Passages in the Life of a Radical (7)
Home Up Biographical Walks Tim Bobbin Poetry Glossary Literary Reviews etc. Main Index Site Search
 


 

[Previous Page]
 

 
CHAPTER XV.

A NIGHT JOURNEY: ITS OBJECTS AND REMINISCENCES—MUSIC AND POETRY—REDBURN—CHATTERTON—LONDON—BOW STREET.


THE night was gleamy and starlight; and as the coach dashed forward we soon entered upon what seemed a pretty rural country.  Now we passed a large substantial-looking farm house, with its homestead; now a loving couple were overtaken walking arm in arm by some deep and bowered lane; next the mirth of home-wending youths would be heard; or mayhap the strains of a devout hymn from some chapel-comers.  Anon a white cottage would lend us a blink from its cheerful hearth.  Ah! what a paradise seems the lowliest shed when viewed from the vista of a prison door, how enviable appear the humblest mortals that walk abroad of their own free will, and what a dove-nest is that where a fair hand is seen closing the white chamber curtains for the night!  Yes, it is at such moments, and under impressions produced by such objects, that we can best appreciate the blessings of the poorest hearth, of the humblest home, in which, as I have before intimated, if there be contentment, happiness will surely abide.  Wise indeed is he, and wealthy beyond all riches, who enjoys with a thankful heart the blessings, few though they be, which he finds bestowed on his humble estate; remembering gratefully that "better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."  But we seldom find out these things until it be too late: we count not our jewels perhaps until the dearest are lost.

    Our party of four was now inside the coach, and we began to sing.  Ridings, who understood music, gave one or two pieces with a pathos and solemnity which I never heard expressed before.


"Glory to thee, my God, this night,"


brought the singing parties of our own homes to our recollection; and we all participated in the emotions of our amiable and talented musician.  O'Connor sometimes laughed, sometimes cried like a child; at last he broke out into that mournful lament—


"Where is my cabin-door fast by the wild wood?
     Sisters and sire, did ye weep for its fall?
 Whore is the mother that look'd on my childhood?
     And where is my bosom-friend, dearer than all?
 Oh! my sad soul, long abandon'd by pleasure,
 Why didst thou dote on a fast-fading treasure?
 Tears, like the rain-drop, may fall without measure,
     But rapture and beauty they cannot recall."


To which we all responded as chorus—


"Where is my cabin-door, fast by the wild wood?"


    Morning at length broke, and as we approached the dark woods and green meadows of Woburn, I gave my


SERENADE.


The grey dawn of morning is spreading on high;
And Venus is glowing so bright in the sky;
The cattle are lowing, the tender lambs bleat;
Arise, dearest Mary, before it be late.

The sweet-scented blossom is cover'd with dew;
The flowers of the field are perfumed anew;
The blithe birds are singing on ev'ry green tree;
Arise, dearest Mary, and come unto me.

Thy breath is more sweet than the breeze of the morn;
The lily's pure white doth thy bosom adorn;
Thy look is as bright as the beaming of day;
Oh! come dearest maid, to thy true love away,


    Lancashire also sung a sweet and simple melody to words somewhat like the following:


"I wonder why my love is cold,
     Whilst I so kind would be?
 I would give hoards of countless gold,
     To win thine heart from thee.
 To win thy love, my beauteous maid,
     And find it ever true:
 One thousand jewels, too, were thine,
     That flash like sun-bright dew."


    We breakfasted at Redburn, a small village, which takes its name from a clear, sedgy stream, immortalised by the unfortunate Chatterton, and said, with much probability of truth, to have been reddened with blood at the great battle of St. Albans.

    At this place we breakfasted, washed, and made ourselves as decent as we could, preparatory to our entrance into London.  O'Connor's legs were swelled, and the chains gave him much pain.  A few miles short of London the coach stopped at a road-side public house, where, whilst taking a little porter, my companions had an opportunity for conferring, without the immediate presence of our conductors.  I then found they were afraid of each other, and that they expected nothing less than a trial, and a conviction on the evidence of some one or two of the party.  I endeavoured to unite them, and persuaded them to say as little as possible when examined by the Secretary of State; and at length they agreed to say, that the meetings they had attended were to raise subscriptions for the families of prisoners, and of those who had left the country in consequence of the Suspension Act.  This they were to admit and abide by; and each pledged himself to be faithful to the agreement, and then we all went on again with confidence and satisfaction.

    We arrived in London about twelve o'clock, and were immediately conveyed to Bow Street, which was filled with people before we could be got off the coach.  We were placed in a decent room our irons were immediately removed, and most of us wrote home to our families.  A gentleman named Capper was introduced, and I thought he seemed to scrutinise us very much.  Sir Nathaniel Conant, an elderly and respectable looking gentleman, also came in, and informed us that Lord Sidmouth could not see us that day, and that we should be well provided for at a house in the neighbourhood.  Soon afterwards we were conducted in couples to a room prepared at the Brown Bear public house, opposite; where, after supper, the doctor amused ourselves and keepers (who were eight or ten police officers) with several recitations in his most florid style.  Messrs. Williams and Dykes came and brought with them a friend, and they each seemed much entertained.  Mr. Perry, one of the chief officers at Bow Street, afterwards entered, and apologised for having to submit us to what might be a small inconvenience.  It was customary, he said, to secure prisoners during the night by a chain, and he hoped we should take it as a mere matter of form; we expressed our readiness to submit to whatever restraint might be deemed necessary.  Small chains being produced, myself, Lancashire, and Healey were fastened together, and the other five were in like manner secured, after which we continued our amusements during an hour or two, and then went to rest on beds in the same room, still secured by chains to the bedposts, and to each other.

    On the following morning our kind conductors, the messengers, again came to see us, and furnished some of the party with clean linen; other articles of dress were not withheld to such as wanted them most.  John Lancashire and the doctor were completely changed in appearance, and came forth dapper, smart young fellows.  To all, except myself and O'Connor, something was furnished: we were probably excepted, not because our apparel was better than that of the others, but because it was in a more careful condition, and we had also put on clean linen before we left home.  The kindness of Messrs. Williams and Dykes made, I am sure, a strongly grateful impression on the minds of the whole of their prisoners; and I may also add that the demeanour of the Bow Street officers was, without exception, such as might be expected from men who knew their duty, and had the full power to perform it.  It presented a striking contrast to the conduct which was at that time generally practised by men of the same station at Manchester.


 
CHAPTER XVI.

THE PRIVY COUNCIL—LORD SIDMOUTH—SIR SAMUEL SHEPHERD—LORD CASTLEREAGH—ANECDOTE OF THE DOCTOR—COLDBATH FIELDS PRISON—THE UNION HYMN—CONTENTMENT NOT INCOMPATIBLE WITH PATRIOTISM—MORAL.


ABOUT four o'clock in the afternoon we were conveyed in four coaches to the Secretary of State's office at Whitehall.  On our arrival we were divided into two parties of four and four, and each party was placed in a separate room.  A gentleman now appeared, who asked severally our names and occupations, which he wrote in a book, and then retired.  In a short time another person came and called my name, and I rose and followed him along a darkish passage.  I must confess that this part of the proceedings gave rise to some feelings of incertitude and curiosity, and brought to my recollection some matters which I had read when a boy about the Inquisition in Spain.  My conductor knocked at a door and was told to go in, which he did, and delivered me to an elderly gentleman, whom I recognised as Sir Nathaniel Conant.  He asked my christian and surname, which were given: he then advanced to another door, and desiring me to follow him, he opened it, and, bowing to a number of gentlemen seated at a long table covered with green cloth, he repeated my name and took his place near my left hand.  The room was a large one, and grandly furnished, according to my notions of such matters.  Two large windows, with green blinds and rich curtains, opened upon a richer curtain of nature—some trees, which were in beautiful leaf.  The chimney-piece was of carved marble, and on the table were many books; and several persons sat there assiduously writing, whilst others fixed attentive looks upon me.  I was motioned to advance to the bottom of the table, and did so: and the gentleman who sat at the head of the table said I was brought there by virtue of a warrant issued by him in consequence of my being suspected of high treason; that I should not be examined at that time, but must be committed to close confinement until that day se'nnight, when I should again be brought up for examination.  Meantime, if I had anything to say on my own behalf, or any request to make, I was at liberty to do so; but I must observe they did not require me to say anything.

    The person who addressed me was a tall, square, and bony figure, upwards of fifty years of age, I should suppose, and with thin and rather grey hair; his forehead was broad and prominent, and from their cavernous orbits looked mild and intelligent eyes.  His manner was affable; and much more encouraging to freedom of speech than I had expected.  On his left sat a gentleman whom I never made out; and next him again was Sir Samuel Shepherd, the Attorney-General, I think, for the time, who frequently made use of an ear trumpet.  On Lord Sidmouth's right, for such was the gentleman who had been speaking to me, sat a good-looking person in a plum-coloured coat, with a gold ring on the small finger of his left hand, on which he sometimes leaned his head as he eyed me over—this was Lord Castlereagh.

    "My lord," I said, addressing the president, "having been brought from home without a change of linen, I wish to be informed how I shall be provided for in that respect until I can be supplied from home?"  The Council conferred a short time, and Lord Sidmouth said I should be supplied with what ever was necessary.  I next asked, should I be allowed freely to correspond with my wife and child, inform them of my situation, and to receive their letters, provided such letters did not contain political information?

    "You will be allowed to communicate with your family," said his lordship; "but I trust you will see the necessity of confining yourself to matters of a domestic nature.  You will always write in the presence of a person who will examine your letters; you will, therefore, do well to be guarded in your correspondence, as nothing of an improper tendency will be suffered to pass.  I speak this for your own good."

    "Could I be permitted to have pen, ink, and paper in prison?" I asked; "and could I be allowed to keep a small day-book, or journal, for my amusement?"

    "It is an indulgence," was the reply, "which has never been granted to any State prisoner; and as I do not see any reason for departing from the established rule, I should feel it my painful duty to refuse it."

    I said I had heard that the Suspension Act contained a clause securing to State prisoners the right of sending petitions to Parliament; and I wished to be informed if there were such a clause.

    His lordship said the Suspension Act did not contain any such clause, but the power to petition would be allowed by his Majesty's ministers, and I should have that liberty whenever I thought proper to use it.  I bowed and retired.

    The other prisoners were then severally called in and informed of the cause of their arrest, in the same terms that I had been; and that they would be again examined on that day se'nnight.  All of them afterwards declared they had not made any statement or disclosure of any description; but that, according to the agreement mentioned, they had remained silent as to the purpose of their meetings.  One characteristic incident was, however, said to have occurred before the Privy Council.  On the doctor being asked how he spelled his surname, he answered in broad Lancashire, "Haitch, hay, haa, l, hay, y" (H, e, a, l, e, y), but the pronunciation of the e and a being different in London, there was some boggling about reducing the name to writing, and a pen and paper were handed to him.  The doctor knew that his forte lay not in feats of penmanship any more than in spelling; and to obviate any small embarrassment on that account, he pulled out an old pocket-book, and took from it one of his prescription labels, on which the figures of a pestle and mortar were imposed from a rudely engraved plate, and these words, "Joseph Healey, Surgeon, Middleton.  Plase take — tablespoonfuls of this mixture each — hours."  This he handed to Lord Sidmouth, who, as may be supposed, received it graciously, looked it carefully over, smiled, and read it again, and passed it round the Council table.  Presently they were all tittering, and the doctor stood quite delighted at finding them such a set of merry gentlemen.  The fact was, the first blank had been originally filled with a figure of two, "Plase take 2 tablespoonfuls," &c., but some mischievous wag had inserted two ciphers after the figure, and made it read "200 tablespoonfuls of this mixture each two hours."  However it was, the doctor certainly imbibed a favourable opinion of the Council.  The circumstance was supposed to have transpired from his own lips; and I certainly had seen such a card in his possession before he went to London, but I never saw it afterwards.

    In the same vehicle which brought us to the Home Office, we were next taken to the prison at Coldbath Fields, and placed in the inner lodge until a ward could be got ready for our occupation.  O'Connor, who was unwell, and whose legs were swollen and painful from the gout and his chains, was taken from us and put into a sick ward, as was also Robert Ridings, who was likewise in delicate health, and who, being already incipiently consumptive, died soon after his return, from colds, as he thought, taken during his journey homewards.

    Whilst we were in the lodge, Evans the younger, one of the London reformers—who, as well as his father, was confined in this prison under the Suspension Act—came to the gate to speak with a friend, Samuel Drummond also, who has been mentioned as being apprehended at the Blanket meeting, was walking in a courtyard, seemingly in good health and spirits.

    When our place was ready a turnkey conducted the six of us who remained together through a number of winding passages to a flagged yard, into which opened a good room, or cell, about ten yards in length and three in width.  On each side of the room were three beds, placed in what might be termed wooden troughs; at the head of the room a good fire was burning, and we found a stock of coal and wood to recruit it at our pleasure.  There were also a number of chairs, a table, candles, and other requisites; so that, had it not been for the grating at the window above the door, and the arched roof, bound by strong bars of iron, we might have fancied ourselves to be in a comfortable barrack.  After surveying the place thoroughly, and striking the walls to ascertain if they were hollow, we stirred up the fire, drew our seats to the hearth, and spent the evening in conversing about our families and friends until the hour of rest, when we concluded by singing " The Union Hymn," which I led for that purpose.


THE UNION HYMN.


YE bards of Britain, strike the lyre,
    And sing the happy union;
In strains of patriotic fire,
    Oh I sing the happy union;
Not distant is the welcome day,
When woe, and want, and tyranny,
Shall from our isle be swept away:
The grand epoch of liberty
    Awaits a faithful union.

Oh! worthy is the glorious cause,
    Ye patriots of the union ;
Our fathers' rights, our fathers' laws,
    Await a faithful union.
A crouching dastard sure is he
Who would not strive for liberty,
And die to make Old England free
From all her load of tyranny;
    Up! brave men of the union.

Our little ones shall learn to bless
    Their fathers of the union.
And every mother shall caress
    Her hero of the union.
Our plains with plenty shall be crown'd;
The sword shall till the fruitful ground;
The spear shall prune our trees around;
And joy shall everywhere abound,
    To bless a nation's union.

Then Britain's prince shall truly reign;
    His subjects will defend him;
And, freed from loath'd corruption's train,
    Bright honour shall attend him.
Whilst foreign despots evermore
Shall venerate Old Albion's shore;
And war, with all its crime and gore,
Forgotten, and for ever o'er;
    Shall crown a nation's union.


    And now, whilst my fellow prisoners are sleeping—some probably agonised by visions of the scaffold and block, others again winging their souls homeward in sweet dreams—let us, my reader, discuss the spirit of the foregone hymn.  If thou sayest it is inconsistent with the advice to contentment which I have already given, I reply that a spirit of humble satisfaction with the good things a man hath, a full appreciation of the blessings he enjoys, is not by any means incompatible with fair means and honourable wishes for the obtainment of other good things which he hath not.  That there is a time and a means for all rightfully obtainable things, and that the industrious and patient man will sooner arrive at his ends by a beaten and legalised path, though he advances slowly, than will he who, breaking down all barriers, is himself broken down, as he must be, unless the nation become his pioneer; that the industrious and poor man best serves his country by doing his duty to his family at home;—that he best amends his country by giving it good children, and, if he have not any, by setting a good example himself;—that he best governs by obeying the laws, and by ruling in love and mercy his own little kingdom at home;—that his best reform is that which corrects irregularities on his own hearth;—that his best meetings are those with his own family by his own fireside;—that his best resolutions are those which he carries into effect for his own amendment and that of his household;—that his best speeches are those which promote "Peace on earth, and goodwill" towards mankind;—that his best petitions are those of a contrite heart, addressed to the King of Heaven, by whom they will not be despised, and those to the governors of the earth for the peaceable obtainments of ameliorations for his brother man; and that his best means for such obtainment is the cultivation of good feelings in the hearts and of good sense in the heads of those around him;—that his best riches is contentment;—that his best love is that which comforts his family;—that his best instruction is that which humanises and ennobles their hearts; and that his best religion is that which leads him to "Do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God."  Would he triumph? let him learn to endure.  Would he be a hero? let him subdue himself.  Would he govern? let him first obey.

    Should my reader, as I may almost expect, especially if he be a young and sanguine politician, feel as if I were presuming too much, let me remind him that at the time I am writing of I was in my thirtieth year, at my present writing in my fifty-third (well and hearty and free of wind and limb, thank God).  He may then perhaps allow that a close and somewhat severe experience of twenty-five years (say from 1815) entitles a man to have an opinion of his own, and to express it; if not, he has lived to very little purpose, either for himself or his fellow-beings.  May I not then say, in the language of the wise king of Israel, "Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding.  Exalt her, and she shall promote thee; she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her.  She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace; a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee."


 
CHAPTER XVII.

DESCRIPTION OF OUR PRISON—OUR FARE—OUR NEXT NEIGHBOURS—OTHER MATTERS.


ON the morning following we were aroused from sleep by a loud report of firearms, and soon afterwards the door of our room was opened, and a turnkey saluted us with a "good morning" and a "hope that we had slept well"; we thanked him, assured him we had, and he left us.  We now rose and put the place in order, washed ourselves, and took a survey of our department and its premises.  The door opened into a flagged yard, about twelve yards in length, by nine in width, and to which we descended by a couple of steps.  On the right and the front of the door the yard was bounded by high and strong palisades, beyond which was a large garden, bounded again by a lofty wall, above which we could see upper windows of buildings.  On our left we were separated from another yard by a wall about nine feet high; abutting upon it were a sewer, a water tap, and other conveniences.  A door was fixed in one corner of the wall, and near it was a second door, which led into the passages of the prison, whilst above our heads and along our front appeared the windows, strongly barred, of numerous cells, and the thoroughfares communicating with them.  Such was our position in this place, on viewing which as a prison we saw nothing to complain about.

    At breakfast time the turnkey again made his appearance, with another man, who took from a basket six loaves of bread of nearly a pound each, a pipkin containing two pounds of butter, a jar with two pounds of sugar, a canister with one pound of tea, six cups and basins, salt, plates, dishes, half a dozen knives and forks, a kettle, a pan, and other articles to complete a kitchen service, to which were added a wash-basin, soap, and clean towel, so that we began to look a little homely, and soon having the kettle boiling, we sat down to a comfort, cup of tea, wishing that those at home, and all others who deserved it, might have as good a breakfast as ourselves.  At noon we dined on a quarter of pork, with potatoes and other vegetables, to dilute which each man was allowed a pot of porter, and pipes and tobacco were added.  Our supper was tea and cold meat, and thus, so far as diet was concerned, we lived more like gentlemen than prisoners.  I recollect, however, one of the party shaking his head at what appeared to us profusion, and observing that he did not think any better of his own case for all that; "for," said he, "it's always the way here; when they intend to hang 'em, they let 'em have whatever they choose to eat or drink—only they will hang 'em at last."  This remark made an impression on some of my companions, and most of them seemed to be of opinion that all this kindness would prove only precursory to some terrible act of severity; and the idea was strengthened when, a few days after, on some of us requesting to have books to read, a Bible, a prayer-book, some tracts, and "sermons for persons under sentence of death" were put into our hands.

    But long before this one of our men had made a most interesting discovery.  He came in with surprise and joy in his countenance, and said "There were women in the next yard."  Another followed saying there were women indeed!  The question was asked, what sort? and we all ran to ascertain that point according to our several tastes.  The oldest man amongst us was speaking to one of them through the keyhole, and he had already commenced a negotiation for a kind of "friendly compact," which was soon agreed upon and ratified by both parties, by mutual congratulations and good wishes expressed through the keyhole.  They were, if I recollect aright, just the same number of women as we were of men—six, and they readily undertook to assist us in every possible way within their power.  They were to wash and darn whatever small articles we had that required it, and to do all our needlework generally, besides which they were to obtain and transmit to us all the information they could respecting ourselves, and to be faithful and secret in their communications.  They vowed, indeed, to be true friends, and we never had cause to doubt their word.  On our part we promised to keep faithfully their secret information, and to render them whatever services lay in our power, and we also kept our compact.  The signal when either party was wanted was to throw a piece of blue slate (of which several pieces lay in the yard) over the wall, when the other party was to repair to the keyhole and receive the communication.  Poor things! tears came into their eyes when we spoke to them in words of confidence and kindness, and they wept bitterly when we touched, as we were almost compelled to do, a more tender chord—when we asked about their former condition in life, and inquired respecting their fathers and mothers, their husbands or their children.  Some of our men almost promised to love them (a word of strange power over the heart of woman), and we could see a faint, hopeless smile when the head was turned aside, as if to look back on some recollections of former days.

    One alone was of matronly age; the others varied, I should think, from twenty to thirty.  Two had infants at the breast, and all of them were widows or married women.  Two had lost their husbands, who were officers, in the service of their country, and the husband of a third, also in a military capacity, was absent on a foreign station.  One or two had been seduced and deserted, and more than that number had disgusted their connections by becoming intemperate, after which they descended to poverty, crime, and disgrace.  All had been condemned to death, or to long terms of transportation, and they severally acknowledged that they narrowly escaped the fulfilment of their sentence only by urgent and powerful interest of most respectable connections.  None of them were less than good-looking; some were more than that, and two were remarkably fine women, for we could see their form and stature as they paced the yard at a distance from the door.  One of the young ones was a little dimpled, cherry-looking thing, but the melancholy of her eye was strangely at variance with the rosy health of her cheek.  One of them would tell of her poor old father in the country—of his ancient mansion, and the servants he had around him; another thanked God that her mother had, by death, escaped the affliction of seeing her disgrace; and another would talk of what her husband (her Henry, I think she called him) would do when he came home—how he would, after all, forgive her, "knowing it was distress," and get her liberated, and how they would be happy again, and she virtuous and ever affectionate.  Poor things! with such bright hopes and illusions they would amuse themselves, and they seemed consoled when we talked with them of such matters, and thereby helped them to relief by floods of tears.

    We too had our illusions—our thoughts of home, and our hopes, as well as our fears.  But our case at present wore a worse aspect than theirs; their periods of imprisonment were definite, and some of them soon to expire, whilst ours were all uncertainty.  They knew the worst; we knew nothing, save that we were in the power of those we had made our enemies.  Besides, they shook their heads and sighed when we talked about going home soon and leaving them.  They had heard us termed "the Lancashire rebels," and that we were to be tried for high treason, and the case was expected to go hard against us.

    I may, perhaps I ought to say that their demeanour justified us in crediting their account of themselves.  They were very friendly, but nothing more; they never, so far as I could learn, gave encouragement to improper freedom of speech; nor do I believe that any of our men greatly offended in that respect.

    After our first dinner we had a decent surplus of meat and vegetables left.  One asked, "What shall be done with these?" another said, "It would never do to send them back; if we did we should have so much less the day following."  "Cut it up for the women," said a third, and it was done: and we made them up as nice a little dinner as we could.  The meat, excellent pork, was reduced to slices, and put on a flat dish; the vegetables and bread, and all our other little trifles, were similarly disposed on another dish.  The slate, the ever welcome messenger, was then thrown over the wall, and they were presently at the door.  "Will you do us another favour?" asked our spokesman.  "With pleasure," was the reply.  "Look down then, and accept a trifle from our table."  A space below the door admitted this.  There was a scream of delight, and a "hush, hush," and the dishes were hurried away, emptied, washed, and returned in like manner, with ten thousand thanks for our remembrance of them.  How, indeed, could we have forgotten them, the poor, lost, cut-off, and world-despised beings?  After tea we did the same; we gave them plentifully of our stock—our tea, our sugar, our butter—bread they had.  They told us they secreted our gifts until they were locked up in their house and the turnkeys had retired for the night, when they set on a pan, brought their stores from their hiding-place, and had a feast that might have comforted a queen.

    The day following we did the same, and continued it.  We cut them up the remainder of a leg of mutton, weighing thirteen pounds and a half—with carrots, parsnips, and other condiments.  They informed us that there was astonishment in the governor's kitchen when the platters with the clean bones only were returned.  It was no wonder, the domestics said, "that the people of Lancashire rebelled if they were all starved, as they were sure they must have been, from the enormous quantities of meat we devoured."


 
CHAPTER XVIII.

THE AUTHOR'S ADVICE—ADOPTED AND ACTED UPON—SECOND EXAMINATION BEFORE THE PRIVY COUNCIL—VISITATION OF THE MAGISTRATES' COMMITTEE.


AFTER we had finished our first dinner, and had got seated with our pipes and allowance of porter, we set about making regulations amongst ourselves; the principal of which was that each was to become room's-man for the day, in turn, and, as such, servant to the others.  The reader will recollect that our party now consisted of James Sellers, Joseph Healey, John Lancashire, Nathan Hulton, John Roberts, and myself.  I now addressed them, saying I had a matter of some consequence to mention, and hoped they would consider it seriously, and act in their best discretion.  I said they well knew that, though I had been arrested and confined with them (providentially, it almost appeared to me), I had not, at any time, been connected with their secret meetings; and that both Lancashire and Healey could testify that I had always condemned such meetings—my maxim being, "Hold fast by the law."  That, consequently, I considered myself in small jeopardy compared with themselves, unless suborned and false witnesses were brought against me, which, however, the Government could doubtless procure if it chose.  I therefore viewed myself as standing on much better ground than I did them; they having been apprehended in the act of carrying on a secret meeting for unlawful purposes.  That such difference, however, now I was with them, should not prevent me from doing my best to render them a service, and with that view giving them my best advice.  They should remark, I said, that, either through the interposition of Providence, or the fatuity of the Government, they were (O'Connor and Ridings excepted, neither of whom were deeply versed in their private transactions) all together in one place.  That hitherto, as I understood from their conversations, none of them had been questioned by the Privy Council; and that consequently no admissions or declarations had been made to that body.  They all solemnly declared nothing had escaped from their lips.  Then I continued, "the pie-crust is yet whole, and you may keep it so."  I proposed that every day after dinner they should appoint a chairman, who should put such questions to them as he considered the Privy Council were likely to do at their next examination, supposing some one of their body to have given secret information.  That their replies should be deliberated upon, and determined accordingly; and those replies should be committed to memory, and, in substance, strictly adhered to at their next interview with the ministers.  That they would consequently all give the same account; all be of one party and of one mind; and that if Government brought them to trial, it would have to unmask its spies and informers, instead of making them fall by their mutual contradictions, mistrusts, and jealousies, which, as it seemed to me, the Government would prefer doing.

    They all declared it was the best of advice, and it was adopted with acclamation.  I would have retired, but they would not suffer me, and insisted that I should become their questioner.  I complied at length—put them through a catechising according to my poor ability—and established a set of replies, such as I thought would either answer or ward off any question they were likely to encounter.  The basis of the old tale was adopted; their meetings were to devise relief to persons who had fled from the Suspension Act, and to their families in their absence.  This was to be the skeleton; we stuffed and padded it in our own way, and threw over it a cloak of plausibility, which we thought the devil himself could not penetrate.  And so we continued day by day, catechising and drilling, until my fellows would, I believe, have stood before old Rhadamanthus without quail or fear.

    We now began to be much better satisfied with ourselves and each other; those thoughtful and suspicious looks which had hitherto indicated fear and mistrust were no longer observable.  Our time passed more agreeably; and, striving to amuse each other, we had no lack of songs, hymns, and love and family tales, with scraps of plots and insurrections, and droll blunders, which sometimes caused roars of laughter.

    About this time we discovered we had some little attendants upon us which we were extremely desirous to get rid of; how or where we picked them up we could not tell; but every man was infested, and we made it known to our attendant, who informed the governor, Mr. Atkins.  A more thorough or speedy removal could not have been effected anywhere; that, worthy and humane gentleman immediately caused all our bedding to be taken out, our room to be cleansed, new and clean bedding to be supplied, all our linen to be changed, and our other clothes to be carefully examined, and we felt no more of that nuisance.

    On the ninth of April we were conveyed in coaches, as before, to the Home Office, at Whitehall.  But let me apprise the reader that, not having the means for writing, and not being able to commit every particular to memory, I cannot pretend to furnish a verbatim report of my examinations, and shall only give the substance of what passed on those occasions.

    I was introduced to the Council with the previous formalities, and by the same person, Sir Nathaniel Conant.  Lord Sidmouth repeated what he had said on my first examination—viz., that I was arrested on suspicion of high treason, and that they were willing to hear what I had to say in reply.  I said I was not conscious of having deserved suspicion of treasonable practices, as, instead of being a promoter of violence and disturbance, I had always been a friend to peace and order; and, with that purpose, had used my little influence to the utmost amongst my neighbours.  That if his lordship was as well acquainted with the situation of the working people as I was, and with the conduct which I had pursued amongst them, he would see the justice, as well as the policy, of restoring me to my family.  I acknowledged I was a Parliamentary reformer, and always should be so until reform was obtained—that no circumstance or situation whatever could induce me to disavow my opinions—nay, I considered it as the pride and glory of my life to have, in some degree, merited the name of a reformer; but I never advocated its obtainment by violence.  That I had trusted, and endeavoured to inspire my neighbours with the like confidence, that when our grievances and sufferings were properly made known to Parliament, attention would be paid to them; that we had petitioned, but were not listened to.  That I could not tell how to account for this neglect, save by crediting the existence of corruption in the honourable House; but still I would not recommend its removal by violent means.  That I firmly believed reform would ultimately take place; circumstances occurring in their own due time which would induce his Majesty's ministers and Parliament to take the measure into consideration.  That I had always been an enemy to private meetings—had deprecated them as much as possible, believing that reform did not require privacy; and, finally, that, in my opinion, nothing save reform could preserve the country from revolution.  No questions were asked, and I was re-conducted as before.

    When the other prisoners had been severally introduced, we were conveyed to our old quarters; and the day following James Sellers was taken from our party, and put, as we understood, into the deputy-governor's house.

    In the course of this week we were visited by the magistrates appointed to examine the prison.  I was room's-man for the day, and was stripped, with sleeves rolled up, and washing some pots which had been used at our mess when the gentlemen entered the room, preceded by Mr. Beckett, the deputy- governor of the prison.  They bade us "good morning," and asked if we were comfortable.  We answered in the affirmative, at which they expressed satisfaction.  One of them, an elderly gentleman (Mr. Sketchly, I believe), asked Mr. Beckett, "which is Bamford?" and Mr. Beckett pointed me out.  The gentleman was pleased to compliment me, and said he understood I was a poet.  I thanked him for his favourable opinion, but disclaimed being a poet; I was only a country rhymester, I said, just capable of throwing a few doggerel verses together.  He asked how I received my education, as he understood I was but a poor man.  I said I did not pretend to much education—my father did, however, send me to school, where I was taught to read; I first began to write at a Sunday school, kept by the Methodists, and I afterwards went to other schools; but what little information I was possessed of had been chiefly acquired by my own reading and study.  He said he was sorry to see us in our present situation; it was a pity men should be so deluded.  I replied that we did not consider ourselves to be deluded men.  I, at any rate, did not suppose myself to be one.  I had not done any thing to repent of.  I had not said anything that I would not repeat again under the circumstances.  How was it possible, he asked, that we could be dissatisfied with the taxes.  Poor people paid no taxes; how could taxation operate on them?  I said, "Suppose a tax were laid upon land, or on the landlord.  As his leases expired the rents of his farms were advanced to meet the tax, and the farmer was obliged, in order to meet the advance, to lay an additional charge on the produce of the farm.  The shopkeeper who purchased from the farmer then advanced to his customer, and the poor man, being a customer as well as others, paid the advanced price for so much as he consumed; and that was the way in which taxation operated on the poor."  To this there was no reply; and soon after our visitors took their departure.

    Bad as our case was (and we supposed we should have a long imprisonment of some years at least), there were others in this place, besides our women friends, whom we could pity.  For two hours every forenoon a low, dark-complexioned man, with somewhat of a military carriage, took his walk to and fro under the garden wall, at the greatest allowable distance from, but parallel with our yard.  He was an object of interest to us, and we often bowed to him, which he always politely returned.  He had been, we were informed, a long time in this prison, and likely to remain much longer, being entirely at the disposal of the Secretary of State.  He had once or twice annoyed the Prince Regent by obtaining access to his presence and demanding payment of a large sum of money, which he asserted the Prince owed him, he being "The King of Denmark."  He had been imprisoned before for such annoyances; and soon after his liberation he went again, and attempted to ride into the palace of Carlton House, for the purpose of obtaining "his money" from "his cousin," the Regent of England.  He was said to be perfectly sane in all matters except these—viz., that he was the King of Denmark, and that our King owed him a great sum of money.  The elder Evans, one of the London prisoners, a wordy and intemperate man, was also allowed his stated walks in the garden, but he never ventured to exchange a word with us.  On Tuesday, the 16th of April, we were again taken to the Home Office.  John Roberts was called in first, Hulton second, Healey third, and myself the fourth, when Lord Sidmouth thus addressed me:—"Mr: Bamford, the persons who have been examined to day are committed to prison, from whence they will not be liberated except by a due course of law.  From the information received respecting you, his Majesty's ministers would not be justified in adopting the same course towards you; you will therefore be brought up for another examination, which will take place this day week."  I then retired.

    The day following Roberts, Hulton, and the doctor were taken out of our ward and sent to different prisons.  Roberts, with John Bagguley, before mentioned as an orator at the Blanket meeting, were consigned to Gloucester Gaol, Hulton and Sellers were sent to Exeter; whilst John Johnstone, of Manchester, also before mentioned, Samuel Drummond, of the same place, and our friend the doctor, were conveyed to Dorchester.

    The day after their departure George Plant, of Blackley, William Kent, of Chadderton, and James Leach, of Spotland, who were apprehended at the Plot meeting at Ardwick, and had remained in the New Bailey since, arrived in London; and after passing in review before the Privy Council, as we had done, were brought to this general depôt for all dangerous and suspected characters.  Kent, who had a lame arm, was placed in the hospital; Leach was put in the outer yard; and plant was locked up with Lancashire and myself.

    My new comrade was, I should suppose, about twenty-five years of age; he was a weaver, and had left a wife and one or two young children, at Crab-lane-head, in Blackley, near Manchester.  He was fully as tall as myself; thin, very pale, with black hair, black eyes, thick lips, big white teeth, a kind of stiffness, and a stoop in the shoulders.  He was indeed, in person, rather an oddity; but I believe as simple and innocent intentioned a man as could be produced.  He related some curious particulars of the conduct adopted towards him by the police of Manchester, during his detention at the New Bailey.

    He said that Joseph Platt, one of the police beadles, who had formerly known him, and whose parents were then neighbours to Plant, came to him one night in his cell, and, after reminding him of old acquaintance and expressing much friendship towards him, said he had obtained permission to make a proposal, and it would be his fault if he did not take advantage of it for his own good.  Two of the persons already sent to London, he continued, had offered, on condition that their lives were spared, to disclose the whole of the Manchester plot, and to give details of the proceedings of the conspirators at their several meetings.  These discoveries, he said, would place all the rest in jeopardy, and they might think well if they got off with transportation for life.  He added that, knowing Plant, and having a great respect for him, and a kind feeling towards his family, he had, as a great favour, obtained permission from the magistrates to mention the thing to him, and to say that if he (Plant) would come forward and give a statement of all he knew about the conspiracy he should have the first chance of becoming King's evidence, and of thereby saving his life, procuring his freedom, at any rate, and very likely of getting something handsome in the way of a provision afterwards.

    George assured me that his only reply to this—which was repeated on a second visit—was, that "he knew nothing, and could not, therefore, tell anything"; that such had been his constant answer, that he never in the least varied it, and that at length his friend Platt gave him up, and resigned him, as he said, to the scaffold or to perpetual chains abroad.

    If such was his answer to Platt—and I never had any reason for doubting it—he certainly gave the true one.  He had never been at a plot—meeting before the one at Ardwick, and the proceedings at that had scarcely commenced when the police arrived and took the whole party into custody.


 
CHAPTER XIX.

THE BOTANIST—THE BIRD CATCHER AND THE LOVER—THEIR AGREEMENT.


AND now, reader, the natural current of my story leads us from this prison to the deep woods, sombre shades, and bare wilds of Lancashire, to speculations and ceremonials founded on superstitions of the rural population, and to beings and appearances, a thorough belief in which does even in the present day retain its place amongst the undeniable evidences narrated by the dwellers of the glens and moorlands of the county.  At the time I am writing of, such opinions were still more prevalent than at present; when I was a child, a disbelief of them was looked on as an almost impious exception; they are now quickly departing from amongst us, and in another twenty years will probably be entirely ranked amongst the obsolete superstitions of a benighted age.

    But, to be more explicit, know that my friend Plant was a firm believer in ghosts, witches, and hobgoblins, in the virtues of herbs under certain planetary influences, and in the occult mysteries of Culpepper and Sibley.  He was entirely self-taught; had been a great reader, knew something of arithmetic, was a botanist, and a dreary-minded wanderer in lonely dells, on moors and heaths, searching after herbs of surpassing virtue, of mysterious growth and concealment, and of wonderful and unaccountable power.

    How a man of his tastes and pursuits became induced to resign them for the culture of unpoetic politics it might perhaps be interesting to inquire. Possibly he was drawn into the vortex by the force of example amongst his numerous class.  Possibly, being a knowledge seeker, he might wish to learn something of the new doctrine—the great political "Heal-all."  Possibly his little learning was flattered, and latent ambition urged him to seek distinction; or, assigning higher motives, he might really wish to render a service to his country.  However it was, he proved unfortunate; his first experiment in the political line was also his last.

    One night after we were locked up, having drawn near the fire and lighted our pipes, we entered as usual into conversation, which he soon led to his favourite subject-botany.  We discussed the occult virtues of herbs, and their connection with the spiritual and planetary worlds, in which he believed as firmly as in his own existence.  I did not dispute with him, but was rather an inquirer and a listener; and as he narrated, in perfect assurance of their realities, the visionary experiments he had made, and their strange and fearful results, I enjoyed the illusions of the superstitions of my childhood which now recurred, as it were, like a tide after a long ebb, with double force.  I felt interested, encouraged him to continue, and he finished by recounting an attempt in which he was once concerned, to take and carry off "Saint John's Fern seed."

    He said that in one of his, "Yarbin Eawts," as he termed his rambles after herbs, he was in Guestless, or more properly, Griselhurst Wood, in Birkle, when a storm induced him to seek shelter in a cottage which he had observed at no great distance from the wood-side.  He was made welcome, and pulled off his coat and hung it to dry before the fire, which the good woman improved by adding coal and root-stocks to the blazing heap.  She was a widow about middle age, and had an only child, a son, a decent-looking youth, who sat mending her clogs beneath the window.  He might be from eighteen to twenty years of age, very fair for a country lad, with light red, or "gowden-coloured," hair; tall, and of a thoughtful way of speaking.  The room was barely furnished but clean, and the articles were well arranged.  There was a bread-flake covered with oak cakes, a bit of nice bacon, part of a sack of potatoes, and a "drink mug," reaming with ale; and he was given to understand that "decent, honest foke" were sometimes accommodated there both with meat and drink; that, in short, it was a "hush shop."  He accordingly ordered a jug of ale, and cut a rasher of bacon, which he was roasting on a fork, when the door opened, and a short, broad-set, and dark-visaged man entered, carrying two cages, with each a gorse-cock, a pot with some bird-lime and water, and a number of limed twigs.

    "Hallo, Chirrup," said the young man, "I thowt if th' storm didno' send thee fro' th' hillside, summut wud be op." "Why, indeed, it's likely to be a weet afternoon; an' th' brids are o' away to th' covers, an' th' twigs are weet an' winno howd iv owt coom, an' th' wynt makes sitch a din, at no gorse-cock can be yerd ogen it; an' I've had quite enoof for to-day, for I've seen that at I shall never forget to th' last day o' my life."  "Wot wur it, Chirrup?" said the young man, laying down the clog, and looking earnestly at the bird-catcher, for such he was.  "Bangle, my lad, it wur th' bonnyist brid at ever flew o' wings."  "Well, then, it wur nother gorse-cock, ouzle, nor dunnock, at any rate; an' yo'd no coers to catch it wi'.  But wot wur it like; wot kullur wur it?"  "It wur as fair a gowden yallo' as ever glizzent; wi' white wings o'th' untherside."  "That wur indeed a strange brid," said Bangle; "but wot mickle wur it, and wot wur it like i' shap?"  "It wur as like an ouzle as owt as ever theaw seed i' the lyve, o' but th' kuller," said Chirrup.  "An' weer did it come fro', an' wot becoom on it?" inquired the earnest Bangle.  "I seed it fost ut top ov a stone wall; it wur plumin its wings i'th' sunleet, an' it lookt like a thing o' livin gowd—it made my heart jump.  An' then it coom nar th' cages, an' then nar th' twigs; an' I thowt if ever mon won heaven, I should get that brid; an' I lee beind th' rush hoyle, panting till I could yer my heart thump—that bonny innocent brid—I thowt it wur mine, an' thur coom a glare o' leet at made o' dazzle agen, an' thoose white wings flash'd, an' away it went i'th glizzen, an' th' thunner-din, o'er th' moor."  "An' weer wurto when theaw seed it?" inquired Bangle.  "I wurno far off Owd Birkle, an' just oppo' th' edge o'th' Wilder Moor."  "Aye, there's bonny brids bin seen i' Owd Birkle afore," said the youth, flushing red, and then pale as a sheet.  "But the bonnyist it seems hasno' bin taen yet."  "Nowe, I wish it wur," interrupted Chirrup; "I'd giv o'th' cocks an' linnits at ever I cag'd, for yon beauty at I've seen an' lost to-day."  "Happen not lost," observed Plant; "while there's life there's hope."  "Thank yo' for that," said the youth Bangle; "while there's life, there's hope; aye, while there's life, there's hope."  "Did I not olis tell the so," said his mother, looking significantly at Plant and Chirrup.  "One on yo wants a brid, an' one a bride; but faint heart never won fair lady; an' lyen i' rush hoyles till th' bally warches 'll never catch yallo' wagtails."  "It wur as much a wagtail as theaw'rt a dagtail," said Chirrup, "an' theaw'd be pottert iv only body co'd the so."  "Wagtail or not," said the woman, "it wur a brid o' some sense, for it chose to fly wi' th' thunner devils sooner nor tarry wi' thy daubing lime twigs. I howd it wit good ut ony rate.  As for that gawmblin o' mine," she continued, "he met ha' had his coo-dove lung sin, iv he'd nobbut ha' follod th' advice o' Limping Billy at Radcliife.  His feyther, dyed an' gwon as he is, wudno ha' ston sighen' an' yammerin' as this dus; he coom a kworten i'th' owd way, lung dree miles fro' Aifeside, an' iv th' dur wurno oppent when he coom, he'd ha' punst it oppen. lie didno come glooring at th' chimney reech an' then maunder back again."

    The rain having set in dree, and several jugs of ale having been emptied, a free discourse ensued between Plant, Chirrup, and young Bangle, in which the woman occasionally took a part; and it was soon explained to Plant, for Chirrup seemed to have known some of the circumstances before, that the youth was love-smitten, and almost hopelessly so, the object of his passion being a young beauty residing in the house of her father, who held a small milk-farm on the hillside, not far from Old Birktle.  The lad was of an ardent temperament, but bashful, as the truest lovers often are.  His modest approaches had not been noticed by the adored one, and, as she had danced with another youth at Bury fair, he imagined she was irrecoverably lost to him, and the persuasion had almost driven him melancholy.  Doctors had been applied to, but he was no better; philters and charms had been tried to bring down the cold-hearted maid, but all in vain—


He sought her at the dawn of day;
    He sought her at the noonin';
He sought her when the evenin' grey
    Had brought the hollow moon in.

He called her on the darkest night,
    With wizard spells to bind her;
And when the stars arose in light,
    He wandered forth to find her.


    At length sorcerers and fortune-tellers were thought of, and imping Billy, [13] a noted seer, residing at Radcliffe Bridge, having lastly been consulted, said the lad had no chance of gaining power over the damsel unless he could take Saint John's Fern seed; and if he but secured three grains of that he might bring to him whatever he wished, that walked, flew, or swam.

    "Iv that's so," said Chirrup, on hearing the last, "I'd goo to th' seet o' devil-dom to win yon brid."  "I'd goo to th' smell on't to win mine," said young Bangle.  "An' I'd go to th' leet on't," said Plant, who had been listening with much interest to the conversation, and who had for years been wishful to engage companions for trial of that mysterious experiment.  He then opened to them his lore in botany, telling them of wonderful herbs and sympathies and cures, and concluded by saying that he knew where the finest clump of fern in the country grew, and offered to conduct them to it at the proper time, viz., on the eve of Saint John the Baptist.  It was agreed; and meantime Chirrup was to get particular instructions from Limping Billy for taking it; and so, night approaching, and the rain having abated, the three separated, and Plant and Chirrup went to their several homes.


 
CHAPTER XX.

BOGGART, OR FEYRIN-HO—FEYRIN-HO KLOOF—ST. JOHN'S FERN.


ON the left hand, reader, as thou goest towards Manchester, ascending from Blackley, is a rather deep valley, green swarded, and embowered in plantations and older woods.  A driving path, which thou enterest by a white gate hung on whale-jaw posts, leads down through a grove of young trees, by a modern and substantial farmhouse, with green shutters, sashed windows, and flowers peeping from the sills.  A mantle of ivy climbs the wall, a garden is in front, and an orchard redolent of bloom, and fruit in season, nods on the hill-top above.  Here, at the time Plant was speaking of, stood a very ancient house, built partly of old-fashioned bricks, and partly of a timber frame, filled with raddlings and daub (wicker-work, plastered with clay).  It was a lone and desolate-looking house indeed, misty and fearful, even at noon-day.  It was known as "Boggart-ho," or "Feyrin-ho"; and the gorge in which it is situated was and still is known as "Boggart," or "Feyrin-ho' Kloof," "the glen of the hall of spirits."  Such a place might we suppose Milton had in contemplation when he wrote the passage of his inimitable poem—


"Tells how the drudging goblin sweat,
 To earn his cream-bowl, duly set,
 When, in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
 His shadowy flail had thrash'd the corn
 Which ten day-labourers could not end;
 Then lies him down, the lubber fiend;
 And, stretch'd out all the chimney's length,
 Basks at the fire his hairy strength;
 And cropful, out of door he flings,
 Ere the first cock his matin sings."


    By the side of the house, and through the whole length of the valley, wends a sickly, tan-coloured rindle, which, issuing from the great White Moss, comes down, tinged with the colour of its parent swamp.  Opposite the modern house a forbidden road cuts through the plantation on the right towards Moston Lane.  Another path leads behind the house, up precipitous banks, and through close bowers, to Booth Hall; and a third, the main one, proceeds along the kloof, by the side of the stream, and under sun-screening woods, until it forks into two roads: one a cattle track to "The Bell," in Moston, and the other a winding and precipitous footpath to a farmhouse at "Wood End," where it gains the broad upland, and emerges into unshaded day.

    About half way up this kloof is an open cleared space of green and short sward: it is probably two hundred yards in length, by sixty in width, and passing along it from Blackley a group of fine oaks appear on a slight eminence, a little to the left.  This part of the grove was, at the time we are concerned with, much more crowded with underwood than at present. [14]  The bushes were then close and strong; fine sprouts of "yerthgroon " hazel and ash were common as nuts, whilst a thick bush of bramble, wild rose, and holly, gave the spot the appearance of a place inclosed and set apart for mysterious concealment.  Intermingled with these almost impervious barriers were tufts of tall green fern, curling and bending gracefully, and a little separate from them, and nearer the old oaks, might be observed a few fern clumps of a singular appearance, of a paler green than the others, with a flatter and a broader leaf, sticking up, rigid and expanded, like something stark with mute terror.  These were "Saint John's Fern," and the finest of them was the one selected by Plant for the experiment now to be described.

    A little before midnight, on the eve of Saint John, Plant, Chirrup, and Bangle were at the whale-jaw gate, before mentioned, and, having slightly scanned each other, they proceeded, without speaking, until they had crossed the brook at a stepping-place opposite the old Feyrin-ho'.  The first word spoken was, "What hast thou?"


"Mine is breawn an' roof,"


said Plant, exhibiting a brown earthen dish. "What hast thou?" he then asked.


"Mine is breet enough,"


said Chirrup, showing a pewter platter; and continued, "What hast thou?"


"Teed wi' web an' woof,
 Mine is deep enough,"


said Bangle, displaying a musty, dun skull, with the cap sawn off above the eyes, and left flapping like a lid, by a piece of tanned scalp, which still adhered.  The interior cavities had also been stuffed with moss and lined with clay, kneaded with blood from human veins; and the youth had secured the skull to his shoulders by a twine of three strands of unbleached flax, of undyed wool, and of woman's hair; from which also depended a raven black tress, which a wily crone had procured from the maid he sought to obtain.


"That will do,"


said a voice, in a half whisper, from one of the low bushes they were passing.  Plant and Chirrup paused; but Bangle, who had evidently his heart on the accomplishment of the undertaking, said, "Forward, if we turn now a spirit hath spoken, we are lost. Come on," and they went forward.

    A silence, like that of death, was around them as they entered on the open platting.  Nothing moved either in tree or brake.  Through a space in the foliage the stars were seen pale in heaven; and a crooked moon hung in a bit of blue, amid motionless clouds.  All was still and breathless, as if earth, heaven, and the elements were aghast.  Anything would have been preferable to that unnatural stillness and silence—the hoot of the night owl, the larum of the pit sparrow, the moan of the wind, the toll of a death bell, or the howl of a ban-dog would, inasmuch as they are things of this world, have been welcome sounds amid that horrid pause.  But no sound came, no object moved.

    Gasping, and with cold sweat oozing on his brow, Plant recollected that they were to shake the fern with a forked rod of witch hazel, and by no means must touch it with their hands; and he asked in a whisper if the others had brought one.  Both said they had forgotten, and Chirrup said they had better never have come; but Plant drew his knife, and stepping into a moonlighted bush, soon returned with what was wanted, and they went forward.

    The green knowe—the old oaks—the encircled space—and the fern—were now approached; the latter stiff and erect in a gleamy light.

    "Is it deep neet?" said Bangle.

    "It is," said Plant.


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


    And they drew near.  All was still and motionless.

    Plant knelt on one knee and held his dish under the fern.

    Chirrup held his broad plate next below, and Bangle knelt, and rested the skull directly under both, on the green sod, the lid being up.

    Plant said—


"Good Saint John, this seed we crave,
 We have dared; shall we have?"


    A voice responded—


"Now the moon is downward starting.
 Moon and stars are all departing;
         Quick, quick; shake, shake;
 He whose heart shall soonest break
         Let him take."


    They looked, and perceived by a glance that a venerable form, in a loose robe, was near them.

    Darkness came down like a swoop.  The fern was shaken, the upper dish flew into pieces, the pewter one melted, the skull emitted a cry, and eyes glared in its sockets; lights broke, beautiful children were seen walking in their holiday clothes, and graceful female forms sung mournful and enchanting airs.

    The men stood terrified and fascinated; and Bangle, gazing, bade "God bless 'em."  A crash followed, as if the whole of the timber in the kloof was being splintered and torn up, strange and horrid forms appeared from the thickets, the men ran as if sped on the wind—they separated and lost each other.  Plant ran towards the old house, and there, leaping the brook, he cast a glance behind him, and saw terrific shapes, some beastly, some part human, and some hellish, gnashing their teeth, and howling and uttering the most fearful and mournful tones, as if wishful to follow him, but unable to do so.

    In an agony of terror he arrived at home, not knowing how he got there.  He was, during several days, in a state bordering on unconsciousness; and when he recovered he learned that Chirrup was found on the White Moss, raving mad, and chasing the wild birds.  As for poor Bangle, he found his way home over hedge and ditch, running with supernatural and fearful speed—the skull's eyes glaring at his back, and the nether jaw grinning and jabbering frightful and unintelligible sounds.  He had preserved the seed, however, and having taken it from the skull, he buried the latter at the cross-road from whence he had taken it.  He then carried the spell out, and his proud love stood one night by his bedside in tears.  But he had done too much for human nature; in three months after she followed his corpse, a real mourner, to the grave!

    Such was the description my fellow prisoner gave of what occurred in the only trial he ever made with Saint John's Fern seed.  He was full of old and quaint narratives and of superstitious lore, and often would beguile time by recounting them.  Poor fellow! a mysterious fate hung over him also.  After his return from London, which was in a few days, he seemed to have become disgusted by the levity of his young and handsome but thoughtless wife.  In a short time he suddenly disappeared from the country, and has not been heard of since.


 
CHAPTER XXI.

AUTHOR'S FOURTH APPEARANCE BEFORE THE PRIVY COUNCIL—A MOTHER'S LAMENTATION FOR HER CHILD—A PAIR OF COCKNEYS—FIFTH ATTENDANCE BEFORE THE PRIVY COUNCIL, AND AUTHOR'S DISCHARGE.


IT was, I think, on the 23rd of April that I was taken to the Home Office, with George Plant, for my fourth examination.  Having been introduced in the customary way, Lord Sidmouth said, "Mr. Bamford, the information which we expected to have received respecting you is not yet arrived; therefore you will be remanded for another examination, which will take place next week."  To which I replied, "My lord, if you think proper to wait for information which will establish a charge of high treason against me, your lordship may wait for ever, as I am certain that no such information will arrive.  I also went on to state that my conduct had been quite opposed to treason, that I had certainly done all which lay in my power to promote the cause of Parliamentary reform, but I had always acted openly, and I trusted legally, that I did not think his Majesty's ministers were fully acquainted with the state of the country and the condition of the people; nor did I perceive how they could be, considering the partial source from whence their information must be derived; that the gentry, or what were called the higher classes, were too proud or too indifferent to examine minutely the abode of the poor and distressed; and that the interests of many, as well as their want of accurate knowledge, tended to elicit from them distorted or partial statements of facts.  The poor, I said, would be content could they only procure the common necessaries of life by hard labour, but they could not even do that; and if ministers were thoroughly acquainted with the distress of the people, they would be almost surprised that the country was not a scene of confusion and horror, instead of being, as it was, peaceable though discontented.  I said more than this, to the same purport; but the above are the principal heads on which I touched.  The Council, as they always did, listened to me with patience and attention; and whatever I said was written down by gentlemen who appeared to be clerks or secretaries.  I was then reconducted, and I and Plant were lodged in our old quarters; the day following he was discharged, and I was left alone.

    One evening, as I was pacing my yard thoughtfully, and somewhat touched by that "hope deferred which maketh the heart sick," I was startled; astonished, and affected by a sudden burst of the most mournful and woe-fraught cries that ever struck my ear or moved my heart.  At first it was a wild and agonised scream, intense and full, as if the soul was coming forth in unspeakable woe.  It was a long time ere I could distinguish words amid that pity-moving cry; at length I heard a name and words of endearment. "My Ann," "my love," "my child."  It was the name of my own child; and I must leave to parents who have known separation from their homes and their offspring, the task of appreciating my feelings, whilst, transfixed and listening, I caught the name of one so dear, accompanied by the most heart-broken lament that I had ever heard from human suffering.  "My Ann!" "my love!" "my child!" "my beauty!" "my lost love!" and so she continued, raising and lowering her voice in an almost musical though entirely unartificial cadence, and in the simplest utterance of soul affliction.  The mourner was a female convict, and the tidings had been brought to her in her cell that her child was dead.

    Poor thing!  I then felt that others might be more unhappy than myself, that I had still something to be thankful for, that I had yet a dove-nest in reserve at least—I so hoped—to which I could return after the present storm had blown over; and I retired to my ward for the night, contented with my lot, and entirely cured of the melancholy of "hope deferred."  But the tones of that poor woman still rung in fly ears; and I either dreamt of, or heard her cries, mingled with the night-wind, and resounding through the corridors of the prison.

    On the 29th of April I was again introduced to the Privy Council.  Lord Sidmouth said, "Mr. Bamford, I hope you are now before me for the last time.  You will be discharged on conditions which will be read over to you; the same conditions which others of your fellow prisoners who have been discharged have accepted.  I assure you I feel great pleasure in thus restoring you to your family."  I said I hoped nothing would be proposed to me which was at variance with my political principles, as I could not consent to forego any rights to which, as an Englishman, I was entitled.  His lordship could not desire me to give up the only right I had exercised—namely, the right of petition.  His lordship said:—"Nothing will be proposed to you which an honest and a good man need object to.  We are not averse to the subject petitioning for a redress of grievances; it is the manner in which that right has been exercised which we condemn; a right may be exercised in such a way that it becomes a wrong, and then we must object to it.  Mr. Bamford, there are three things which I would have you to impress seriously on your mind.  The first is, that the present distress of the country arises from unavoidable circumstances; the second, that his Majesty's ministers will do all they can to alleviate such distress; and thirdly, no violence, of whatever description, will be tolerated, but it will be put down with a very strong hand.  I wish you well; I assure you I wish you well, and I hope this is the last time I shall ever see you on an occasion like the present."  I sincerely thanked his lordship for his good wishes and condescension, and expressed my gratitude for the kindness I had experienced whilst his lordship's prisoner; and having asked, and very obligingly obtained, permission to have my liberty the following morning until the coach started, I bowed to his lordship and the Council and retired.  I was next conducted to the private office of Sir Nathaniel Conant, which was in a lower room in the same building, where, in the presence of Sir Nathaniel and a clerk, I gave my personal bond in the sum of a hundred pounds, to be levied on my goods and chattels, " if, within twelve months from that day, I appeared in his Majesty's Court of Justice at Westminster."



[Next Page]

NOTES.

 
13.     See Vol. I, p. 171.
 
14.    Those oaks have been felled, and the kloof is now comparatively denuded of timber; the underwood on the left side is also nearly swept away.  Sad inroads on the ominous gloom of the place! (Bamford.)

 



[Home] [Up] [Biographical] [Walks] [Tim Bobbin] [Poetry] [Glossary] [Literary Reviews etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk