December 15, 2006

Finding Godmersham (part 3: the best cabbie in the world)


At that point, the absolute best thing that could have happened, happened. A cabbie went by in one direction, saw my pitiful thumb sticking out, and turned around and came back a few minutes later. Cue the trumpet voluntary. God saved me. At least, that is what it felt like.

Brian is officially The Best Cabbie in the World. “You’re awfully wet,” he said. He drove me to Godmersham, first to the church and then to the big house, turned off his meter and sat and waited for me twenty minutes while I walked through the fields to see the house (and when I got back in the cab, “You’re still awfully wet.”), then drove me all the way back to Canterbury. He wasn’t creepy at all, which a girl might worry about in that situation. He had short blond hair that might have been going the tiniest bit white, bright blue eyes and a solid build. He was wearing a nice shirt and dark pants, nothing about him was messy. We had a little bond going, Brian and I. When he found out about the Austen connection, he wanted to take me out to Goodnestone as well (which was the Bridges’ home, Edward’s in-laws), but I couldn’t afford another adventure. As it was, I paid him 30 pounds, and now it seems like such a bargain. It felt wrong somehow to just say goodbye to him there in the tourist district of Canterbury, feeling like he had saved my life. (Of course, it only took about five minutes to get to Godmersham once I got in the cab, but I don’t think I could have gone further, and I never could have walked back.)

Godmersham was one of the loveliest spots I’ve ever seen. It stopped raining, though the sky was still heavily gray. You can’t get into the house (at least, I couldn’t find contact info for anyone), which is now a professional school of some kind. The walking path leads through the sheep pasture, next to the cows, and up a hill into a cornfield so you can get a better perspective on the whole layout. None of my pictures do it justice. It’s simple and grand, gorgeous red brick, classical lines with two rows of windows and two wings on either end, and maybe more in the back. The house sits in the valley of the Stour (though I was in such a hurry I couldn’t figure out where the river was in relation to the house), broad hills rising behind and in front of it. When Jane came to visit, they made a point of hiking (or walking, as they called it) every afternoon. I wish I had hours to explore.

Jane and Cassandra spent a great deal of time there, usually separately, one being called from time to time to help with household duties after the birth of the latest child. There were eleven children before Elizabeth died just after the youngest was born. Cassandra seems to have been Elizabeth’s favorite. No doubt Cassandra was more compliant, Jane’s wit more disconcerting. Jane's niece Anna said, “A little talent went a long way . . . & much must have gone a long way too far." And Jane, who loved to laugh at everyone, herself included, no doubt found material enough at Godmersham.

At 5:09 P.M. in Faversham, on the train back, the sun came out. My feet were still soaked.

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