OFF THE SKELLIGS.
'There were giants in the earth in those days.' GEN.
'Seigneur! preservez-moi, preservez cenx que j ‘aime,
Frères, parens, amis, et mes ennemis même,
Dans le mal triomphants,
De jamais voir, seigneur! l'ete sans fleurs vermeilles,
La cage sans oiseaux, la ruche sans abeilles,
La maison sans enfans!'—VICTOR
My father's house stood in a quiet country town, through which a tidal
river flowed. The banks of the river were flanked by wooden wharves,
which were supported on timbers, and projected over the water. They
had granaries behind them, and one of my earliest pleasures was to watch
the gangs of men who at high tide towed vessels up the river, where, being
moored before these granaries, cargoes of corn were shot down from the
upper stories into their holds, through wooden troughs not unlike
fire-escapes. The back of my father's house was on a level with the
wharves, and overlooked a long reach of the river. Our nursery was a
low room in the roof, having a large bow window, in the old-fashioned seat
of which I spent many a happy hour with my brother, sometimes listening to
the soft hissing sound made by the wheat in its descent, sometimes
admiring the figure-heads of the vessels, or laboriously spelling out the
letters of their names.
When the tide was low there was fresh pleasure. Then we
could watch the happy little boys who, with trousers tucked above their
knees, used to wade among the piles, which were all green with sea-grass,
and bristling with barnacles. We could see them picking up empty
shells and bits of drift-wood in the yellowish mud; or sometimes one of
them would discover an old pot or kettle, on which he would drum and play
uncouth music. Joyous urchins! I was too complete a baby to
envy them, but I thought how grand a lot was theirs!
I had a brother two years older than myself. Before I
could speak, he had taught me my letters, and I used to pick them up and
present them to him as he called for them. Of course he was a tiny
child at the time, but to me he appeared very large. Nothing has
changed to me since babyhood, so much as opinions concerning size and
height. Truly 'there were giants in the earth in those days.'
All grown-up people appeared to me to be nearly of a size; — my father was
a giant, my mother was a giantess, my brother was large, knowing, old, and
never sufficiently to be respected; rose-trees were trees indeed, and no
bushes then! I pulled the roses down to smell them, and I put up my
finger into the flowers of the tall tiger lilies as I stood on tiptoe
under them, and regarded the dark dust that came off upon it as something
remarkable, procured from a higher sphere. When my nurse took me up
in her arms, oh what pleasure to see the things on the table — to look
down on that distant place the floor, and see my little sister creeping
A report reached me one day (not, however, from a trustworthy
source, for it was our little housemaid who brought it to me) — a report
to the effect that once I had been a little baby like her! That must
have been a long time ago, I thought. I pondered on it, but it
seemed unlikely, and I did not believe it.
But as the rich go from their town houses to their country
seats, and as the Vicar of Wakefield and Mrs. Primrose migrated from the
blue bed to the brown, so we had our periodical changes. Life in the
nursery was well enough, but life in the best bedroom smacked of the
The nursery being in the roof, and facing south, became
glowing hot towards afternoon; but in the front of the house was a large
delightful room with closed shutters, into which, on our promise to be
quiet, our nurse would often take us, and, folding back one of the
shutters, allow us to admire the chintz curtains, all gay with apple
boughs and goldfinches flying with spread wings. Then she would let
us climb on to the window-seat, and there we enjoyed hours of
contemplation and hours of talk unintelligible to any but ourselves.
What a world those windows opened out to us! They
looked into the Minster yard. It was smooth and paved with
flag-stones, and in its midst rose the great brown Minster, the old
Minster, that was full of little holes, and had a bird's head peeping out
Oh, to see the rooks and starlings poised on the swaying
weathercocks, to hear the great clock give warning, to listen to the
bells, and shout to each other while their clashing voices hummed and
buzzed around us and over us; to see the clergymen walking in to prayers,
and all the bluecoat boys and girls trooping after them; to watch the
father rooks as they flew home with wriggling worms in their mouths; to
see the little starlings creep out of their holes, and sit in a row
pecking and wrangling, these were sights indeed! When shall
pleasures for grown-up folks be found to match them'?
My brother was the hero of my history and the being whom I
imitated to the utmost of my power. He was a very remarkable child,
and had such a retentive memory, that as soon as he could speak he could
learn by heart anything that was repeated slowly to him, whether he
understood it or not.
Our father, perceiving his extraordinary precocity, was very
proud of him, and taught him several scenes from Shakespeare, which he
used to let him act, making him stamp, frown, and use all kinds of
appropriate gestures, and exciting him by praises and rewards. He
little knew the mischief that he was doing by forcing such a brain.
On the contrary, he thought education could not begin too early, and, not
content with the progress his child made at home, he sent him at four
years old to a lady, who engaged to 'bring him forward.' Under her
teaching he mastered reading very quickly, and, reading once learned, vain
would have been the attempt to keep him back in other things. He
loved best a large old edition of Shakespeare, and our nurse used to let
him carry it up into the nursery, because poring over it kept him so
Every scene that he liked he learned. Fighting and slaying
scenes were his favourites, and when he knew them by heart he would shut
up the folio, stand upon it, and begin to act, while I, being the
audience, sat on the floor, and stared admiringly. He would pretend
to cry, would hold out his little hand with a menacing air, then fall down
on the floor with a solemn face and a deep sigh, which gave me to
understand that he was dead, and that his enemies had killed him.
All this my brother did, and learned over and above what he
was taught by the lady to whom he was sent for instruction, and my mother
never discovered it, otherwise, I believe, she would have found some less
dangerous amusement for him. But she was very delicate, and we
seldom saw her; for she could not endure the least noise, and constantly
suffered from headache.
At last, one day 'Snap'—for that was the only name by which I
knew him, this sound having been the first my baby lips had uttered in
their apprenticeship to the art of talking—Snap was seen by me lying on
his little bed, the doctor standing on one side and my mother on the
I was not distinctly sorry for Snap, as not understanding why
he was to be pitied —he was not crying, consequently I did not think he
could be hurt, but I wanted to kiss him. Therefore I crept up to his
bed and patted his face, but he did not wake. Something nice was
brought to him to eat, but as he would not have it they gave it to me, and
I ate it for him. A long time after this Snap got up again; his hair
was very short, and he could not walk, but used to creep on his hands and
knees like our little sister. I thought this very droll, and tried
to imitate him, but he soon learned to walk again, and then we thought it
very strange when nurse told us that he was not to go to school any more
for a long time, not to have Shakespeare, and not to learn anything at
Snap cried when the great Shakespeare was carried out of the
nursery, and he often wearied of looking out of the windows at the ships
and at the Minster. At last, having absolute need of something to
do, he bethought himself, as I suppose, that it would be a desirable thing
to make an occupation of me, and every day he taught me scenes and songs,
making me a willing little slave, and being kind to me on the whole,
though he felt a natural disgust at my not being able to speak plainly,
for I lisped after the fashion of very young children, and sometimes
wished to lie down on the floor and go to sleep in the middle of his
Every day, after we had dined, our dear mamma would come into
the nursery and inquire whether we were good, putting her white hand to
her brow, and saying wearily, 'I hope my boy is quiet, nurse, and not
doing anything particular.'
'Bless me! no, ma'am,' the answer would be, 'the children are
at play together.' Then she would go down again, and Snap would
begin his daily lesson to me.
Every alternate day the old physician would appear with
mamma, and call Snap to come and stand before him. He seldom looked
satisfied, and often said, 'I hope this child has not been excited?'
'I cannot do more to prevent excitement,' our mother would
reply. 'I never let him learn anything; I never have him down-stairs
with me; I quite debar myself the pleasure of my children's society.'
'Quite right, ma'am,' the old physician used to answer 'keep
him quiet, and he will be a man yet.'
At last one day, about six months after Snap's illness, they
came in when we were in very high spirits chasing one another round the
nursery, and the physician said to nurse with a displeased
countenance—'How now, my good woman! is this the sort of order you keep
'How can I help their playing about, sir?' she answered
'Their playing about I do not so much object to,' be replied,
but I must protest against the boy's spouting Shakespeare so noisily all
This good doctor had a strong north-country accent; but I do
not think I should have remembered him and his speeches so well, if my
brother had not been in the habit of acting over what he had said, and
imitating his accent, when he retired.
'And the little girl looks very much excited too,' he said on
this occasion; 'I hope her brain is not forced by over teaching?'
'She has never been taught anything in her life,' said my
mother; 'she is in a state of complete ignorance.'
'She could not be in a better state, ma am, at her tender
'No,' observed nurse, 'Missy has had no book learning; but,
ma'am, did you know that she could do that play acting nearly as well as
I remember that my mother looked aghast on hearing this, and
that Snap performed a dance of triumph about her chair.
'Could I do acting?' asked the physician.
'Oh yes,' I replied, and I began to pucker up my little face
into one of Snap's favourite tragic frowns, and to stamp about the
The doctor laughed and said, 'Pooh!' I was very much
surprised, for I had been told that it was rude to say pooh.'
But while I wondered at him and his great red cheeks and his
glossy shoes, Snap said, 'Missy can say Brutus and Cassius, can't you,
Missy? I taught her, mamma; I make her say it every day.'
'Yes, I can say Bruty and Cassy,' I replied with smiling
pride in the fact, that was a dagger to my mother's heart. 'Well,
well, let us hear it, then,' said the doctor; and after a short
altercation between me and Snap, during which I insisted that I must have
my pinafore taken off, and put on the paper cap which he called a helmet,
I was placed upon the table, while my brother, shuffling in a manner which
was intended to represent the footsteps of the Roman citizens, exclaimed,
'The noble Brutus is ascended—silence!' and I began in my baby dialect,
'Romans, countrymen, and lovers—'
Probably the doctor did not understand much of my speech, for
I was not more forward with my tongue than most children of my age; but he
looked amazed, while I, changing from Brutus to Antony, went on exclaiming
and gesticulating while Snap, as a rabble of Roman citizens drummed on the
table and stamped. I stopped short at—'There burst his mighty
heart;' for to my astonishment I saw that poor mamma was sobbing and
crying most bitterly. They took me down, and stroking her hand I
said, 'Never mind, mamma, don't cry, Cæsar
was a naughty man.'
She took me on her knee and wept as if her heart would break.
Snap then came up and testified concern and amazement. 'This is a
blow, ma'am, certainly,' said the good old doctor; 'but you must bear up
against it as bravely as you can.'
'Oh, nurse,' sobbed my mother, 'I trusted you; how could you
'I did not intend, ma'am, to deceive you,' replied nurse; 'I
never gave it a thought that their play could hurt them, and I am sure
missy has never had a day's illness in her life. Nothing Master
Graham has taught her can possibly have hurt her.'
After this we were taken out for a walk, and nurse said we
had been naughty. We supposed we had, and we noticed that whenever
from that time we asked the young nursemaid any question and she was
inclined to answer it, nurse would say, 'Hold your tongue, Maria, you know
the children is not to know anything whatsoever.'
One night, however, when nurse was gone down-stairs, I asked
Maria why we were not to know anything, and she said, 'Did I remember
seeing those three pretty little graves in St. Mark's churchyard, where my
three little sisters were?"
I said, 'Oh, yes; I remember them very well.'
'Did I wish to stay with papa and mamma and Master Snap, or
did I wish to go, and be with them?'
I thought I should like to stay.
'Then,' she said, 'you must never do any play-acting, nor
learn anything that Master Snap wants to teach you; or else you will be
obliged to go, as your little sisters did.'
Snap always said his prayers before he went to bed, and I
knelt beside him and said the same words. I knew that there was a
God, and that God was in heaven; that, I think, was the extent of my
knowledge, till one day, while out walking, Snap and I passed a shop where
some books were exposed for sale; they were old books, and in one which
lay open was a print which represented some people standing in flames,
under a thing like the arch of a bridge.
I asked Snap what that was. He answered, in a whisper,
that it was the place where wicked people were put, after they were dead.
But I was not to tell nurse that he had said so, because she would be so
very angry, as I was not to know anything.
Every day, when we passed that shop, I stood on tiptoe to
look at this dreadful, but fascinating picture; and at night, when I was
put to bed, I thought about it. I asked Snap if it did not frighten
him to think of it? But he said no; he never thought of it at all.
So now there were two things in the world to be afraid of; at
least, when one happened to think of them! The least formidable was
this picture, the most so was the ghost of Cæsar,
which inhabited, as I supposed, a certain square closet in a room called
the green bedroom, a closet which I never liked to see opened even in the
broadest daylight, till my nurse's married sister, coming over to spend
the day with her, and, hearing of this fancy of mine, carried me into it
in her arms, showed me every crevice in the boards, and let me peep into
every box it contained; and still keeping me in her arms, gave me a nice
piece of cake to eat within its dreaded precincts. After that,
wherever the ghost of Cæsar might he, I
felt sure that it was not there.
About six months after this our nurse left us, and a young
woman took her place who was a daughter of one of the sextons of the
Minster. She had not been many weeks with us when my mother
continuing very unwell, papa took her away, and we did not see them again
for a very long time. They were gone on the Continent, we were told,
and what the Continent might be I never thought of inquiring.
Snap was now quite well, and under the gentle dominion of our
new nurse, we were very happy. She had one habit which procured for
us many delightful hours. She liked to go into the Minster, and talk
to her father while he was sweeping and cleaning it. Sometimes other
people were there, to whom she talked, and, while she did so, Snap and I
crept admiringly about, among the old carved work, stole into the pulpit,
and peered down from it; got into the organ gallery, and saw the angels
puffing their cheeks as they blew the trumpets, and the little cherubs so
smiling and happy. No wonder, when each had got a beautiful pipe of
his own to play upon! Then we would go into the vestry and feel the
great clamps of the parish chests, and look into the closet where the long
white surplices were, which Snap said were the sort of gowns that ghosts
Then we would steal hand-in-hand into the rich sunny west-end
of the Minster. Here was a great window, an ancient one, full of
prophets and kings, some on chairs, some on thrones, and some in the open
country. A wonderful country this was, with trees like the trees in
our Noah's ark, and hills that went straight up to heaven, as might be
seen by the angels that stood upon them. That they correctly
represented the country they pictured, I did not in the least doubt any
more than that all the prophets and kings were portraits, and good ones!
Consequently, when I saw 'Noah' written under one of them (for I could
read by this time, Snap having surreptitiously taught me a good
deal)—when, as I say I saw 'Noah,' I never doubted that he had, as
there represented, yellow hair; and when I afterwards saw a picture of the
Deluge, in which that patriarch was represented with dark locks, I thought
what an ignorant person he must be that had painted it.
Of the old sexton we soon became very fond, and he was
equally fond of us; therefore it was not wonderful that his daughter
should often have brought us to him when she wanted to go out and enjoy
herself, and left us till it suited her business or pleasure to come back
She always took little Amy, our sister, with her. She
had been left by our parents in sole charge of us, and she immediately
abused the liberty that she suddenly found in her power. We were
never the worse for it, so she by degrees left us more and more, and I
have little doubt that the quiet old sexton, her father, was a far better
guardian for us than she was.
About this time a personage came upon the stage of our lives,
who was known to the world as the Rev. Charles Mompesson, but by me known
only by the name of Mompey. He was, when first I knew him, as young
as he could be to be in orders, for, as I learned afterwards, he came to
the place where we lived for a title.
Mompey was exceedingly good to us, especially to me, whom he
carried about as if I had been a doll, took me up the tower stairs in his
arms, and showed Snap and me the great bells when they were ringing, and
filling the whole chamber with a humming noise, as if all the bees in the
world were swarming there, and let us put our fingers into the holes where
the jackdaws and the sparrows build, and feel how warm their eggs were.
He was good, delightful, and beautiful. People who love
children are generally endowed by them with this last attribute. Our
eyes were influenced by our hearts, and we admired him so much that
sometimes we could not help saying to him when he smiled on us,' O Mompey,
how beautiful you are!' Upon these occasions he would sometimes tell
us that other people did not agree with us in opinion; and I do not doubt
the correctness of his words, for he had slightly prominent teeth, which
helped to increase the sweet expression of his amiable face, but certainly
destroyed the regularity of the features; and, moreover, his face was
slightly, very slightly, marked with small-pox. The manner of his
introduction to us was this:
Snap used to personate the characters that he saw in
pictures; and being one day greatly fascinated with the oddity of a figure
in one of the side-lights of the Minster, he sat before it on a bench,
trying to give his face its strange expression, and no doubt succeeding,
for he had marvellous powers of imitation. The figure— that of a
saint in a blue baldric—sat on a high chair, with its legs hanging down,
but not reaching the ground, and its feet, in their pointed shoes,
serenely crossed. Its hands were also crossed, and lightly held a
long willow branch, while its head, hanging affectedly on one side, wore a
smile half-innocent, half-foolish.
Snap got a willow branch, a thing easily procured from the
sexton's little garden, and was sitting in the full enjoyment of his
mimicry before the painted window when Mr. Mompesson passed down the
aisle. He stopped and stared, then laughed with irrepressible
amusement. The imitation was too ridiculously good not to be
perceived in an instant.
Snap did not stir a muscle. In fact, he by no means
supposed his personification to be absurd, he was only obeying the strong
artistic feeling within him.
'Who is this?' said Mr. Mompesson. 'What in the name of
wonder is the child doing?'
Upon this I, rising from the mat on which I had been sitting
admiring my brother, exclaimed in my childish piping voice, 'That's Snap;
you must not speak to him now, because he's a mediæval
'Oh, he is, is he?' said Mr. Mompesson. 'Here, Wilson,
Wilson, the sexton, soon appeared, and Mr. Mompesson said
—'Wilson, look at this! These little children cannot possibly be
allowed to make a play-room of the Minster.'
Wilson, as I remember, looked foolish, and replied that we
never did any mischief; and as for the little boy, he 'reckoned that he
was a kind of natural.'
'But they have never played here before, for all that,' he
proceeded; 'leastways, not to say play.'
Snap by this time had got down from his bench, and when he
heard this last remark, he opened his eyes wide, and cried out, 'Oh—oh,
didn't you tell me to play at Brutus yesterday, and missy was Lucius, and
wouldn't let Brutus wake her, but lay down and shut up her eyes quite
tight? And didn't you and Tarrant and Smith say it was just like a
'You didn't,' said Wilson, reddening.
'We did,' retorted Snap; 'and Smith said, ‘Lord, how queer,'
and I said he ought not to say so.'
'Why not?' asked Mr. Mompesson.
Snap pointed with his willow wand at the Commandments, which
were painted in gold and red and blue under the east window. 'It
says there that you mustn't take the Lord's name in vain,' he observed;
and I wondered what he meant, though, true to my habit, I remembered his
words all the more readily because I did not understand them; what was
known might be rubbed from the tablets of memory like a settled sum, but
what was unknown remained to be worked out.
Mr. Mompesson repeated to Wilson that we were not to play in
the Minster any more, and asked us if we knew why. Snap was silent.
I said 'No;' whereupon he took me up in his arms, and said good little
children came to church to pray to God, and be taught how to please Him.
It was only naughty little children who came there to play.
A puzzling assertion this to a child in whose mind was fixed
the belief that it was good to play, and not good to do anything else
Mr. Mompesson took us home with him to his lodgings, and
while he dined we sat beside him, making ourselves very much at home, and
partaking of some radishes.
This parlour was an odd but a desirable abode; it had seven
sides, and one of its narrow windows looked on the Minster roof. It
had been anciently part of a monastic house, and had carved work about it,
which resembled that in the Nave.
From the window we looked at the many grotesque heads which
adorned the flying buttresses of this said Nave. Some of these had
open mouths, and these the charitable sparrows had crammed with straw and
gorged with tender nestlings; others had shut mouths, and seemed to leer
at the young sparrows and reprove their quarrelsome behaviour.
Snap and I were very happy in that little room, and I have no
doubt we were exceedingly queer children, for I remember how we made our
host laugh that evening.
Another young clergyman came in to see Mompy before we went
away, and he also laughed, specially when Snap and I pretended to be mediæval
saints. 'The boy is a fine little fellow,' I heard him say; 'but as
for the girl, she is all eyes.'
When I heard that, I thought how shocking it was to be 'all
eyes,' and how good it was of papa and mamma to love me notwithstanding.
[Enter the Ghost of Cæsar.]
BRUTUS. Is not the leaf turned down
Where I left reading? There it is I think.
How ill this taper burns.—Ha! who comes here?
I think it is the weakness of mine eyes
That shapes this monstrous apparition—
It comes upon me.
AFTER this we often saw
Mr. Mompesson, and if I had not been reminded of the picture by those
grotesque heads which we could see from his window, I should have been
As it was, there were occasions when a vivid fear of it would
suddenly come up and overshadow my infant heart. I used then to
creep behind the curtains of Snap's bed and cover my face with my hands,
sometimes shaking in all my limbs till I gave way to a passion of
screaming and crying.
I never told any one what it was that frightened me, because
my mother had said that I was not to know anything, consequently I thought
I ought not to know this.
One day, however, when I was playing in Mr. Mompesson's room,
I remembered those ugly faces, and crept up to him for protection, hiding
my face in the folds of his gown for he had just come in from the Minster,
and was standing against a desk writing. He gave what he had written
to a man who stood waiting for it, and then he took me upon his knee.
I was cold; he warmed my hands in his large palm, and
inquired whether anything was the matter, asking me if I was happy.
I said 'No,' and when he asked why, I can remember that I shook my head
and said I must not tell him. He, however, repeated the question,
and at last I confided to him as a great secret, that there was a place
where wicked men were put when they died, and that I had seen a picture of
I whispered this to him with confidential earnestness, and on
hearing it he started and coloured with that fine blush of shame sometimes
seen on the faces of ingenuous young men. Perhaps he felt that such
ignorance was a reproach to him, for he had kept us a great deal with him,
and had only thought of amusing us.
He asked me if I ever said my prayers, and I answered, 'Oh
yes,' and kneeled on his knee repeating them to him. After this I
think I inquired of him whether the picture did not make him unhappy also,
and he answered as Snap had done, 'Oh no.' 'Did he ever think about
it, then?' I asked. He said he did, but that he was going out to see
a poor man, and if I liked I might go with him and play while he was in
the cottage. Then after that he would talk to me, and tell me why he
was not afraid; in short, he would tell me a beautiful story. I went
with him in high glee. Our road lay through a timber-yard, some way
out of the small town: one side of it was shaded by a wood, and there were
long piles of timber heaped up in this yard; and there were empty
saw-pits, and sheds where the saw-dust lay.
I had often played with my brother and walked along the piles
of timber. Mompy found a specially great pile, stretched himself
upon it, and began to tell me the promised story.
I had often heard stories before, but never one so beautiful
and so wonderful as this. It was about a man whose name was Adam,
and he lived in a garden, and he had a beautiful wife.
I do not, of course, remember the words in which he arrayed
the marvellous, mysterious history, but they must have been suited to my
infant understanding, for this most wonderful of all stories but one
presented visions to me of beauty that I had not imagined before, and of
happiness indescribable. To live in a garden, and such a garden!
I thought how kind it was of God to give it them, and then I questioned
the narrator about the soft, shining rivers, and the grass all velvet-like
with moss, the trees covered with citrons, and overhung with grapes;
birds, also, singing on the branches, and not afraid when Adam and Eve
'Might Eve gather the flowers?' I inquired. 'Might she
gather as many as she liked?'
'Oh yes, God made them to grow on purpose for Adam and for
Eve, and as long as they were good they were to live in that beautiful
Still, when I look back on that now distant day, the vision
of Eden rises up before me as I saw it then, with lucid rivers slipping on
beneath the flowering trees and angels with long white wings moving about
by the beautiful man and woman, or waiting till the voice of God should be
heard in the cool of the day.
I listened like one fascinated, questioning him again and
again, and then he began to tell me about the fair glittering serpent—how
it tempted our first mother under the mysterious tree, and when I saw how
it would end I said, 'Oh don't let Eve gather the apple,' and I hid
my face among the daisies and began to cry.
But I soon got up again, dried my eyes, and asked—'Did she
really take the apple which God said she was not to have?'
'Yes,' Mr. Mompesson answered, 'she did.'
How sorry I was for them. I heard how they were torn away from that happy
place, and pitied them both, but my heart ached most for Eve. I thought
the stones must have cut her feet, and I wondered whether Adam ever
forgave her for persuading him to eat the apple.
'She was very unkind,' I remember saying 'for now we had to live in a
place not half so beautiful, and it was all her fault.'
'It did not signify,' he answered. 'God loved us though he had been
When he had been to see the poor man, he would tell me the rest of the
So he went through the little copse to the cottage, leaving me to
play among the piles of wood. There was fine soft grass growing there, and
there were just within the wood several young hawthorn trees, covered with
I had still some misgivings as to whether it did not hurt Eve's
feet to walk on the grass in Eden, so I took off my shoes and socks, and
ran about among the daisies and the buttercups.
It was a most delightful sensation, that of walking
about with bare feet. I enjoyed it that day for the first and last
time. Now I was quite sure that Eve had been really happy in the
garden; and as I stepped about over the grass which was warm and glowing
with the afternoon sun, I personated Eve in my childish heart, and stood
under a may-tree, saying to myself, that if the serpent came I would not
listen to him.
Some people appear to feel that they are much wiser, much
nearer to the truth and to realities than they were when they were
children. They think of childhood as immeasurably beneath and behind
them. I have never been able to join in such a notion. It
often seems to me that we lose quite as much as we gain by our lengthened
sojourn here. I should not at all wonder if the thoughts of our
childhood, when we look back on it after the rending of this vail of our
humanity, should prove less unlike what we were intended to derive from
the teaching of life, nature, and revelation, than the thoughts of our
more sophisticated days.
However, this is mere speculation. While we are
enveloped in the veil we cannot know who sees through it most clearly.
I was putting on my shoes again, when Mr. Mompesson came
back, and I remember that when I had settled the buttons to my mind I
asked him to tell me the rest of that story, whereupon he sat down upon
the timber, looking at me with his ordinary sweet expression of grave calm
'There was nothing more to be told about Eden, he said.
'Where was it now?' I inquired. I wished to see the
outside of it.
'Where was it? it was gone. Men had travelled all over
the world, but it was not to be found. Once there came a great flood
of waters, and most likely they swept Eden away.'
'That must have been because God was displeased with us; or
was it because He thought we should always be trying to find the way in?'
I think he answered that God himself had found the way back
for us into that garden, but I understood something of its being in
heaven, and of God's great love for us.
'Why did He love us?' I asked with infantine scorn. 'I
did not love Adam and Eve—they had been very unkind.'
He said that if I would try to understand he would tell me
another story, and mentioning the familiar name to which I had hitherto
attached little or no meaning, he began and told me the old story, the
happy story, the good news of the glorious Child, and how angels came and
sang to the shepherds as they watched their flocks by night. He told
this with a tender recollection of what a little child he was speaking to;
he must have done, for I understood some of his meaning and remember it
When men were turned out of Eden they got worse and worse,
and they could make themselves any better, but the great Son of God who
sat with Him on the throne promised that He would come down to this world
to die for them, that God might forgive them and take them to heaven
itself, which was a better place than Eden.
I listened with eager wonder, but, strange to say, there was
one thing that I heard with distrust —Christ was born in a stable. I
asked my informant if he was sure of that. He answered with his
serene smile, 'Yes, Christ was so humble that He chose to be born in a
Glimpses of beneficent miracles, the hot country, the aloes,
the palm-trees, the waters of that pool which angels were wont to trouble
with their wings; glimpses of these things, broken, but still lovely, come
to my mind as reflected from the precious fragments of this marvellous
story. But I had a fear lest the end should be like the end of Eden;
and when he told me anything more than commonly delightful to listen to, I
begged him to repeat it for me again.
At last he told me the end. Perhaps to tell it in such
a way was a new thing to him, perhaps this impressed his own heart the
more; certain it is that when he had told me of the agony in the garden
and the crown of thorns, his voice, always sweet, became touched with
But he went on: there was darkness over all the land. I
understood that the Saviour died. I was amazed to hear it, and,
overawed by the gravity of the narrator, I begged him to stop, and there
was a long pause.
Children are so easily moved. I wept; but, babe that I
was, and ignorant, I said those were wicked people, and I hated them.
He said, 'Christ the Saviour would forgive both them and us.'
'But was not Christ dead?'
'He was dead when they took Him down from the cross and laid
Him in a sepulchre.'
I listened, and wondered, and he told me how on that sultry
morning long ago the women came before day-dawn and looked in at the open
door of the sepulchre where the body of Jesus had lain.
At this point in his narrative I think it was that he took
from his breast-pocket a little book and read from it all the remainder of
the gospel story, beginning with the ever comforting words, 'Woman, why
weepest thou?' and ending, 'Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of
the world.' So, then, Christ the Redeemer lived again, he told me,
and was gone up to heaven to pray for us, and if we trusted in Him and
strove to please Him, we should certainly go to Him when we died, and
never see that place that I had seen a picture of.
Upon this, being very glad, I lifted up my face to kiss Mr.
Mompesson. I had been a good deal awed and frightened while the
issue of the event was doubtful, and now in my relief and exultation I
danced about the place for joy. Most people, should think, would
have checked these manifestations of delight with severity, as irreverent
and foolish. Mr. Mompesson did not. He sat looking on with his
arms folded, repeating, when I asked him that what he had told me was
quite true, 'perfectly true;' and when, tired at last, I came to him to be
taken on his knee, he held me in his arms, and said that now I must try to
be a good child.
I answered in all simplicity, that now I had heard this story
I meant to try, and I asked him whether he tried.
Who could hear such a question with equanimity? He did
not reply at first, but when I pressed him, he answered with a
sigh—'sometimes.' I remember looking in his face with surprise, but
I was tired, so I laid my head on his shoulder, and we sat silent.
What he was thinking of I cannot tell. My thoughts, with all their
ignorance, were such as I could wish to have always. I thought of
that beneficent Redeemer, and how I would try to find out what He wished
me to do that I might do it.
Now, as we had been told that we were not to play in the
Minster any more, we should have found it rather a dull place in spite of
our love for the old sexton, if it had not been for a certain little door.
You opened this little door, and on windy days a kind of hollow moaning
came down to it, and when you looked up you saw nothing but a worn stone
stair. Snap and I, having once a good opportunity, went up this
winding stair; sometimes it was very dark, and then all at once as we
crept on we came to a narrow looplight. Oh so narrow! we could but
just push our hands through it; and we looked down and saw the blue-coat
boys playing in their playground, and saw the broad flat tops of the
cedar-trees in the vicar's garden.
At last we came to the bell-chamber, but the ominous hum
there—for it was on the stroke of noon—rather frightened us, and we
retreated, and mounted again, coming out at last in a room which at first
seemed nearly dark, but which grew lighter and pleasanter when our eyes
became accustomed to it,—a place that no one wanted, and where nothing was
kept, rough, dusky, and with strange hollows and niches in the walls.
The roof had a little hole in it here and there, and the birds came
through at their will.
We adopted that place, stole up to it frequently, and brought
to it certain possessions—as crumpled books' full of pictures, dolls, and
baskets for keeping young birds in. Many a happy hour I spent there,
sitting on the floor under a great beam that in one part stooped low over
our heads; and here Snap told me a great many extraordinary things, some
true, and some of his own invention. We peopled the whole place with
kings and soldiers, ghosts and living celebrities. In one dim recess
sat no less a personage than Queen Elizabeth. Near it was the tent
where Brutus was resting before the battle where his evil genius looked at
him; and a large doll of mine, in a particularly dusky corner, received a
daily visit of condolence from us as the Empress Josephine when her tyrant
had got another mate.
I liked this place very much when the day was bright, for
then little spots of sunshine would steal in and creep cheerily along the
floor; but sometimes there came a dark cloudy day, and then the whole
chamber would be filled with a strange duskiness, which gave mysterious
shape to beams and rafters. Then I was often frightened, because
Snap, whom nothing made afraid, used to fable that ghosts were biding
behind them, and would most likely peep out soon to look at us. Then
indeed I used to tremble, and my face being covered with my hands at the
first hint of the ghosts, I would listen while he held imaginary
conversations with them, always demanding what they wanted in a bold
voice, as manly as the circumstances permitted, and answering in the
person of the said ghosts, with a weak whining tone that they were come to
hear about Wallace, or Giant Despair, or the battle of Trafalgar,
according to the book he might have been reading aloud.
Thereupon he generally ordered them to retire, and not come
out till evening; and after a time finding these fetches of his
imagination not unnaturally subject to his bidding, I came to regard them
with less awe, and, in fact, till a certain memorable day, I regarded all
sorts of ghosts with a pity which was somewhat akin to contempt.
On this particular day Snap proposed to leave me in 'Hades,'
as he called this place, and go down to the sexton's house for an old book
that he wanted to borrow. There were a good many spots of sunshine
that day, and I had my doll and a bag of crumbs for the mice, who would
often come out and eat them, even in our presence. I do not remember
how old I was, but I was certainly getting on in life, for I had arrived
at a point when one desires to be depended on, and not wish to be thought
a baby—therefore I took care to repeat to myself that I was not at all
afraid, and I sat a long time amusing myself very pleasantly, when all on
a sudden I heard a creaking on the stairs, and then a pause, and then a
kind of snort. I pricked up my little head, for the sounds were
unusual, but presently something like regular footsteps was heard, and I
of course supposed them to be Snap's, and was much encouraged; but,
willing to guard against any possible contingency, I covered my eyes with
my hands, because in case this should be a ghost, I did not wish to have
anything to do with it.
What a loud foot this possible ghost had! I was soon
sure that it was not Snap who was coming, and I thought if it was a ghost
it could be no other than the ghost of Cæsar;
so I crouched down closer, squeezed my hands over my eyes, and presently,
with a sort of wheezing noise, something heavy came in, and started, and
nearly tumbled down, crying out,
'Bless my heart! bless me! bless me!'
Something seemed in a great hurry, it tumbled or rolled down
the stairs with more creaking and more wheezing—then a door was shut
below—the ghost had shut himself in among the great bells. I was so
glad he was gone.
Snap soon after came up. He cried to me to make haste
and run down, for the sexton was very soon going home. We had not
time for much talk, but as he went down Snap saw that I looked just a
'What is the matter?' he asked.
'A ghost came,' I whispered, 'while you were away.'
'Nonsense,' he answered; 'what did it do?'
'It wheezed,' I replied; 'I think it was a sick ghost.
It wheezed, and then it rolled down-stairs.'
'I don't believe it,' said Snap, and so dismissed the
And he showed as how he had seen an angel in his house. -
ACTS xi. 13
OUR nurse had a very
easy conscience, a most undesirably easy conscience, considering the
circumstances under which she was placed. She suffered us from day
to day to go into the Minster, though the old sexton, when she came to
fetch us home, could seldom give any account of where we were. We
always appeared in the nursery when we were hungry, which, thanks to the
regularity of our appetites, was generally about our dinner time, and that
seemed to satisfy her.
The day after I had heard that odd noise of wheezing on the
stairs, I positively refused to go up to Hades, and we accordingly
remained below. But the day after that, as Snap declared that he
should go up, I crept up after him, and he insisted on peeping into the
door of the bell-chamber, just to be sure, as he said, that nobody was
there. We took with us some crumbs and crusts of bread which we had
collected for our tame mice and the young sparrows.
We did peep into the bell-chamber, and there in a hole we saw
a nest full of nearly fledged pigeons; two of them fluttered on to the
floor, as, forgetful of the ghost, we ran in. We took them, and
tying them loosely into Snap's handkerchief, stood a few minutes on
tip-toe peeping through a loop-light and chattering together. In one
corner of the chamber lay several nests with eggs in them. They were
half covered with a man's jacket (not a jacket such as the sexton wore),
and beside them lay a very dirty little song book and a red
pocket-handkerchief. These things did not surprise us, they were
clearly the possession of some mortal, and we feared not mortals; so we
argued together respecting the ghost which I said I had heard on the
stairs tramping up, as well as respecting other every-day matters.
Finally, we withdrew and crept up the set of wooden steps
which led into 'Hades;' they were little better than a ladder, but we were
well accustomed to them, and when we had shut the door, Snap said that he
had peeped through the crack of the hinges as he carne up the steps, and
that there was somebody in the bell- chamber standing straight
upright in the corner behind its heavy door, which was open.
I took the easiest solution that offered, and said perhaps it
was the ghost. 'Oh no,' he said, 'it had dirty nails, and ghosts, he
was sure, never had dirty nails.'
Of course I was immediately sure of it too. But why did
the man stand behind the door? was it that we might not see him?
Snap could not tell. We untied the handkerchief, made a splendid
nest for our pigeons of hay and feathers, for the wasteful sparrows always
brought up far more of these materials than they wanted; then we fed them
and our tame mice, who no sooner heard our voices than they peeped out and
twinkled their bead-like eyes at us. And afterwards, Snap, standing
on the beam which was our customary seat, made these small creatures an
harangue which was partly mortal, partly fabulous. First, with much
self-laudation of his kindness in being at the pains to teach such
inferior creatures, he related to them, as he generally did on these
occasions, the history of the war between the mice and the cranes.
Never was there such a restless audience; little squeaks were heard now
and then all through it, and little rushes behind beams, and sudden darts
out into the open floor, while all the time an unceasing chirp and chirrup
was kept up in the nests out of reach among the tie-beams. Finally,
while the mice, who had not yet finished every crumb, made a concluding
scamper down the beams and popped into their holes, he delivered to them a
serious lecture on the vice of greediness. 'They need not think,' he
observed, 'that even when he was away they could snatch the crumbs from
one another unobserved, for there was a person near at hand who was not
exactly a gentleman, because he had dirty nails, but who knew when mice
were greedy, and despised them. For himself, he was soon going away;
but they had better improve their manners, for during the afternoon that
person might very likely come up and look at them.'
Very likely indeed, as the sequel proved,—for I was still
listening to this harangue with unbounded admiration, when the door was
cautiously pushed open, and through the dim chamber a man came up to us
who was clad in a fustian jacket and grey worsted stockings: he had no
shoes. He seemed very careful not to make a noise, and when he got
close up to Snap, who was standing on the beam, he said, 'Servant, sir.'
'How do you do?' said Snap, by way of reply.
This man looked as if he had not been shaved for some time,
and his eyes had an eager, hungry glitter. 'What's your name, hey,
sir?' he next asked.
'Tom Graham,' replied Snap; 'and this is my sister —she is
'Oh,' was the man's sole reply, and he stared at us very
hard, and asked if we came into the Minster roof every day.
'Every day, when we can,' said Snap. 'Do you?' I did
not like that man, and did not wish him to talk to me, he made a wheezing
noise as he breathed, which reminded me of the ghost, so I withdrew to the
corner where the mice made their holes, and began to watch them; they were
very amusing, and I presently forgot to listen to Snap and the man as they
whispered together, and busied myself with them, and afterwards with my
old doll in the recess. In a little while the man glided away very
quietly, and Snap said he was gone back to the bell-chamber,—and this
chamber, moreover, was a place very seldom entered, for the bells were
rung from below.
Snap then told me with some exultation that this man had
lived for several days in the Minster, or crouching on the roof, for he
was hiding from his enemies! Extraordinary story this, but it did
not surprise us at all. Snap had often told me about people who were
obliged to fly from their enemies, and the sexton himself had a long story
about some old Saxon king who was reputed to have concealed himself in the
crypt for two months while the victorious Danes were scouring the country.
Of course we were not to tell the beadle or the
sexton,—indeed he had impressed that very strongly on Snap's mind, and
said he should be very angry if he did, and Snap had promised most
earnestly not to do so. This man had no sword, to be sure, and no
armour nor weapon of any kind. The circumstance was disappointing to
us, and a surprise, because the warriors in Shakespeare, both those who
fought and those who fled, always had swords or rapiers, or something to
fight with. Snap had asked the man what he had done with his sword,
but he said he had only a knife, and that 'would serve his turn if any one
came near him;' we hoped that no one would, and took his part against his
enemies, without particularly considering who they might be. I
resolved also that the next day, when we came into the Minster, I would
bring him a posy of daisies and buttercups.
We went home, and, as may easily be believed, no one asked us
whether we had seen a man in the Minster, and whereabouts he hid himself.
Every time nurse spoke to us that was what I, however, expected her to
say; but as the evening wore on I nearly forgot the man, till just before
bed time, when I stole into the green bed-room, and looked at the Minster
tower to see whether he was peeping out at any of the loop-lights. The
next day was wet, but the day after that being hot and fine, our nurse
took out dear little Amy's best pelisse, dressed the pretty little smiling
creature, and putting on our common suits led us all into the Minster, and
saying that she wanted to take Amy to her cousin's farm in the country,
left us with her father.
Snap almost immediately began to climb the tower, on his way
to the bell-chamber. He said he had promised the man that he would
go and see him again, and besides he wanted to ask him what 'his enemies'
would do to him if they got him. So up we both climbed, till we got
to the dim part of the stairs, where the massive door of the chamber might
be seen. I liked to hear that door opened, it used to creak with a
kind of complaining noise; and besides, it was pricked full of minute
round holes which Snap said had little worms in them.
When we reached the said door, Snap knocked with his open
hand, and then whispered through the great key-hole, 'Man, man, let me in,
I am not one of your enemies.' Upon this the door was softly
opened, and a great, fierce, unwashed and unshaven face looked out.
We were told to walk in, and the man asked in a deep voice, which rather
frightened us, whether either of us had told any one where he was.
We both declared that we had not, adding that we knew it would be
very wicked to tell! Upon this he seemed satisfied, and Snap
venturing respectfully to ask him how he was, he replied that he was
'fairly clemmed,' by which he meant that he was suffering from hunger.
His appearance was anything but heroic, yet we both regarded him with awe
and deference, which was not diminished even when the fellow said, 'If I
know'd of a boy that could be trusted, I'd send him to buy me a loaf of
bread.' Snap on this rose proudly up; there was a baker's shop on
the south side of the Minster, and scarcely a stone's throw from the
porch. He received money and instructions to buy a half-quartern
loaf there, and if he was asked any questions, to say that it was for his
little sister to feed her young birds with, or he might say that he was
'But that would be a story,' said Snap; 'and, besides, Missy
and I have had our dinner; we are not hungry, thank you.'
I do not remember how this difficulty was got over, but Snap
certainly went to fetch the loaf, and I, meanwhile, was left with this
man, who turned pale and frequently shivered. Most likely he felt
the extreme danger of sending a child like my brother on such an errand,
but hunger being too strong for him, he could not resist the opportunity.
At last, Snap was heard coming up again, the door was softly
opened, and he appeared with triumph in his eyes, and a great loaf in his
arms. 'They never asked me what I was going to do with it,' he
observed; 'most likely they thought I had come to fetch it for our cook,
and nobody saw me bring it into the Minster, for Wilson was standing with
his back to me, rubbing the pulpit rails.' Our man took the loaf
with eager eyes, and when he told us that for the last five days he had
lived on birds' eggs only, we were not so greatly surprised, as we
otherwise might have been, at the way in which he tore it to pieces and
devoured it. Unless I am very much mistaken, we visited this man in
his airy lodging five or six times, and Snap was honoured almost every day
by receiving his commissions. Once he was ill, and I was left with
him while my little brother was sent down with a bottle, and desired to
fill it at the tap in the vestry. It was a bottle that we had
frequently seen on the vestry table, but we never doubted our friend's
perfect right to the use of it. Snap, on this occasion, was detained
by a cause no less important than the meeting of Mr. Mompesson himself in
the Minster, and he, telling him that there was going to be a wedding,
desired him not to play with that bottle, but put it in its place.
After which, if he was a good boy, he might stay in the choir and see this
wedding. So Snap was obliged to remain and look on, though he knew
that 'our man,' as we called the villain up in the tower, would be much
alarmed at his long stay,
After a long time he was able to fill the bottle and come up.
Meanwhile I, left in charge of the invalid, endeavoured to amuse him by
telling him stories. He was stretched on the rough floor, and his
lips were parched with fever and excitement. He must have felt the
extreme risk he ran from our having discovered his retreat, yet it behoved
him to speak us fair and be kind to us, for on our voluntary visits he
almost entirely depended for his scanty meals.
I suppose that villain, as he undoubtedly was, must have been
particularly fond of children, for I can remember that, so far from being
afraid to be left with him, I actually liked him, and was never tired of
hearing him talk about his little lass who was just my height, and would
be 'five years old, come Michaelmas;' her name was Sally; and being
frequently questioned by me, he told the colour of her hair and eyes, and
described her best frock, a print one, 'with something of a pink pattern
on it,' and her bonnet with a blue ribbon.
So, as I said, I liked this man. I liked to play with
the blue glass buttons of his velveteen waistcoat, and to wind up his
silver watch; also to hear him talk of his 'missis,' meaning his wife, and
how she whipped Sally when she was a naughty girl; how Sally ran to meet
him sometimes when he came home from work, and rode home on his shoulder.
Perhaps the reflection that he could never hope to see this
wife and this child again made him think of them with regret; perhaps the
tender age of the children who ministered to him made him willing to
choose for them from his guilty mind some of its few innocent
remembrances. I cannot tell how this may have been, but I remember
how sorry I was that day for him, while Snap remained so long below.
I could not bear to see him looking so miserable; and as I sat upon his
fustian jacket, I told him as many fairy tales as I could think of.
At length Snap came up with the bottle, and the poor prisoner
drank the draught which had been got at so much risk to himself with
Our friend Wilson was busy in the Minster, a long way from
the vestry, and taking advantage of this fact, we both went down and
brought up the great glass decanter. How our little hearts beat
during this adventure! how I watched Wilson from behind a pillar while
Snap waited in the vestry till I should sign to him to come out! We
wished the man would let us tell Wilson that he was there. We
assured him that Wilson was a very kind man, and would be good to him.
It was of no use, however, and we were obliged to be content with waiting
on him ourselves.
The least noise would make him tremble; and seeing this, I
that day asked him how long he thought it would be before his enemies
found him; but he pulled down his heavy black brows, and looked at me with
such displeasure that I crept behind Snap to hide myself.
I do not remember how long we ministered to this man,—perhaps
for a fortnight. Sometimes we acted scenes or told stories to amuse
him. He was extremely restless, and would pace the dim chamber for
hours together; but a kind of stealthy pleasure would appear in his face
when we appeared and had answered the always repeated question as to
whether we had told any one. He often said our presence was a great
relief to him; and once told Snap that he felt very bad o' nights, and
generally came down and slept on the vestry table.
At last one day when we came to see our man, we found the
door of the bell-chamber wide open. He was gone, and not a trace
remained of him. We were very glad that he had escaped from his
enemies, and we often talked of him between ourselves, but we never told
any one of his having been concealed in the Minster,—no, not even our
beloved Mr. Mompesson; and on looking back I feel quite convinced that we
had no notion we were doing wrong in this concealment. In fact, I
believe we supposed that we were performing a sacred duty. Who the
man was I never discovered with any certainty; but years after, in reading
a recent history of my native shire, I found an account of the escape of a
certain prisoner from the county gaol.
This man, Sam Potter by name, was described as a convicted sheep-stealer
and supposed murderer, and his escape was made in the daytime, while a
market was being held below. A rush of persons was made to receive
and detain him as he descended by a rope; but among them must have been
several accomplices, for the cry was to pass him to the front, and the
crowd changed about, and being impatient, pushed and searched, but to no
purpose. Some prison clothes were found on the ground, and there was
a fight between two men, who conveniently quarrelled just at that moment,
but the felon was not to be seen, and he had never been discovered since.
This gaol, I found, was forty miles from our Minster; but the date given
as that of Sam Potter's escape was just a fortnight earlier than that on
which we found the strange man in the tower.
I therefore incline to think, though I have nothing else to
go by, that Sam Potter and 'our man' were one and the same person, that he
overheard Snap telling me how he had seen a man behind the door, and
thinking his only chance lay in speaking us fair, and getting us to
promise not to tell, he had come out to propitiate us, and had tried the
desperate experiment of letting children be his purveyors.
Our intimacy with Mr. Mompesson soon made us cease to search
for 'our man,' though we did not forget him, and in case he should return
we would often carry up bits of bread and other provisions, and hide them
in the crevices that he had been accustomed to make his larder.
Every day we went to see 'Mompey' in his seven-sided parlour,
and sometimes we presided at his frugal dinner, which took place just
after our early tea. Snap was promoted to cut up his lettuces, I
peppered his peas, and occasionally partook of the plums from his pudding.
His landlady waited. I was privileged to have a small silver fork,
and help myself from his plate. My brother was not allowed to take
any such liberty, but he was not jealous, indeed he regarded me as a very
young child, and took it amiss that I could not help lisping. We
might have consumed more of Mompey's plums, but that about this time we
had the measles, and when we were getting better used to be very cross,
and cry and pettishly quarrel with one another. One day, as I well
remember, Mr. Mompesson came to see us in our nursery. Nurse, as
usual, was away, gone out for a walk with Amy. The housemaid brought
up Mompey, by his own desire, and he helped us to make a Roman
fortification with our wooden 'bricks.' On this occasion, as we all
three sat on the floor, as happy as possible, a queer ringing was heard at
the front bell, but nothing was farther from our thoughts than that we
should be disturbed, and we were cheerfully going on with our play, when
there was a noise on the back stairs of people running up, so fast that we
thought the house must be on fire; but we had not time to tell each other
our thoughts before the door was burst open and in rushed our papa and
mamma, the former laughing, and the latter crying, for joy at seeing us
They each seized a child, and I have not a more distinct
recollection of anything which took place in my childhood than of seeing
Mompey a minute after sitting on the floor without his coat, blushing,
among the heaps of wooden bricks, while the laughing, crying, exclaiming,
and kissing were going on around him.
At last he rose and fetched mamma a chair. It was the
rocking chair, and as he handed it to her she observed his presence and
appearance with very great surprise—he was blushing up to the eyes, and
had not yet put his coat on.
'Are you Mrs. Green's servant?' she asked gravely and
sweetly, for she actually thought he was the footman of an old aunt of
He laughed softly, and with a good deal of stammering and
blushing, contrived to explain that he was one of the curates, but before
he had done my father began to shake hands with him, and presently helped
him on with his coat. Coats must have been made tighter then, I
think, than they are now, for I remember that it was no slight effort to
get Mompey into his.
Now that papa and mamma were come home we were very happy.
Our parents, observing some charming proof's of our ignorance, applauded
nurse; finding us also fat and well, they spoke of her openly as a
treasure, gave her a silk gown and a shawl with pine cones all over it.
We of course said nothing of the hours during which she had left us to
wander about by ourselves; children seldom complain of neglect or even of
unkindness, and we were unconscious of either.
Some time after this I had a great disappointment, the smart
of which I sometimes feel to this day. We had made acquaintance with
Wilson's grandson, a boy about twelve years old, and one day when we were
up in the tower (for we three often went there when our mother was out,
and nurse wanted to get rid of us) we talked to this boy about several
things that Mr. Mompesson had told us of, specially, as I remember, about
'Oh, Titus,' I said to this boy, 'I wish I could see an
'And why shouldn't you?' he replied, 'I could show you one
very easy—my father's got one in his shop.'
'An angel!' I exclaimed, 'has he got a real angel—a live
I was little more than five years old—let that fact be an
excuse for the absurdity of the question.
Snap was absorbed in his book and took no notice. 'Is
it alive?' I repeated.
'I don't know what you mean,' he replied; 'it ain't alive,
nor it ain't dead—but it is an angel, and has long wings and a crown on
'And how did he catch it?' I exclaimed, in the plenitude of
my infantine simplicity.
'He didn't catch it,' replied Titus, 'he borrowed it of
I shall never forget the awe, the ecstasy which thrilled my
heart on hearing this. 'Do you think,' I inquired, 'that he would
let me see it?'
Titus replied that he would with 'the greatest of pleasure.'
He was a very stupid boy, and when I inquired whether it
would be wicked in me to go and see it he stared vacantly, and said I had
better come at once, for very soon it would be his dinner-time. I
would rather have waited, but then I thought perhaps that might be my only
opportunity, as no doubt the angel would shortly go home again to heaven;
so I followed, longing and yet trembling, and Titus took me out of doors
and into a yard where there was a great shed. It was a large place
full of chips and shavings, and at the end farthest from the entrance
there was a table covered with a large white cloth which had settled to
the shape of a figure lying beneath it, and gave evident indications of
limbs and features.
'There,' said Titus, 'that's the angel, father keeps it
covered because it's such a handsome one.'
My heart beat high, but when I marked the bier-like
appearance of the table, and that there was a recumbent figure beneath the
drapery, I snatched away my hand, and shrieking out, 'Oh, it is dead, the
angel is dead,' fell down on the floor, and lost recollection for a moment
from excessive fright. Presently I saw that Titus was standing by
me, staring in alarm, and I sat up, shaking, and feeling very cold.
'I told you, Miss, that it wasn't alive nor it wasn't dead,'
he observed; 'how should it be? Don't be afraid, come and look at
I felt sick, and shut my eyes while he led me to it, and put
back the drapery; then I ventured to open them, and, oh, unutterable
disappointment, it was a wooden angel, and there were veins of oak upon
'Now,' said Titus, 'what were you afraid on?'
'This is not the sort of angel I meant,' I answered; and
added, 'I meant an angel that had been in heaven'
Titus, stupid as he was, looked at me with astonishment on
hearing this, and answered with reverential awe, 'Miss, you must not talk
in that fashion. That sort of angel doesn't fly down here.'
'Are you sure?' I inquired.
'Why, of course I am,' he answered, sincerely enough, though
strangely. 'If they came in snowy weather, they would get their
'I know they do come,' I replied, 'God sends them with
messages, Mr. Mompesson told me He did:
Titus, as I remember, did not clear up this mystery for me,
but he answered, 'This is an imitation angel. Father is
making two for the new organ. The man that he borrowed it of made
'Then had he seen an angel?'
'How did he know, then, what angels were like?'
That Titus could not tell.
'Where did that man live?'
'He lived at Norwich.'
This reply entirely satisfied me. Norwich I knew was a
great way off. It might be a good deal nearer to heaven than was the
place where I lived. I cannot say that I distinctly thought it was,
but it was remote and utterly unknown. All things therefore were
possible concerning it. I looked down on the angel's wings as it lay
on the long low table, and I believed that it was rightly carved, and that
they know all about angels at Norwich.
Up and down as dull as grammar,
On an eve of holiday.—MRS.
'HE says "It's not of
the slightest use to wake them, my dear, they'll neither understand the
matter nor feel it." So with that he kissed them—asleep, you know,
in those two beds—and off he went.'
These words were spoken by my nurse one evening as she sat at
her tea with a friend whom she had invited to spend the evening with her.
'And took your mistress and the little boy with him, didn't
he?' said the friend.
'Yes, and they are coming back to-morrow.'
'And how long is Mr. Graham to be away?'
'Nobody knows—it's Sydney that he's gone to—they went to see
'And you mean to go with her to the out-of-the-way place you
told me of?'
'Yes, but how Missis can put her head into such a hole I
can't think. I'd as lief stop here and never see a soul as go there,
where they'll live just as if they weren't gentlefolks.'
'Maybe you'll find it better than you expect,' observed the
'I don't see how that can be,' replied nurse; 'Missis has
explained it all to me. "I should wish, nurse," says she, "that
there should be no misunderstanding between us. You wish to remain
in my service?" "If you please, ma'am," says I. Says she
again, "Do you know what sort of a house I am going to?" "No,
ma'am," says I, "but I don't need to know, for I shall not have to clean
'You were right there,' said the friend, 'and of course she
won't expect any cleaning of you.'
Nurse proceeded—' "I suppose," says Missis, "you know that
your master has had losses;" and then on she went, and told me that he was
obliged to leave her in England, that she had a small property of her own,
which was two acres of land and a windmill. These were almost in the
midst of a common, and the mill was let to a very respectable couple; on
the land she said were two cottages, such as poor folks live in.
"You need make no mistake," says she, "about them; they have brick floors,
and the door opens into the front kitchen of each. One of those
front kitchens I mean to have for my parlour, the other will be the
nursery. There are two little back kitchens behind, where the
cooking and all that must be done, and there are four little attics above
where we must sleep. Those cottages," she says, "will not let
because they are in such a lonesome place, therefore the best thing I can
do is to live in them, and the garden ground will provide fruit and
'I would not have gone with her,' said the friend.
'She is a very nice lady to live with,' urged our nurse.
'But she is a very out-of-the-way person,' continued the
'Oh, I don't care for that,' said nurse, 'so long as she
never interferes with me— besides, she allows a great deal of liberty, and
never troubles herself to look after things, but just lies on the sofa
reading her books, and writing—no wonder she has the headache.'
'But they do say she gets money by writing,' remarked the
My nurse shook her head.
'Nobody would buy such ridiculous things,' she replied, 'as
Missis covers her paper with. I've often seen them—they are rounds
and squares and triangles, all going in and out of one another—John, that
was our footman before they lost their property, said they were
I cannot say that I distinctly regretted this intended
absence of my father. A week is a long time to a little child, and
ten miles is a great distance—a much longer time and a much greater
distance I did not picture clearly to myself; besides, the absence of my
brother induced me to play with my little sister Amy, and in that natural
and healthy companionship I found consolation for the want both of parents
and expeditions to the Minster.
In the course of time my mother and Snap came home.
Very soon there was a great deal of noise and confusion in the house:
furniture was sold, and other furniture packed up. Then one day, as
I was looking out of the window, I saw a fly standing at the door, and my
mother coming up to me, kissed me, and told me to look at my old nursery,
and then at the Minster, for most likely I should never see them any more.
Mr. Mompesson was present. I asked if I should never
see him any more. We saw he could not tell. This inclined me
to cry, but Snap laughing at me and saying that it would be very jolly to
live in the country, I was cheered; and Mompey having kissed me lovingly,
we got into the fly, and began a journey which lasted all day.
It was late in April. The fields were full of
buttercups, and the hawthorn was in bud. Snap, as I remember member,
was in high spirits, but my mother sometimes shed tears. She was
generally a silent person, but that day she made many efforts to talk, and
towards evening her spirits rose, and we beheld the place that nurse had
called 'a hole.'
A more lovely and desirable place we thought it. Two
cottages built together, and thatched, standing on a great green common,
which in front stretched away for miles, and was studded with little
hillocks covered with broom. This was what met our eyes, and we were
delighted. The little hillocks were golden with broom blossom, and
here and there green heather, stunted hawthorn trees, and patches of wild
At the back was an orchard and a vegetable garden, also the
mill with the miller's cottage, and the miller's large duck-pond and
cow-shed, and beyond these was the common again; not a single object to be
seen on its green expanse, and no variety of colour but what was supplied
by the winding sandy road that crossed it in the direction of the nearest
town. Inside the cottages did not communicate. In the one on
the left was the little parlour; it had a round table in it, mamma's sofa
and chairs, and a good-sized set of book shelves. It had also a
piece of old turkey carpet on the floor. In the little room over it,
mamma slept with Amy; in the attic at the back stood Snap's bed, and I had
the corresponding attic in the other house. Though we had come from
a handsome and well-appointed house, I do not think that these
arrangements struck us as at all shabby or uncomfortable, and in some
respects we were far happier than before, for we perceived that we should
now enjoy the sweets of liberty. A young servant had been hired to
help nurse, and these between them conducted the household with little or
no interference from my mother. But we did not now take regular
walks as heretofore; we might wander where we liked in perfect safety,
nurse could not spare the time to go with us, nor was there any need for
surveillance. Excepting on market day, not a cart jogged and not a
farmer plodded along the sandy road, but on that day the miller's wife,
Mrs. Sampson, put on her best print gown, and came out to chat with stray
passers by; our nurse and her assistant also wore their best ribbons then,
and gossiped over the low garden hedge, for from Monday morning early to
Friday evening late they never saw a soul, and if Saturday happened to be
a wet day, sore were their lamentations. My mother used to lie on
her sofa and read, or sit at her desk writing
almost all day, but she superintended our lessons for a short time in the
morning, and sometimes, as a rare pleasure for us, she would take a ramble
with us on the common. We had now reached an age when my mother
seemed to think it a needless and useless attempt to keep us in ignorance
any longer, and she generally answered our questions fully and as clearly
as she could. I say our questions, not that any were originated by
me, but that I participated, as far as I could understand them, in all
Snap's speculations, doubts, and wonders. We however led a much more
healthy life than had hitherto been the case. We dined at twelve,
and after that we might ramble out till hunger brought us home to our
evening meal; thus from one o'clock till seven we often ran about or sat
playing among the purple and gold flowers, the grey lichens, and the white
camomiles. For some time after we reached that pleasant home, we
were exceedingly happy, though we had our difficulties and perplexities,
for after awhile we became engaged in the somewhat arduous task of
constructing an entirely new language, grammar, spelling, and all.
It was of course my brother's idea to make this language, and when I had
been taken into partnership I helped as well as I could.
The verbs of our language were to be all regular, and, to
save trouble, Snap decreed that there should be only two conjugations.
The great present convenience of the language was to be the
impossibility of its being understood by others when we spoke it, but our
humble ambition was that at some future day it would, or at least might,
become the universal language of mankind. Indeed, after we had spent
many months in contriving it, we thought it would be a shame if it did
not—but as we had often been told of the difficulty experienced by
foreigners in pronouncing the 'th'—we decided on omitting this sound, to
make them more willing to learn it. We agreed very happily about the
language itself, but were always wrangling about the spelling. The
misery caused by the sounds of the vowels never shall I forget; we had
intended to have only five, but were at last obliged to increase these
sounds to eleven.
Some of Snap's original poems and my first Journal are
written in this language; and we were then deep in the labour of its
construction when our mother discovered the fact, and was not at all
elated, but, on the contrary, exceedingly annoyed, though we took great
pains to explain its merits to her.
Perhaps it was to prevent the activity of our minds from
being entirely wasted in wrong directions, that about this time she
engaged a tutor for us, being, as she explained to Snap, unable to give
her time to his education, as she had so much writing to do. She
took great pains to impress upon us that we were to be very obedient and
obliging to our new tutor, and very attentive to his lessons. He was
to sleep at the miller's house, and our little nursery was to be furbished
up as a school-room.
In due time the tutor made his appearance. He came in
with sufficient assurance: he heard us read—we lisped horribly; he saw us
write—our writing was dreadful. He seemed a good youth enough.
That he was very young was evident; we had been told that he had just left
Kings College, London. So we treated him with great deference, and
whatsoever he did we admired. Thus when he whistled while mending
our pens, and when he cut his initials on the wooden desk, we thought
these acts proofs of superiority. He, however, did not seem as well
pleased with us, for he had encouraged us to talk that he might discover
what we knew, and he shortly began to look hot, uncomfortable, and
Finally he remarked that it was time to 'shut up shop,' asked
if there were any rabbits on the common, and affably decreed that we might
come out with him and show him about.
Off we all set, first to the mill for a dog, then to the
neath, when finding our new friend gracious and friendly, we shortly began
to chatter and explain various things to him and argue with each other.
At last we sat down. Our tutor sunk into silence,
whistled softly, and stared from one of us to the other. Snap, in
the joy of his heart, was describing our new language, and oh! audacious
act, was actually asking him whether he would like to learn it.
Not a word did he say, but a sort of alarm began to show
itself in his face; and at length, at the end of a sharp argument between
us, he started up and exclaimed, 'I say! there's something wrong here,—a
child of six, and talk about a strong preterite! good gracious!'
'So I tell her,' said Snap; 'she ought to know better than to
expect all our verbs to have strong preterites.'
'Come home, young ones,' said our tutor.
We rose, and he set off at a steady pace; we sneaked behind,
aware that something was wrong. We wondered why he went so fast, for
he was evidently tired, and often wiped his forehead with his
At the cottage door he met my mother.
'I hope you have had a pleasant walk,' she said.
'Oh yes, thank you—at least—not exactly. It's—it's not
exactly what I expected.'
'You can go into the orchard, children, and play there,' said
my mother, and she and our new tutor went in and had a long conversation
When we next met him, which was after tea, he appeared very
ill at his ease, and Snap, who since our walk had become quite at home
with him, asked him a great many questions, which related chiefly, as I
remember, to ghosts, spirits, the magnetic poles, and other every-day
matters. Finally observing his discomfort, we proposed to do some
Shakespeare for him, and he sat staring at us under this infliction
till nurse called us away to bed.
The next morning at breakfast our mother gave us a lecture
respecting our general behaviour and the manner in which we talked.
We had very much surprised our new tutor, she said, and we were not to act
scenes before him any more, or he would certainly be displeased.
In the midst of the meal, Mr. Sampson, the miller, appeared
at the open door looking flushed and excited.
'New Tooter's off; ma'am,' said he; 'I said he wouldn't
'Off!' repeated my mother.
'Yes, ma'am, gone—run away,' replied the miller.
'Extraordinary! run away, Mr. Sampson! what can you mean?'
'Yes, ma'am. I said to my wife last night, "That young
chap won't stay. I know it by the look of him." And sure
enough this morning, just after I went to the mill, he dropped himself and
his bag out o' window and off he ran. When I came in just now, my
wife said, "He's off, John, the Tooter has run away." '
'Have you any reason to think he was not satisfied with his
accommodation?' asked my mother.
The miller shook his head. 'No, ma'am, but we heard him
muttering to himself last night. "I can stand a good deal," said the
Tooter, "but I can't stand a strong—," we could not hear the last word,
though he said it over several times.'
'Strong butter?' suggested nurse, who had brought in some
cress, and was listening to the recital with interest.
'No, it wasn't butter, I know,' replied the honest miller.
'And it couldn't well be beer,' said nurse, 'for I'm sure our
beer is as weak as water.'
Here nurse and Mr. Sampson retired, and my mother seemed to
be lost in thought.
Half an hour after, when nurse came in again to clear away
the breakfast things, my mother said, 'It is very strange that this young
man should have disappeared in such a hurry.'
Nurse said nothing, but she looked wise.
'What do you consider the reason to have been?' said my
mother, point blank.
'Why, really, ma'am, the children do say such strange things,
and they look so queer, bless 'em, and their play-actings are so
awful-like, that I do assure you I should often be uneasy in my mind with
them myself if I had not been used to them so long.'
'You cannot believe that this young man was afraid of them?'
said my mother.
'Perhaps he thought it would save trouble to run off and have
done with it,' said nurse, glancing aside from the question.
'I really do not know what is to be done,' remarked my
'Well, ma'am,' answered nurse, coming to the rescue with some
practical suggestions, 'the children might have their hair cut; and
perhaps you could send to the town for some pomatum, for Master Graham's
hair sticks out just like tow; that would make them look better. And
then they might be particular forbid,' she continued, glancing at us with
a severe regard of control,—'particular forbid to talk their
gibberish language, or act their Hamlets and their other spirits, or ask
the next gentleman any outlandish questions that nobody that ever lived
can answer, till he gets used to them.'
'Next market-day Mr. Sampson had better be asked to bring
some pomatum,' replied my mother.
'Thank you, ma'am; and I could cut Missy's hair short myself
if I might, it will be quite ruined by the time she is grown up if she
wears it now so long and rough!
My mother had already taken up her book. 'Well, nurse,
just as you like,' said she. No steps were taken on that day, but
there was a long consultation between nurse and Mrs. Sampson; and when,
one week after, mamma announced that she had engaged another tutor, our
hair was all cropped short under their joint superintendence in Mrs.
Sampson's kitchen. A quantity of pomatum was next rubbed into it,
and if we did not then look like other children, as they flattered
themselves, we certainly looked very different from our former selves.
Our mother and nurse did not take much trouble to inform us beforehand of
what was going to happen. We heard one day at breakfast that the new
tutor was coming at ten o'clock, and nurse occupied herself for a long
while over my toilet and Snap's, shaking her head over my hands, and
lamenting that they were as brown as berries.
Enter new tutor, introduced by my mother, a tall, cheerful
young man, followed by two dogs. His countenance expressed great
amusement, and when mamma had retired, he looked at us both with
considerable attention, while his dogs lay panting at his feet with their
As for me, I was dreadfully abashed, and felt myself to be a
kind of impostor, who must carefully conceal what I was, or the new tutor
might run away.
'Come here,' said the new tutor to Snap, 'and let the little
fellow come too. Oh, she's a girl, I remember. Well, come here
both of you, and let me see what you are like. You, number one, I
suppose, are at the head of this class?'
'Yes, sir,' said Snap.
'What's your name, youngster?'
'Tom Graham, sir.'
'Now, you just look at me, will you? I hear you are a
very extraordinary little chap. I am very extraordinary myself.
I shall never give double lessons when I am angry.'
Encouraged by the gay tone of his voice, I looked up, on
which he said, 'And what can you do, little one, hey?'
Being for once abashed, I shrank behind Snap, but was pulled
out by his long arm, and straightway set on his knee, while Snap, at his
desire, gave an account of my acquirements and his own.
After this the dogs were sent out, our new tutor began to
examine our books, and speedily won our love by the clear manner in which
he explained and illustrated everything.
In the course of the morning it came out that I did not know
how to work. 'Not know how to work, and begin Greek?' he exclaimed.
'Where's the nurse? fetch her in.'
In came nurse, curtseying.
'Why, Mrs. What's-your-name,' said our tutor, 'I understand
that your young lady cannot work!'
Nurse, taken by surprise, stammered out some excuse.
'It's a very great neglect,' proceeded our new tutor, in a
half bantering tone; 'fetch some of your gussets and things, and let her
'Now, sir?' said nurse.
'To be sure; set her going, and I'll superintend. I can
thread a needle with any man!'
'Sir, she hasn't got a thimble.'
'It is a decided thing that she must have a thimble.'
'Oh yes, sir, that it is'
Mr. Smith was discomfited by this information, but not for
long. Three days after, on a glorious sunny afternoon, as Snap and I
were playing on the common, we saw him strolling towards us with a large
parcel under his arm.
'Come here, you atom,' said he to me, 'I have something to
show you.' So I came and crouched beside him, for he had seated
himself on the grassy bank, and had very shortly unfolded to my eyes one
of the sweetest sights that can be seen by a little girl. It was a
doll, a large, smiling wax doll. Beside it he spread out several
pieces of gay print and silk and ribbon. He had bought them, he
said, at the town; and, moreover, he had bought a thimble.
To ask mamma's help would have been of little use, and he
scorned to ask that of nurse; but by giving his mind to the task, and
making his own independent observations, he designed, by the help of his
compasses, several garments for the doll, and these, in the course of
time, he and I made, thereby giving exceeding satisfaction to the servants
and the family at the mill, who used furtively to watch his proceedings
with great amusement.
Mr. Smith stayed with us for some time, and won our whole
hearts, but he had ceased to be remarkable in my opinion, for children
soon get accustomed to anything. One day, however, I was sitting on
the floor of the mill, playing with a young kitten, when our nurse came
in, and Mrs. Sampson began to consult her concerning the starching and
getting-up of Mr. Smith's collars, for she washed for him, and it appeared
that Mr. Smith was uncommonly particular about the said collars.
It was then that the miller made this sagacious observation:
'Mr. Smith,' said he, 'is a very remarkable young gentleman.
Was he brought up to tootering? I know better. Does he want
the money he gets by it? I should say not. Very well, then, I
ask you this question. What is he here for?'
'Ah,' said nurse, 'what is he here for?'
'For if ever there was a dull place,' observed the miller,
'this is it.'
'Some folks,' remarked Mrs. Sampson, calmly, 'didn't go to
church yesterday morning—'
'In consequence of the cow being ill,' interrupted the
'Ay, the cow; it must ha' been a comfort to her that folks
were asleep in the mill instead of going to church, in particular if folks
never went near her all service time.'
'Martha!' said the miller, 'don't be aggravating.
You'll never make me believe that if you heard anything yesterday morning,
you could have kept it from me all this time.'
'I didn't hear a word, John,' said Mrs. Sampson, laughing. ,
'Then what did you see, Martha?
'To hear the man talk! as if he didn't know my place was
behind the pillar!'
'Then nurse saw something, and has been telling you,' said
'There now, how full of curiosity some men are said nurse.
'I saw Mr. Smith, to be sure, sitting with Missis in her pew, and I saw
the two children with them.'
A good deal of laughing took place here, and I wondered why.
The miller looked puzzled.
'He's not what one would call a white-faced gentleman at any
time,' observed Mrs. Sampson.
'No!' said nurse, and yesterday when the door banged how he
did colour up!'
'The squire is a deal more regular at church than you are,
John!' added Mrs. Sampson.
'So indeed is the whole family,' said nurse, 'but that is no
business of ours. Miss Fanny had on her pink muslin yesterday.
She was last, and I suppose she let the door go, for, as I said, it
'You don't say that!' cried the miller, with a radiant
'Don't say what?' repeated nurse, who at that moment seemed
to remember my presence. I was sitting on the floor nursing a
kitten. 'All I say is, if the door bangs and startles the
congregation, it ought to have its hinges oiled.'
'Hold your tongue, John,' cried Mrs. Sampson, before the
honest miller had said a word; and I, who was angry that Mr. Smith should
be thought to have delicate nerves, exclaimed, 'I don't believe Mr. Smith
was a bit frightened about the door. I shall ask him if he was.'
'No, Miss, I wouldn't,' said Mrs. Sampson, earnestly,
'because he might not like it. And Sampson is going speak to the
sexton about oiling it before next Sunday.'
'Yes, that I am!' said the miller.
'But I don't believe he cares about it at all,' I repeated.
After this many things were said to impress on me the
propriety of my not 'breathing a word' of all this to Mr. Smith. But
my mother coming by and calling me, I ran away from my advisers, and did
not think about the door till that afternoon, when being out on the heath
with Mr. Smith, I after the fashion of children, asked him
'Mr. Smith, you are not afraid of things, are you?'
Mr. Smith was just then sewing.
'What things?' he inquired.
'Oh, I know you are not afraid of guns, nor of leaping over
gates, but Mrs. Sampson says that you were so frightened last Sunday when
Miss Fanny banged the door, that you coloured up.'
'Mrs. Sampson! what business is it of hers?' exclaimed Mr.
'But I said I was sure you were not,' I continued, looking up
into his face, and lo, the healthy brown cheeks were glowing with a clear
red, which suffused his face and mounted up into his temples. Mr.
Smith had 'coloured up' again.
'There never was such a plague of a needle,' said he,
angrily. 'I don't believe it has any eye at all. There, take
So saying, he flung the work over to me, and starting up
began to walk vehemently up and down. I knew that something troubled
him, and made him restless, and seeing him marching about fretting himself
I did not dare to say a word, but I told Snap what I had heard, and Snap
was in an ecstasy, and turned head over heels several times, his usual way
of testifying approbation.
'Oh, how jolly,' said Snap; 'that's what I always wished to
see people do. Why, Dolly, don't you know in all the plays and the
poetry people are in love? but I have never found any real persons yet who
were. Mr. Smith and Miss Fanny are in love, I'm sure. Now
we'll see what they do.'
Poor Mr. Smith! what an agreeable surveillance this promised
him. But he remained happily unaware of the interest he was
exciting; he did not know how, if he sighed, which he did very often, Snap
whispered to me, 'That's all right, he is thinking about Miss Fanny.'
Nor how, if he appeared to be in low spirits, we speculated as to whether
his lady love had been unkind.
I have not said anything hitherto concerning the church which
we attended. It was two miles off, on the confines of the common,
but until this time I had not felt any particular interest in the service,
for I did not understand our old vicar's sermons, and our pew had high
sides so that I could see nothing. When, however, our party became
larger by the tutor, and Amy began to go to church, a fresh pew was
awarded to my mother, one in a part of the aisle which had been newly
seated, and in which we could both see and hear perfectly well.
Now in describing what we did in that pew for several Sundays
one after the other, let me explain that I only chronicle, I do not
excuse; and at the same time that I record, I must needs confess that I
have often since wasted the precious hours of prayer and praise at a riper
age, and with less temptation.
Our tutor sat at the door of the pew in full view of us both:
his collars were starched, his gloves well-fitting, the whole man arrayed
in that somewhat costly, plain, substantial, and wholly becoming manner
peculiar to an English gentleman. We were early—we were always
early—for we started by his watch, and he took care to allow plenty of
time for the walk. As I sat with my little feet upon the hassock I
used to catch every opening of the door, and mark whose entrance he looked
up to watch, and who of the waiting congregation watched him.
The clergyman and his wife would enter. Mr. Smith
always mechanically followed with his eyes the former to the vestry, the
latter to her pew; then the few Sunday-school children would bustle in,
their teachers behind them,—these he never failed to observe with
interest; then the farmers and their wives, and the few labourers, would
stalk with their hob-nailed shoes down the brick floors and the
aisles,—all these his eyes followed. But then there would be a
pause; and invariably the last, as we were the first, the Squire's family
would approach. That slow door would swing on its hinges, and a
steady step would come on, followed by other footsteps, soft, and with the
rustling of silks accompanying them, together with a certain gentle
urgency of quickness, as if the owners wished to be settled in their pew
before the clergyman reached his desk. The skirts of those silken
dresses would brush against the door of our pew, within an inch or two or
his arm which leaned upon it, the long curls and the veils would nearly
touch his shoulder. But for their fellow worshippers Mr. Smith never
raised his eyes, they remained as if glued to the floor. He rose
with the rest of the congregation, he knelt, he sat, then the heavy lids
unlifted, and we used to watch him to see how long it would be before he
would raise his head and look up; when he did it was always a hurried,
troubled glance, always to the same place—Miss Fanny's place. But be
it known that Miss Fanny evinced no symptoms whatever of suffering under
the same kind of trouble. She could look anywhere, and she did.
Sometimes she looked at Mr. Smith, and if by a rare chance she caught his
eye she remained calm and unruffled, though he was changing from pale to
red with agitated feeling.
When we left the church after service, a few moments would be
spent in the porch by my mother and this family in mutual inquiries and
compliments; and Mr. Smith, glad of the little delay, would linger, often
lifting his hat to the ladies, and address one or other, but seldom Miss
Fanny; if he did, it was always with deference and gravity; but she would
answer with an easy smile, and sometimes accost him of her own accord.
Once she asked him how he liked tutoring. He replied,
'I did not choose it because I liked it.' This speech was not heard
by our mother, or Miss Fanny's. Perhaps the careless girl felt that
she had made a mistake and a blundering speech, for she looked confused,
and answered hurriedly, 'Oh, indeed.'
It rained that day; and while we waited in the porch till the
shower was over, Mr. Smith spoke several times to Miss Fanny. I did
not hear what he said, but I saw that when she answered she wrapped her
light summer cloak about her, and in doing so jerked out a little rose and
a piece of mignonette that she had worn in her waistband. They fell
on the floor, and I saw Mr. Smith look at them. They were close to
his feet, and were drooping and faded.
Snap whispered to me, 'Pick them up, Missy.'
So I did, and nobody took any notice of the movements of such
a little child. When the car came to take the Squire's family away
we still stayed for the passing off of the shower, and in obedience to
another mandate from Snap, I crept close to Mr. Smith, and held up the
flowers for his acceptance. He looked down surprised, but he took
them; and after that he sat on the stone settle of the porch and placed me
on his knee; he also kissed me, a mark of his favour that he did not often
bestow. Miss Fanny had kissed me at parting; so this was the second
salute I received that morning, and on the same cheek too.
Sometimes Mr. Smith would meet the Squire (I prefer to write
of him thus, and not to set down his name). He was then sure to be
asked to dinner; and we learned that he had long been acquainted with the
family, and had recently stayed, while shooting on a Scotch moor, in the
same house with the second daughter. Sometimes Mr. Smith would be
very much elated after one of these dinners; and once, as I well remember,
he rambled out after his lunch, and quite forgot to come in again and give
us an afternoon lesson, so we sat waiting for him till nearly our
tea-time; and at last he came lounging in with his dogs and his gun, and
seemed surprised to see us, exclaiming with a laugh, 'I declare I quite
forgot that I was playing at schoolmaster.'
But notwithstanding this occasional forgetfulness, be showed
a real genius for instructing children; and, true to his initiatory
warning, he never set any double lessons by way of punishment, but, on the
contrary, cut short his instructions altogether when he was displeased,
and made Snap write copies, an occupation which he detested.
As for me, I had many privileges,—my youth, my very small
dimensions, my lisping tongue, caused him to consider me in the light of a
plaything; and he made exactly the same unfair distinction between us that
Mr. Mompesson had done, frequently taking me out with him, and carrying me
when I was tired, while Snap was left to amuse himself at home. This
he did not find difficult, for my mother's books, in four boxes and three
large I crates, had been put into a thatched shed which leant against the
cottage on the left; and there through the summer and autumn they
remained, taking no damage; and Snap and I used to spend many a happy hour
in turning them over, picking up queer pieces of information, reading
strange tales and marvellous histories. Sir Walter Scott's romances,
Captain Scoresby's works, the Encyclopœdia
Britannica, which was a very favourite work; the Færy
Queen, numerous bound volumes of the Edinburgh Review, Cary's
Dante, the Religio Medici, and Robinson Crusoe, were
our chief companions at first, but Snap soon left these to me, and got
Bacon's Essays, and a whole stratum of books on geology, which
filled his head with all sorts of theories that served him to frighten me
with, as ghosts had now grown stale.
The hypothesis of the 'central fire' caused me great alarm,
especially as Snap declared that it might be expected to break out at any
time; as indeed it frequently did from the craters of burning mountains
overflowing the great caldron at the top and slipping glibly down making
the green crops and the grass hiss and fizz. An alarming picture
this, especially when it was added that a stream of lava, if of any
considerable depth, took from three to eleven years to cool.
Snap never asserted that the lava was likely to break out in
our immediate neighbourhood; on the contrary, he said it was improbable
that it would, but still it
might, and then what would become of us! He took freak delight in
imagining what we should do if it should break out from the top of a high
black hill about three miles from us; and every device I suggested as
likely to aid us in effecting our escape made him the more positive in
asserting that nothing was so unlikely as our being able to get away.
One day when I was deep in thought considering what I could
do if the volcanic fire should break out that day or the next, Mr. Smith
came by with his dogs and his gun. Snap went on reading, but I asked
if I might come with him. He said I might, and told me that he was
going to dig out some young rabbits from their burrows, and that I should
have them to tame and feed in a hutch that he would make for them.
This delightful genius could not only work with his needle,
but had made for us a first-rate wheelbarrow; rigged for us two schooners
and a brig; dug for my brother a good-sized duck pond, into which he
turned the waters of a tiny spring, and built, drained, and thatched a
fine model pig-sty with his own manly hands.
Sometimes when my mother saw him at his carpenter's work, she
would say, 'Really, Mr. Smith, it astonishes me to find you toiling in
'It's the finest thing in the world—nothing like work,' he
would reply. ' "Blessed be the man that invented sleep," quoth the
Irishman; but I say, "Happy rest the man that invented sawing." Next
to deerstalking, sawing is the most delightful, back-breaking, arm-aching
But to return: Mr. Smith and I set off on our ramble.
The green common was basking in the mild yellow sunshine of a fine
autumnal day; every little elevation was covered with heather, gorse, and
foxglove flowers; the young larks hidden under the ferns were chirping
softly, the sky was serene, and all the wide-open world seemed drinking
We wandered on, but found no burrows that Mr. Smith thought
would answer our purpose. He was very silent, and I, being happy
enough on the uncultivated hills, did not care for that, but went on
singing by his side, till a large brown dog ran up a slope towards us,
wading and leaping through the bracken, and jumping up against Mr. Smith
to be caressed. Some of the Squire's family must be out on the
heath, we thought, for this dog belonged to them. We were not left
long in doubt, for turning the edge of the hill, we began to go down, and
then a few feet below us we saw Miss Fanny sitting. Her bonnet was
off, her long flaxen hair was out of curl, and she was smoothing it out
and twisting it over combs on either side of her face.
She looked up when we appeared, and Mr. Smith paused a
minute; then with a swift step he came down to her, and sat on the bank at
her side. Girls wore large bonnets then, and Miss Fanny when I came
running towards her, was just putting on hers. The first greetings
were over: Miss Fanny began to pat the dog's head, Mr. Smith to pat his
back. Then they talked, but said nothing of interest, and I, growing
rather tired of the delay, asked if I might take a run with the dog and
come back to them. The permission being readily given by Mr. Smith,
I forthwith ran away, and the dog and I chased one another among the
heather and bracken till we were tired, then I found some mushrooms, and
filled my bonnet with them by way of a basket. After that some
blackberries presented themselves, and I feasted on these before I
The sunshine was very soft and sweet, and the air was still,
and we were on an elevated place, so that I could see far and wide over
the peaceful solitude.
I came softly back, carrying my bonnet by the strings and
wading breast-high through the bracken, when on a sudden turn I found
myself close behind Mr. Smith and Miss Fanny. They had changed their
place, and Miss Fanny was sobbing. 'What can I do George?' were the words
that I heard. 'I really have tried, I have indeed. I—I cannot
care for you—oh!'—here a burst of tears.
'Won't you try once more, Fanny?' answered a manly voice
absolutely broken by sobs. 'I wouldn't mind stopping here seven
years if you could but love me.'
Now, when I heard this I was so ashamed to think that I
should be there to hear their conversation unawares, that I have no doubt
my face was crimson up to the roots of my hair; but it was not easy to
withdraw both silently and swiftly; and though I did my best, I not only
heard her reply, that trying was useless, but allude to a promise that she
had made, that she would try, and declare that she had kept it.
'Well, then,' was his instant answer, 'will you give me one
kiss? and I will go, Fanny, and promise never to urge you any more.'
I had got away by this time, and I buried myself among the
bracken, and sat blushing for five or six minutes; then I got up, ran,
whooping to the dog, over the brow of the hill, and came up to them on the
other side. There they sat side by side and hand in hand. They
were quite calm now, but evidently both had been weeping sorely, and
assuredly from their absolute quietude the farewell kiss of pity had been
Quite out of breath with agitation and with running, I
displayed my mushrooms. They both rose at once, as if my return was
to terminate their last interview. Miss Fanny went over the hill,
and we went down it, returning homewards in absolute silence for more than
Poor Mr. Smith! my heart bled for him; it seemed so hard that
Miss Fanny could not like him, when he was undeniably so charming and so
clever, besides being, with the exception of Mr. Mompesson, the handsomest
man of his age.
'Would you like some mushrooms for your supper, Mr. Smith?'
I ventured to ask in a sympathizing tone, as I carried home my bonnet by
the strings, but he was too deep in painful thought to observe that I had
spoken, and very shortly, in spite of all my efforts, the sight of his
silent misery completely overpowered my childish self-control, and I threw
the bonnet on the grass and burst into a passion of tears, crying as if my
heart would break. 'What's the matter with the child?' he exclaimed,
rather roughly, for I have no doubt my tears irritated him in the then
burdened state of his spirits.
I did not dare to tell him what was the matter; indeed, what
business had I to know the circumstance that distressed me?
'Are you tired?' he asked, now gently. 'No,' I
'Are you hungry? Here—'
He took a biscuit from his pocket, and I pretended to be glad
of it, got up, wiped away my tears, and walked humbly by his side till we
reached home, and entered my mother's parlour. It was all lighted up
with the afternoon sunshine in which the hills and the heather were
basking. The tea-things were on the table, and the tea was ready.
'Why, Dolly,' said my mother, 'you have been crying,—how red
your eyes look. I hope you have not been naughty?'
'No,' said Mr. Smith, wearily throwing himself into his
chair, the child has been good enough.'
'What a lovely afternoon it has been,' observed my mother.
'Has it?' he replied, looking out of the window. 'Ah.
Ay, so it has.' With what a weight of pity does patience in those
who are suffering burden the minds of the lookers on. There sat Mr.
Smith calmly and most quietly; he was not yielding to unmanly sullenness,
and he was resolutely obliging himself to eat and to drink. Seeing
this, I could do neither, for my tears chased one another into my cup, and
the bread and butter choked me when I tried to swallow.
In reply to mamma's questions I said that my head ached, and
I had a ball in my throat. She said I might lie on the sofa; and
perhaps thinking that she might suppose some past ill-behaviour or
carelessness caused this crying fit, Mr. Smith said, with a kindness that
made me cry still more, 'Dolly did her lessons very well to-day, she
always does. In fact, I never have a fault to find with her.'
I dare say mamma thought that this was a little unfair to Snap, who took
far more pains with his lessons than I did, and now sat by without
receiving any share of commendation.
'I am afraid you spoil my little girl,' she said with a
smile, 'for I generally observe that whatever she does is right.'
'Ah, well,' said Mr. Smith with a sigh, 'if I have done harm
in that way hitherto, I shall do no more. That's all over now.'
My mother, who had risen, turned with surprise on hearing
this; and he added, as if careless of our presence. 'You always
said, you know, Mrs. Graham, that you should not wish me to stay a day
longer than I liked.'
'No, certainly not,' my mother replied; 'under the
circumstances I should wish you to feel perfectly free.'
'Well, then,' he replied, 'I should like to go tomorrow—'
'To go home?' she asked.
'Yes, to be sure,' he replied; 'I owe it to them to go
home. But the worst of it is—the worst of it is, they will all be
delighted, I know.'