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Gracechurch was a homely place, kindly and neighbourly, where everybody seemed willing to make friends. It could hardly have been so delightful if it had been less quaint, for its quaintness gave it a character and individuality of its own. No doubt there were, fifty years ago (perhaps there may be now), other little English towns outwardly just like it ; but I suspect that anyone who knew any two of these intimately, from inside, would feel certain that each was really separate and individual. In a crowd hundreds of faces look almost the same, but if you could make real acquaintance with their owners you would find how different each was from any other of them.
When Gracechurch appeared reviewer after reviewer cried out "Cranford' come again!" and no more priceless eulogy could have been given to any book of the kind. Yet the reviewers themselves confessed that the Gracechurch folk were distinct and different from the immortal Cranfordians; not scolding the Gracechurchians' chronicler, but admitting their independence and individuality.
Some good reviewers, of the less acute sort, summed Gracechurch up as a strongly "churchy "little place; but it was in fact far
more Positive than Ecclesiastical; theology would have poured off its back like water off a duck's-it thought more of coals, blankets and flannel petticoats.
Some few of its inhabitants-mostly outsiders who had settled there were High Church, or Low Church; but they were exceptional, and it was as exceptional personages, of odd behaviour, that their doings. were specified in Gracechurch, not as typical. The true Gracechurchian was merely “Church” if of the genteeler class, or very likely "Chapel" if of the lower middling order. I don't think any Gracechurchian thought of a Bishop, like Uncle Pullet, as of a sort of baronet who might or might not be a clergyman: we were too enlightened for that: but few Gracechurchians ever thought of bishops at all, except once in three or four years, when one came to confirm from the Cathedral town a good way off in the Midlands and our local baronet was anything but episcopal.
MY FIRST BIG HOUSE
THERE were in Gracechurch, for the size of the place, a small town of well under two thousand inhabitants, a great many good houses, none of which ever stood empty : and accordingly there were plenty of gentry. But, as the gentlefolks were mostly elderly widow ladies with four unmarried daughters apiece, it happened that there were hardly any children for Fernando to play with. After his own brother went away to school, there was only one other little boy and the father of that one, Colonel Grace, was a Member of Parliament, who took his family to London for nearly half the year.
It thus came about that Fernando, during many months of each year, had scarcely anyone of his own age to talk to, and spent his time almost entirely with people much older than himself, or else quite alone. He did not mind this at all, but perhaps it made him (what he hated to hear himself called) " old
fashioned," Instead of games, which there was no one to share, he invented rather odd pastimes for himself: and these he grew to like, so that when at last he himself went away to school he could not play any boys' game well, and thoroughly disliked them all. Books had been for so long his real companions that he found himself shy and awkward with other boys and probably to them he seemed queer and stupid. He had made a world of his own, and it was full of interesting and pleasant inhabitants, but they were all grown up: many of them were real people, famous too, but if they had been still alive they would have been hundreds of years old; and many more if they had never died had never been born either, creations of the child's own fancy, or of the genius of great writers.
Sometimes he would live for weeks, not in Gracechurch at all, but in Shetland, among the people whom Sir Walter sets in his Pirate; with whose story Fernando took strange liberties, adding and altering: at other times he would be in Spain with Don Quixote, whom he loved with a wistful tenderness, never taking sides in the laugh against him but making him far more successful and triumphant, and to that end inventing
for him new adventures and different companions. For which Cervantes, I hope, would not be cross with the boy.
He made a history of England for himself, saving many lives and sacrificing some others. He changed clothes with Charles I in prison (his must have been a tight fit for the poor monarch), who thus escaped to Queen Henrietta in France: and the change not being detected till too late, it was to Fernando that Bishop Juxon said, "You exchange an earthly for an eternal crown."
Not having spared his own life he could not be blamed for depriving Oliver Cromwell of his, whom he hanged, as later on he hanged William of Orange.
Mary Queen of Scots he also saved from death, by means of a rope ladder flung up (with a file and other small matters) to the window of her bedroom in Fotheringay, a fleet steed, and a ship of which Fernando himself was captain. Queen Elizabeth he did not execute, but merely dethroned, and married (as his third wife) to Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, for their mutual correction.
The Elector Sophia Dorothea of Zell he released from captivity and re-united to