CONANTS OF AMERICA
the Compliments of Tbos. Conant, of Osbawa, Canada.
A VISIT TO THE HOUSE OF MR. EDWARD
OF LYNDON, OAKHAM, ENGLAND (May 14th, 1894).
THE JOURNEY TO OAKHAM.
It was on a Whit Monday morning, and a universal holiday
in England, that I took a Midland Railway train at St. Pancras, London, and ran
without a stop, in a little over an hour, to Kettering. As I looked about old
London Streets on leaving, the very air seemed filled with smoke, and even at
Church the day before, a cloud of smoke interposed, in Spurgeons
Tabernacle, between me and the minister. Then great as London is and
acknowledged the superior city of the world, I was not loathe to leave it on
By way of preface, I may add, that since the 13th of
January last, I have been travelling, not only over modern and well known
Europe, but have as well ascended the Nile, quite 800 miles, and afterwards
ridden at least 550 miles on horseback, over the Holy Land, tenting out at
nights, and making a special effort to visit all the places made celebrated by
the mission of our Saviour; and now being on my way homeward, although with a
much depleted wardrobe, and in a battered condition generally, I avail myself
of the opportunity to call on our English kinsman. The matter of the wardrobe,
I am specially mentioning for the use of comparison, as will hereafter appear.
Mr. E. O. Conant, of Portland, Me., our historian, urged me to visit East
Budleigh, County Devon, England, but having travelled so many consecutive days,
I do not feel that I want to be locked up in English compartment cars for ten
hours more, as the journey to Devon would require., and I therefore, decline to
make that journey at this time.
Well, arriving at Kettering and drawing a full breath of
pure air, free from smoke, being the first for days, I take a cross country
road at once, and in about half an hour I arrive at Manton Station, that, I
being advised by Mr. Conant by telegraph, as nearer to his home than Oakham,
but Oakham still really is the town about that locality.
AM MET BY THE COACHMAN.
On alighting from the car, a tall young
man, in a long blue coat and a high silk hat, and having a cockade fastened on
it, but more striking still the Conant stag on the big brass buttons on
his coat, and his hand is at the salute, and "Mr. Conant has sent his carriage
for you sir, he says to me. You must not carry your grip you know in
England, and so I resign mine to his care, and am quickly placed in a very
comfortable closed carriage, drawn by two good horses, and away we go, two of
Mr. Conant's men, in livery, on the box and I alone in the carriage.
Then we wind along lanes, hedge bordered
with the hawthorn just coming to blow, and the undulating landscape presenting
an unbroken sheen of bright, clean green, very pleasant to look upon, and quite
finished as it were everywhere I may look. Not like America, where so much is
yet to be done and such great unsightly gaps left to be put in order, when we
get older. The lands are almost all of them in grass, and cattle are feeding
upon them, and resting under the trees which dot the whole country about and go
far to help make the scene more attractive than our treeless landscapes in
America. Truly there is a charm in rural England which one must see in order
that he may really believe, that it is so beautiful, and cosy, and likewise so
superior to ours in America.
About two and one-half miles from the
station, and we come to a thicket of trees and a stone wall, and a gate, and a
lodge at the gate.
It is opened, and we drive along a nicely
gravelled winding path among trees of many varieties, and flowers in great
profusion, and reach the front of the Conant homestead, as pictured in Mr. E.
O. Conants book. From the gate no house was visible, and the mansions
near presence is only made manifest, from that point, by the lodge of the
Gatekeeper. Quickly the Coachman gets off his seat and pulls the bell, and a
Butler (who was very much better dressed than I was,) appeared, bowing low, and
in a very soft well modulated voice, invited me into the library and said that
"Mr. Conant would be glad to see me;" and I hang my hat and overcoat upon the
rack, while my grips are deposited close thereunto. Down a splendidly oak
wainscotted hall, past a full armored warrior (which Mr. C after explained was
word by one of his forefathers on his mother's side) and the Butler ushers me
into the library, with a bow. Two young ladies come forward and most kindly
take my hand, with the remark, "I am glad to see you," from each one, and "may
I ask your names;" I blurt out, when they quickly tell me they are Conants and
daughters of Mr. E. N. Conant. Just how the talk began and the "ice got
broken," I cannot quite remember, but it did get broken, and the talk
flowed freely for a few minutes, when in a halting, shuffling manner, a man
came in at the door, whom I quickly recognized as Mr. C. himself, from the
photo' already sent me by him.
His greeting was indeed most cordial and
put me at my ease at once, while he explains to me that he unfortunately has a
very sore heel, and is so sorry that he cannot walk with me, as had fully
anticipated, and quaintly adds too that he "fully supposes its the gout," and
now that he is 74 thinks, perhaps he has only to have the "troublesome
complaint as others have, at that age, who lives well."
HOW TO PRONOUNCE THE NAME CONANT
During the general pleasant flow of
conversation, I many times call him Mr. Conant, making it a long O, you know,
as we do in America, when he tells me, that since our folks came from Britanny,
before the Revocation of the Edict of Nates, that our origin was certainly
French, and that we ought to pronounce our name as the French would this day.
Con, as in Constantinople, and ant, as in
redundant, gives you fellow fellow Conants, in America, Mr. E. N. C's
contention as to the right way to pronounce our name. And he said further, too,
that there is still somewhere in Brittanny a gateway called Conan to this day.
More than this, he remarked (by way of digression) that he yearly goes to
Scotland salmon fishing, and that in Argyleshire he found a little stone
chapel, very ancient, still called St. Conan, and the Conan, in both cases, is
for our own name of Conant, the final t added, to make it English. So
you see, Conant friends, Mr. E. N. C. is very probably right in his contention,
and I for one shall, in future, pronounce my name Con-ant, and I hope you may
see your way to do likewise.
LUNCH IS ANNOUNCED
Just about this time the Butler comes to
the library door, and in a very low tone, bowing, says: "Lunch is on the
table," and preparatory, I am shown down to my room that I may try and get off
a coating of London smoke or grime before I go to the table. Imagine my
surprise when, on gaining my room, I find that some servant has opened my grip
and got out my hair and tooth brushes, and tooth powder, and slippers, and
nightshirt (now upon my pillow nicely folded,) and my razor and shaving cap,
and a clean, spare pair of hose partly turned and placed at the bedside that I
may, without an effort, draw them on at will. For the nonce, I honestly
confess, I was ashamed to bring to this old baronial seat, so slim a wardrobe,
and such battered toilet articles, and my long, long travel, in foreign lands,
shall be my only excuse on that score. And this is a part of a valet's duties,
in old England, yet today. To the dining room, again oak panelled, and ceiled
also, while several oil paintings, look down from the walls, of his
forefathers, some of them quite 200 years old. As I walk along the hall I pass
over tiles, let into the floor, and again the Conant stag appears, in
those tiles, at every step, and I begin to more intensely realize that I am at
last in a typical Conant home. At this mid-day lunch a profusion of cold meats
are served and wines of three kinds.
I GO FOR A WALK
The gouty heel of Mr. E. N. C. prevents
him from walking with me over his 70 acres of garden and shrubbery, surrounding
the ancestral home built about 1650 and likewise a lawn tennis party being
expected, I go off alone.
First I pass the Conant village,
which consists of some neat stone houses -
some of them slate covered and some thatched, and bordering along a winding
street. Through a wooden gate, painted white,
opened by a little boy of 10 or so, and
along a fine but narrow road, through another gate, just like the first, and a
couple of miles to a little stone village on the hill side. Before I set out I
was told about nightingales being plentiful, and now in song in a copse, near
the small village, or corners as we would say, and so I turn into the copse,
consisting mainly of scattered thorn bushes, and see rabbits (honestly and
truly, without any exaggerations,) by the hundreds upon hundreds; indeed so
plentiful are they, that they have furrowed the sod under my feet and their
holes one has to avoid in walking. A few pheasants I scare up, but just now,
during my visit, the sun being quite bright for England, not a nightingale do I
hear, but I am amply repaid, without the nightingales even, for my walk.
Turning back, I find some small boys about
one of the gates mentioned before, and ask what they are doing here, and why
they do not go and play? One of them very slyly remarks that "he opens the
gyut" meaning gate, and I laugh immoderately at modern rural English.
THE LAWN TENNIS PARTY
When I gain the grounds about the house, I
hear shouts of laughter and see among the bushes girls and boys flirting about,
and I join the goodly company of roysters. Now these English girls are fair,
strong, hearty, but sly and not very talkative. One young miss, of I should say
15, I heard remark, "that a few days previously she went off at three in the
morning, with the otter hounds, and waded back and forth, along and across the
stream, until five in the afternoon." She said she came home went and hungry,
and then wondered if she had "done too much that day," and I do not answer, but
laugh. Conant girls in America, what do you say to that, and when will you be
able to be up to your English cousins?
A FIVE O'CLOCKER
At five o'clock we sat down to tea and
cakes, and sandwiches, as well as tea, were served to us, from solid silver
vessels bearing the full Conant arms, which Mr. E. N. C. explained to me he had
inherited, and likewise many other coats of arms, and plate, from his mother's
side, as well as from his father's.
THE LITTLE CHURCH
One of the Misses Conant, disengaged, gets
the key and goes with me through the shrubbery to the little English Church,
right in the corner of the grounds.
You who have seen the picture of the
English Church at East Budleigh, Devon, where the Conant's are buried, will at
a word understand me, when I say that this church is just like that one, only
smaller. Within is an organ at which one of the Conant girls presides (Miss
Eleanor, I think), and a stone font, for baptismal purposes, very many years
older than the church, which is older than the house even, so this font must be
at least 300 years old. In a small grave yard, by the church side, I noticed
grave stones forming part of the wall of the enclosure on one side of the
church. Mr. E. N. C. had before explained to me that the Conants in England had
very much given their services to the English Church and that they had been
very religiously inclined generally.
THE CONANT ESTATE
Mr. E. N. C.'s. estate here in Rutland,
(the smallest county in England,) consists of 2000 acres of the lands I have
been before speaking of and 4000 more acres in Lincolnshire. Mainly, I think,
these lands came to him by his mother, who was descended from a Baronette.
Before the half-past nine o'clock
breakfast, next morning, I walked a couple of miles, across hedge-bound fields,
to the original old Baronial home or Mr. E. N. C.'s
mother's folks, and here I saw a stone house, built in 1550, now owned by Mr. C
and occupied by one of his tenants. Most quaint indeed it was, with its stone
walls, a stone columns four porch supports, and oak floor, stairs, and
wainscotting. In an oak cupboard in the kitchen, before the open fireplace,
where the old iron spit still turns the roast, I saw some metal panels, in the
cupboards, with the date 1643 perforated in them. Just think of this old land,
and does it ever change! For 251 years not a change in this old Baronial house,
of small windows, and low ceiling, and stone and oak floors, and yet even
today, will outlast many modern houses now building.
About these 6000 acres Mr. E. N. C. said he rents for $4
to $7 per acre per year, and that they would sell for about $200 per acre, bad
as the times are now in England. So you see "the sinews of war" are here for
this elegant sumptuous county home in old England, and I am sure we all glory
in the fact that a Conant is a person of so great consequence from the brands
of family, who did not emigrate to America in 1623, as our forefather Roger did
in that year.
MR. EDWARD N. CONANT.
Mr. E. N. C. is not very tall, has a long bushy beard,
just a little sandy, and rather a prominent nose. He read law and practiced for
2 years in London, but remarked "that he did not do much law practice, for he
was too well off to stick to it." Was Sheriff of the County of Rutland one
year, and got his appointment from the government. Has been in the County
Council for many years, and now, since the new County Councils Act of the
British Parliament, is a member of that largely increased body, but is
appointed by those chosen by popular vote. Dislikes universal sufferage, and
would not put himself in such a way that his tenants would have the privilege
of voting against him, and yet I hear outside, that he always has been a most
exceptionally good landlord, very mild and all universally speak well of him
and respect him. On my asking if Mr. F. O. Conant's contention, that the
Conants do not seek high office or prominent positions, is right, he answers,
"that as far as he knows, Mr F. O. C. is right. In his own case he never ran
for parliament nor any other office, but has been resident magistrate ever
since he has been a man, but by far prefers his own beautiful, even if secluded
home, and his library of a couple of thousand volumes, and his horses and
carriages, to the sweets of office of any kind. The writer hereof, by way of
confirmation, thinks to he might today have been a member of the Canadian House
of Commons had he desired it, and made the effort, but he, like Mr. E. N. C.,
does not care fore office of any kind. So on the whole, fellow Conants, don't
you think Mr. E. O. C., as well as Mr. E. N. C.'s contention, on that score,
are correct! "Thinks all the Conants, know matter where they are, will
naturally be Conservatives; hates universal sufferage; upholds the House of
Lords for thwarting Gladstone; thinks Gladstone would do anything for votes,
but would not hurt England if he could help it, and turns to me
interrogatively, and hopes I am not in favour of Home Rule for Ireland." Since
I am a guest for the first time I cannot afford to argue the point, and I laugh
and answer, "that I was born in America."
A full pipe organ is in another grand room in the old
house - old indeed as America itself, and it is driven by water, from a spring
at a higher level than the house and I hint that I would like to hear its tone.
Their organ has pipes quite twelve feet high and is as large as most church
organs, and one of the young Conant girls gives most sweet toned sacred music
from their long throats. Another young Conant girl is an artist, in
watercolors, but all seem to wear their accomplishments lightly and are very
modest. One son-in-law, a Mr. Vaudelcur, in the War Office, London, I saw and
likewise a Mr Whitmore, in the Government Audit Office, London, too, was
present, and very pleasant persons I found them both. The sons 44, and 46 years
old respectively, and bachelors both, I did not see, they being absent on the
Continent. Our English kinsmen, I am sure, we all have reason to be proud of.
He plainly acknowledges that we are all from the same family, and therefore, we
can, with propriety, claim him for out family relative. He is a man of culture,
much respected, wealthy, and one who keeps up, even during this day of the
everlasting changes, phantasmagoria like of modern days, a typical good old
English home, the equal if not the peer, of any, we any one of us Conants
possess in America to day, and yet allow me to add, a little egotistically
perhaps, that I thought I had a pretty good rural home and library, and
surroundings in Canada, where I reside, but I freely acknowledge, Mr. E. N. C.
has by far a better one.
WHAT I OBJECT TO
A full dress dinner followed that five o'clock tea, at
half past seven. Ladies and gentlemen in full evening dress, and again my scant
wardrobe, the fag end of four and a half months, travel was distressingly
conspicuous, but I gallantly as possible, did my best to hand one of the ladies
a seat at the board, glossing over my deficiencies in the wardrobe particular.
At the well served and bountifully supplied table we sat with the ladies for an
hour, and after their withdrawal, quite a half more, while the wine flowed
freely, the festive days of our English projenitors came back so very, very
vividly to me. Just this time in my life, perhaps, I regretted my inability to
partake of the wine so generously offered and produced, no doubt in my honour.
Somehow, friends, I can't for "I am not built that way," and wines or liquors,
or beers, I cannot drink, and I had to let them go by default. If I am not too
free indulging my pen, I wish to say, without giving offence to any one, much
less to my host, that I think the free use of wines, during these days of
temperance reforms, among us English speaking peoples, not quite the right
example to set before our rising generations, and herein I say I object to this
feature of our English cousins' life and home.
I MUST GET HOME
Remember I have absent during my pilgrimage in the Holy
Land and other lands over four months from the best woman in the world, Mrs.
Thos. Conant, at home, and I cannot accept Mr. E. N. C.'s many times repeated
invitations to stay longer. A four-wheeled dog cart takes me to the depot. Mr.
E. N. C. was thrown upon the horses haunches, from a two-wheeled dog cart, and
so had this splendid four-wheeled one made, that he cannot be thrown forward,
and its as fine a vehicle as we can produce in America to-day. So I hie myself
away to Liverpool, and get on board the S.S. Teutonic to dance me across the
broad billows in less than seven days, at an average of over 500 miles per day.
On this steamship I write these notes.
YOUR IDEA, PLEASE
Will you kindly write me, after perusing these lines, what
you think of Mr. E. N. C.'s manner of pronouncing our name, and any other
thoughts which may occur to you in reference hereto.
Allow me to subscribe myself as,
Yours very sincerely,
May 24, 1894