Thorpe Regis by Frances Peard Page 1 of 298

Chapter One.

Nowadays the word "change," when applied to a place, seems so naturally to carry in itself the ideas of growth, enlargement, and progress, that we find a certain difficulty in adopting the word in its retrograde sense, or of recognising other steps than those which we are in the habit of looking upon as advancement.

And yet, if it be true that, under the pressure of an ever-increasing population, hamlets have become towns and fishing-villages seaports, it is no less certain that the great march leaves behind it, or pushes out of its way, many stragglers too sick, too feeble, or too weary for its ranks. Thorpe Regis was such a straggler.

Not to speak of those ancient days, the glories of which only its name now kept in faint remembrance, there had been a time when the great high road to London ran through its length.

Twice a week the London coach lumbered up to the door of the Red Lion, changed horses, let out its stiff and cramped passengers to stretch their limbs in the paved space before the door, or refresh themselves with a tankard of foaming ale in the stuffy little bar; and then lumbered off again out of the midst of a gaping knot of ostlers and stable-men.

Twice a week came the London coach back, bringing with it a stir of life and importance, the latest messenger from the great world unknown to Thorpe except through its medium, - more peremptory, more consequential, and more exacting. There was not a boy or man about the place but felt a sense of interested proprietorship in the Defiance and the Highflyer, and a pride in their respective performances.

From the tiny hamlets round, lying in their green seclusions of elm-trees and apple orchards, the rustics used to make muddy pilgrimages to Thorpe, to carry an occasional letter to its post-office, and to watch the coach with steaming leaders swinging down the hill. That was the moment of triumph.

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