Lancashire Sketches Vol. 2 (II.)

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Pilling Moss.

CHAPTER I.


God's grace and Pilling Moss are endless.

FYLDE SAYING.


"WERE you ever at the Sea-gull Island, in the Fylde country?"

    "Never."

    "Then we'll go," said my friend; and accordingly we met near Poulton Station, on a pleasant May morning.  Here we had to wait a few minutes for the carriage, which was to take us forward to the scene.  About a quarter of a mile off, at the head of the slope, stood the grey church tower which overlooks the quaint little town of Poulton-le-Fylde.

    "It's gran' groo-weather," said an old farmer who was lounging upon a gate, and gazing across the fields hard by.

    And so it was.  The trembling year seemed to have made up its mind at last, and every green thing was lush and full of promise.  An hour's misty drizzle had sprinkled the green hedges with liquid pearl, and every tender blade glittered like-a young bride in rich array.

    "It's nobbut th' pride o'th mornin'," said the old farmer, alluding to the misty shower.  "Yo'n have it as breet as a squirrel afore aught's long."

    And so it proved.  The rain ceased, leaving its freshness upon all the scene; the birds sang with renewed delight; soft wandering clouds tempered the sunshine, which, in fits of straggling splendour, lit up the dew-sprent fields with moist gems of glittering gold; and the wind came gently from the south, laden with genial balm.

    "I ordered the carriage to meet us at eleven," said my friend, looking at his watch.  "Ah! there it is!" continued he, as the vehicle came rolling down the slope, drawn by two grey horses.  "John," said he, "now you'll drive us across the Shard, and through Stalmine (the natives call it Sto'min), and on to Pilling Moss.  You know the lane that leads off on the right-hand side of the high-way, up to the keeper's house?"

    "I know the place, sir," replied John; and away we went on our eight-mile trip across the Fylde, to a lonely tract called Pilling Moss, where the wild sea-birds have made their home.

    The Sea-gull Island, as it is called, is now (1874), perhaps, the loneliest part of that great secluded Lancashire plain known as "The Fylde Country,"—a rural tract, where the primitive ways and language of our forefathers linger yet with singular tenacity.  A few miles south of this green plain the land bristles with tall chimneys, the rivers are thick with sewage, the air is dense with smoke, and the earth is covered with thickly-populated towns, full of restless activity; but the Fylde is, to this day, a paradise to the bird-catcher and the gipsy.  The whole country inland seems almost untouched by change.  It is still sweetly serenely rural, both in its appearance and in its primitive life; and although, as we wander along its quiet lanes, we meet with venerable, rudely-built windmills, here and there, and with huts and cots of mud and wattle, almost as simple in outward appearance as one may imagine the dwellings of the aboriginal Britons to have been, yet these scattered homeless of the sturdy Fylde folk, with their thatched roofs and mud walls, half-overgrown with the surrounding green, are characterised within by great cleanliness and order, and often by a neatness and sweetness akin to the natural beauty of the scenery around.  For perfect repose,—for the simple freshness of its life, and the quiet charms of its landscape,—I know no more delightful place for a tired spirit to wander in than the Fylde country, a few miles away from the coast.  In ancient days the Fylde was raided again and again by the Danes; and eventually it was held so long by them that a strong flavour of their characteristics, in names, in manners, in traditions, and in speech, still lingers amongst the present inhabitants.  Leading across this great level, from the sea coast, there is an ancient road, which is occasionally turned up, and which is known to the present inhabitants as "Th' Danes' Pad."  Westward of the Fylde rolls the Irish Channel; northward, the Cumberland mountains and the fells of Cartmel, close to the sea; on the north-east and east the grey towers of old Lancaster, and the blue ridge of Bleasdale fells bound the landscape; southward lies "Proud Preston," and all the busy world of manufacturing Lancashire.  Such is the frame that encloses this quiet picture called "The Fylde," a tract as serene and sweet in its simple beauty as if it were a thousand miles away from the bustle of modern industrial life.

    It was eleven in the forenoon when we left Poulton for Pilling Moss.  In a few minutes we were hidden from all the rest of the world by the green lanes of the Fylde; and a quarter of an hour's ride brought us to the edge of that singular little salt-water lake, or inlet of the sea, known by the name of the Shard.



CHAPTER II.


Far in a wild, unknown to public view.

PARNELL.


THE Shard is in sight, on the east side of the railway, as we approach Fleetwood, yet it is little known amongst the people of Lancashire except such as live in its neighbourhood.  About six miles from its mouth the river Wyre, at high tide, expands into a lake-like sheet of water, about two miles long and a quarter of a mile broad; after which it narrows again until it draws near to Fleetwood, where it meets the sea.  This little tidal lake is known as the Shard, and it is remarkable for a bed of the finest mussels in the British Islands, called "Hamilton Hookins,"—a dozen of which would go near to fill a quart pot.  On its eastern bank there is a cod-fishery, and a house known as the Mussel House, and on the same side, at a point where the Shard is fordable at low water, there is an inn famous for its eel pies, or "snig" pies,—a favourite dainty among the Fylde folk, who often take trips from the west side of the water, "ower Wyre, for a bit o' snig pie."

    The tide was out when we came to the Shard, and a farmer's cart was trailing through the shallow water towards the Snig-Pie House.  We crossed, however, by a new bridge, which had been erected within the last six years, and in a few minutes the Snig-Pie House was behind us, and we were riding eastward again, between the green hedgerows of the quiet Fylde, with a glimpse, now and then, of the far-stretching fields on either hand.  The air was clear, and there was a strange stillness upon all the scene.  Between us and the distant fells of Bleasdale there seemed to be no life astir but the flitting wild bird, and here and there a labourer, whistling at his work in the furrowed land.  No other motion was visible on all the wide landscape, save where the slow-moving sails of an old windmill played flitting change of sun and shade upon its neighbouring ground.  There was little variety in the scene, except in the change of crops in the fields by the way.  Its great charm was its rural sweetness, and its perfect repose.  Here, indeed, it seemed as if poor humanity would see "no enemy but winter and rough weather."  By this time, too, the sky was clear; and to me there was a special temper of serenity upon all that met the eye.  The very sunshine seemed of a more old-fashioned, sleepy kind than that which makes holiday in the city now and then, where it comes only on red-letter days, like a ruddy-cheeked visitor from the country.  And, scattered over the wide expanse, there was many an ancient farmstead and many a primitive cottage, with flower-sprent thatch.  In these lone homesteads, oft half hidden by neighbouring trees, and sundered by great spaces of green, many a wild tale of "Hobthrust" and the fairies has been told around the fire at night, when wintry winds were whistling keen outside.  Mile after mile we rode on, meeting nothing on the way, and with no change, save, here and there, a little cottage by the road-side, with pot-flowers in the windows, or an old windmill, so worn by long usage that it might have been built centuries ago.  The country seemed to deepen in quietness as we went along; and as we drew near the end of our journey we met with a touch of wild life which was quite in keeping with the loneliness around.  Upon a broad sloping border of the high-way, partly overgrown with low brushwood, a little family of gipsies had stopped to rest.  The dusky mother sat upon the bank, combing out the long black hair of a girl, about twelve years old, who knelt on the ground before her, while three other poor little


Imps, in the barn with mousing owlet bred,


peeped wildly out from tattered wrappings, as they huddled close to their mother's side.  The gipsy father lay curled up, like a black dog, sound asleep upon the bank hard by.  The whole appearance of the group was one of wild and hungry misery; and the once bright colours of their raggèd clothing seemed as if they had been washed out by a thousand showers, and constant exposure to


The season's difference.


    We are now about eight miles from Poulton, and the carriage turned up at the end of a narrow lane, which led off, on the right hand, between thick rows of young trees, whose bright foliage screened the way.  The wild birds sang with tumultuous glee in the overhanging boughs; and amongst them the cuckoo's "wandering voice" came loud and clear by fits from the groves by the way.  As we approached the head of the lane, where the keeper lived, in a sleepy-looking brick-built house amongst the trees, the sound of our wheels aroused his dogs, and they began to bark and strain savagely at their tethers in the yard.  This brought out the keeper, a fine, tall young man, with clear blue eyes and a calm and kindly countenance, which bespoke great determination of character but not a shade of furtiveness or brutality.  Beyond the keeper's house there was no road, for we were now upon the edge of the wild land.  Here the horses were loosed, and the keeper took us under his guidance.  A few yards beyond his house we passed through a rustic gate, and entered at once upon what now remains of the great waste called Pilling Moss, still stretching, bleak and wild, far ahead to the north-east.  Our blind, wandering footpath was swampy with recent rain.  In the driest parts the ground sprang spongily under foot; and here and there we came to gaps and ruts from which turf had been cut.  Stepping carefully after the keeper, who knew where the best footing was, we waded on through heather, and rushes, and bushes of a rough cottony plant, all loaded with wet,—through brackish pools and splashy turf we waded on eastward, for about half a mile, towards the famous breeding-ground of the sea-birds.  "And now," said the keeper, "you must mind your feet, and step after me.  We are very near the place."  At this I looked around; but all was still as before, except that a few sea-gulls were flitting to and fro about the neighbouring moss, and a dense flock of them was visible about half a mile off, hovering about a farmyard like a little white cloud.  But what was this right ahead of us?  What was this natural enclosure, hedged around and hidden by thick low-lying bushes of willow, mingled with bramble, dock, cowslip, and cotton-grass?  Through a little opening in the enclosing bush we caught sight of a field of fluttering snow, and strange sounds grew upon the ear,— half croodling, half screaming,—the wild tenderness of the sea-bird brooding over its young.  Through an opening in the bush we entered the enclosure, and there they were before us,—thousands of birds watching over thousands of nests!  The ground was white with sea-gulls!  "Now, look to your feet again," said the keeper, "and tread carefully after me and well he might say so, for the ground seemed to be paved with nests.  The moment we were visible in the enclosure there was a growing flutter of fear on all the great field of mother-birds, for it was the breeding-time.  Their eyes were all turned upon us, and their voices grew every moment into wilder and wilder screams of anger and consternation.  The keeper led us quietly on, treading carefully in his steps, between thick-laid nests of eggs, and little brown, half-fledged birds, that ran hither and thither, into tufts of grass, out of our way.  The ground was alive with young birds,—some born that morning, some too young to stir, some just out of the shell which lay beside them, and some lying dead.  The nests were chiefly among tufts of wiry grass and rushes, which were slightly raised above the swampy moss; and the little interspaces were overgrown with heather and wild flowers peculiar to the spot.  "Take care," said the keeper again.  "Take care, and wait till we get a little farther on, and then I will put them up all at once!"  We were now well on the ground, with nests and young fledglings thick about our feet, and the frightened mother-birds gyrating wildly about our heads, with angry scream.  "Stand where you are," said the keeper, and he ran a little ahead, into the thick of the white sea, shouting, and waving his hat; and then, all at once, there arose into the air a storm of white wings, fluttering above us in wild dismay, and the screams of distress that rained down from that snowy cloud were deafening to the ear.


            The living clouds on clouds arose!
Infinite wings! till all the plume-dark air
Was one wild cry!


    The birds were so thick overhead that we could hardly see the sky; and yet, in the wildest wheeling flights, not one bird touched another's wing.  Looking up at that fluttering canopy, which almost hid the sun from us, the scene was singularly and painfully enchanting.  The beautiful plumage of the birds,—the perfect purity of the white,—the black feet and black beaks in contrast,—the delicate tinge of lavender upon the upper and under sides of the wing,—and the exquisite grace of flight, interweaving in dense gyrations, like threads of one great web,—with the sun shining fitfully through the whole,—it was a marvellous scene of wild beauty!

    We did not linger long upon the ground,—for there was something painful in the thought of disturbing so many white-winged mothers, nursing their young,—and their wild outcries pursued us as we left the scene.  We returned to Poulton by the way we had come; and though I have seen many a strange and many a beautiful sight since that day, I shall never forget the lonely sea-gulls' haunt on Pilling Moss.


――――♦――――

 
The forest of Rossendale.


Oft from the forest wildings he would bring.

SPENSER.


THERE is a peculiar tract of hill and dale in Lancashire known, even in these days, as the Forest of Rossendale.  It is very rare that such old boundary names live so long in the common mouth after the usage and conditions which made their significance have died out.  But, though the woods and wild animals of this ancient chase have disappeared centuries ago, and the tall chimneys and "mules" and "throstles" of manufacture occupy the ground where feathered minstrels carolled to the rustle of summer leaves, it is still familiarly known as Rossendale Forest, in spite of "Maddapolams," "Grey Shirtings," "T-cloths," telegraphs, and the Manchester Exchange.  And, thanks to Mr. Thomas Newbigging, we have now an interesting record of all that is known of that region almost from the time when the wild deer and wolf lapped its lonely streams, and the skin-clad Briton, with fiery eyes and unkempt hair, threaded its woods and thickets in search of prey, or roved its breezy mountain-tops "in the eye of light."  At least we have, in this volume, [p.104] all that can be gathered from existing annals relative to the district, since the legions of old Rome marched along Watling Street, on the west side of Musbury Tor, gazing with watchful wonder into the valley of the Irwell,—probably gloomy enough in those days, when its steep sides must have been clothed in primeval woods, and the banks of the river a tangled swamp.  Rossendale has been, from time immemorial, a favourite hunting-ground, held by the kings of England, or, in partial right, by their feudal chieftains.  It was, in fact, part of the vast tract of bleak hill and sylvan glen called the Forest of Blackburnshire, which included also the Forests of Pendle, Trawden, and Accrington.  The names of places which still pertain to Rossendale bear a kind of historic evidence to its ancient condition,—Boarsgreave, Hogs-head, Sow-clough, Swin-shaw or Swine-shave, Wolfenden, Wolf-stones, Wolfenden Booth, Craw-shave Booth or Crow-shave Booth, Deer-play, Stack-steads or Stag-steads, Stag-hills, Heart-hill, Buck-earth, Rock-cliff or Roe-cliff, and Cribden, which the historian of Whalley says "is pretty obviously Kairn don, the hill of stags."  Here, then, when Robin Hood and his Saxon outlaws were ranging the wilds of Sherwood,—the terror of Norman wanderers of high degree,—and when hart, hare, boar, and wolf were more cared for than mankind, the fierce forest laws,—"dog-draw," "stable-stand," "black-bear," and "bloody-hand,"—were in full force, and every inhabitant of Rossendale, from twelve years of age upwards, was compelled to take the following oath:—


You shall true liege-man be,
Unto the king's majestie:
Unto the beasts of the forest you shall no hurt do,
Nor to anything that doth belong thereunto
The offences of others you shall not conceal,
But to the utmost of your power, you shall them reveal
Unto the officers of the forest,
Or to them who may see them redrest;
All these things you shall see done,
So help you God at His Holy Doom.


    About the year 1502, in the reign of Henry the Seventh, Rossendale was disforested by the king.  The entire population of this great sylvan wild, at that time, was not more than twenty souls, whose sole occupation was that of keeping the king's deer.  After that, the forest was divided into vaccaries, or booths, which were granted to certain inhabitants, by the king's commissioners, and agriculture was almost their sole employment.  About the end of Henry the Eighth's reign, the manufacture of woollen crept into the old forest; and for about three centuries this was the staple trade of Rossendale, and it gradually grew with a growing population.  Nearer our own times, the cotton manufacture took deeper root still; and now, from the solitary twenty keepers of the king's deer, who had all the old forest to themselves, in 1502, the same district is occupied by a population of more than fifty thousand persons, chiefly employed in manufacture. [p.105]

    The old trees of the forest are gone; its swamps are drained, and the unshaded land looks up at the sky; its valleys are dotted with spooming cotton-mills, wealthy mansions, and swarming villages; and its waters work as they run,—washing, scouring, turning wheels, and floating laden barges,—almost from the source to the sea.  And yet, Rossendale retains much of its ancient aspect.  It is a picturesque land of green cloughs and wild uplands still.  To borrow an old simile,—crumple up a piece of paper tightly in the hand, and then open it out again, and there you have a kind of epitome of the external appearance of the district called the Forest of Rossendale as it appears now.  "The natural features of the country are," indeed, "its most permanent monuments;" and the lofty, wind-swept solitudes of Rossendale still look calmly down upon the strange tide of activity which has crept up its valleys in this manufacturing age.  They, at least, are unaltered, except where a little quarrying has made an almost indistinguishable scar, here and there, upon the mountain-side, or a faint tinge of cultivated greenness has struggled up into the sombre waste,—like a forlorn hope,—till the impregnable ruggedness of the rocky wild has defied its further advance.  The banks of the rivers, and the low slopes of the valleys, are, indeed, subdued to the new element they work in, "like the dyer's hand;" but the mountain-tops are still bleak and lonely as when Roman sentinels paced the ramparts of the camp at Walton-le-Dale.  They are almost unchanged in appearance as the ocean, which bears no mark of the keels which have cleaved its waves.  In proud serenity they overlook those clustering hives of life, as if silently commenting upon the mutability of "being's ceaseless flow;" and when a Rossendale man uses the proverb, "As old as the hills," it seems as if he had unconsciously imbibed a sense of their dignified permanence.  Perhaps those old moorland heights, lifted above the deluge of modern change, may again see the valleys of Rossendale as lonely as before the eye of man beheld them.

    The natives of Rossendale,—like their own hills,—are of a rocky make.  They are a strong-hearted, hard-headed, slow-and-sure, enduring race; and they are, generally, a good way through in person.  These descendants of the sturdy churls of the forest would bide a good deal of hammering before they could be knocked out of their hereditary shape.  They are singularly open-tempered and enterprising; and yet, they are a soil-bound generation in some respects.  They still speak of their native district,—with a kind of affectionate remembrance of what it has been,—as "Rossenda' Forest;" and the name smacks of heather-scented breezes and rustling woods.  There is something of Nature's wild freshness in the sound.  They, indeed, retain, in a remarkable' degree, the old-world manners and language of their "fore-elders," who swore to keep the forest laws,


So help them God at His Holy Doom.


And even on Manchester Exchange "a Rossenda' chap" has something of "ken-speckle" primitiveness about him.  He brings a kind of bracing mountain air with him into that swarming temple of commerce, which helps to keep its tricky atmosphere wholesome.  They come of frank and manly races of men.  And when we think of the strange combination of things which has made Lancashire the seat of the cotton manufacture,—we may almost say, the servant of the world in that speciality,—it is not alone the meeting in that soil of those essential elements, coal, stone, clay, and water, in great abundance, but the presence upon the same spot, also, of a people of uncommon industry, enterprise, and determination of character,—a teachable people, thrifty, yet naturally generous,—a people, indeed, of rare working qualities, though not over sensitive, so far as sensibility "wears its heart upon its sleeve."  The cold, moist climate of those hills is not favourable to the growth of weakly natures, though eminently calculated to strengthen the strong.  Indeed, a race with less solidity and more brilliance of character,—a race over-mastered by the mere dandyisms of sensibility,—could not have done the work which was necessary to make Lancashire what it is.  And yet these burly foresters have rare traits of true delicacy under the crust of their rude strength, as is well known in the extraordinary number of Rossendale men in humble life who are self-made students of science, especially of the science of music, which, perhaps, of all sciences, is the one most immediately connected with the finer sensibilities of the heart.  There are whole villages, in those Rossendale hills, which have a kind of hereditary minstrel fame, as in the case of "the Larks of Dean,"—so well known all over Lancashire for their love of sacred music.  In the volume on the Forest of Rossendale, now before us, there are so many excellent things of varied interest, that it is impossible, within our limits, to do justice to the book by quoting such passages as would best show its admirable passages quality, but the following, on "the Larks of Dean," will not be out of place here:—


    The inhabitants of the Dean Valley have long been celebrated for their excellence as musicians, both vocal and instrumental; and it is from this fact that their appellation of "Deyghn Layrocks" has arisen.  From records more than a century and a half old we learn that they are in the habit of meeting in one another's houses by turns, and practising the compositions, sacred and secular, of which our country can boast in such rich abundance.  Many pieces of their own composing bear the impress of ability far beyond mediocrity, and deserve to be more generally known.  Some of these have, indeed, already gone abroad into the world, and are sung in places widely apart; being admired by those who are unable to recognise either their origin or authorship. . . . Numerous are the stories that are told of the modes in which the enthusiasm of the "Layrocks" is or was displayed in their pursuit of the musical art.  In hand-loom days, when every man's house was his workshop, it was usual for the "Deyghners" to repair to each other's houses alternately, after the Sunday service at the chapel, and continue their practice of music far into the small hours of the Monday morning; and, on rising, after a brief repose, the Monday was spent in a similar manner; very often the Tuesday also was devoted to the like purpose. . . . It is related of two of the "Layrocks,"—father and son,—that they had long been busy trying to master a difficult piece of music, one with the violin, the other with the violoncello, but were still unable to execute certain of the more intricate movements to their satisfaction.  They had put their instruments aside for the night, and had retired to rest.  After his "first sleep" the young enthusiast, in ruminating over the performance of the evening, thought that if he might only rise and attempt the piece then, he should be able to manage it.  Creeping from under the bed-clothes, he awoke his father, who also arose; and soon the two, in their shirts, might have been seen, through the unscreened window, flourishing their bows at an hour when ordinary mortals are laid unconscious in the arms of Somnus.  The lonely traveller, had there been one at that untimely hour, would, surely, like Tam o' Shanter, as he passed by "Alloway's auld haunted kirk," have felt his hair rising on end at the sight of the two ghostly individuals scraping music at the dead of night, and in such unwonted attire.


    This incident is only one of hundreds, of the same temper, which illustrate the musical enthusiasm of these "Larks" of Rossendale,—and, indeed, of the Lancashire people in general, but especially of those who dwell in the hill districts.  May the harps of Rossendale Forest never hang upon the willows, for,


Souls here, like planets in heaven,
By harmony's laws alone are kept moving.


    The following passage I quote from "Factory Folk During the Cotton Famine":—


    Up in the high-lands of the Forest of Rossendale, between Derpley Moor and the wild hill called Swinshaw (Swineshaw), there is a little valley,—a green cup in the mountains,—called Dean.  The inhabitants of this valley are so notable for their love of music, that they are known, all over the Forest, by the name of the "Dean Layrocks," or, "The Larks of Dean."  In the twilight of a glorious summer evening, in the height of summer, I was roaming over the heathery summit of Swinshaw, in company with a musical friend of mine, who dwelt in the neighbouring clough, when we saw a little cloud of people descending a slope of the moorland, far away in front of us. As we drew near, we found that many of them carried musical instruments; and when we met, my friend recognised them as working-people, living in the neighbourhood, and, mostly, well known to him.  He began to talk with them, and they told him that they had been to "a bit of a Sing, down i'th Dean."  "Well," said he, "but can't we have a tune here?"  "Wi' o'th pleasur' i'th world," replied he who acted as spokesman; and a low buzz of pleasure ran through the company.  They then ranged themselves in a circle around their conductor, and they played and sang several fine pieces of psalmody upon the heather-scented mountain top.  As the solemn strain arose upon the evening air, in that wild landscape, startling the moorfowl in its nest, it brought to mind the hunted Covenanters of Scotland, and the altogether of that scene on the mountains, "between the gloaming and the mirk," made an impression on me which I shall not easily forget.  Long after we parted from them, we could hear their voices, softening in sound as the distance grew, as they went their way down the echoing glen; and the effect was wonderfully fine.  This incident upon the wild top of Swinshaw is representative of things which often occur in the country parts of South Lancashire, showing how widespread the love of music is among the working classes there.  Even in great manufacturing towns, it is not uncommon, when passing cotton-mills at work, to hear some fine psalm-tune streaming in full chorus from the female voices inside and mingling with the busy spoom of thousands of spindles.


    In spite of the influx of strange population during the manufacturing period, it is interesting to mark how largely the names of the old inhabitants of Rossendale prevail there yet,—Ashworths, Ormrods, Haworths, Holts, Whitakers, Rawsthornes, Lords, Ramsbothams, Crawshaws, Nuttalls, and Hargreaves,—the old forest names,—they still cling to the soil with wonderful tenacity.  This, indeed, is more or less noticeable in all country places.  But it is more remarkable still, that in Rossendale the ancient fashion of nomenclature, which had its rise before the use of surnames, is quite common amongst them now; and Rossendale men, especially among the humbler classes, know one another familiarly as "Jem o'th Owd Sur's," "Twitterin' Tummy," "Harry o' Mon John's," "Robin o' Tooter's," "Nathan o'th Change," "Dan o' Lung Ben's o' Cribden," "Brown-Tummy o' Hell Cloof," "Jerry o' Jone's o'th Cowpe Low,"' and "Dick o' Rough Cap's."  This is one of those old customs which is more common in Lancashire than anywhere else in England.

    But, as clouds sail across the sky, to return no more, so disappear the fleeting manners of each succeeding age.  The ancient "Reeve of Rossendale Forest," who was Taxing-Officer and "Bang-Beggar" of the district,—to-day levying rates, or tracking criminals, or relieving houseless wanderers; to-morrow, raising men for the wars, or repairing the stocks, or ordering a new bridle for scolding women, or a truncheon for a village constable,—the ancient "Reeve of the Forest" has given place to Benches of Magistrates, Poor-law Guardians, Local Boards, Sanitary Officers, and Factory Inspectors.  The bull-baiting ground on Hammaton Green, at Bacup, near the old "Witchin' Hoile," is now occupied by the corn-mill yard.  The long-bow and shooting butts have been followed by Volunteer Rifles, and the cockpit by cricket, croquet, and the gymnasium.  Of all "the beasts of the forest," the timid hare alone remains; the huntsman's horn is drowned by factory bells and railway whistles, and the chase is now in the direction of Manchester Exchange.  The days of "watch and ward" are over.  The old "Charlie" has disappeared, with his wooden rattle and nightly cry,—"Past twelve o'clock, and a moonlight morning!" and now the blue "Peeler" works his mildly-animated legs along the pavement, with wandering steps and slow; whilst the fire-engine dashes along the street, swarming with calm-featured heroes, with helmets on their brows and axes by their sides.  The "Fence-keeper" and the "Pinder" have left the scene to street-sweepers, bill-stickers, and advertising sandwiches.  "Bass's Bitter" and "Blue Ruin" have pushed the old home-brewed from its stool; and though the ancient "ale-taster" still holds his ground in Rossendale, the Government gauger has him in full view, and, no doubt, will soon run him down.  The churchwarden's staff is no longer a laughing-stock at the country alehouse, nor a terror to Sabbath wanderers.  Stocks, ducking-stools, witch-bridles, and Lucy's muzzle have paled their ineffectual fire before Sunday schools, mechanics' institutions, baths and washhouses, cheap newspapers, and the penny post.  Religious and feudal tyranny are fading away before free trade, and the manifold emancipations that hang thereon.  Our English and Irish world is all in a great simmer of change; and, thank heaven! it is just possible that we are drifting into better times.

    And, after all, it is interesting to see how one state of human existence grows out of another,—how they spring, how they blossom, and how they fade,—giving place to something else, rich and strange, in the endless sequence of human history.


――――♦――――

 
Chapel Island.


The wills above be done! but I would fain die a dry death.

THE TEMPEST.


I HAVE spent many a pleasant day at the village of Bardsea, three miles south of Ulverston.  It stands close to Conishead Park, high upon a fertile elbow of land, the base of which is washed on two sides by the waters of Morecambe Bay.  It is an old hamlet, of about fifty houses, nearly all in one wandering street, which begins at the bottom of a knoll, on the Ulverston side, and then climbs to a point near the summit, where three roads meet, and where the houses on one side stand back a few yards, leaving an open ground like a little market place.  Upon the top of the knoll, a few yards east of this open space, the church stands, overlooking sea and land all round.  From the centre of the village the street winds on towards the beach.  At this end a row of neat houses stands at a right angle, upon an eastward incline, facing the sea.  The tide washes up to within fifty yards of these houses at high water.  At the centre of the village, too, half a dozen pleasant cottages leave the street, and stand out, like the fin of a fish, in a quiet lane, which leads down into a little shady glen at the foot of Birkrigg.  The same lane leads, by another route, over the top of that wild hill into the beautiful vale of Urswick.  Bardsea is a pretty, out-of-the-way place, and the country about it is very picturesque and varied.  It is close to the sea, and commands a fine view of the bay, and of its opposite shores, for nearly forty miles.  About a mile west of the village wild Birkrigg rises high above the green pastures and leafy dells that lap his feet in beauty.  Northward, the road to Ulverston leads through the finest part of Conishead Park, which begins near the end of the village.  This park is one of the most charming pieces of undulant woodland scenery I ever beheld.  An old writer calls it "the Paradise of Furness."  On the way to Ulverston, from Bardsea, the Leven estuary shows itself in many a beautiful gleam through the trees of the park; and the fells of Cartmel are in full view beyond.  It is one of the pleasantest, one of the quietest, walks in the kingdom.

    The last time I saw Bardsea was about the middle of July.  I had gone there to spend a day or two with a friend.  There had not been a cloud in the heavens for a week, and the smell of new hay came on every wind that stirred the leaves.  The village looked like an island of sleepy life, with a sea of greenery around it, surging up to the very doors of its white houses, and flinging the spray of Nature's summer harmonies all over the place.  The songs of birds, the rustle of trees, the ripple of the brook at the foot of the meadows, and the murmur of the sea, all seemed to float together through the nest of man, making it drowsy with pleasure.  It was fairly lapped in soothing melody.  Every breath of air brought music on its wings, and every song was laden with sweet smells.  Nature loved the little spot, for she caressed it and croodled about it like a mother singing lullabies to her tired child.  And Bardsea was pleased and still, as if it knew it all.  It seemed the enchanted ear of the landscape, for everywhere else the world was alive with the jocund restlessness of the season.  My friend and I wandered about from morning till night.  In the heat of the day, the white roads glared in the sun; and in some places the air seemed to tremble at about a man's height from the ground, as I have seen it tremble above a burning kiln sometimes.  But for broad day we had the velvet glades and shady woods of Conishead to ramble in; and many a rich old lane, and some green dells, where little brooks ran wimpling their tiny undersongs, in liquid trebles, between banks of nodding wild flowers.  Our evening walks were more delightful still; for when soft twilight came, melting the distinctions of the landscape in her dreamy loveliness, she had hardly time to draw "a thin veil o'er the day" before sea and land began to shine again under the radiance of the moon.  Wandering among such scenes, at such a time, was enough to touch any man's heart with gratitude for the privilege of existence in this world of ours.

    My friend's house stood upon a buttressed shelf of land, half way up the slope which led from the shore into Bardsea.  It was the most seaward dwelling of the place, and it was bowered about on three sides with little plots of garden, one of them kept as a playground for the children.  It commanded a glorious view of the bay, from Hampsfell, all round by Arnside and Lancaster, down to Fleetwood.  Sometimes, at night, I watched the revolutions of the Fleetwood light, from the front of the house, whilst listening to the surge of the tide along the shore, at the foot of the hill.

    One day, when dinner was over, we sat down to smoke at an open window, which looked out upon the bay.  It was about the turning of the tide, for a fisherman's cart was coming slowly over the sands, from the nets at low water.  The day was unusually hot; but before we had smoked long, I felt as if I could not rest any longer indoors.

    "Where shall we go this afternoon?" said I, knocking the ashes out of my pipe upon the outside sill.

    "Well," replied my friend, "I have been thinking that we couldn't do better than stroll into the park a while.  What do you say?"

    "Agreed," said I.  "It is a beautiful piece of woodland.  I dare say many a Roman soldier has been pleased with the place, as he marched through it sixteen centuries ago."

    "Perhaps so," said he, smiling, and taking his stick from the corner.  "But the scene must have been very different then.  Come along."

    At the garden gate we found three of his flaxen-headed children romping with a short-legged Scotch terrier called Trusty.  The dog's wild eyes shone in little slits of dusky fire through the rusty thicket of grey hair which overhung them.  Trusty was beside himself with joy when we came into the road; and he worried our shoes, and shook our trousers-slops in a sham fury, as if they were imaginary rats; and he bounced about and barked till the quiet scene, from Bardsea to Birkrigg, rang with his noisy glee.  Some of the birds about us seemed to stop singing for a few seconds, and, after they had taken an admiring look sideway at the little fellow, they burst out again louder than ever, and in more rollicking strains, heartily infected with the frisky riot of that little four-legged marlocker.  Both the dog and the children clamoured to go with us.  My friend hesitated as first one, then another, tugged at him, and said, "Pa, let me go."  Turning to me, he scratched his head, and said, "I've a good mind to take Willie."  The lad instantly gave a twirl round on one heel, and clapped his hands, and then laid hold of his father's coat-lap by way of clenching the bargain at once.  But, just then, his mother appeared at the gate, and said, "Eh, no! Willie, you'd better not go.  You'll be so tired.  Come, stay with me.  That's a good boy."  Willie let go his hold slowly, and fell back with a disappointed look.  Trusty seemed to know that there was a hitch in the matter, for he suddenly became quieter, and going up to Willie he licked his hands consolingly, and then, sitting down beside him, he looked round from one to another, to see how the thing was to end.

    "Don't keep tea waiting for us," said my friend,—"we'll be back in time for an early supper."

    "Very well," replied his good wife; "we'll have something nice.  Don't be late."

    The dog was now whining and wrestling in the arms of Willie, who was holding him back.  We made our bows, and bade "Good-bye" to the children and to their mother, and then turned up the road.  Before we had got many yards, she called out,—

    "I say, Chris, if you go as far as Ulverston, call at Mrs. Seatle's, and at Town and Fell's, for some things which I ordered.  Bella Rigg can bring them down in her cart.  These children want a new skipping-rope, too, and you might bring something for Willie."

    The little girls began to dance about, shaking their sunny locks, and singing, "Eh, a new skipping-rope! a new skipping-rope!"  Then the youngest seized her father's hand, and cocking up her rosy button-hole of a mouth, she said, "Pa! pa! lift me up!  I want to tell you somefin."

    "Well, what is it, pet?" said he, taking her in his arms.

    Clipping his neck as far as she could, she said, "Div me a tis first."  And then she whispered in his ear, "If—you'll—buy—me—a big doll, I'll sing, 'Down in a low and drassy bed,' four times, when you turn home,—now then.  Trusty eated my odder doll, when we was playin' shop in de darden."  And then we had to kiss them again, and promise,—I know not what.

    Once more we said "Good-bye," and walked up towards the white village,—the chime of sweet voices sinking into a silvery hum as we got farther off.  Everything in Bardsea was unusually still.  Most of the doors and windows were open; and now and then somebody peeped out as we passed by, and said it was "a fine day."  Turning round to look at the sands, we saw the dumpy figure of "Owd Manuel," the fisherman, limping up from the foot of the slope, with his coat slung upon his arm.  The old man stopped, and wiped his forehead, and gave his crutch a flourish, by way of salutation.  We waved our hats in reply, and went on.  At the centre of the village stood the comfortable inn, kept by "Old Lilly," the quaint veteran who, after spending the prime of manhood in hard service among the border smugglers, had settled down to close the evening of his life in this retired nest.  Here, too, all was still, except the measured sound of a shoemaker's hammer, ringing out from the open door of a cottage, where "Cappel" sat at his bench, beating time upon a leather sole to the tune of a country song.  And on the shady side, next door to the yard wall, which partly enclosed the front of the old inn, the snow-capped head and burly figure of "Old Tweedler" was visible, as still as a statue.  He was in his shirt sleeves, leaning against the door-cheek of his little grocery shop, smoking a long pipe, and looking dreamily at the sunny road.  Tweedler needs a good deal of wakening at any time; but when he is once fairly wakened, he is a tolerable player on the clarionet, and not a very bad fiddler; and he likes to talk about his curious wanderings up and down the kingdom with show-folk.  When the old man had found us out, and had partly succeeded in getting his heavy limbs into a mild disposition to move, he sidled forth from his little threshold, and came towards us, gurgling something from his throat that was not unlike the low growl of an old hoarse dog.  His gruff, slow-motioned voice sounded clear all around, waking the echoes of the sleepy houses, as he said,—

    "Well,—gen-tle-men.  What?  Wheer are yo for,—today?"

    We told him that we were going down to the Priory for a stroll but we should like to call at Gilly's first, for a few minutes, if he would go in with us.

    "Well," said he, "it's a very het day, an' I don't mind hevin' an odd gill.  In wi' ye,—an' I'll follow,—in a minute," and then he sidled back to his nest.

    There was not a sound of life in Old Gilly's house, but the trim cap of his kind dame was visible inside, bobbing to and fro by the window of the little bar.  Lilly, in his kind-hearted way, always called her "Mammy."  We looked in at the bar, and the old lady gave us a cordial welcome.  "My good-man has just gone to lie down," said she; "but I'll go and tell him."  We begged that she would let him rest, and bring us three glasses of her best ale.  The sun shone in strongly at the open back door.  At the rear of the house there was a shady verandah, and a garden in front of it.  There we sat down, looking at the bright bay.  The city of Lancaster was very distinct, on the opposite side of the water, more than twenty miles off.  In a few minutes we heard Tweedler's cart-horse tread, as he came through the lobby, with two books in his hand,

    "There," said he, handing one of them to me; "I've turned that up amang a lot o' lumber i't house.  I warnd it's just the thing for yo.  What the devil is't, think ye?  For it's past my skill."

    It was an old, well-thumbed Latin Delectus, with one back off, and several leaves gone.  It was not of much use to me; but when the old man said, "Now, that's a fine book, I'll awarnd, an' I'll mak ye a present on't," I felt bound to receive it thankfully; and I did so.

    "An' this," said he, holding up the other, "is a book o' sangs,—Cummerlan' sangs."

    It was a thin volume, in papered boards,—a cheap edition of Anderson's ballads,—printed in double column, royal octavo.

    "Ay," replied my friend, "I should like to look at that."

    "Varra well," said Tweedler; "put it i' yor pocket.  I'll land it ye."  And then, as if half-repenting, he continued, "But I set a deal o' store o' that book.  I don't think as I could get another for ony money."

    "You shall have it back in a day or two," said my friend.

    "Oh," replied Tweedler, "it's all refight wi' ye.  But I wouldn't ha' lint it onybody, mind ye."

    My friend put the book in his pocket, promising to take especial care of it; and then we drank up, and came away; and Tweedler sauntered back to lean against the door-cheek, and smoke.

    It was about half-past one when we walked out at the landward end of the village.  The only person we met was a horseman, rising up hastily from the skirt of the park.  As he sped by I recognised the tall figure and benevolent face of Dr. Anderson, of Ulverston.  Near Bardsea Hall an old lane leads off at the right hand side of the road, down to the sea-beach, from whence there is a pleasant walk along the shore of the Leven estuary to a little fishing village called Sandside, and thence a good road, between meadow lands up into Ulverston.  After a minute's conversation at the end of this lane, we agreed to go that way.  When we came out upon the shore, my friend stopped, and looked across the sands.

    "Were you ever on Chapel Island?" said he, pointing towards it.

    "No," replied I; "but I should like to see that spot.  Are there any remains of the old chantry left?"

    "A few," said he; "mostly incorporated with the house of a fisherman who lives on the island.  But we'll go over to it.  There's nice time to get across before the tide comes in.  It's not much more than a mile."

    I was pleased with the idea of seeing this little historic island, of which I had read and heard so much, so we strode out towards it at once.  The sands between looked as level as a bowling-green, and perfectly dry; and it did not seem to me more than half the distance my friend had said.  Before we had gone many yards he began a story:—

    "The last time I was on the island there were several friends,—but hold! we had better take something to eat and drink.  They'll have nothing there; and we shall have to stop till the next ebb.  Wait here.  I'll run back.  I shan't be many minutes."  And away he went up the green lane, towards the village.

    There was an old black boat on the sands, close to where he had left me.  I got into it, and, pulling my hat over my eyes to shade the sun away, I lay down on my back and listened to the birds in Conishead Park.  It was something more than a quarter of an hour before he appeared at the end of the lane again, with a brown bottle in one hand, and with pockets well stored.  Without stopping an instant, he walked right out upon the sands, wiping the perspiration from his brow as he went.  Staring straight at the island, he said, "Come on.  We've no time to lose, now.  But we can manage it."  I remember fancying that there was an unusual earnestness in the tone of his voice; but I did not think much more about it at the time, for the sands still seemed quite dry between us and the island; so I followed him in silence, looking round at the beautiful scene, with my mind at ease.  My friend was a tall, lithe man, in the prime of life, and a very good walker.  I had not been well for some days previously, and I began to feel that the rate he was going at was rather too much for me.  Besides, I had a pair of heavy, double-soled boots on, and my thick coat was loaded with books and papers.  But I laboured on, perspiring freely.  I thought that I could manage well enough to keep up with him for the distance we had to go.  In a few minutes we began to come to patches of wet sand, where the feet sank at every step, and our progress was slower, and a great deal more difficult.  We did not seem to get much nearer the island, though we were walking so hard.  This tried me still more; and, not seeing any need for such a desperate hurry, I said, "Don't go so fast!"  But he kept up the pace; and pointing to where a white sail was gliding up the other side of the island, towards Ulverston, he said, "Come along!  The main channel's filling!  We've a channel to cross on this side, yet.  D'ye see yon white line?  It's the tide rushing in!  Come on!  We can't turn back now!"  It was only then that I began to see how we were situated; and I tramped on at his heels, through the soft, wet sand, perspiring and panting, and still without seeming to get over much ground.  In a few minutes we came to a shallow channel, about eight or ten yards across.  We splashed through, without speaking.  It only took us a little above the knee; but I perceived that the water was rising rapidly.  Thinking that the danger was over, I stammered out, "Stop!  Slacken a bit!  We're all right now."  But the tone, as well as the words, of his reply startled me, as he shot ahead, crying, "This is not it!  This is nothing!  Come on!"  I was getting exhausted; and when he cried out, "Double!" and broke into a run, I had not breath to spare for an answer; but I struggled on desperately.  The least false step would have brought me down; and, if I had fallen, I think that even that delay would have been too much.  Three or four minutes brought us up to the channel he had spoken of.  It was an old bed of the river Leven.  It must have been from fifteen to twenty yards wide at that moment, and the tide was increasing it at a terrible rate.  When we got to the edge of the water I was so done up that I panted out, "Stop!  I can't go so fast!"  But my friend turned half round, with a wild look, and almost screamed, "But you must!  It's death!"  Then we went into the water without any more words.  I was a little on one side of him, and about two yards in the rear.  It is a wonder to me now how I got through that deep, strong, tidal current.  The water must have revived me a little, unconsciously to myself at the time.  Before we had got to the middle, I saw the book of ballads in the side pocket of my friend's shooting coat disappearing in the water, as he went deeper into the channel.  My clothes began to grow heavy, and the powerful action of the tide swayed me about so much that I could hardly keep my feet, and I expected every moment being whelmed over.  But somehow I strove on, the water deepening at every step.  A thousand thoughts crowded into my mind whilst wading that channel.  I remember distinctly the terrible stillness of the scene; the frightful calm of the blue sky; the rocky island, with its little grove of trees waving gracefully in the sunshine,—all so beautiful, yet all looking down with such a majestic indifference upon us, as we wrestled for life with the rising tide.  About mid-channel, when the water was high up my breast, my friend gave a wild shout for help, and I instantly did the same.  The island was not much more than forty yards off.  As my friend turned his head, I caught a glimpse of his haggard look, and I thought all was over.  The rocks re-echoed our cries; but everything was still as death, except the little grove of trees waving in the sunshine.  There was not a living soul in sight.  My heart sank, and I remember feeling, for an instant, as if it was hardly worth while struggling any longer.  And here let me bear testimony to a brave act on the part of my friend.  In the deepest part of the channel, when the water was near the top of my shoulders, he put out his stick side-way, and said, "Get hold!"  I laid only a feeble grasp upon it, for I had enough to do to keep my feet.  When we had waded about three yards in this way, we began to see that we were ascending the opposite bank rapidly, for it was steeper than the other one.  In two minutes more we were out upon the dry sands, with our clothes clinging heavily about us, and our hearts beating wild with mingled emotions.  "Now," said I, panting for breath, "let's sit down a minute."  "No, no!" replied he, in a resolute tone, pushing on; "come farther off."  A walk of about thirty yards brought us to the foot of the rocks.  We clambered painfully up from stone to stone, till we came upon a little footpath which led through the grove and along the garden to the old fisherman's cottage, on the north side of the island.  As we entered the grove I found that my friend had kept hold of the brown bottle all the way.  I did not notice this till we came to the first patch of grassy ground, where he flung the bottle down and walked on.  He told me afterwards that he believed it had helped to steady him whilst coming through the channel.

    The fisherman's cottage was the only dwelling on the island.  We found the door open, and the birds were singing merrily among the green bushes about the entrance.  There was nobody in but the old fisherman's wife, and she was deaf.  We might have shouted long enough before she could have heard us; and if she had heard, the poor old body could hardly have helped us.  When we got to the door, she was busy with something at the fire, and she did not hear our approach.  But, turning round, and seeing us standing there, she gazed a few seconds with a frightened look, and then, lifting up both hands, she cried out, "Eh, dear o' me, good folk!  Whativver's to do?  Wheerivver han yo cum fra?  Eh! heawivver han yo getten ower?"

    We told our tale in a few words; and then she began again:—

    "Good lorjus days, childer!  What browt yo through t' channel at sich an ill time as this?  It's a marcy 'at yo weren't draan'd mony a time ower!  It mud ha bin my awn lads!  Eh, what trouble there'd ha' bin for someb'dy!  What, ye'll ha' mothers livin', likely,—happen wives and childer? . . . Eh, dear o' me!  Bud cum in wi' ye!  Whativver are yo stonnin' theer for?  Cum in, an' get yor claes off,—do! an' get into bed this minute!" said she, pointing to a little, low-roofed room in the oldest part of the house.

    The water from our clothes was running over the floor; but when we spoke about it in the way of apology, the old woman said, "Nivver ye mind t' watter.  Ye've had watter enough for yance, I should think.  Get in theer, I tell ye; an' tak your weet claes off.  Now, don't stan' gabblin', but creep into bed, like good lads, an' I'll bring ye some het tea to drink! . . . . Eh, but ye owt to be thankful 'at ye are wheer ye are!  Ye'd better go into that inside room; it'll he quieter.  Leave your claes i' this nar room, an' I'll hing 'em up to dry.  An' put some o' thoose aad shirts on.  They're poor, but they're comfortable.  Now, in wi' ye! ye can talk et efter!"

    The old woman had four grown-up sons, labourers and fishermen; and there was plenty of working clothes belonging to them lying about the bedroom.  After we had stripped our wet things, and flung them down, one after another, with a splash, we put on a rough shirt apiece, and crept into bed.  In a few minutes she came in with a quart pitcher full of hot tea, and a cup to drink it from; and setting it down upon a chair at the bedside, she said, "Now, get that into ye, an' hev a bit of a sleep.  Eh, dear o' me! it's a marcy ye warn't draan'd!"

    We lay still, talking and looking about us; but we could not sleep.  The excitement we had gone through had left a band of intense pain across the lower part of my forehead, as if a hot wire was burning into it.  The walls of the room we lay in were partly those of the ancient chapel which gives name to the island; in fact, the little ragged, weed-grown belfry still stood above our heads, almost the only relic of the ruined chantry, except the foundations, and some pieces of the old walls built up into the cottage.  This chapel was founded above five centuries ago, by the monks of Furness.  Here they prayed daily "for the safety of the souls of such as crossed the sands with the morning tide."  The Priory of Conishead was charged with the maintenance of guides across this estuary, which is perhaps the most dangerous part of the Morecambe Sands.  Baines says of the route across these sands:—


    The tract is from Holker Hall to Plumpton Hall, keeping Chapel Island a little to the left; and the mind of a visitor is filled with a mixture of awe and gratitude when, in a short time after he has traversed this estuary, almost dry-shod, he beholds the waters advancing into the bay, and bearing stately vessels towards the harbour of Ulverston, over the very path which he has so recently trodden.


    I can imagine how solemn the pealing of that little island chapel bell must have sounded upon the shores of the estuary, floating over those dangerous waters its daily warning of the uncertainty of human life.  Perhaps the bodies of drowned men might have lain where we were lying; or travellers rescued from the tide by those ancient ministers of religion might have listened with grateful hearts to the prayers and thanksgivings offered up in that venerable chantry.  The chastening interest of old pious usage clings to the little island still; and it stands in the midst of the waters, preaching in mute eloquence to every thoughtful mind.  There was something in the sacred associations of the place; there was something in the mouldering remnant of the little chapel, which helped to deepen the interest of our eventful visit that day.  We could not sleep.  The sun shone in aslant at the one tiny window of our bedroom, and the birds were singing merrily outside.  As we lay there, thinking and talking about these things, my friend said, "I feel thankful now that I did not bring Willie with me.  If I had done so, nothing could have saved us.  The tide had come in behind, and a minute more at the channel would have been too much."

    After resting about three hours, we got up, and put on some of the cast-off clothes which had been worn by the old woman's sons whilst working on the land.  My trousers were a good deal too long, and they were so stiff with dried slutch that they almost stood up of themselves.  When they were on, I felt as if I was dressed in sheet-iron.  I never saw two stranger figures than we cut that day, as we entered the kitchen again, each amusing himself with the other's comical appearance.

    "Never ye mind," said the old woman; "there's naabody to see ye bud mysel.  Ye may think varra weel 'at ye're alive to wear owt at all.  But sart'ny ye looken two bonny baigles!  I daat varra mich whether yar awn folk would knaw ye!  It quite alters yor fayturs.  I shouldn't tak ye to be aboon ninepence to t' shillin at the varra most.  As for ye," said she, addressing myself, "ye'n na 'casion to talk, for ye're as complete a flay-crow as ivver I claps een on!"

    The kitchen was cleaned up, and the things emptied from our pockets lay about.  Here books and papers were opened out to dry; there stockings hung upon a line; and our boots were reared against the fender, with their soles turned to the fire.  On the dresser two little piles of money stood, and on a round table were the sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs which my friend had brought in his pockets.

    "What are ye for wi' this?" said the old woman, pointing to the eatables.  "One or two o't eggs are crushed a bit, but t' ham's naa warse, 'at I can see."

    "Let us taste what it is like," said my friend.

    "That's reight," replied she; "an' ye'll hev a cup o' het tea to it.  I hev it ready here."

    The tea was very refreshing, but we couldn't eat much, for we had not quite recovered from the late excitement.  After a little meal, we went out to walk upon the island.  Our damp clothes were fluttering upon the green bushes about the cottage.  They were drying fast; for, though the sun was hot, a cool breeze swept over the bay from the south-west.  We wandered through the grove, and about the garden, or rather the "kail-yard," for the chief things grown in it were potatoes, cabbages, broccoli, pot-herbs, and such like things, useful at dinner-time.  There were very few flowers in it, and they were chiefly such as had to take care of themselves.  In the grove there were little bowery nooks, and meandering footpaths, mostly worn by visitors from the neighbouring shores.  The island has been much larger than it is now.  Great quantities of limestone rock have been sold, and carried away to the mainland; and it seems as if this little interesting leaf of local history was fated to ultimate destruction in that way.  We walked all round it, and then we settled down upon a grassy spot, at the south-western edge, overlooking the channel we had waded through.  There was something solemn in the thought that, instead of gazing upon the beautiful bay, we might have been lying at that moment in the bed of the channel there, with the sunny waters rippling above us, or drifting out with the retiring tide to an uncrowded grave in the western sea.  The thick woods of Conishead looked beautiful on the opposite shore, with the white turrets of the Priory rising out of their embowering shades.  A little south of that the spire of Bardsea Church pointed heavenward from the summit of a green hill, marking the spot where the village stood hidden from our view.  White sails were gliding to and fro upon the broad bay, like great swans with sunlit wings.  It was a beautiful scene.  We sat looking at it till we began to feel chill, and then we went back to the cottage.

    About six o'clock the old fisherman returned home from Ulverston; and soon after two of his sons arrived from Conishead Park, where they had been working at a deep drain.  They were tall, hardy-looking men, about middle-age.  The old fisherman, who knows the soundings of the sands all round, seemed to think we had picked our way to the island as foolishly as it was possible to do.  He talked about the matter as if we had as good a knowledge of the sands as himself, and had set out with the express intention of doing a dangerous exploit.

    "Now," said he, pointing a good way north of the way we had crossed, "if ye'd ha' come o'er by theer, ye mud ha' done it easy.  Bud, what the devil, ye took the varra warst nook o't channel!  I wonder as ye weren't draan'd!  I've helped to get mony a ane aat o' that hole,—baith deead an' alive.  I yence pulled a captain aat by th' yure o't yed, as had sailed all ower t' warld, nearly.  An' we'd summat to do to bring him raand, an' all,—he was that far geean. . . . . Now, if ye'd ha' getten upo' yon bank," continued he, "ye mud ha' managed to ha' studden till help had come to ye.  What, ye wadn't ha' bin varra mich aboon t' middle. . . . But it's getten near law waiter.  I mun be off to t' nets.  Will ye go daan wi' me?"

    There were two sets of "stake-nets" belonging to the island,—one on the north end and the other on the western side, in our own memorable channel.  The sons went to those on the north; and the old man took a stick in his hand, and a large basket on his arm, and we followed him down the rocks to the other nets.  They are great cages of strong network, supported by long poles, or stakes, from which they take their name.  They are so contrived that the fish can get into them at high water, but cannot escape with the retiring tide.  There was rather more than a foot of water at the bottom of the nets, but there was not a fish visible, till the old man stepped in, and then I saw that flukes lay thick about the bottom, half-hidden in the sand.  We waded in, and helped to pick them up, till the great basket was about half full.  He then closed the net, and came away, complaining that it was "nobbut a poor catch."  When we got to the cottage we put on our own clothes, which were quite dry; and after we had picked out two dozen of the finest flukes, which the old man strung upon a stout cord for ease of carriage, we bade adieu to the fisherman and his family, and we walked away over the sands, nearly by the way we had come to the island.

    The sun had gone down behind old Birkrigg; but his westerly splendour still empurpled the rugged tops of the Cartmel hills.  The woods of Conishead were darkening into shade, and the low of cattle came, mellowed by distance from the rich pastures of Furness.  It was a lovely evening.  Instead of going up to the green lane which leads to the landward end of Bardsea, we turned southward, along the shore, and took a grass-grown shady path, which winds round the sea-washed base of the hill upon which the church stands, and so up into the village by a good road from the beach.  The midges were dancing their airy rounds; the throstle's song began to ring clearer in the stilling woods; and the lone ouzel, in her leafy covert, chanted little fits of complaining melody, as if she had lost something.  There were other feathered lingerers here and there in those twilight woods, not willing yet to go to rest, through unwearied joyfulness of heart, and still singing on, like children late at play, who have to be called in by their mothers as night comes on.  When we drew near my friend's house, he said, "Now, we had better not mention this little affair to our people."  But, as we sat at supper that night, I could not help feeling thankful that we were eating fish, instead of being eaten by them.


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The Knocker-up.


Past four o'clock, and a moonlight morning!

OLD WATCHMAN.


LIFE in Manchester may seem very monotonous to a Parisian or to a Londoner, but it has strong peculiarities; and among its varied phases there are some employments little known to the rest of the world.  Many a stranger, whilst wandering through the back streets of the city, has been puzzled at sight of little signboards, here and there, over the doors of dingy cottages, or at the head of a flight of steps, leading to some dark cellar dwelling, upon which were the words, "KNOCKING-UP DONE HERE."  To the uninitiated this seems a startling and unnecessary announcement, in such a world as ours; and all the more so, perhaps, on account of the gloom and squalid obscurity of the quarters where such announcements are generally found.  Horrible speculations have haunted many an alien mind whilst contemplating these rude sign-boards, until they have discovered that the business of the Knocker-Up is simply that of awakening people who have to go to work early in a morning; and the number of these is very great in a city like ours, where manufacturing employments mingle so largely with commercial life.  Another reason why this curious employment is so common in Manchester may be that there are so many things there to lure a working man into late hours of enjoyment,—so many wild excitements that help to "knock him up" after his ordinary work is over, and when his time is his own,—so many temptations to "lengthen his days by stealing a few hours from the night," that the services of the morning Knocker-Up are essential; for the factory-bell, like death, is inexorable in its call; and when, in the stillness of the morning, the long wand of the awakener comes tapping at the workman's window, he knows that he must rise and go.  No matter how ill-prepared,—no matter how mis-spent his night may have been,—he must go, or he knows full well the unpleasant consequence.  If he likes, he may try to ease his mind by crooning the words of that quaint lyric,—


Up in a morning, na for me;


but, in the meantime, he must get up and go.  He may sing it as he goes, if he likes; but whether he does so or not, he must walk his chalks, or else it will be worse for him.  Apart from factory-workers, there are other kinds of workmen who need awakening in a morning, especially those connected with the building trades, whose hours of rising are sometimes uncertain, because they may be employed upon a job here to-day, and then upon one two or three miles off to-morrow.  Factory-workers, too, are compelled, in many cases, to reside at considerable distances from the mills at which they are employed.  These two classes of working people, however, are the principal customers of the Knocker-Up.

    Whoever has seen Manchester in the solitary loveliness of a summer morning's dawn, when the outlines of the buildings stand clear against the cloudless sky, has seen the place in an aspect of great beauty.  In that hour of mystic calm, when the houses are all bathing in the smokeless air,—when the very pavement seems steeped in forgetfulness, and an unearthly spell of peaceful rapture lies upon the late disturbed streets,—that last hour of Nature's nightly reign, when the sleeping city wears the beauty of a new morning, and


All that mighty heart is lying still,


that stillest, loveliest hour of all the round of night and day,—just before the tide of active life begins to turn back from its lowmost ebb, or, like the herald drops of a coming shower, begins to patter, here and there, upon the sleepy streets once more,—whoever has seen Manchester at such a time, has seen it clothed in a beauty such as noontide never knew. It is, indeed, a sight to make the heart


Run o'er with silent worship.


It is pleasant, even at such a time, to open the window to the morning breeze, and to lie awake, listening to the first driblets of sound that stir the heavenly stillness of the infant-day; the responsive crowing of far-distant cocks; the chirp of sparrows about the eaves and neighbouring house-tops; the barking of dogs; the stroke of some far-off church clock, booming with strange distinctness through the listening air; a solitary cart, jolting slowly along, astonished at the noise it is making.  The drowsy street,—aroused from its slumbers by those rumbling wheels,—yawns and scratches its head, and asks the next street what o'clock it is. . . . Then come the measured footsteps of the slow-pacing policeman, longing for six o'clock; solitary voices conversing in the wide world of morning stillness; the distant tingle of a factory bell; the dull boom of escaping steam, let off to awaken neighbouring workpeople; the whistle of the early train; and then the hurried foot, and "tap, tap, tap!" of the Knocker-Up. Soon after this, shutters begin to rattle here and there, and the streets gradually become alive again.

    He who has wandered about the city, with observant eye, at dawn of morning, may have seen men,—and sometimes a woman,—hurrying along the street, hot-foot, and with "eyes right," holding aloft long taper wands, like fishing-rods.  These are Knockers-Up, going their hasty rounds, from house to house, to rouse the workman to his labour.  They are generally old men, who are still active on foot; or poor widows, who retain sufficient vigour to enable them to stand the work; for it is an employment that demands not only severe punctuality, but great activity,—there is so much ground to cover in so little time.  It is like a "sprintrace,"—severe while it lasts, but soon over.  And the aim of the Knocker-Up is to get as many customers as possible within as small a circle as possible,—which greatly lessens the labour.  A man who has to waken a hundred people, at different houses, between five and six o'clock, needs to have them "well under hand," as coachmen say.  With this view, Knockers-Up sometimes exchange customers with one another, so as to bring their individual work as close together as possible.  The rate of pay is from twopence to threepence per week for each person awakened; and the employment is sometimes combined with the keeping of a coffee-stall at some street end, where night stragglers and early workmen can get their breakfast of coffee and bread and-butter, at the rate of a halfpenny per cup, and a halfpenny per slice for bread-and-butter.  Sometimes, also, the Knocker-Up keeps a little shop in some back street, where herbs, and nettle beer, and greengrocery, or fish, or children's spices are sold; and, after this fashion, many poor, faded folk,—too proud for pauperism,—eke out a thin living in quiet corners, out of the world's eye.  So much for the occupation of the Knocker-Up.  And now for a little incident which led to all this preamble.

    The other day, as I sat poring over my papers, a startling knock came to the street door.  It was one, solid, vigorous bang,—with no nonsense about it.  It was heavy, sharp, straightforward, and clean-cut at the edges,—like a new flat-iron.  There was no lady-like delicacy about it,—there was no tremulous timidity, no flabbiness, nor shakiness, nor biliousness, nor any kind of indication of ill-condition about that rap.  It was sound,—wind, limb, and all over.  It was short and decisive,—in the imperative mood, present tense, and first person,—very singular; and there was no mistake about its gender,—it was, indeed, massively masculine,—and it came with a tone of swift authority, like a military command.  It reminded me of "Scarborough warning," a word and a blow,—and the blow first.  That rap could stand on its own feet in the world,—and it knew it.  It came boldly, alone, "withouten any companie,"—not fluttering, lame and feeble, with feeble supporters about it,—like a man on rickety stilts, that can only keep his feet by touching carefully all round.  It shot into the house like a cannon-ball, cutting a loud tunnel of strange din through the all-pervading silence within.  The sleepy air leaped, at once, into wakefulness,—and it smote its forehead with sudden amazement, and gazed around to see what was the matter.  I couldn't tell whatever to make of the thing.  My first thought was that it must be the man who examines the gas meters, and that he was behind with his work, and in a bad temper about something.  And then I began to think of my debts: it might be an indignant creditor, or some ruthless bully of a dun,—which is a good deal worse,—and I began to be unhappy.  I sighed, from the bottom of my heart, and looked round the room in search of comfort.  Alas! there was nothing there to cheer my sinking spirits.  The drowsy furniture had started from its long-continued trance; and the four somnolent walls were staring at one another with wild eyes, and whispering, "What's that?"  The clock was muttering in fearful undertones to the frightened drawers; and the astonished ceiling, as it gazed down at the trembling carpet, whispered to its lowly friend, "Look out!" as if it thought the whole house was coming down.  I looked at my watch,—for, indeed, I hardly knew where to look,—and I began to apprehend that the fatal hour had come, at last, when we should have to part,—perhaps for ever.  I looked at my poor old watch. . . . It had stopped.  The fact is, the little thing was stunned.  The numerals had tears of terror in their eyes; and it held out its tiny hands for protection,—like a frightened child, flying to its mother from a strange tumult.  I felt sorry for the little thing, and I rubbed the case with my coat sleeve, and then wound it gently up, by way of encouragement; and,—the grateful, willing creature,—it only missed about half a dozen beats or so, and then began ticking again, in a subdued way, as if it was afraid of being overheard by the tremendous visitor who had so furiously disturbed "the even tenor of its way."  The whole house was fairly aroused,—tables, chairs, pictures, all were in a state of extraordinary wonderment.  The cat was the only thing that kept its senses.  It rose from the hearth, and yawned, and stretched itself; and then it came and rubbed its glossy fur soothingly against my leg, and whispered, "All serene! Don't faint!"  In the meantime, I could imagine that rap,—as soon as it had delivered the summons,—listening joyfully outside, and saying to itself, with a chuckle, "I've wakened that lot up, for once!" . . . At last I mustered courage, and, shaking myself together, I went to the door.

    A little, wiry old man stood at the door.  His clothing was whole, but rough, and rather dirty.  An old cloth cap was on his grey head; and he was in a state of curious disorder from head to toe.  He had no braces on; and he was holding his trousers up with one hand.  I couldn't tell what to make of him.  He was a queer-looking mortal; and he had evidently "been dining," as the upper ten thousand say when any of their own set get drunk.  At the first glance, I thought he was begging; but I soon changed my mind about that, for the hardy little fellow stood bolt upright, and there was not the shadow of anything like cringing or whining about him.  The little fellow puzzled me.  He looked foggy and dirty; but he had an unmistakable air of work and rugged independence.  Steadying himself with one hand against the door-cheek, he muttered something that I couldn't make out.

    "Well, what is it?" said I.

    Again he muttered something that sounded like "Knocked Up;" to which I mildly replied that he certainly looked as if he was so; and then I inquired what I could do for him; but, to my astonishment, this seemed to vex him.  At last I found that he was a Knocker-Up, and that he had called for his week's "brass."  I saw at once that the old man was astray; and the moment I told him where he was, his eyes seemed to fill with a new light, and he exclaimed, "By th' mon, aw'm i'th wrang street!"  And then, holding his trousers up, still, with one hand, away he ran, and was no more seen by me.


――――♦――――


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