Passages in the Life of a Radical (3)
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CHAPTER XIV.

PASTIMES AND OBSERVANCES.


AS my wish is to give a true description of the life which I led in my early days, and consequently of the manners and customs to which that life would be conformable, I shall only be proceeding with the proper end in view, if I give an account of the games, pastimes, and observances, which were prevalent amongst both the youthful and the more mature classes of the working population of my neighbourhood at the time I am writing about; and this may be considered as less irrelevant, inasmuch as that most of the pastimes and diversions which I shall describe are no longer practised—some of them not even known—by the youthful population of the manufacturing districts at the present day.  Thus we are enabled distinctly to perceive the great change which, in a few years, has taken place in the tastes and habits of the working classes.  And, seeing these alterations clearly set forth, we shall be better able to determine whether or not the labouring classes have been advancing in, or retrograding from that state of mind, and that bodily habit, which are meant by the term, Civilisation.

    It was always a custom with the Methodists to hold a public prayer-meeting or "watch-night" at the chapel, and to continue in prayer or singing from the eve of Christmas day to the following morning; when the leaders, and such of the attendants as chose to accompany them, perambulated the town, singing hymns and carols, and stopping to sing before the dwellings of individuals of their own society, or of any other individual who was of their congregation, or who was generally respected.   On the forenoon of the following day, they also generally held another prayer-meeting, unless there was service at the chapel, whilst in the evening there was generally a full service.   On New Year's Eve there was a prayer-meeting again.   And these were the chief Christmas observances of the religious body with which I was associated in worldly matters.

    Some two or three weeks before Christmas it was the custom in families to apportion to each boy or girl weaver a certain quantity of work, which was to be done ere his or her holidays commenced.   An extra quantity was generally undertaken to be performed, and the conditions of the performance were such indulgences and gratuities as were agreeable to the working parties.   In most families, a peck or a strike of malt would be brewed; spiced bread or potato custard would be made, and probably an extra piece of beef, and some good old cheese would be laid in store, not to be touched until the work was done.   The work then went on merrily.   Play hours were nearly given up, and whole nights would be spent at the loom, the weavers occasionally striking up a hymn or Christmas carol in chorus.   A few hours of the late morning would perhaps be given to rest; work would be then resumed, and the singing and rattle of shuttles would be almost incessant during the day.   In my uncle's family we were all singers, and seldom a day passed on which several hymns were not sung.  Before Christmas we frequently sung to keep ourselves from sleep, and we chorused "Christians, awake," when we ourselves were almost gone in sleep.

    I recollect, on one of these occasions, my aunt had a very nice brew of ale in the buttery, and as we were working extra hours, I suggested that an allowance of it should be served to us whilst so working, instead of its being reserved until the work was done, when we should no longer require it.  My aunt, however, would not give way; not a drop must be tasted until the work was finished.  I determined, therefore, on helping myself, deeming it no dishonesty to obtain a part of my good fare when it was most wanted.  I got a hollow straw, therefore, and whenever I went into the buttery, which was not unusual with any of us, I introduced my tube into the bung hole and sucked until I was satisfied for that time.  This was repeated on several other occasions, and at last I heard my aunt say to my uncle that she thought the ale was not working so well as she could wish it to do.  He told her to fill it up, and it would be prime ale, no doubt.  So she filled it up, and I sucked it down; she filled it again, and again the barn, was below the bung-hole.  I, chuckling with mischievous glee at my poor aunt's embarrassment, who no doubt began to have surmises that something not exactly "of this world" might have interfered with it, at last one day, as I was having a most refreshing draw, a bump on the back drove my nose into the barm, and there stood my aunt, crying out, "Ah, I've catch'd him!  I've catch'd him i' th' fact!"  She brought me forth, and narrated my trick to my uncle, who sat smoking, and though he endeavoured to look angry, could not help laughing until tears ran down his face.

    Christmas holidays always commenced at Middleton on the first Monday after New Year's Day. By that day every one was expected to have his work finished. That being done, the cuts were next carefully picked and plated, and made up for the warehouse, and they having been despatched, the loom-house was swept and put in order; the house was cleaned, the furniture rubbed, and the holidays then commenced. The ale was tapped, the currant-loaf was sliced out, and lad and lass went to play as each liked best; the boys generally at football, and both boys and girls at sliding, when there was ice on the ground. In wet weather we should have a swinging rope in the loom-house, or should spend the day in going from house to house amongst our playmates, and finishing at night by assembling in parties of a dozen or a score, boys and girls, where on some warm, comfortable hearth we sat singing carols and hymns, playing at " forfeits," proposing riddles, and telling " fyerin tales," until our hair began to stiffen, and when we broke up we scampered homeward, not venturing to look behind lest the " old one" himself should be seen at our heels.

    At this season also it was the custom for the sexton of the church, and the ringers to go from house to house wishing their neighbours "a merry Christmas," when they were generally invited to sit down, and were presented with a jug of ale and a present in money.  This was done at most of the houses, especially if trade was going well; dissenters as well as church people gave, for religious differences had not so far divided the people into sects as to make them forget good neighbourship.  It must have been a very furor of religion indeed which could have made my kind and simple-hearted uncle entertain one disparaging feeling towards his fellow townsmen of any party.  Nor were the hard-working colliers shut out from the Christmas festivities.  They also made it a custom to visit their neighbours, and were treated with ale or money, or both, as the circumstances of the family permitted.  The poor sympathised with the poor, their sympathy not being of that description which in these times froths out in rabid speeches to starving multitudes, but was expressed by action as well as by word.  "Come, Jim, have a slice of my loaf.  Now, Bill, tak' a cup of my ale.  Thou deservest what ever thou canst get.  I live and work here in cheerful day and sunlight; thou spendest thy life in constant danger, and in little dark cells under ground.  Come, don't need inviting.  Thou art heartily welcome, and thou canst never be too greatly paid for thy labour."  Thus the weaver and the collier would reciprocate their good wishes, which is better after all, more manly, and more in the old English way—more respectfully kind than the vaunted French mode of fraternisation.

    At Shrove-tide we had always a holiday on Tuesday, when we went to each other's houses to turn our pancakes, and "stang" such as incurred the penalty by not having eaten their cake before the next cake was ready.  The person to be stanged was placed on a pole, and being held on each side, was carried by others to middin and there deposited, amid the laughter and jokes of all present.  On one of these occasions my little companion Mima, having to be stanged, and there being no poles at hand, I lifted her like a child and carried her towards the appointed place, she struggling and making a great show of resistance the while, which caused her to fold her arms round my neck, and to hold so closely, that had I not discovered that she had the sweetest breath as well as the prettiest cheek in Middleton, I must have been a blockhead indeed.

    Midlent Sunday, with us called "Cymbalin Sunday," was another of our feasts, when it was customary to eat cymbalin cake, [9] and drink mulled ale.  This was more particularly the custom at Bury than at any other town in our neighbourhood.  Latterly the inhabitants of Heywood and Royton have set up as special observers of this day, though on what pretence I know not, except it be with the view of bringing strangers to their town, whereby shopkeepers may get purchasers of their cake, and publicans of their ale.  I know not how to account for the origin of this ancient observance, except by supposing that it is in some way or other derived from the heathen "feast of cymbals."  That it has in its very name and manner an allusion to the instrumental cymbal, there can scarcely be a doubt; the name itself, which I here spell as it is pronounced, directly points to such meaning, whilst the form of the cake—the cymbalin—is a more positive indication of its origin.  A cymbalin is not a merely round spiced cake—such an one would be a spiced cake only, and would be so termed—but let the maker raise a lump in the middle, like the ball of a cymbal, and turn up the edges like those of the instrument, and any native of South Lancashire will call it a cymbalin.  There have been many disputations and surmises about the orthography and derivation of the name—some of those by persons who probably did not know a cymbalin from a cake; but this definition, I think, may be allowed to set the matter at rest.  The name is Cymbalin; the form is exactly that of a cymbal: but when or by what means this custom, so directly allusive to a musical instrument, became connected with a Christian observance in our part of the country, some one more learned than myself must determine, if it can be determined at all.

    Easter was a more important holiday time at Middleton.  On Good Friday children took little baskets neatly trimmed with moss, and went "a peace-egging," and received at some places eggs, at some places spiced loaf, and at others halfpennies, which they carried home to their mothers, who would feel proud that their children had been so much respected.  On Easter Monday, companies of young men grotesquely dressed, led up by a fiddler, and with one or two in female attire, would go from house to house on the same errand of "peace-egging."  At some places they would dance, at others they would recite quaint verses, and at the houses of the more sedate inhabitants, they would merely request a "peace-egg."  Money or ale would in general be presented to them, which they afterwards divided and spent.  Meantime, the holiday having fairly commenced, all work was abandoned, good eating, good drinking, and new clothing were the order of the day.  Men thronged to the ale-houses, and there was much folly, intemperance, and quarrelling amidst the prevailing good humour.  On Tuesday night, some unlucky fellow who had got so far intoxicated as not to be able to take care of himself, would be selected to fill the post of lord mayor for the year ensuing, and as—for the sake of the drink and the sport which it afforded—there were always parties on the look-out ready to secure some one suitable for their purpose, the town was seldom at a loss for a lord mayor.  Their mode of election, most certainly, was not of so courteous nor so grave a character as are the proceedings of mayoral elections in some of the recently created neighbouring boroughs, but "the Middleton Charter" having been in existence "time out of mind," granted no doubt by some king or lordly ruler, whose very name is lost in remote antiquity, the electors were not very strictly circumscribed in their operations, and they generally went to work without consulting either town's-books, town-clerk, statute, or charter.  The individual pitched upon would generally be found in the nook of some ale-house, in the state which has been before described, or if by a more lucky accident he were picked up from the gutter, he would be conveyed to some friendly tap, where the necessary preparations could be carried on without interruption.  The electors who undertook this important duty for "the good of the town" would be mostly of that class of "free burgesses" who, on festive occasions, are always the first at the ale-house and the last to leave it; the first to leave work, and the last to return to it; such as weavers who, disdaining slavery and being for the Charter, are always at leisure to look after their favourite pints, with a determination to get, by hook or by crook, as many toward the six [10] as they can;—cobblers, "Souter Johnnies," "droughty cronies,"  who'd

"Rather be a hobble in,
 Than bend to their cobblin';"

hedge joiners, whose chief hedging is that which edges towards the drink mug; and dusty-throated colliers, who for of all the working classes, have the greatest apology for a good wash-down of ale.  Such being the electors, what might be the mode of election?

    First of all, then, if the candidate happened to have a somewhat decent coat on his back, it was stripped and given into the care of the landlord, or his equally obliging wife.  The face of the candidate was next well daubed with soot and grease, his hair would be dusted with both soot and flour, a pig-tail made from a dish-clout would be appended behind, a woman's kirtle, a cap, a hat without crown, an old jacket, an old sack, or any other shred of dress which the imagination of his lordship's robers could construe either into an article of adornment or deformity, would be placed upon him so as to have its greatest effect.  He would then be taken into the street, placed on a chair, or in an armchair if too far gone to sit upright, and proclaimed "Lord Mayor of Middleton," with every demonstration of drunken and mischievous glee.  If the landlord, for reasons best known to himself, declined the honour of furnishing one of his old chairs for the procession, as most likely he would do, his lordship would probably be hoisted on a pole, with attendants balancing him on each side; or he might be laid upon a ladder, or mounted upon some poor strayed donkey; and so, amid shouts, laughter, yells, and oaths, would be conducted through the streets and lanes of his new dominions.  It was generally somewhat past midnight ere his lordship commenced this his first survey, and the noise which accompanied his approach was such as permitted but few of his subjects to remain in repose.  A loud knocking would be heard at every door, whilst many voices called out, "Come deawn, milord wants his dues," " Milord wants his dues."  If the window were opened and one within said, "Well, yo' met'n make a less din, an' behange'd to yo'; heer's tuppence, an' be off wi' yo';" the response would be, "Hur-rey! milord's gett'n his dues; come, let's try this next dur.  Hur-rey! Hur-rey!"  And so was chosen, elected, installed, and paraded, the lord mayor of Middleton.

    On the forenoon of the following day his lordship might perhaps be seen, half washed and not yet awaken, on the form of the noisiest tap-room of the town.  His conductors of the over-night drinking, smoking, dancing, and singing, in the same place.  Some having been fighting, some ready to fight, some with black eyes, others with torn and bloody clothes, some with scarcely any clothes at all, whilst anon, constables would be peering about and making inquiries as to who it was that kicked open such a door? who smashed such a window? who stole this body's can? who broke that body's mug? and a woful reckoning being promised for next week, some of the marauders would look serious.  And, in truth, if the affair got over without some damages having to be made good, some law having to be hushed up, it was considered a very peaceable and exemplary election, and the "free burgesses" were in good heart for a repetition next year.

    This custom was analogous to one which prevailed at Ashton-under-Lyne on Easter Monday, and which was called "Riding the Black Lad."  At Ashton, however, the ceremony took place in the day time, when the figure of a man dressed in black was paraded through the streets, mounted on a horse, or a sorry nag of any kind.  The origin of these customs is involved in obscurity.  Both customs seem to have had one origin, and to have been held in derisive commemoration of some member of the Assheton family, as no such custom prevailed except in the two townships connected with the Asshetons.  At Ashton the figure was ignominiously paraded in the day-time; at Middleton, as we see, "The Lord Mayor," all blackened and soiled, and, in fact, disguised, was paraded at midnight, and with mock authority demanded "his dues."  The ceremony at Ashton would seem to be expressive of hatred and contempt, that of Middleton to indicate the cause of it, namely, severe and arbitrary exaction.  Another supposition also arises, namely, that the Ashton ceremonial would scarcely have been allowed to take place, had the object of it been on the spot in the person of a powerful chief; and we may thence infer that he was gone thence to some other place.  At Middleton, however, the ceremony was performed at midnight, in comparative secrecy and obscurity; and on the night but one following the day exhibition at Ashton.  And this circumstance seems to indicate that the object of distaste was present at the latter place, with the power as well as the will to punish those who incurred his displeasure; hence it might be that the ceremonial took place at midnight.  Ralph Assheton, Esquire, a son of Sir John Assheton, Knt. of Ashton-under-Lyne, having married a daughter of Richard Barton, Esquire of Middleton, in 1438, became lord of the manor of Middleton, and left Ashton to reside at the latter place.  He was called the "Black Knight," and tradition points to him as the original of the "Black Lad."

    On Easter Wednesday, what was called "The White Apron Fair," was held at Middleton.  It was merely an occasion for the young wives and mothers, with their children, and also for the young marriageable damsels, to walk out to display their finery and to get conducted by their husbands, or their sweethearts, to the ale-house, where they generally finished by a dance, and their inamoratos by a battle or two, and their consequences, bruised hides and torn clothes.

    The night of the 1st of May was "Mischief-neet," when, as "there is a time for all things," any one having a grudge against a neighbour was at liberty to indulge it, provided he kept his own counsel.  On these occasions it was lawful to throw a neighbour's gate off the angles, to pull up his fence, to trample his garden, to upset a cart that might be found at hand, to set cattle astray, or to perform any other freak, whether in the street, house-yard, or fields, which might suggest itself or be suggested.  The general observation in the morning would be, " Oh, it's nobbut th' mischief-neet."  If a young fellow wished to cast a slur on a lass, he would hang a rag containing salt at her parents' door, or he would cast some of the same material on her doorstep, as indicative of gross inclinations.  If he remained unknown he escaped punishment, but if he were detected, or his secret became divulged, he generally got thrashed, as he deserved, by a brother, or some favoured swain, or he might get his face channelled by the fair one's nails the next time she met him, or a mop slapped against his cheek, or a vessel of odorous liquid poured on his clothes as he passed the desecrated threshold; all or any of which retaliations would earn for him but small sympathy with his neighbours—the men chuckling or laughing and saying nothing: and the women all agreeing, "Aye, it sarves him quite reet, th' wastril."  A gorse bush indicated a woman notoriously immodest; and a holly bush, one loved in secret; a tup's horn intimated that man or woman was faithless to marriage; a branch of sapling, truth in love; and a sprig of birch, a pretty girl.  If a house floor wanted cleaning, a mop would be left for that purpose; and if a dame was notorious for her neglect of needle-work, a ragged garment of some sort would be hung at her door.  The morning after "mischief-neet" was generally prolific of gossip and some laughter, as it generally became known by breakfast-time what "lumber" (mischief) farmer So-and-so had had done, and what this young girl, or that young widower, found at their doors when they opened them.

    The feast of Whitsuntide was not attended by any particular local customs, except the relics of the old "Whitsun ales," which consisted in what were termed "main brews" of ale; a number clubbing to purchase malt which was brewed by one selected from the party, and drunk at one of the houses.  Dances and ale-house fuddles were also common, and latterly races attracted vast crowds to the scene of their operations.  Sticks were indispensable to pedestrians on these occasions, and hazel or holly sticks, with the peel taken off in a spiral form, were considered the very example of a country "somebody."  Oldham pedestrians went to the races by hundreds, and were designated as "Owdham Brewis;" whilst Rochdale folks, still more numerous, were known as "Ratchda Roofyeds."  The inhabitants of Blackley were "Blackley Lions," perhaps from the circumstance of their having lions for the signs of their two public-houses; people who come from Bowlee were "Bowlee Tups"; whilst the inhabitants of Middleton were retaliated upon as "Middleton Moons," a term indicative of a notion that, with all their wit, they were not more wise than their neighbours.

 
CHAPTER XV.

THE WAKES.


BUT "The Rush-bearing" was the great feast of the year, and was held on the anniversary of the dedication of the church.  At Middleton it is held on the third Saturday in August, or if there be five Saturdays in the month, it falls on the fourth.  From tradition, as well as from custom itself, we may conclude that at first it was a simple offering towards making the church floor comfortable during the winter services.  Every family having then its separate bench to sit upon, some one or two of them would at first strew their own floors with rushes to promote the warmth of their feet during the stormy months.  Others perceiving how snugly and cosily their neighbours sat, would follow the example.  Probably the priest would encourage the new luxury, and it would soon become common.  Thus Nan and Dick, and Bob and Bet, would be seen carrying bundles of rushes to the church at the feast of the dedication, and the church would be littered for the winter.  Next, families forming small hamlets of the parish would unite, and pitching each their quota of rushes into a cart, would send down a load.  Some of these hamlets in order, probably, to ingratiate themselves with the priest, by rendering extra homage to the church, would arrange and decorate their rushes with green boughs; others would excel them; and a rivalry as to which hamlet could bring the neatest formed and the most finely decorated load of rushes would ensue, and thus the present quaint and graceful "rush-cart" would be in time produced.  Music, dancing, and personal finery would accompany and keep pace with the increasing display; the feast would become a spectacle for all the surrounding districts, and the little wood-shadowed village, would annually become a scene of a joyous gathering and a hospitable festivity; and thus, the wakes, as they existed in my early days, would be gradually produced.

    The folds or hamlets which mostly sent "rush-carts" to Middleton, were Boarshaw, Thornham, Hopwood, Birch, Bowlee, and Tonge.  About a month or six weeks before the wakes, the young men of the hamlets, as well as those of the town, would meet at their respective rendezvous, which was some ale-house, where the names of such as wished to join the party during the wakes were given in, and the first instalment of money was paid.  These meetings were called "enterings," and they always took place on Sunday evenings, when each one paid a certain sum towards a general fund, and a trifle more for drink at their meetings.  It was the interest of these young fellows to raise as strong a party as they could, not only with a view to a plenteous fund, but also in order to repel—if necessary—aggression from other parties; for as these little communities were seldom without a few old grudges to fall back upon should an opportunity offer, it was very extraordinary indeed if a quarrel did not take place amongst some of them, and half-a-dozen battles were not foughten before the wakes ended.  It was consequently an object with each to get as numerous' a party and as heavily bodied an one as they could, agility and science not being so requisite in Lancashire battles as weight, strength, and endurance.  These young fellows, therefore, mustered as imposingly as they could, and if one or two of the young women of the place happened to have sweethearts who came from a distance—and especially if they were likely to clear their way in a row—the courters would probably be found joined with the brothers and friends of their fair ones.  Well, the "enterings" having been formed, and the subscriptions duly paid, a rush-cart would be determined upon.  Such a farmer's broad-wheeled cart was to be bespoke.  Then, lads and lasses would at all spare hours be engaged in some preparation for the feast.  New clothes would be ordered; and their quantity and quality would probably depend on the amount of money saved during the year, or on the work performed in a certain time before the wakes.  Jack would obtain, if he could, "a bran new suit, wi' trindl't shurt," and Bess would have her "geawn made wi' tucks an' fleawnces; new shoon wi' ston op heels; new stockin's wi' clocks; a tippit wi' frills o reawnd; monny a streng o necklaces; an' a bonnit made by th' new mantymaker, the prattyist 'at ever wur seen, wi' a skyoy blue underside, an' pink ribbins."  By "day skrike" in a morning, or by "neetgloom" in the evening, the jingle of morrice bells would be heard along the lanes and field roads; for the lads having borrowed each his collar of bells at neighbouring farmhouses, would hang them on their necks and come jingling them home, waking all the echoes in the deep lanes, and the meadow nooks, and the old grey solitary places, until the very air was clamorous of the bell tingle and the musical roll of the crotal. [11]  Ropes and stretchers would also be borrowed, and the rushes growing in certain waste pieces having been marked out, and when necessary bargained for with the owner of the land, mowers were appointed, and a day or two before the commencement of the wakes the rushes were cut down.  An old experienced hand was generally engaged to "make the cart," that is, to lay on, and build up, and trim the rushes, according to the design which is always adopted in such constructions.  The girls meanwhile would all be employed at over-hours getting their own finery and that of their brothers or sweethearts ready for the great event.  Tinsel was purchased, hats were trimmed with ribbons and fanciful devices; shirts were washed, bleached snow-white, and neatly pleated; tassels and garlands, and wreaths of coloured paper, tinsel, and ribbon were designed and constructed, and a grand piece of ingenuity and splendour, a kind of concentration of the riches and the pomp of the party was displayed in the arrangements and setting forth of "the sheet."  This was exclusively the work of the girls and women, and in proportion as it was happily designed and fitly put together or otherwise, was their praise or disparagement meted out by the public, a point on which they would probably be not a little sensitive.  The sheet was a piece of very white linen, generally a good bed sheet, and on it were arrayed pretty rosettes, and quaint compartments and borderings of all colours and hues which either paper, tinsel, or ribbons, or natural flowers could supply.  In these compartments were arrayed silver watches, trays, spoons, sugar-tongs, tea-pots, snuffers, or other fitting articles of ornament and value, and the more numerous and precious the articles were the greater was the deference which the party which displayed them expected from the wondering crowd.  Musicians were also secured in good time; a fiddler for the chamber dancing always, and never less than a couple of fifers and a drummer to play before the cart.  But if the funds would allow, and especially in later times, a band of instrumentalists would be engaged, often a sorry affair certainly, but still "a band" to swear to, and that would be a great thing for the ears of the multitude.  All true church-goers were duly apprised of the wakes, as its date was cried by the bellman in the churchyard whilst the congregation were leaving the church, on three Sunday afternoons previous to its commencement.  The morning of the great day comes, and every one is in a state of bustle and anxiety.  Heads of families are bundling up their work and hastening off to town in order to be back in time for the opening of the wakes.  And now, the rushes having been mown are carted to the place where the cart is to be made.  The maker with his assistants are all present; the wheels are sunken in holes; and the cart is well propped to make it steady; the peeled rods and binders are set up so as to make the structure steady, and to give the proper form as it advances; ale is poured out and drunk liberally; numerous youngsters are playing and rolling about on the rush-heap, whilst others are making of them small sheaves bound at each end, and being cut in the middle with a scythe-blade are called "bowts" (bolts); others again are culling the finest of the rushes and making them into "bowts" of a superior description wherewith to form a neat edging to the front and back of the structure.  And so they keep binding and cutting and piling up until "the cart" is completed, which now presents the form almost of a flattened bee-hive, with the ends also flattened, and ornamented with a projecting edging of rushbolts, which gives them a quaint and trim appearance.  The sheet, before described, is displayed with all its wonder-exciting treasures in front of the cart; sometimes another sheet less costly is exhibited behind, and when that is not the case, letters and various devices in flowers are generally found there.  The top of the cart, or rush-heap, is stuck with green boughs which wave and nod like plumes, and amongst them one or two of the young men who have been the latest married take their seats astride the load.  The drawers, all donned in ribbon finery and tinsel, now begin to make their appearance; some dozen or so of the leaders having bells around their necks.  The drum is beating, the music is blowing and snorting and screaming, the gay tinkling of morrice bells is floating and waking up the echoes.  The children are wild with joyful expectation, or astonished by the wondrous fairy scene.  The girls bepranked in their new pumps, kirtles, and bonnets, now add beauty to the spectacle; and on the arm of each may be noticed the best Sunday coat and doublet of her brother, or her sweetheart.  The ropes are attached, the stretchers noosed fast at proper distances; all is ready.  The music strikes up louder; the driver clears the way with his long whip, making it give a loud and clear crack at every stroke—that being his feat—the word is "Neaw, lads," and at one strong pull, and a heave of the shafts, the wheels are dislodged from their socket holes, and the cart is slowly drawn up to the level sward, amid the loud shouts of the admiring gazers; and so, with music-clangour, and bell-jingle, and laughter, and words of caution, as, "Howd on, lads," "Gently, lads," the quaint and romantically fantastic spectacle moves towards the village of its destination.

    If the party can go to the expense of having a set of morrice dancers, and feel inclined to undertake the trouble, some score or two of young men, with hats trimmed, and decked out as before described, precede the drawers, dancing in couples to various simple country tunes, one of which may be measured by this stanza:—

    In some later instances there have been processions of banner and garland bearers, with all beautiful flowers, artificial or real, and apt and ingenious devices.  A choice beauty of the village may also, on some occasions, be induced to personate the Queen of the Wake, walking under a bower borne by four of her companions, and preceded by dancers and the other pageants described.  But these spectacles I should rather suppose to be of comparatively modern introduction in this part of Lancashire.

    Arrived at the village, other parties similar to their own will be found parading their cart on the high road.  The neighbouring folds and hamlets, having been nearly deserted by their inhabitants, all are there concentrated seeing the wakes and partaking in the universal enjoyment.  The highway is thronged by visitors in gay attire, whilst shows, nut stalls, flying-boxes, merry-go-rounds, and other means of amusement are rife on every hand.  Should two carts meet, and there be a grudge on either side, a wrangle, and probably a battle or two, settles the question, and they each move on; if the parties are in amity, they salute each other with friendly hurras, the drawers holding their stretchers above their heads until they have passed.  Each cart stops at the door of every public-house, which the leaders enter tumultuously, jumping, jingling their bells, and imitating the neighing of horses.  A can of ale is then generally brought to the door and distributed to the drawers and attendants; those who ride on the top not forgetting to claim their share.  When the whole town or village has been thus perambulated, the cart is drawn to the green near the church, where the rushes are deposited—or should be—though latterly, since the introduction of pews in the church, they have generally been sold to the best bidder.  The moment the first cart arrives on the green the church bells strike up a merry round peal in honour of those who have thus been alert to testify their devotion; but as the rushes are now seldom left at the church, so neither is the ringing so strictly performed as it wont to be; and, in fact, though the name and the form are in some degree retained, it is evident that attachment to our venerable state-worship has far less influence in the matter than it had in the days of my early life.

    After disposing of their rushes, either by gift to the church in which case they became the perquisite of the sexton—or by sale to the best bidder, the lads and their friends, sweethearts, and helpers repaired to the public-house at which they put up for the wakes, and there spent the night in drinking and dancing.  On Sunday some of the principal banners and garlands, which had been paraded the day before, were displayed in the church; and on Sunday night the lads and lasses again met at the public-house, where they drank, smoked, and treated their neighbours and friendly visitors from other public-houses.  Sunday was also the great day for hospitality.  Relations living at a distance, old friends and acquaintances, being generally invited to the wakes, considerable numbers of well-dressed people would be seen in the forenoon entering the town from all quarters.  Then, the very best dinner which could be provided was set out, the ale was tapped, and the guests were helped with a profusion of whatever the host could command.  It was a duty at the wakes to be hospitable, and he who at that time was not liberal according to his means, was set down as a very mean person.  Even decent strangers who apparently had no fixed place of visitation, would be frequently called in as they passed the open door and invited to partake with the family and other guests, and would be made entirely welcome to whatever the house afforded.  This was not the custom at Middleton only, but at all wakes holidays in that neighbourhood, and at none was it carried out with more genuine and hearty welcome than at Oldham.  The town would, during the afternoon of this Sunday, be thronged with visitors; private houses were mostly occupied, and the public-houses were crowded, whilst dealers in nuts, oranges, and Eccles cakes vended their wares from basket or stall, and shows, flying-boxes, and whirligigs stood there, mute and still, as if in admonition of the vain, restless, and wearying crowd which floated around them.  Monday was the day for hard drinking, and for settling such disputes and determining such battles as had not come off on Saturday.  Tuesday was again a drinking day, with occasional race-running, and more battles at night.  Wednesday would be spent in a similar manner.  On Thursday the dregs of the wakes-keepers only would be seen staggering about.  On Friday a few of the dregs of the dregs might be met with; Saturday was woful, and on Sunday all would be over, and sobered people, going to church or chapel again, would make good resolutions against a repetition of their week's folly.  And thus would have passed away the great feast of "The Wakes."

    From this time, as days began to shorten fast, candles were lighted up in the loom-houses, and what was called "wakin' time " commenced—not so termed from the keeping of the wakes, but from the lighting up—the waking with candles.

    When the fine clear nights of late August came, many were the joyous gatherings of lad and lass on the broad open green in front of the houses of Barrowfields.  Two or three score of wild, nimble, gleesome beings would assemble there, running, leaping, wrestling, singing, and laughing, in that unalloyed mirthfulness which is the especial blessing of innocent youth.  After the various groups had for a while pursued their several sports, some one would call out—"Come neaw, lads an' wenches, let's play together."  Immediately the games would cease, and all would be called together, and when they had determined on what they should play at, dispositions would be made accordingly.  If it were "Hitch-hatch," all would lay hold of hands, a lad and lass alternately, and a ring be formed, the couples standing at arm's length, and making as large a one as they could.  One of the maids then went round on the outside of the ring, with a handkerchief in her hand, which she applied to every pair of hands, an d then took away again, repeating as she went round—

"Hitch-hatch, hitch-hatch,
 I've a chicken undermi lap;
 Heer I brew, an' heer I bake,
 An' beer I lay mi clap-cake"

laying the handkerchief at the same time on the arm of some youth or maiden, and running away, in and out, across the ring and round about, the one on whose arm the handkerchief was left, following as quick as possible to catch her, and if he or she succeeded in doing so, she must begin and perambulate again, until she can contrive to slip into the vacant space left by her pursuer, when she keeps the station and her pursuer goes round as she did.  This, of course, gives an opportunity for a good deal of running and chasing and laughter, and of endeavours to escape when overtaken; which again necessitates a pretty close hold to be had of the captive—not an unpleasant one often—and much merriment until the play proceeds.

    If the play was "Bull-i'th'-Barn," a lad chosen to enact the bull stood within a ring formed as before, and tried to break through by running with all his force against the clasped hands without using his hands to dissever them.  The ring would often give way without being broken, and his disappointment would be hailed by shouts of laughter.  Again he would survey the ring, and choosing what he considered to be a weak place, he would perhaps break through and take to his heels, when the ring broke up and the whole followed him helter-skelter, and after a smart run and a deal of hauling and fun, he would be brought back captive, and either placed in the ring again, or another be placed instead of him.

    "Sheppey," or "Blackthorne," was another of our youthful plays.  Two or three of the best runners having been selected, they took their station at one end of the green, whilst the main body of their companions were at the other end.  The runners then shouted


"Blackthorne,"


which was answered—


"Buttermilk and barleycorn."


Runners—


"Heaw mony geese han yo' to-day?"


Answer—


"Moor nor yo' can oather catch or carry away."


The two parties approached each other at a swift pace, and the runners made as many of the others prisoners as they could, taking them back to the place from whence they started, when they also took part with the runners in the subsequent game. Thus they kept running and taking prisoners until the whole of the geese party were secured, when they divide, as at first, and the play was renewed.

    Other games used by the boys alone were leapfrog, running races, leaping, and wrestling, which expanded our lungs with fresh air and filled our veins with new, life-fraught blood, we continuing our play untired until parents or guardians standing at their doors called us to bed, and to an oblivious healthful repose.

 
CHAPTER XVI.

BONFIRES—SUPERSTITIONS—APPARITIONS.


THE next holiday was on the Fifth of November, the anniversary of the discovery of Gunpowder Plot.  Most people ceased from working in the afternoon, and children went from house to house begging coal to make a bonfire, a distich of the following words being their form of application:

"The Fifth o' November, I'd hayo remember;
 A stick an' a stake for King George's sake;
     Pray, dame, gimmi a cob-coal,
     To make a leet i' Lunnun cellar hole."

In addition to these contributions gates and fences suffered, and whatever timber was obtainable from the woods and plantations was considered fair game "for King George's sake."  At night the country would be lighted up by bonfires, or as pronounced in Lancashire, "bunfoyers;" tharcake and toffy were distributed to the younger members of families, whilst the elder clubbed their pence and at night had "a joynin'" in some convenient dwelling.  The lord of the manor made the young men a present of a good two-horse load of coal, with which a huge fire was lighted on The Bank near the church, and kept burning all night and most of the day following.  The young fellows also joined at ale from the public-house, and with drinking, singing, and exploding of firearms, they amused themselves pretty well, especially if the weather was favourable.  Such were the principal games, pastimes, and observances of the rural population of Middleton and its vicinity when I was a youth.  There were other observances, however, which were supposed to relate to the immaterial world, to give an account of which would perhaps be considered too much out of the line of my narrative.  I will, however, briefly describe two of them.

    A young woman who wished to have a sight of her future husband would walk three times round the church at midnight, sprinkling hemp-seed, and repeating as she went:

"Hemp-seed I sow, hemp-seed I sow,
 And he that must my true love be—
 Come after me and mow."

When the spirit of the young man she was destined to marry would appear and come mowing at her heels, and if she stopped to scrutinise him over much she was in danger of being cut down.  So much for the gallantry of spirit mowers.

    We know that according to old legends the two nights of All Saints and All Souls were especially set apart for spiritual appearances.  That on the night of All Saints the spirits of the blessed who in the course of the year should depart within the parish were visible in their human forms at the parish church, and that on the night of All Souls the spirits of all those who should die, whether sinner or saint, were also certain to appear in bodily shape.  On one of these yearly recurrences Old Johnny Johnson, who was then the sexton, had an irrepressible curiosity to know which of his neighbours should die, as well as to ascertain the amount of grave and other fees and perquisites he was to receive during the next twelve months, so, on the night of All Souls, he concealed himself in the church, and watched the ghostly visitants come in and go out and walk about the place, and a decent number he had already counted up, which at the usual fee per head would amount to a goodly sum.  Still they kept dribbling in one by one, and sometimes in couples,

"Old and young,
 Weak and strong,
 Rosy—pale—
 Faint and hale
 Come and go,
 Passing slow;
 Life in death,
 Not a breath,
 Not a wail."

    There sat old Johnny, chuckling and counting up his gains, when at last a little old man made his appearance, and Johnny at the first look knew him to be himself.  He had then seen enough, and with all speed he hastened to his home, became very thoughtful, soon after sickened, and within the twelve months he died.

    As for the Parish Church of Middleton, every one in those days admitted that there was not a rood of earth around it which was not redolent of supernatural associations.  My poor aunt Elizabeth no more doubted these things than she did the truth of every word betwixt the two backs of her Bible.  Often when on a winter's night we youngsters were seated round the hearth, and my uncle was engaged elsewhere, would she set her wheel aside, take a pinch of snuff, hutch her chair towards the other hob, and excite our curiosity and wonder by strange and fearful tales of witches, spirits, and apparitions, whilst we listened in silence and awe, and scarcely breathing, contemplated in imagination the visions of an unseen world which her narratives conjured up before us.  Often she would tell—for these tales were always new again—how that the venerable servant of God, Mr. Wesley, being benighted on one of his journeys, obtained lodgings at a lone house, and on retiring to his chamber was followed by a huge black dog, which he knew to be an unhappy spirit, to whom, with a feeling of compassion, he flung his gown as a bed for it to lie upon, which it did, and he then making fast the door, went to sleep and had a good night's rest, and on awaking in the morning the dog was gone, though the door remained fastened, and no one belonging to the place knew of such a dog, or had seen such an one about the premises.  At other times she would narrate the strange stories of Elizabeth Hobson, who could not walk abroad by night or day without seeing the spirits of departed persons; who being affianced to a young suitor, saw his spirit pass her in the street, and walk apparently through the wall of a house, and thereby she knew that he was dead, an account of which soon after came to hand; who made an appointment to meet a spirit at midnight on a lonesome hill, whither she was accompanied part of the way by devout persons, from whom, after earnest prayer, she departed, and by whom she was seen ascending the hill after being joined by others, whom, from her warnings, they knew to be spirits; who, after being on the hill a long time, during which her friends were praying for her, returned and gave an account of many things which she had seen; of the spirits of deceased neighbours and friends she had conversed with whilst on the hill, but refused to divulge certain matters which she stated she was immutably pledged not to disclose, and the awful secrets of which she never could be prevailed upon to utter.

    In one of my aunt's communicative moods she told how her grandfather Bamford, being in a delirium, attempted to destroy himself, and was tied down in bed, where religious people came to pray for him, when in order to convince them that all their precautions were vain, and that the Evil One, to whom he was given up, would let him have his will, he drew his hand from the noose, as if he had been merely moving it in an ordinary way, and pointing to a corner of the room told them—to their great terror—that at that precise spot, and at that moment, the dark spirit was waiting to do his slightest bidding.  That on learning this horrid fact—of which they had not the least doubt—prayers were redoubled, and doctors were called in, and the latter having bled the patient and forced medicine upon him, he, through God's mercy and "the efficacy of prayer," was restored and afterwards became a devout man.  Or she would tell how her sister Mary—a beauty in person, and an angel in mind—died, in the bloom of her days, praising God and blessing all around her; or how her brother Abraham—the pride of the family—having taken a mixture given him by a quack doctor, died shrieking in torment.  How James gradually wore away, and Samuel died of fever, and William of consumption.

    On another occasion, I and she being alone in the house, she gave me an account which made my heart to thrill and the tears to gush from my eyes.  She said no bereavement out of her own family had troubled her more than the death of my mother.  "I was at home," she said, "here in Middleton, and was sadly grieved that I had not seen her before she died; both Sally Owen and I were troubled in our minds on that account; but it was no slight matter for the mother of a family to leave them all well here, and to walk into a great fever hospital which the workhouse was at that time.  So we judged it best not to go, but to offer up our prayers on her behalf, and on behalf of thee and thy father, and all who were sick.  We always remembered you in our prayers, and daily besought God on our bended knees that He would spare you yet a little while, and two out of the four were spared.  Well, but Sally an' me cried many a time about thy mother—we never met but we cried about her, and sometimes we blamed ourselves for not goin' a seein' her, and sometimes we were comforted by thinkin' we had done our duty.  What troubled us most was the uncertainty about the state of her soul.  We were hardly satisfied about that, and we next prayed that if she was happy a token might be vouchsafed whereby we might know that she was so.  Still nothing happened, we kept watchin' for tokens but none came, and months and months passed away.  At last, Sally was taken in labour, and I went down from these club-houses here to th' Back-o'th'-Brow, and a good time and a safe delivery she had—thank God; an' tow'rd eleven o'clock thy uncle William came to fetch me home, an' we tarried till near midnight, an' as he sat smokin' his pipe, I donn'd my cloak an' bonnet, and said I would be going slowly up th' Bonk, and he would o'ertak' me before I had gotten far on the way, for theaw sees I was rather slow at walkin' i' consequence of my cough an' shortness o' breath.  Well, I kept comin' slowly up an' slowly up, an' turning' to see if he were comin', an' I kept creepin' end way till I'd gotten to the bottom o' th' church steps.  It was as fine a moonleet neet as ever shone eawt o' th' moon, as cleer very nee as th' noon-day; I could ha' seen to ha' gathert a pin off th' greawnd.  Well, I stoode an' lookt back to see if he wur comin', an' I seed him just meawntin' onto th' bonk, when I yerd th' gate oppen behind me, and lookin' that way, I seed a very fine, tall woman dresst o' i' sparklin' white, come through th' gate an' walk deawn th' steps past me, and go straight under th' trees tow'rd Summer Heawse.  The moment I seed her put her foot eawt to come deawn th' steps, that moment I knew her to be thy mother."

    "My mother?"

    "Aye, thy very mother, or at th' least her spirit."

    "I' th' name o' Goodness, aint, whot aryo tellin' me."

    "I'm tellin' the' God's own truth, lad; I seed her as plain as I see thee this very minnit.  The mother had a foote an' ancle incomparable; I could ha' known her ony time by seeing her step eawt."

    "And did you not see her face, then?"

    "Nawe, I didno'.  I felt a kynd of awe, an' ere I could look up, hoo wur past me."

    "And whot then?"

    "Oh! hoo walkt streight forrud as if hoor gooin' tow'rd th' Market-place, an' I turn'd me an' watcht her as lung as I cou'd see her, under th' trees, an' through th' moonleet, and through th' shadows, as fair as if it had been noonday.  'Blessed be God,' I said; 'yon's Han-nah; hoo's happy, an' I am satisfied.'"

    "An' did you tell my uncle?"

    "Nawe; the uncle towd me.  He coom op to me in a minnit after, an' he said, 'Lisabeth, hooas yon fine woman at's just gone past the'?'

    " 'Why, did theaw see her, then?' I asked.

    " 'Aye,' he said, 'I seed her plain enoof; hoo'r not so very far off me, as hoo went deawn heer tow'rd th' Lodge.'

    " 'Theaw'rt rnista'en, lad; hoo went o' this reet side o' th' Beawling Green, an' under th' trees.'

    " 'Nay,' he said, 'theaw munno say so, lass, hoo went o' this lift side o' th' Green; heaw cud I ha' seen her gooin' tow'rd th' Lodge, if hoo'd gone under th' trees.'

    " 'Well,' I said, 'that convinces me moor an' moor.'

    " 'Convinces the' o' whot?'

    " ' 'At ween both seen a spirit.'

    " 'Nonsense, wench!' he said; '‘it wur nobbut a very fine lady, o i' white.  I seed her as plain as I see thee.  Hoo walkt heer deawn tow'rd th' Lodge quite natural.  Some body happen at had been a visitin'.'

    " 'Visitin'! whot, at this time o' neet, or reyther mornin'!  Beside, wheer cou'd hoo ha' come fro', an' wheer cou'd hoo begooin' to?  There's no sitch fine foke heerabeawt.'

    " 'True, lass, there isno', unless it's sumbody 'at's been at th' Clockyakers.'

    " 'Th' Clockmakers! yon's no company for th' Clockmakers, as great foke as they ar.  Yon's eawer Daniel wife spirit as sure as I ston heer.  I knew her the moment I set my een on her.  Thanks be to God 'at I seen her.  Hoos comn fro' heaven, an' hoo's gooin' back theer.  "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord."  'An' so we turn'd an' coom through th' churchyard whom, an' the uncle wur afterwards convinc'd 'at th' appearance must ha' bin a sperit.  An' when I towd Sally Owin, after hoo'd gett'n better, we both went deawn on eawr knees and returnt thanks for eawer onsur to prayer."

    "Well," I said, "I'm glad you have told me of this, aunt.  I never had a doubt about my mother's happiness.  I always considered her as too good to go anywhere save to heaven.  What you have said has, however, made me still happier, since you and Sally Owen, when she was living, and your most intimate connections, would all be satisfied with respect to my mother's spiritual state."

    "Oh! quite so, quite satisfied.  Would to God 'at I wur as sure o' my own salvation."

    "Is it not strange, aunt, that I have often thought that walk, under the trees and towards the summer-house, was a very solemn place."

    "Hasto ever thought so, then?"

    "Aye, I've always felt strangely attached to the spot, and have taken many a ramble there instead of going with the others to play.  Can it be that my mother's spirit haunts that place, think you?  And that it would be fain to meet me there?"

    "Oh, no, chylt! the mother's happy i' heaven, an' if theaw expects to meet her, theaw mun prepare to goo theer."

    "Well, I cannot tell how it happens, aunt, but I always feel so calm and soothed when at dusk I walk alone round the green, or sit on the bright grass under the trees. It seems as if I had all the company I desire: I can converse better with myself, as it were—can commune more deeply with my own feelings and thoughts in that lone spot than in any other, Middleton Wood excepted, and probably some of the lone dells of Hopwood. I shall go there oftener."

    " 'There's a deal o' sin committed thereabeawts; pitchin', an' tossin', an' drinkin', an' beawlin', i' summer time."

    "Yes, but I go when the rabble are away—when nothing is heard save the distant murmurs from the surrounding habitations.  There is something so quaintly hoary in the old summer house, and the tall trees waving in the mysterious twilight just before dark, that I feel as if I were almost in a new existence.  I shall go there oftener.  My mother has come there once, and she will come again if I wait for her."

    "Tempt not God," said my aunt; "the spirit may come again if it is so willed."

 
CHAPTER XVII.

LOVE DAWNINGS.


I CAN scarcely recollect a period of my life when the society of females was not very agreeable to me.  I was now, however, approaching that age when this general partiality was to become more individualising, and when amongst the mass which I always contemplated with tender regard, some would be found from whom I could not withhold a still warmer sentiment.  Thus were the young germs of love beginning to quicken in my heart; and instead of repressing or controlling them, as I should perhaps have done, or have attempted to do, had I had a wise adviser to counsel me, I abandoned myself to delicious heart-gushings of romantic feeling, bowed in silent but earnest regard to female loveliness, and became soul and heart-bound—profoundly mute, however, except by sighs and looks—to more than one, in succession, of the young beauties of my acquaintance.  Thus from an admirer of the sex generally, I became the worshipper of its most lovely forms in particular, and amongst those I was not slow to discover some who to me seemed to surpass all other mortals in beauty and modest worth.  Such was the collier's darkeyed daughter who came every Sunday to school from Siddal Moor: such the tall fair girl who, all blush-coloured, and wild as a young roe, came from the meadow-top at Alkrington: such the pale vocalist from my native suburb, whose sable hair streamed like night-clouds around a statue of snow.  Such, also, were others, but why should I dwell on these reminiscences, seeing that I cannot look back and reopen my heart and find it as it once was; seeing that death has swept some away; that Time has bowed those who remain; that age has subdued love, and that beauty is in ruins.

    My cousin Hannah I could have admired because she was pretty, but she understood not my boyish endeavours to please, and repaid them with rudeness, so there was soon an end of romance in that quarter.  Little Mima daily grew in my esteem, as well as in beauty, and I felt that I was likely to love her when she was more of a woman, but not as yet.

    It would have been a fact entirely at variance with the well known penetration of females in matters in which the heart is concerned, if some of my fair Cynosures had not penetrated the secret of my feelings.  The quick eyes and the virgin sensibilities of several of my young friends detected, as they were sure to do, the state of my feelings, and then whenever our eyes met we were covered with blushes, mutual acknowledgments of a sentiment too delicate for oral expression.  And thus we kept meeting and blushing, and sighing at times, and looking with tender regard, whilst with rare exceptions the word love never escaped from our lips.  My heart, though I knew it not, was yearning for the accomplishment of its dearest wish, and that was to be beloved by one worthy of my esteem, as well as of my devotion.  And thus had many a young love-dream come and tormented me, and had passed like the rest, when the long nights of winter having come, I won a few kisses in playing at forfeits, or I was emboldened to a word or two in playing at Hide-and-seek, or at Blindman's Buff.  Then winter was over, days lengthened, and spring approached, when, one evening in February, we were all sitting round the fire at my uncle's, having our bagging, and a girl who lived at the next house, trying to open the door to go home, found it jammed fast by something which stuck at the bottom.  She pulled it out and gave it to my aunt, and on its being opened before us all, great was our astonishment at beholding a valentine displayed.  There were Cupids, and darts, and bars of love, and birds and chains, and bleeding hearts, all cut out, and coloured, and set forth in most approved form.  There were also lines of writing all around, and several verses and couplets in the middle.  After a few minutes spent in admiration of the pretty missive, there was a general request to have it read, and I must own that I felt a mischievous glee in the idea that it would be found to be meant either for my bashful cousin Thomas or his sister Hannah, at whose expense, in particular, I was wishful to have a laugh.  At length, after my uncle and aunt had examined the ornaments, it was handed over to Thomas to read, who began by reading the direction, which was, "To Mr. Samuel Taylor, at Mr. W. Taylor's," whereupon there was a general laugh at me, which I met by observing that the letter could not be meant for me, since my name was not Taylor but Bamford, and it was evidently intended for some person of the name of Taylor, and that Thomas was most likely to be that person.  But when Thomas began to read the document itself—which he did with evidently mischievous glee—I was covered with confusion, and knew not where or how to look.  "Read it; read it," was the general cry; and so he read a number of rhymes, and verses, and complimentary scraps, which removed every doubt as to the valentine being intended for myself and no one else.  In the commencement I was addressed "My dear Samuel," then I was described as "tall and straight as a poplar-tree," next informed that

"The rose is red, the violet blue,
 The pink is sweet, love, so are you,"

and that—

"As sure as grapes grow on the vine,
 I'm your true love and Valentine,"

each sentence or couplet being followed by a laugh from the youngsters.  My uncle enjoyed the scene in his own quiet placid way, whilst my aunt affected to view the affair in a very grave light.  The paper was handed from one to another, in order that they might identify the writing, and they all mentioned some person whose writing it was like; at length, after much hesitation, I was allowed to examine the missive, and as soon as my eye rested on the heading, I was almost satisfied with respect to the person who had written it, but I kept my opinion to myself.

    "Well," said my aunt, taking an extra pinch of snuff, "it's come to summut, at ony rate, 'at one conno' sit deawn to one's meat i' one's own heawse, but we munbi haunted wi' yung snickits comin' after thee, an' stickin' ther letters under th' dur.  But I'll get to know hooas writ'n it, gentlemen.  Thy feyther shall see this; heest know heaw theawrt carryin' on; he shanna be kept i' th' dark; it's none reet 'at he shudbe."

    I protested that I knew nothing whatever of its coming.  I could not prevent its being put under the door, and as for the writing none of them knew whose it was.

    "But we win know," replied my aunt, still bent on tormenting me, though she could scarcely conceal the amusement she derived from my embarrassment, "we win know.  This papper shall be sent deawn to th' skoo, an' laid afoie th' mesters, an' th' writin' shall be compar't wi' some o' th' copy books, an' th' writer will then be fund eawt, an' yo' shan bwoth be browt an' set ov a form, one aside o' th' tother."

    The very idea made my heart sink within me, for I was sure if the writing was produced at school, and the copy books examined, the writer would be detected, and I was more concerned by the thought of the writer being exposed than I was by any care for myself.  Instead, therefore, of being gratified and elevated by the compliment which had been given to me, I was both humiliated and unhappy, and I passed many hours in no enviable frame of mind.  The day following I asked my aunt to give the valentine up to me, but she refused, and persisted in saying my father should see it, and it should be produced at the Sunday school.  I therefore determined to gain possession of it by any means I could devise, and accordingly I stole up to her chamber one forenoon, and found it in a pocket-book under her pillow, and after having minutely conned it over, I destroyed it, and thus put an end to all talk—whether feigned or in earnest—about its exposure in other places.  My aunt was now really displeased; and threatened me with my father's severest reprehension; but I was never better satisfied with anything I had done, inasmuch as I had secured the writer—whoever she might be—from the possibility of any annoyance in future, on that account.  In a short time I expressed an intimation to Mima that I deemed her to be the writer, but she denied it with seeming displeasure, and I knew not then what to think about the authorship; and thus the occurrence was no more spoken about.

    Let no one despise simple incidents like these.  They are the rufflings which mark human existence—the joys and anxieties—the lights and shadows—of which humble life is composed.

    In consequence of the great dearth of corn which marked the year 1800, [12] my uncle's family had to suffer in manner and degree with the rest of their poor neighbours.  We dealt with one of the best provision shops in Middleton, but the meal which we got for our porridge was very often not fit for food, whilst flour for dumplings or pies was out of all question.  Our bread was generally made from barley, and tough, hard, dark-coloured stuff it was.  Instead of wheaten flour, we had a kind of mixture which was nicknamed "ran-dan," or "brown George," and sad rubbish George proved to be; but all was welcome, nothing was refused by us hungry lads, whose only care was to get enough.  Oaten cake, though made from meal which was enormously adulterated, was so much a dainty that we often took an opportunity for putting a piece of it out of sight, as a delectable snack to be eaten at leisure.

    The pinching "barley-times" were over, and flour was selling at sixpence the pound, meal at fourpence, and potatoes at a guinea a load.  Yet such was the profusion of work and the price of labour during the short peace of 1802, [13] that plenty was in every man's buttery.  Common seven-eights calico, twenty-eight yards in length, was woven at ten shillings and sixpence the cut.  A young soldier who came over on a two months' furlough, immediately set to the loom, and worked with extraordinary quickness and perseverance: when his furlough expired, he got it renewed, and again set to work, and when he returned to the regiment he took money with him which bought his discharge.  But this prosperity was of short duration; wages receded as fast as they had advanced, and work became very scarce.  War again raged fiercely, the nation was to be invaded by a French army from Boulogne, and the whole kingdom was bristling with volunteer bayonets, when one afternoon I was rather surprised by an intimation that my uncle and a neighbour were going to look at the canal at Slattocks, and that myself and cousin Thomas might go with them if we chose.  We went, pleased enough of course, but I soon lost my company, and returning home, found the town people all out of doors with fife and drum, and the constables parading for volunteers.  I immediately offered myself, and was rejected on account of my stature.  But Long Tom, an old campaigner, insisted on having me; he said I was a straight thriving lad, and would make a fine soldier, and so at last I was accepted, though the lowest of any in the ranks, and I got a shilling bounty, a billet whereat to spend my shilling, and a black and red cockade.  On being dismissed for the night I went home, and had to encounter another lecture from my aunt, who said it was the first time a cockade had ever been worn by one of their family, and that I was in the way to perdition.  I bore her reflections very philosophically, consoling myself with the assurance that I had only performed a duty to my country, and as the corps were never called on—not even to parade—I got through that great "act of sin," as my aunt was pleased to designate my volunteering.

    Meanwhile, on fine moonlight nights we enjoyed our wild and mirthful games out of doors, laughing until the echoes came back with laugh as gleesome as our own.  Latterly we had also been sometimes joined at our play by one or two of our maiden acquaintance, who lived at a distance, and whom, as a matter of decent attention, I felt obliged to accompany part of the way home, taking many pleasant walks


"By heather brown and meadow green,"


which I was rather pleased to perceive was not at all agreeable to others who, until now, I had deemed almost indifferent to anything which concerned me.  I certainly had many compunctions of conscience; I thought, as my aunt said, that I was getting on very fast in sin, and that if I did not turn over another leaf of life, I should become quite abandoned.

    But deeper involvements soon followed from a persuasion which about this time took possession of me, and that was, that I was far from being indifferent in the estimation of my fair friend Mima.  I remarked that whenever I went into a place where she was one of the company, she was the first to make room for me and offer me a seat; that she always contrived to be near to me, and to be my partner in play; that she always seemed pleased whenever I made my appearance; pleased when I won at marbles or at any other game; and latterly I had to thank her in my heart for a very agreeable instance of her regard and solicitude when almost unheeded by others as I sat ill in the nook.  The kind inquiries, the concern for my pain, the tender expression of her countenance beaming at once with pity and beauty, more beautiful from its goodness, could not fail to make an impression in which love was born of gratitude, an impression which I neither strove to conceal from myself nor to resist, since I now found that besides her rare personal charms, she had, what was in my estimation a still brighter charm, in the tenderness of her innocent and devoted heart.

    A young lad, a companion of mine, being deeply enamoured of a coy lass who lived at Throstle Nest, he took the expedient of inditing love epistles, in order to interest her indifferent feelings towards his suit.  In these occupations I frequently assisted, and gave my advice, as well as accompanied him in his night excursions, when he went to peep at her window, or to deposit his love billets.  I also confided to him the secret of my attachment, and, when the season came round, we frequently sat down at his parents' house, after working hours, and penned letters and valentines to our several fair ones, and sometimes also, by way of joke, to others of our female acquaintance.  He was a neat writer, and an ingenious framer of such things, and under his tuition I soon became as good a proficient as himself.  I now set my ingenuity to task, and prepared a valentine the equal to which for painting, and gilding, and writing, and scissors work, had never probably been seen in Middleton, and this I gave with my own hand to Mima, when she came to play at my loom at night.  I had seen too much of the chances of such things getting astray to entrust this precious offering to other conveyance than my own, I accordingly showed it to her first, and asked her opinion as to its merits, when, with admiration not unalloyed by a painful doubt, she inquired for what happy lass the beautiful thing could be intended? and I in a whisper said, "For you, if you can find in your heart to accept it for my sake, and as a sincere expression of my feelings."  With joy in her look, and blushes lovelier than those of the queen flower of June, she said, "I do! I do!" and with a smile all modestly radiant, she placed it in her bosom, and went away.

    So now we knew each other; we were united in heart, she was mine, and I was her own, but not one word of love escaped from our lips.  Days and weeks and months passed, both of us happy in the assurance of mutual affection.  I had no companionship with any of the other members of her uncle's family, and consequently I never went there except on an errand to the shop.  She, however, being the confidante of my cousin Hannah, had a recognised privilege to come and go at our house without notice, and whenever she chose to do so, and seldom, indeed, a day passed, on which we were not favoured by a visit from the little Hebe, who would have a word of news for my old aunt, or a question to put to my uncle, or something to mention to Hannah, but who never went away until she had stood beside my loom, or tried to weave for me, or fetched me bobbins, or moved my rods, or spoken a word, or bestowed a modest glance, which said more than words could do.  And thus we continued, thinking and looking unuttered things—heart united, soul blended, but never speaking of love, never daring to let that fearfully expressive word escape from our lips, never daring even to meet alone, when one day my aunt surprised and almost distressed me by the information that I was by my father's direction to depart that week and take up my abode in Manchester.

    And as I am now about to quit this humble roof, and to launch on themes and scenes of a quite different description, it may not be out of place if I here introduce notices of a few scarce and original characters who were acquaintances of and visitors at my uncle's house, during my sojourn in his family.

    One of the most singular of these was Richard Hall, a leader amongst the Kilhamite Methodists.  Richard in his youth had been a most reckless fighter and drinker, the master and bully of the whole country side about Heywood, but having attended a preaching and a meeting or two of the Old Methodists, he was struck with remorse, became an altered man, and joined the society; and when the schism betwixt Mr. Kilham [14] and the Conference took place, Richard went with the former, and ever afterwards adhered to that party.  At the time I first knew him, he was a grave and venerable looking man, gracefully stooping, with thin dark locks, a very dark complexion, a temper surpassingly dogged and immovable, and withal a manner as humble, and a speech as mild as might have become the veriest lamb.  Old Richard, however, I believe was as sincere a Christian as many who make more pretensions, but his modicum of grace had to act on a bodily temperament of no common order, and amongst other besetments thrown in his way by the "Evil One," no doubt, was an enormous liking of savoury viands, at whatever time of day, or in whatever manner he became cognisant of their proximity.  Richard, however, was not selfish; he was generous of his humble store, and was at all times hospitable towards preachers or poor brethren who came about dispensing the Word in the neighbourhood.  On one occasion he invited a preacher to partake his Sunday dinner, and the invitation was accepted with thanks.  Meanwhile, the preacher was to preach, and Richard as his host accompanied him to the chapel, where a goodly array of hearers awaited them.  Well, the prayer was made, the hymn was sung, the text was taken, and the preacher expounded to the great edification of those present.  Richard, however, was thinking of other things; the old "Father of Sin," knowing his weakness, kept presenting to his imagination the nice stuffed duck which was roasting for dinner; and such was Richard's anxiety to have it quite ready the moment the preacher returned, that he slipped out of the chapel and hastened home in order to make sure that no time should be lost.  His wife, however, who was a little, expert, tidy woman, had the duck already cooked and the dinner waiting, and Richard, snuffing the delicious odour, thought there could be no great harm if he cut a slice and ate it, just to ascertain whether or not there was sage enough in the stuffing.  So he took a little of the duck and most excellent it was; then a little more, with some stuffing and apple sauce, and that was delicious.  Then he thought that as the duck was ready, he might as well e'en make his dinner at once, and there would be enough left for the preacher when he came.  So Richard kept cutting and eating, and cutting and eating, until, when the preacher returned, there was only the pickings of the bones left for him.  Richard, now conscience struck, made the best apology he could, which, I believe, amounted partly to a confession of his besetting temptation, and partly to an opinion that his friend had gone to dinner with some other of the congregation.  The preacher took all in good part, forgave his brother, advised him as to the future, and concluded with a word of prayer.  Richard was greatly humbled, and more guarded for a time, but to the last years of his life, nothing gave him so great bodily satisfaction as "a nice savoury chop," or a "bit of a frizzle."

    He was blessed with two daughters, as dutiful and affectionate children they were as ever ate bread from a parent's hand.  They worked for and supported their old father and mother when they were unable to support themselves: they tended them in their age and their sickness, nursed them whilst they lived, and buried them with decency.  One is still, I believe, toiling with the world only to keep sinking deeper in poverty; the other met a sudden and dreadful fate.  After having received such attentions as led her to expect marriage by a religious person, and having been abandoned by him, chiefly in consequence of the envious interference of other religious persons, she seemed to forget herself; became less careful in her attire, less guarded in her conversation, less cleanly in her habits, began to smoke tobacco, then to take liquors in small quantity, and at length, after a course of years, during which she abandoned every propriety save that of modesty, she was found one morning drowned in the mill-pond.  If ever a young woman began life with a deservedness to be happy, this was the one; but worth was rendered worthless, a body was ruined—degraded—a soul all but lost.  Let humanity shed a tear for the fate of this poor unfortunate:

    Once or twice a year, generally when days became short, and cloudy, and stormy, and we had long nights to sit by the fire; at such a time of the year, and oftenest at the close of day, would the door of my uncle's house slowly open, and an old woman leaning on a stick, with her face half muffled, and her person concealed in an old brown cloak, and with sundry rags, bags, and pockets swaggering under her clothes, would enter.  Instantly we knew her voice and made room for her to sit down, for "Old Ailse o' Bharla " was always a favourite at my uncle's fireside.  She had plenty of tales, chiefly of an admonitory and religious turn; she had "a remarkable gift of prayer," had also been "unfortunate in the disposal of her affection," was "rather out of her mind" as they said, and spent her time in wandering about from place to place, seeking rest, but finding none.  Her father was a farmer of some property, residing in Birkle at about the year 1745, and Ailse used to take the week's butter to Bury every Saturday.  At that time she was a smart, handsome, young woman, and happened to attract the attention of a young dragoon quartered at Bury, who was himself of respectable parentage, and bore a good character in the regiment.  The soldier became deeply enamoured of the Birkle beauty; and lost not much time in making known to her the state of his heart.  The very idea of being beloved by a common soldier, Alice looked upon as an insult, and she consequently treated his advances with contempt.  The young man tried all means to induce her to lend a patient hearing to his supplication, but the high-notioned maid could not be prevailed on to listen.  The lover was respected by many of the townspeople as well as by his comrades, and he engaged several of the former to interest themselves in the promotion of his suit, but all was in vain—the proud beauty would not listen.  The youth remained hopeless, and in that forlorn state he marched with the regiment from Bury to Scotland.  From thence he wrote several letters to friends in Bury, which described in touching language the strength of his hopeless love and the deplorable state of his mind, and probably some passages at least of these letters would find their way to the damsel's ear.  Whether, however, it was from something which she heard at Bury, or from some reproaches of conscience, or from "some dream or vision," or some "apparition," or "love spell"—for she seldom would converse on the subject even with her most confident friends—she suddenly became violently desirous to see the young soldier, and to make amends for the slight and neglect she had practised towards him.  She procured a horse and money, and travelled to Scotland, to the town in which she knew he was quartered.  She entered the place, and as she and her steed, all weary and travel-worn, went slowly up the street, the sound of a trumpet playing a mournful air attracted her notice, and soon after she met a soldier's funeral procession.  She stopped her horse to allow a free passage; several of the troopers gazed on her intensely and began to converse; at length she noticed one whom she remembered having seen at Bury, and him she took the liberty of asking where she should find her lover, when the man, pointing to the bier, said that was his quarters, and the only place where he was then to be found.  She fainted, and would have fallen from her horse; the procession halted; the soldiers collected around her; they knew her; they pronounced her name.  She was taken care of whilst the funeral was completed.  After some time she returned home—an altered woman—a faded rose,—lost in heart—lost in mind—a dream interpreter—a spell solver—a religious monomaniac—an object of pity and in some degree of dread to all who knew her.  Such was the tale of "Old Ailse o' Bharla."

 
CHAPTER XVIII.

HOPE STILL DEFERRED-NEW EMPLOYMENTS—NEW BOOKS.


ON leaving Middleton I went to live with my sister in Greengate, Salford, and attended once more the school of my father's old Methodist friend, John Holt, of Oldham Street, with a view to my improvement in writing and arithmetic, but my day for learning was gone by, and I took quite as much notice of certain pretty figures which sat in the girl's room opposite to me as I did of those in my book, and so I got not much improvement this time.  Mima, however, was not forgotten.  I had written to my cousin Thomas informing him of my situation, and in a postscript desiring him to remember me kindly to J. S., but the letter fell into my aunt's hands, and our secret was discovered.  To add to my chagrin also, when I went to Middleton Mima was nowhere to be seen, having gone on a visit to Liverpool, so that instead of some faint chance of an interview which I had ventured to hope for, I got nothing save sly jokes and inuendoes about my love for J. S., and I returned home sadly disappointed.

    But the time for confirmation arrived, and I, with many thousands of other young folks belonging to Manchester, received the bishop's blessing in the old church.  It was with us a matter of some anxiety whether the right hand or the left of the venerable prelate should be placed on our heads, and it was my good fortune to receive the pressure of his right hand, which was considered a propitious omen.  The day following the youth from the country districts were to be similarly admitted to Christian communion, and as I knew that Mima would be with the Middleton party, I was in the churchyard at an early hour, waiting with an anxiety which made me indifferent to every other object.  First one group appeared, then another came up the Mill Gate, and many of my old schoolfellows and playmates were amongst them; but the right one—the little cherry-blushing maid, with her light auburn hair, and bright looks, and pale-blue frock, and straw bonnet—was nowhere to be seen, and it was not until I had waited and looked, and gazed down the narrow, crooked street, and scrutinised each party as they approached—my sight becoming weary and my heart almost sick—that I at length caught a glimpse of one amid a group of maidens who I thought must be she whose coming I had so anxiously sought for.  Another glance, less rapid than the omen of my own heart, told me that I was not mistaken, and the next moment our hands met, and heart-throbbing, agitated, and happy, our only words were mutual inquiries, confused and almost incoherent.  My cousin Hannah, I found, was her companion, and though I was always rather partial towards Hannah, in good truth, I would she had at that time been in any other place.  She was, however, there, and I could not do less than behave respectfully towards her; it would have been unkind not to have done so; a proceeding which, when a female was in the case, was not to be thought of by me, was not in my nature.  And so, after the communion was over, we three formed one company, and, after taking refreshment, spent some time in looking through the wondrous old College, and in viewing the shops in the square, and the toy-stalls in the Smithy Door, where I made each of them a present of a breast-pin with an initial, not all gold of a certainty, but as highly prized as if it had been so, and had come from other hands.  When the time of departure arrived, I accompanied them a good distance on the way home, in the hope that some accident would occur which might detach my cousin and give me an opportunity of uttering but one word to my enslaver, and of receiving her assurance of affection in return, for of that I felt not the least doubt; but our attendant never left us for an instant, and I, though again sorely disappointed, made up my mind to remain as contented as I could, with the expression of kind looks, and one tender pressure of her dear hand only.  And so, "hoping soon to meet again," we parted, that hope being destined not to be entirely realised.

    I was shortly afterwards placed in the warehouse of Mr. Spencer, counterpane and bed-quilt manufacturer, whose rooms were at the bottom of Cannon Street.  I was Mr. Spencer's only warehouseman, and my duties were to sweep the rooms, to light the fire, to dust the counters, and to fodder my master's horse, which was housed in a small stable in the yard.  I also gave out goods, and took them in from the bleachers when my employer was absent, and on like occasions when a buyer came round it was my duty to show the goods and to sell them if I could.  I was thus become a person of some responsibility all at once, and the estimation which I attached to my situation was not of the most humble degree.  My wages were certainly rather of the lowest, being—if I recollect aright—about six shillings a week, but as my work was light and I was learning, as it were, the warehouse business, my wages were considered reasonable for the time being.  My hours of attendance were from eight in the morning to six in the afternoon in summer, and to five in winter, with an hour at noon for dinner.  My master resided somewhere near Levenshulme; he was punctual in his attendance in the morning and his departure in the afternoon.  He was an exact and economical man, though not a severe master; he liked to have things done at a proper time, and to find every piece, and book, and paper, and wrapper, and string in its proper place; and as I was active and obliging and also took some pride in having the rooms neat, and the stock in order, I did not often incur his censure.  His temperate and economical habits led him, as I understood, generally to dine on his return home; sometimes he would lunch in town, and occasionally he would send me to the Cockpit Hill for a fourpenny veal pie, which he took in the warehouse as a lunch.  I liked my master very well, notwithstanding his careful habits and his rather distant manners; I liked his horse, however, better, when he and I had become acquainted.  He was one of that useful sort which can work either in a cart or trot under a saddle, and was very docile—only, if there had been more riding for me and less rubbing, I should have liked our acquaintance still better.

    After being in the employ of Mr. Spencer some considerable time, I got a situation, at the advanced wages of eight shillings a week, in the warehouse of Mr. Thomas Robinson, of Hodson's Square, whose residence was at Walshaw Lane, near Bury, and who carried on a manufactory there of dimities and quiltings.  He also had an agent who made calicoes for him at New Church, in Pendle Forest; Mr. Robinson's town agent or salesman in Hodson's Square was a young man named W., who had lately entered into Mr. Robinson's employment from that of his uncle, a draper, of Melton Mowbray.  My warehouse duties here were much the same as at my former place, only I had not a horse to attend upon, as Mr. Robinson, when he came to town on Tuesdays and Saturdays, put up at The Dangerous Corner Inn, and left his nag there to be hostled.  My work was, however, much more laborious than at Mr. Spencer's, and consisted chiefly in carrying goods up and down the stairs, in taking rather heavy parcels out to buyers in the town, and in packing up for country delivery.

    I cared little, however, about the weight of the work which I was called on to perform, for being an active, clear-winded lad, I was seldom really tired; but one piece of drudgery which Mr. W. set me to do galled my feelings very much, and more so because I neither deemed the manner in which I was made to perform it necessary, nor the performance itself at all within the intention of my contract with my employer.  Mr. W., as was quite excusable in a young man of his condition, affected great smartness in his dress, and had his mind been as well cultivated as his person was draped, he would have been a very intelligent gentleman indeed; but his manners, pronunciation, and in fact every action and tone, betrayed the rustic provincialist just come to the great mart of trade with but one wish, one idea, that of gain, gain, gain.  I, young and inexperienced, and ignorant of the world as I was, could not fail to draw comparisons betwixt my employer, the plain, unaffected, but perfectly well-bred, well-informed man, and the young country buck whom he had selected to do his business.  Both of them wore top-boots, and as Mr. W. would have his perfectly clean, he initiated me into the mysteries of making excellent blacking and boot-top liquid, and then installed me in the honourable office of shoeblack and boot-cleaner to himself.  I felt this to be an encroachment on my condition of service, but as I never imagined that Mr. W. would do less than make me a handsome present when I became expert at the job, I did my best to please him.  Weeks and months, however, passed, Mr. W. having the distinction of sporting the cleanest and best polished boots in the town; but not one word did he ever utter having the remotest allusion to remuneration.  Sometimes when he put them on and turned round his foot to see how smart they looked, he would, in one of his pleasantest moods, say, "Sam, thaw has done these very well," or, "Sam, thaw has made these tops very nyst; they almost look as well as new;" but never did my observant eye detect his hand gliding into his pocket for a sixpence or a shilling to give me for my trouble.  And so when one morning he ordered me to carry a slop-basin full of milk—for top-liquid—from his lodgings in Salford to the warehouse, I refused, and told him, once for all, I would neither clean tops nor black bottoms any more.  He looked a moment at me aghast and horrified by my audacious rebellion, but finding me neither abashed nor tractable, he only intimated that Mr. Robinson would have to be informed of my insubordination.  I, however, never heard anything further respecting the matter, and probably Mr. Robinson was never made aware of the extra drudgery I had performed.

    About this time I was delighted by the acquisition of two books, the existence of which, until then, had been unknown to me.  One was the second volume of Homer's Iliad, translated by Alexander Pope, with notes by Madame Dacier, and the other was a small volume of Miscellaneous Poems, by John Milton.  Homer I read with an absorbed attention which soon enabled me to commit nearly every line to memory.  The perusal created in me a profound admiration of the old heathen heroes, and a strong desire to explore the whole of "The tale of Troy divine."  To the deep melancholy of the concluding lines I fully responded.

"Be this the song, slow moving tow'rd the shore,
 Hector is dead, and Ilion is no more."

With Milton I was both saddened and delighted.  His "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" were but the expressions of thoughts and feelings which my romantic imagination had not unfrequently led me to indulge, but which, until now, I had deemed beyond all human utterance.

"Some time walking not unseen
 By hedgerow elms, on hillocks green,
 Right against the eastern gate,
 Where the great Sun begins his state,
 Rob'd in flames, and amber light,
 The clouds in thousand liveries dight.
            *              *               *               *
 Meadows trim with daisies pied,
 Shallow brooks and rivers wide:
 Towers and battlements it sees
 Bosom'd high in tufted trees,
 Where perhaps some beauty lies,
 The Cynosure of neighb'ring eyes,"

were the very whisperings of the spirit ever present in my day musings, and which brooded over my night dreams.  Then again in "Penseroso" the line—


"Call up him who left half told,"


set my imaginative curiosity to work.  What him? who was "him?" when did he live? where did he reside? and how happened it that he

                          "left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold?"

What a strangely interesting subject for thoughtful conjecture was his "story half told," with its Cambuscan, and Algarsife, and Canace, who, whether or not she was ever wived at all, was a mystery impenetrable to me.  "Samson Agonistes" and "Paradise Regained" were less attractive than were others of the great bard's miscellaneous productions.  His night witchery of "Comus" was the very revel of poetry,

"The star that bids the shepherd fold,
 Now the top of Heaven doth hold,"

for instance, and

"Braid your locks with rosy twine,
 Dropping odours, dropping wine,"

conveyed to my heart and my imagination ideas almost as fascinating and dangerous as the spell which bound the fair lady in her "marble venom'd seat," while the concluding lines of the mournfully quaint "Lycidas " inspired me with those pleasing anticipations which are always awaiting the behest of healthful, active youth.

"Thus sang the uncouth swain to th' oaks and rills,
 While the still morn went out with sandals gray,
 He touch'd the tender stops of various quills,
 With eager thought warbling his Doric lay:
 And now the sun had stretch'd out all the hills,
 And now was dropt into the western bay;
 At last he rose, and twitch'd his mantle blue:
 To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new."

Oh!  John Milton!  John Milton! of all the poetry ever read or ever heard recited by me, none has so fully spoken out the whole feelings of my heart—the whole scope of my imaginings—as have certain passages of thy divine minstrelsy.

 
CHAPTER XIX.

"Why should unavailing love
 Be kept like hidden gold?"


NEVER, probably, were the reveries of love and poetry more deeply indulged in than they were by me in these my young days of visionary romance.  My warehouse work was certainly a laborious reality, but what then?  I was more than equal to any fatigue which I had to encounter.  I performed all I had to do cheerfully, readily, and thoroughly, and the hours flew swiftly, if not altogether pleasantly, whilst my deepest thoughts were engaged in far other scenes, and the objects constantly occurring to my mental perception were of a quite different nature.  Very often, whilst bending beneath a load of piece goods, as I carried them through the crowded streets, or wiping the sweat from my brow as I rested in the noon sun, would I be unconsciously wandering in imagination in the free forest glades with Robin Hood, or


"Over some wide water'd shore,"


with Milton.  Then, in such a place as Manchester, where beauty adorned by graceful art appeared at each step, I frequently encountered objects which led my thoughts far astray; and not only was the hardship of my situation forgotten, but, the present overcoming the distant, she to whom I had silently vowed my true and loyal troth, was too often absent from my meditations.

    My chief companions at this time were a lad of about my own age named Booth, who was serving an apprenticeship to the business of a letter-press printer, and a young warehouseman named Fielding.  After working hours we used frequently in summer time to take our rambles in Broughton, and one of our favourite spots was a piece of rough-broken ground lying on the left of the first ascent of Stony Knows, and known by the name of The Woodlands.  Here were various out-of-the-way footpaths, round green hillocks, and through winding dells and hollows, with natural arbours of hazel and wild-rose, and quaint cell-looking little nooks to sit in, where either in the warm sun or in the shade, we could choose our seat; either in the breeze or under the wind that ruffled the gnarled oak, and brushed the grey birch, and swept through the boughs of the red-berried rowan, for such were the only woods remaining, could we lie down, or sit up, or read poetry or romance, or sing, or laugh, or talk over our own little love affairs or those of others.  Pleasant Sunday rambles were these, on cool dewy mornings, or on fine sunny afternoons, and vastly did we young joking, laughter-loving frolickers enjoy whatever was enjoyable in our own simple, humble way--from a scramble which should pluck a dog-rose, to a race which should first win the smile of a milkmaid and purchase the warm cream from her can.

    On one of these occasions, I and a companion were taking this very pleasant round, and wishing that some beautiful apples, which hung on the other side of the hedge, were ours, when thump went a fine one on my companion's back, and in a moment after I was very near being hit by another.  We gathered the fruit and laughed heartily, being greatly pleased with the joke, but were puzzled in what terms to thank the donor, whose person remained beyond our ken.  "Who's thrown 'em?" asked one.  "What's thrown 'em?" asked the other.  "Well, but mine's a good un," said the first taster; "An' mine's as good," said the second.  Thank the thrower, whoever threw 'em," said the first speaker; "Aye, an' twenty times o'er were the thrower but a bonny lass," said the second.  "If she be a bonny lass, and she's as good as she's bonny, she'll perhaps throw another," said the first speaker; "I shouldn't wonder," said the second.  And with that two more apples were thrown, and we heard a laugh and just caught a glimpse of a fair young maiden hastening from the orchard and crouching beneath the apple trees.  Quick, however, as was her disappearance, it was not so quick but I knew her to be the sister of one whom I had seen in the town, and who had recently come in for a very considerable share of my deepest considerations.  She whom we had seen was indeed a bonny lass, as fair as alabaster, and with locks as dark as those of an "Ethiope queen," whilst the one who had disturbed my equanimity was older, taller, and bore in her manner and her features an expression of sedate and comely beauty, the impression of which I in vain tried to efface.  To my poetic fancy she seemed a near personification of Milton's "Nun"--

                     "devout and pure,
Sober, steadfast, and demure;
With sable stole of Cyprus lawn,
Over her decent shoulders drawn;"

whilst the sable stole which she wore, being in mourning, was truly befitting her grave and modest demeanour.

    After I had been in Mr. Robinson's employ a considerable time, he removed from Walshaw to Bent House, in Prestwich.  Here he had a small farm attached to his holding, and when they were busy in the hay, at his request, I willingly went over to help them during a week.  In some time after he disagreed with his farming man, and he then wished me to go to Bent House and undertake the man's work.  I hardly relished this; I was not satisfied of my ability to do the work as it should be done.  I liked my master, however, very well, and his lady, and their little daughter "Mittey," as we used to call her, when I carried her in my arms during the hay season; and as it was a pleasure for me to do anything which pleased my master, considering also that it was my duty to do so in every lawful thing, I consented, for a time, to resign Manchester and its attractions, and so take up my abode at Prestwich.  I set about doing my work in the best manner I could, and as "where there is a will, there is a way," I was not long in becoming tolerably handy about my business.  I had some notion how to clean a horse before, and I soon learned how to bed my master's neat tit down, and to rub the bits and stirrups, and sponge the saddle, and bridle, and girths.  In the shippon I was equally active, except at milking, which was done by one of the women.  Knife cleaning I had to learn, but that was easily done, whilst in the business of boot-and-shoe polishing, the instructions which Mr. W, had conferred on me came just to hand, as if this predicament had been foreseen.  Martha, the cook, a woman of mature age, was very kind to me, for I was generally cheerful and in good temper, and whenever she had to go anywhere after darkness set in, being afraid of "spirits," I had to go with her.  The other cook, who came after Martha left, was kind also; so that I thought cooks were the best creatures in the world.  Nancy, the nurse, got blamed, poor girl, for coming about the stable; whilst Sarah, the housemaid, a plain-looking, careful Yorkshire lass, soon left, and her place was supplied by Mary H., the daughter of a cottager residing close by, as thoroughly innocent and sweet-looking a damsel was Mary as ever stepped in England.  My mistress got me to clean the plate, and next she wanted me to wait at the table; but that was a thing I could never take up.  I was thinking of far other things, and always making some blunder, and at last Mary had to do it instead of me.  I had soon plenty of acquaintance in this new place; there was Robert B., who courted Mary, and young Tummus C., who trailed the wing after Nancy.  Then there were milk customers from Rooden Lane, and last, though not least to be thought upon, Old Wilde the farmer, whose daughter Mary always welcomed me to a seat by the fire.  My mistress, though I could not please her in all things, was a very kind and considerate lady towards me.  When I was attacked by a severe quinsy she attended me herself, blistered my throat, dressed the blister, prepared a gargle, and saw that I used it; in short, she did for me what none of my fellow servants could or would do, and she had the satisfaction of receiving my grateful thanks after a short but severe crisis.  My master and mistress were both young people, and a handsome couple they made, and with their two little ones, they presented a group the like of which is but seldom found in this world's scene.  My mistress was very orderly in her family arrangements, whilst my master was a steady man of business, though not always fortunate.  He made no parade of religion, but read prayers before the whole family every Sunday night.
 
    On one occasion my master and mistress went on a visit, during a week or so, leaving myself, the cook, and the housemaid at home.  One night the subject of fortunetelling was talked about as we sat on the hearth, and it was agreed that on the very next night I should accompany the women to a famous seer of that description, known by the name of "Limping Billy," who lived at Radcliffe Bridge.  The thing was to be quite secret, and so we got Mary Wilde and another woman to keep house whilst we were away, telling them, what indeed was true, that we were going over to Besses-o'th'-Barn, and would soon return.  So away we went on foot, and through Besses-o'th'-Barn, and over the top of Pilkington to Radcliffe, where we found the old conjurer domiciled up some steps in a back yard.  According to arrangement, the women entered the place at once, whilst I retired to get a cup of ale at a public house.  So I waited here some time, and when I supposed the secrets of futurity had been unveiled, I mounted the steps, and without much ceremony opened the door and entered the room.  If my recollection deceive me not, the apartment was a dimly lighted, roomy place, with a close musty smell.  Opposite the door stood a plain uncurtained bedstead, containing what appeared to be a bed, the colour of dirty sacking.  A table with some spoons and basins stood propped against the further wall, an old oaken chair occupied a dark corner, a miserable-looking fire glimmered in the grate, beside which, with his knees almost up to his chin, seated behind a dirty, sloppy table, with a single candle burning, or rather flickering, appeared the wizard.  My two companions sat with their backs towards me, and he with his bony fingers, taloned with long black nails, kept turning round and peering into a tea-cup, mumbling all the time words the meaning of which I could not comprehend.

    "Hooas theer?" said he, suddenly looking up and gazing full at me with a malicious and angry grin.

    "It's only me," I replied.

    "Hooa arto," shouted the conjurer, "an' wot dusto want?"

    "I'm waitin' o' these two young women," I replied.

    "Then goo an' wait sumweer elze," he said, in a still angry tone, "an' when they want'n the, they'n know wheer to find the."

    "Oh, it's only the lad 'at's comn wi' us," said one of the young women.

    "He may as weel wawk off at once," said the seer, "I'll do no bizniz while he's i'th' place."

    "Hee'l happen hav' his fortin towd," said the other girl.

    "Hee'l ha' no fortin towd heer to-neet," said the conjurer.

    "An' if it comes to that, I care no great deal either for you or your fortin," I said, pretty well satisfied with what I had observed, and coming out of the place.

    More mortified than disappointed, I awaited the arrival of the women in the street, when we adjourned to the public house, and whilst there partaking a glass of warm liquor, they told me that old Billy had caught me laughing, and was very angry at my daring to laugh in his presence.  I admitted that I certainly had been betrayed into a not very reverential feeling when I saw them listening so demurely whilst the old impostor peered into his dirty cup and mumbled his prognostics.  Nor, as I learned from various hints, was the result of their inquiry such as they had hoped it would be.  One of them could not hear anything whatever respecting a particular "old sweetheart," whose coming she had awaited during years, but who never came; whilst the other, whose cheeks were burning, and ears almost cracking, to be assigned to a certain "young man of a fresh complexion and light hair," was inexorably awarded, so said the cup, to one rather aged, stooping, and dark haired.  Neither of them, I found, was satisfied, and in order to dispel their evil bodings, I ridiculed old Bill and his trade until they joined me in laughing at their adventure as well as my own, and so in this lively mood we set off towards home, and arrived there better pleased with ourselves and our journey than we had at one time expected to be.  I may mention, that in the end, the one got married to her "old sweetheart," and the other to her "fresh complexioned" young fellow.  Whilst I was very near being a prophet, old Billy proved an impostor, and the mirth of our home walk was the wisest part of the whole affair.

    One day when returning from Manchester, I was overtaken in going up the Red Bank, by a heavy storm of wind and rain, and seeing before me an old woman muffled in her cloak, well, thought I, the old creature shall, at any rate, have a share of my umbrella, if she will.  So I walked up beside her and said, "Good mother, come and take shelter under this covering of mine," and I stepped short that she might come under, when at that moment looking up, she displayed a countenance the very type of angelic loveliness, so youthful, so abashed, so gentle, so innocent, and withal so serious, that I blamed myself for having accosted her in that abrupt manner, though with the best of intentions.

    "Lord, save us!" at length said I, "that I should have taken such an one as thee for an old woman!"  For as a country lad, I was in the habit of theeing and thouing my equals in years and condition.

    "You shouldn't try your jokes on strangers," she replied, with a look of reproof, and pausing in her gait that I might pass on.

    "If there be truth in human words," I said seriously, "I could not attempt to jest with thee."

    "Why not?" she inquired, "you seem rather apt at the thing."

    "Indeed I do often jest, like others of my condition, but if thou will believe me, I could not do so whilst looking on a face like thine."

    "How then could you pretend to have taken me for an old woman?"

    "I had not then marked thy bonny look, and the wind and the rain had caused thy cloak to be so muffled, hood over bonnet, that thou wert in a close guise.  Besides, speaking truly, I did think thou walked somewhat wearily up this hill; and I felt moved, for my own mother has travelled this road in many a storm; and I thought this is also somebody's mother, sure enough."  And then, when the fair being saw that I was moved, she gave a pardoning look, and said:

    "Well! since you do not intend to banter me, I will confess I did walk slowly, for I have a pain here," pressing her hand on her left side.

    "If, then, when thinking thou wert aged, I hastened to show thee kindness, surely now I find thee to be young, and passing fair also, I may be allowed to show thee respect.  See how the rain again pours, and how the wind blows, and how the leaves are swept from the hedges.  Trust me, lass, and walk on this quiet side, and I'll break the storm, never fear."

    And so I kept my stout umbrella to the wind, and she walked by my side, her golden hair scarcely ruffled by the wind.  And when there came a flash and an astounding roar of thunder, she stopped, trembled, and looked imploringly, and I drew her arm over mine, saying, "Trust God, and fear not.  He who hurls the bolt can avert the blow."

    Such was my first meeting, and such nearly the terms of my first conversation, with my beautiful Catherine--the daughter of a widow who kept a small farm in Crumpsall.

    The thunder soon rolled at a distance, the rain began to abate, the wind almost ceased, still, arm in arm, we proceeded until we arrived at the top of Smedley Lane, where there were stumps leading to a footpath across the meadows, and here we parted, but not before an appointment had been made for a second meeting.

    Oft we met again, and took lonely walks in those pleasant undulating pastures, and when her mother came to know about our meetings, she said no one should marry her daughter who could not fetch her away on his own horse.  And thereat I felt abashed, I thought I was sure enough presumptuous, and that I had not any right to stand in the way of the old mother's expectations on behalf of her daughter; and so I said at one of our stolen interviews, "How shall this be, dear Catherine?" and she advised that for the present our meetings should be discontinued.  "My mother will become more reconciled," she said, "and we shall become older, and better settled in the world; meanwhile, let us not forget each other, but exchange tokens of affection, to be looked upon with kind remembrance when we are distant."  And we exchanged love tokens; and after a long interview, and many last words and turnings again, we parted, and I went to Prestwich very downcast, and wishing I had a farm and a horse of my own, that I could make a home for my dear Catherine.

 
CHAPTER XX.

OTHER SCENES.


SOON after this my master gave up his manufacturing concern and removed to Manchester, and after a short stay there, he commenced business as a shipbroker at Liverpool, where I believe he died.  On his leaving the Manchester trade, our late bookkeeper and salesman, Mr. W., began business himself, and I went with him as porter and warehouseman the same as before.  Our establishment was removed to High Street, and we did much business in prints and calicoes, both grey and white: a cheap bargain of any kind had always a good chance of being taken up by my employer.  Trade was now going very well, and vast sums of money were speedily realised by shrewd, active, and enterprising tradesmen, and of this class my employer was certainly one of the most remarkable.  I continued my poetic readings at all leisure moments.  I procured and read speedily a complete Iliad in English.  Some of Shakespeare's works having fallen in my way, I read them with avidity, as I did almost every other book, and though deeply interested by his historical characters and passages, I never either then or since relished his blank verse, or that of any other poet.  I never, as it were, could get the knack of it; and as compared with rhymed poetry, it has always seemed to me, indeed,


"Like the forc'd gait of a shuffling nag."


    If any one wishes to see a play performed he has only to walk the streets of Manchester, or any other of our large towns, and he may behold the perfection of either tragedy or comedy enacted by performers who need neither prompter, call-boy, nor rehearsal; but all coming and going as regularly as if the piece were a play "got up" and "put on the stage, as the phrase is, "put on ready for representation."  The scenes are admirably painted--the machinery perfect in its operations, of wonderful construction, and sometimes of most awful effect.  The actors might have been made for the performance of their several parts, so aptly do they go through them; whilst the dresses, decorations, and all the accessories of the piece, are sure to be wonderfully befitting.  And with such a stage as this, with its ever-varying reality before our eyes, who can require sham repetition as an after-part?  Not I at any rate.

    Milton's miscellaneous works were still my favourites.  I copied many of his poems into a writing book, and this I did, not only on account of the pleasure which I felt in their repetition, and in the appropriation, so to speak, of the ideas, but also as a means for the improvement of my handwriting, which had continued to be very indifferent.  The Odyssey and Æneid, which I also procured and read about this time, seemed tame and languid, whilst the stirring call of the old Iliadic battle trumpet was ringing in my ears, and vibrating within my heart.  In short, I read or attentively conned over, every book I could buy or borrow, and as I retained a pretty clear idea of what I read, I became rather more than commonly proficient in book knowledge, considering that I was only a better sort of porter in a warehouse.

    I was now a strong, active young fellow, fast rising into a man, with somewhat of a will and away of my own; and with a coolness of thought, and a steadfastness of purpose, increasing with my years, and strengthening with my strength.  I had not yet become a beer drinker, but I could take my half pot of porter whilst at work on a hot day without feeling the effects of the liquor, and though I was not in the least quarrelsome, but on the contrary was given to good-humoured jocularity, I would as lief almost have had a battle on my hands, in a right cause, as have been without one; and so in this line I not unfrequently met with some rough amusement.  I kept still, however, adhering to my simple habits and diet, working my work promptly, and perhaps zealously, and giving the remainder of my time to the reading of my favourite authors, to country strolls at eventide, or on Sundays, or to a good swim or two in season at Sandy Well or Broughton Ford, with my acquaintance.  Seldom did my inclination or my connections lead me to the theatre.  That sort of thing did not please me; there was too much of tinsel and clap-trap, too little of reality, of thorough natural freshness for my taste.  And when I did go, I never came away without an impression which spoiled all the rest, that I had been witnessing a delusion.  Neither my spare hours, therefore, nor my loose change were often spent at the play-house; my home-goings were consequently more early and regular than they other wise might probably have been.  I went to rest betime, and rose clear-headed, and with a strength and buoyancy of limb that mocked toil and weariness.  My breakfast was generally a basin of milk, with a good thick slice round a loaf toasted and soaked in.  My dinner I either took at the cook's shop at the corner of Brown Street, where the Commercial Hotel now is, or at the pie-house in Cockpit Hill, where in repay for my free and cheerful discourse with the old lady, and my gentle deference to the daughter, I was frequently offered the use of a plate and knife and fork, and those were favours not accorded to many.  My supper would be bread and milk again. My bed was a very humble but cleanly one, in the upper room of a tall sombre-looking tenement occupied by one widow Pick-Lip and her daughter--a little pale, prim, automatic, fastidious body, whose only solace now was in the artless prattle of her young unfathered child.  The house was situated in a strangely isolated yard, bounded on all sides by a high wall, or by the back walls of other houses, and approachable only by a narrow covered passage closed by a door, and leading out of another long alley called Ditchfield Court, which latter place was accessible only by steps from that end of that quaint and antique old street called Long Mill Gate, which emerges in the open space, formerly known as The Apple Market, close to the Old Church.

    From this part of the town, Strangeways, Broughton, and the Cheetham Hill road being the most ready outlets into the country, it not unfrequently happened that my steps almost involuntarily took the direction of the latter quarter, and that on many occasions when I merely purposed to stroll as far as Smedley or Cheetwood, I found myself lingering upon and retracing the footpaths on which Catherine and I had so often strayed.  A feeling of profound but benignly soothing melancholy was at these times ever present, humbling my heart and straightway reassuring it

"Wounding as it were to cure,
 Strength'ning only to endure."
     

    On one of these occasions, when these sadly solacing communings, protracted until night, found me wandering like something lost, I was recalled to consciousness by the barking of a dog, and the flashing of a light, and the clapping to of a gate, through which I saw Catherine pass swiftly towards a dwelling at a short distance from the one she had left, which was her mother's.  I took my station under a hedge and awaited her return, and when she approached, I gave the same low whistle which she had often heard before, and she stopped, holding up the lanthorn, and exclaiming, "Bless us, lad! can that be you?"  I came from my covert and convinced her it was myself, come I scarcely knew how or why, as I said, but hoping against despair that I might once more catch a glimpse of her dear form through the window, or hear her voice, or at least see some one of the family who I knew had seen her, and then I could return contented.  "Indeed," she said, taking the hand which I extended, "you are very kind; but how cold you are--you have been out in the dew until you are wet and starved: wait a few minutes, and I will make an excuse to come out again; I have something to tell you."  And with that she disappeared through the gate, and went into the house.  She was as good as her word.  In a short time I heard her well-known step, and went to meet her, and as I modestly embraced her, and expressed a thousand thanks for this token of her kindness and confidence, she bade me hush, and leading me beneath some trees, said she believed me to be worthy of her confidence, even of her affection, or she should not have met me again, but that her stay must be short, and that this meeting would perhaps be our last as lovers.

    It would be of little use were I to attempt to narrate the particulars of all that was said on that mournful occasion.  The conversation of lovers is seldom interesting to any save themselves.  I urged, I pleaded, I besought, I even reproached and again pleaded, with every persuasive which my unpractised but heart-bursting emotion could pour forth, in order to induce her to say that we should once more live for each other, but in vain.  All she would promise was that this should not be our final parting, but that, whatever might be the consequence, she would meet me once more.

    The simple-minded but tenacious girl made known to me, however, in the most kindly and confiding manner, the circumstances which had induced her thus unexpectedly to sacrifice our mutual happiness.  She, like the girls at Prestwich, had been trying to look into futurity, and had given ear to the prophecies of an old fortune-telling woman, who said "it was not our fate to be united," "that if the connection was not broken off one of us would die," "that an evil star was in the table of our destiny," "that, in fact, if the acquaintance was continued, I should prove false in the end."  "And so," added the distressed and almost terrified girl, "what must be, must be."  "It is of no use striving against the decrees of Providence."  "It is a great misfortune, but it might have been worse; we can still esteem each other, nay, love each other as dear friends, even meet each other as friends in passing through the world, and surely that will be enough.  If we can each be certain of one true 'friend in need and indeed,' we shall be fortunate after all."

    When I tried to reason her out of her delusion, she informed me that the old woman was "infallible," and that before she gave a final decision she always had access to the body of a lady which lay embalmed in one of the rooms of a certain great house which stood on the roadside leading to Manchester, and that whatever she in consequence foretold, it was useless to attempt to evade.

    And so, with one fond embrace, and mutual prayers that God would protect and bless us through life, we again parted, and I, with my heart somewhat consoled by the assurance of meeting her once more, returned to my quiet and solitary old domicile.

    I now became moody and melancholy, brooding over my ill success in courtship, and wondering how it happened that love like mine should go unrequited.  I felt piqued also, and my pride was wounded, that the fiat of an old woman should have had more influence than all my entreaties.  In my intercourse with the fair sex, the emotions of the heart had hitherto been my only offering, and now the unworthy surmise first occurred that the offering had been too pure, that the heart and the imagination alone of man could not suffice for womankind, that the beings I had adored were not so entirely divine as my poetry had painted them, and that, if I would be really loved with a womanly love, mine must be of a less ethereal nature than it had hitherto been.  This notion I found to be the confirmed opinion of some of my more experienced acquaintance, who laughed at my simplicity, and with this dangerous and debasing impression on my mind, I began to think there would be but little sin in my acting differently from what I had done.  That persuasion had an immediate and injurious effect on my conduct, and the consequences soon followed.

    I first set about ridding myself of the influence which every female, in whatsoever degree, had upon my feelings.  I resolved to love them all alike, and never more to give to woman the power of inflicting pain such as I had endured.  With the aid of pride, which I summoned to my assistance, and a strong resolve to be free, I flattered myself that I had accomplished this feat pretty soon, and I began to breathe with greater confidence.  From all the female sex I had taken a distance, one was as near to me as another, and none were near enough to wound.  I could gaze on beauteous woman without emotion; I could converse with her in terms of the coolest civility, whereas my heart-movings would in past times have embarrassed my utterance.  I was no longer her slave; and the only duty I thenceforward acknowledged as owing to her was to protect and please her, and in return, when so disposed, to accept of her endeavours to please.  But never again was she to have my happiness at her disposal.  So I became, as I thought, a free-and-easy young fellow, with few things to care about save the performance of my labour, the receipt of my wages, and the partaking of such amusements as my humble means afforded.  A dangerous position was this for youth of my present turn of mind to occupy.  My father, whom I frequently called to see, never failed to give me the best of advice, and I deferred to it for the moment, but seldom did its influence long remain after I had quitted his presence.  To three points of his advice, however, I have, I hope, adhered through life, namely, to stand up for the right and fear not, to be inflexibly honest, to avoid all approach towards presumptuous assurance, and rather endeavour to be marked for solid worth.

    Hitherto "fond and sinless love" had been my protection against many temptations, but now that was gone I found myself beset with inducements to vice which I had previously deemed not worth a thought.  There was a void in my existence, and it required to be filled up by some means.  Small tipples of ale became not unfrequent; my company keeping was more promiscuous; my conversation less modest; and my deportment less reserved.  Irreverent thoughts would obtrude whether at church or chapel, and those places became mere rendezvous, where this one might be seen, or that one might be found, or where an hour or two might be spent as at a theatre, in the show of fine clothes, and hearing the drone of tranquillising music.  In short, I was fast ripening into a graceless young ruffian, loving no one as I could once have loved; beloved by no one as I would have been beloved; and preserving only so much of self-respect as guaranteed my integrity, and the performance of my duties to my employer.

    But a new allurement now crossed my path, and had it not been that the instrument for trial was just the one it was, my demoralisation might have taken a decided and fearful course.

    One night, as I was proceeding home, a woman of the town took hold of my arm, and desired me to go with her.  I had never been so accosted before, and as she walked on with me the thoughts of being seen with such an one at my side covered my cheeks with burning shame.  Confiding, however, in my own self-control, I took the dangerous resolve of hearing what she had to say, and of observing what she would do.  I therefore suffered her to continue her conversation, and she led me into less frequented streets, and by back corners, where under the shroud of darkness her blandishments had well-nigh shaken my virtuous resolves.  Something she said about "the sweet air of the country," when I asked her if she came from the country? and on her replying that she did, I questioned her as to where she came from, and did not my ears tingle, and my heart leap, when she said "from Middleton."  "Ah!" I said, "I come from Middleton."  "Did I?" what was my name then?  I told her, when, uttering an exclamation of joyful surprise, she would have smothered me with caresses.  I next questioned her as to her name, and seemingly incredulous, she asked me if I really did not know her?  I assured her I did not, and she wept to think, as she said, that she should have carried me in her arms when I was an infant, and now that we should meet here and I did not know her.  Who could she be?  I again asked, and she mentioned a name at the hearing of which I almost sank to the earth.  She had been born and brought up at the house next door to that of my parents; she was the beloved child of their early friends and associates; she married when I was but an infant, and her husband, when I could run about, used to make whip-cord, and kites, and banding to fly them with for me.  I knew the man well at that time; he was still living, and it not unfrequently happened that I was in his company when I went over to Middleton.  I was disgusted with myself and her.  I shuddered at the sin which I had well-nigh committed, though she would have continued her blandishments, and even pressed me for an assignation at another time.  But my soul revolted, and I got rid of her by paying for a glass of hot liquor at "The Dangerous Corner" public house.  Dangerous indeed.

 
CHAPTER XXI.

OLD FEELINGS AWAKENED--A VISIT, AND OTHER MATTERS.


FORTUNATELY, however, for me, I was for the present somewhat recalled from this unsettled course of life by an incident which, though trifling in itself, gave a startling impulse to my dormant feelings.  A young woman, an acquaintance of, and near neighbour to, Mima, my young Middleton favourite; accosted me one day in the streets of Manchester, and reproached me for having, as she said, forgotten the little maiden, who, she gave me to understand, still retained a tender remembrance of former days.  Was that true? was it possible that she could cherish a kind recollection of one who had been so long absent?  I asked.  She said it was even as she had stated.  This moved the old pulses of my heart, and awoke that tender feeling of regard which had been too long dormant.  I entrusted the young woman with a kind message to Mima, confirming it with a small token which I thought would be acceptable, and I did not forget to make a present of a gay ribbon to the bearer of this unhoped-for but welcome information.  I now resolved to see my fair agitator, at all events, and to learn from herself, frankly and promptly if possible, whether or not our former friendship was to be renewed, or abandoned at once and for ever.  I therefore went to Middleton the Sunday following, and as Fortune I suppose was just at that time not in a humour for throwing impediments in my way, I obtained an interview with the object of my solicitude, and besides finding her as modest and bewitching as ever, the very model of a little head-bowed, health-flushed Hebe, a lily rose-tinted, I had the ineffable pleasure of receiving in her own words, with every grace of maidenly shame, an acknowledgment that I had long been, and still was, regarded with a more than friendly interest by her.  This was enough for the present, and after making arrangements whereby we might correspond by letter, I bade adieu to the dear little girl, and walked back to Manchester in a state of mind to which I had long been a stranger.  I felt that in this transaction I had, in fact, only performed a duty: that my early love had after all the most rightful claim to my affection; that she was in every respect worthy of it; and that, in this instance as in many others, the performance of duty had been my guide to happiness.  I was again as deeply in love as ever, only this time I was serenely contented; my confidence was greater, the void in my heart was filled, and I was happy.

    I had been of opinion for some time, that my services to Mr. W. were worthy of an increased remuneration, and I mentioned the matter, but my employer could not be prevailed upon to adopt my views, and so after the expiration of a month's notice I left his service.

    It was about this time that on going home one evening, I saw a young fellow beating a girl in the street.

    "Hallo, you fellow," I said, "what are you abusing that girl for?"

    "What's that to you?" said the blackguard.

    "I'll let you see what it is to me if you lay a finger on her again."

    "Oh, you will, will you," said he; "come on then."

    So we set to, and in five minutes I beat him till he was dizzy and had enough.  I then led the girl from the crowd, and as we were going she told me he had beaten her because she could not supply him with money for his night's revel.  Was he her husband then? I asked.  She said he was not, and gave me to understand that she was an unfortunate girl, and that he had latterly been supported from the wages of her prostitution.  "He wanted some to-day," she said, "whereas I have not tasted meat since yesterday morning."

    "Not tasted meat?"

    "Not one crumb," said the girl, wiping her bleeding mouth and tear-wet cheeks; "not one single crumb has passed my lips."

    "If that be the case," I said, "thou hadst best come this way;" and so I led her to a cook's shop, where according to her choice, she had a plate of hot pie, which I paid for and left her eating it.

    "Did I not promise that I would meet you once more," said a gentle voice, as I stepped into the street.

    "Good heavens!  Catherine!" I said, "is that you."

    "It is even me, and I have now redeemed my promise."  "Did you see me go in here?" I said.

    "I saw both you and your companion go in," she said; "I marked you coming down the street."

    "Dear Catherine, you seem unwell--you are agitated; let us seek a more suitable place."

    "This place is very suitable, for all I now have to say is--to bid you good-bye."

    "Shall I not go with you?" I asked.

    "No, I have company here," she replied, pointing to an elderly woman who stood at a short distance.  "Farewell," she added, "Old Lissy might have been further mistaken;" and with that she stepped over to the old woman, and they both went down the Mill-Gate--one of them looking back, as I perceived, ere they finally disappeared.

    Poor Catherine!  Three months previously I could not have believed that a meeting and parting of ours could have taken place with so little emotion on my side.

    It was now the season when Middleton wakes was approaching, and as Mima would have to come to Manchester to buy a new gown, we arranged in all the simplicity of our hearts, that she should call at my lodgings, when I would accompany her in shopping, and afterwards see her on the way towards home.  I gave my landlady to understand that a young woman, "my cousin, from the country," would be there that day.  Well, I waited all the morning, but Mima came not; all the noon, but there was no appearance of the expected one.  Two, three, four o'clock were gone, and unable to rest I kept passing and repassing from my lodgings to the street and back again; still my "dove appeared not at the window;" and during a pang which was not to be borne, I rushed into the street, and paced, very probable like one deranged, two or three times across the Baron's yard.  In a few minutes I controlled myself sufficiently to return, and was preparing to stride desperately the steps of the entry, when, looking up, who should be coming down, agitated and trembling, but the dear one who had caused all my uneasiness.  "Eh, Mima!"  "Eh, Samhul!" were our only exclamations, as we stood gazing on each other, unable for a moment to reciprocate any other token of pleasure.  My old landlady and one or two old neighbour women stood at the upper end of the court, eyeing us and our motions with the knowing curiosity for which persons of their condition are remarkable.  "She's Samhul's cousin from the country," said my landlady.  "Nay," replied another, "yonder are no cousins."  "If they are cousins," remarked a third, "they're cousins an' something else besides."

    I wished Mima to stop and have tea, but she declined, not liking the scrutiny of the old women, who had been putting questions to her when she went up the court to inquire for me.  Besides she had two young girls with her whom she had left waiting in the churchyard, so I went with her and we found the girls, and after shopping and looking through the town, we returned and rested at Tinker's Gardens, then a sweet bowery place, and still as solitude on that week-day afternoon.  Here we took refreshment in one of the secluded arbours, and whilst our two young companions strolled round viewing the gardens, I and my fair one had a most agreeable opportunity for expressing all that our full hearts permitted us to say.  As night approached, we left this pleasant place, and I escorted my company into the new high-road which was then in the course of formation betwixt Manchester and Middleton.  We knew not how to part, and I kept going further and further until we arrived at Middleton, where having seen Mima and her companions within a few yards of home, I left them and returned to Manchester with as much happiness in my heart as a human being could experience and live.

    The ensuing wakes at Middleton was probably celebrated with a greater degree of finery and a more plenteous hospitality than it had ever been before, or has been since: besides banners, groves of evergreen, garlands of flowers, and dancers numerous, not fewer than six bands of music paraded the town, and eleven rush-carts.  But Mima and I left all the gaud, and the music, and the wonder-seeing crowd, to have our lone walks in the woods.  To us the wakes and everything connected with it appeared as vanity unworthy of human thought.  Mima took her milking cans and I went with her, but when we got to the woods the kine were not to be found, so we left the cans at the milking booth--a shed of wattles--and a most pleasant excursion we had in search of the cows, and after rambling long, often, indeed, forgetful of the beasts, we found them at last, in a shady hollow, licking the tender herbage that fringed a little rill.  So we drove them to the booth and Mima milked them, and then with her cans, one in the other and gracefully balanced on her head, we returned to the crowded street and separated.  That evening; however, we had another and a longer walk.  Turning away from "vanity fair," we sought the lone bypaths and sweet meadows of Hopwood, where, whilst the jingle and hubbub sounded afar off, we

"Wander'd by the greenwood-side,
     And heard the waters croon;
 And on the bank beside the path,
     For hours thegither sat,
     In the silentness of joy."

And many a time since that happy eve have the same twain been seated on that "Bank beside the path," in the muteness of sorrow, as well as "In the silentness of joy."

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NOTES.

 
9. Usually known as "Simnel Cake" and "Simnel Sunday."  Bamford wrote the name as he heard it pronounced.  It occurs in Herrick's ' "Hesperides" (1647)—

"I'll to thee a simnel bring
 'Gainst thou go a-mothering,"

    Mid-Lent being Mothering Sunday.

 
10. Written in 1848, when the Chartist agitation collapsed.  The charter consisted of "six points."

 
11. A kind of cymbal.

 
12. The average price of wheat in 1800 was 110s. 5d. per quarter. It rose to 115s. 11d. in 1801, and fell to 67s. 9d, in 1502.
 
13. The peace of Amiens, March, 1802. War was declared again in May, 1803.
 
14. Founder (1797) of the Methodist New Connexion.

 



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