, indeed! Why, it is only twelve miles from Great Bardfield!"
"Well, this is Great Bardfield, sir."
"Great Bardfield! What! How is this? What do you mean?"
She meant what she said, and it was as true as two and two make four; and she was not to be beaten out of it by a stare of astonishment, however a discomfited man might expand his eyes with wonder, or cloud his face with chagrin. It was a patent fact. There, on the opposite side of the street, was the house in which I slept the night before; and here, just coming up to the door of the inn, was the good lady of my host. Her form and voice, and other identifications dispelled the mist of the mistake; and it came out as clear as day that I had followed the direction of my host, to bear to the left, far too liberally, and that I had been walking at my best speed in a "vicious circle" for full two hours and a half, and had landed just where I commenced, at least within the breadth of a narrow street of the same point.
My good friends urged me to stop and dine with them, and then make a fair start for the end of my week's journey. But it was still twelve miles to Saffron Walden, and I was determined to put half of them behind me before dinner. So, taking a second leave of them in the course of three hours, I set out again on my walk, a wiser man in the practical understanding of the proverb, "The longest way around is the shortest way there." At 2 p.m. I reached Thaxted, and rectified my first notion of the town, formed when I mistook it for Bardfield. Having made six miles extra between the two points, I resumed my walk after a short delay at the latter.