The alteration of parochial boundaries by Act of Parliament has done away
with some curious anomalies that had survived from the first formation of
parishes in England—that is to say, done away with them so far as rating
is concerned, but not ecclesiastically.
The anomalies to which I refer are the odd, outlying patches, like
islets, belonging to one parish, and yet surrounded by others. There are
counties in England that have their insulated portions; and the same
is very general with regard to parishes. How this came about is not
difficult to discover. It was due to the ancient holders of estates, who
liked to have their properties united ecclesiastically. There was such a
detached patch of parish at Sugden. It was three miles from the parish
church; it was encompassed on all sides by the parish of Walmoden; but as
the story I am going to tell relates to the time before the rectification
of parochial boundaries, the cottagers of this islet were rated as
Sugdenian, and for all matters ecclesiastical looked to Sugden as their
parish church. If they wished to be married, their banns were called
at Sugden; if they were to be buried, double fees were demanded at
Walmoden, and, as the cotters were very poor, they went to lay the dust
of their kinsfolk at Sugden. Indeed, unless they had been very poor, they
would not have lived at Woodman’s Well, as the islet was called, for it
was away from the high-road, it was distant from neighbours, it consisted
of a hamlet containing two houses and a half.
The half-house was a whole cottage whose roof had fallen in, leaving,
however, one end partially covered, in which an old woman, who gathered
herbs, told fortunes, and charmed white swellings, kept up a precarious
existence under a tottering chimney. She was not alone; she had a
daughter. The two cottages were in partial collapse; their thatch was
mouldy, rotten, but not broken through, and the wooden casements were
decayed, but not in pieces. If the present tenants were to vacate these
houses, their owner believed that he would not be able to find others who
would take them and give rent for them. They had been erected on lives,
and it was probable that when they fell in to the landlord, they would
fall in altogether. By law, of course, he could insist on the holder of
the property keeping them in repair; but then, precisely, this holder was
an old man living a hundred miles away, and was impecunious; consequently
his legal right was as good as no right at all.
Those who occupied the cottages were: in the first, a mason and his wife;
that is to say, the mason was the tenant in the eye of the law, but
his occupancy was casual, and his wife saw but little of him. She was
a weakly woman, with one child, a frail little creature of two years,
a lovely child with fair hair and blue eyes. The father was fond, very
fond of his little Rosie; but he was fonder of good company at the
In the second house lived a widow, with her son, Jack Weldon; a fine,
strapping lad, with an open face, honest brown eyes always on the
twinkle, and a flexible mouth that was ever on the quiver with a laugh.
His was an irresistible face. You could not look at it without a smile.
There was in it nothing grotesque, certainly nothing deformed, but it was
inexpressibly comical. The eyes, the mouth, and an upright jet of hair,
like the crown of a cockatoo, were mirth-provoking. Jack was infinitely
good-natured, very kind to his mother, and a favourite in the hamlet—that
is to say, with his neighbours, the mason’s wife and the white-witch.
Owing to the temptation of living surrounded by woods and downs, where
rabbits multiplied, he was a bit of a poacher, and he kept the two houses
and a half supplied with rabbit-meat. Ostensibly and actually he was a
ploughboy. His sporting was done at night and on Sundays.
His good-humour, his drollery, would have made Jack a popular man at the
public-house; but happily, his tenderness to his mother and his love of
sport drew him home when the day’s work was over, and he preferred laying
snares in the wood to sitting boozing at the table in the tavern.
Thomas Leveridge was the mason. He was a man good at heart, but weak—weak
as water—fond of politics and of argument. Election-time was thought to
be not far distant; Thomas had not been home for a fortnight. It is true
his work was at a distance of ten miles, and he walked to it on Mondays
and returned on Saturdays. But of late he had not been home even for the
Sundays; because—well, it was a long trudge, and because—well, his wife
was cranky, and because—well, the child had been fretting and crying all
night, and he had not enjoyed a good sleep when he was at home.
Thomas Leveridge loved his wife, and he loved his babe, loved his home,
but he loved politics better, loved his pleasure better, loved himself
most of all.
Now, unhappily, there was a serious and far-reaching reason why the child
had fretted and cried. It was sickening for scarlet fever. This he did
not suppose was the case. “Children alway be squealin’ when they teeths,”
he said. “They sleeps by day and ’owls o’ nights. ’Tis their natur’. But
to me as has to work, it’s discompoging.”
So Thomas Leveridge departed with his bundle on the Monday morning,
whistling, went to his work, heard that a dissolution was in the air, was
neglectful of his work, got dismissed, went about canvassing throughout
the district, and did not receive the letter which had been sent to
tell him that his child was dangerously ill. No, nor the second letter
to inform him that little Rosie was dead; no, nor the third letter to
entreat him to return for the funeral.
What Mrs. Leveridge would have done without the assistance of her
neighbours I cannot say. Little Rosie had been her mother’s one joy, one
solicitude, one ambition. Neglected by her husband, in a dilapidated
house, delicate in health, and weak of body, the poor woman had but one
sunbeam to enlighten her life; and that sunbeam was her child, and that
light was now darkness.
She was wholly overcome, broken-hearted, despairing. Jack Weldon’s mother
came to the aid of the unhappy woman, and saw to everything, and strove
to comfort her. Jack ran to announce the death to the relieving officer,
ordered the coffin of the carpenter at Sugden, and arranged with the
sexton about the grave. He did more: he went to the town where Thomas
Leveridge worked, in hopes of finding him; but could learn only that he
had been dismissed by his master, and was all over the country drinking
and canvassing. Unable to trace him, he had to return to Woodman’s Well.
At this very time Kate Westlake, the white-witch’s daughter appeared,
a brown-faced, bright-eyed, pleasant girl, for whom there was not
accommodation in the collapsed cottage. She had been in service in a
farm; but owing to bad times the farmer had thrown up his tenement, and
she had been obliged to leave and look out for a new situation. Meanwhile
she came home and found the house she had left practically roofless.
Difficulties settle themselves somehow, and this difficulty among others;
and this is the way in which it settled itself. Kate went into the
cottage of the Leveridges. Mrs. Leveridge needed to have some one with
her by night as well as by day, and was very glad to accept the attention
and help of the good-natured young girl. Mrs. Weldon could not be always
with her; and not only were preparations to be made for the funeral, but
also the poor woman’s health and spirits were so shaken that the ordinary
household duties were beyond her powers.
The day of the funeral arrived. Little Rosie was placed in her coffin of
plain deal. She had been so small, had become so light through sickness,
that the coffin was no weight to speak of. The poor mother was without
means, the father was nowhere to be found; he was in no club—that is to
say, in no benefit club. He was a member of three political clubs, that
brought in no benefit at all, but entailed payments. The funeral must be
carried out in the most economical manner. Of neighbours there were only
the inmates of Woodman’s Well. Owing to the insulated position of this
cluster, the population of the circumfluent parish of Walmoden did not
regard itself as responsible for sympathy. At a child’s funeral it was
not etiquette for ardent spirits to be provided; consequently the funeral
arrangements were of the most meagre description, and the number of
sympathisers few. Jack was to tuck the little coffin under his arm and
carry it to Sugden churchyard, and of mourners there would be but Mrs.
Weldon and Kate Westlake. The old witch undertook during their absence to
keep company with the bereaved mother, who had not the strength to follow
the corpse three miles to its last resting-place.
On the way another woman would fall in, who lived in an old octagonal,
abandoned toll-gate, and had a passion for funerals, and went to every
interment, whoever it might be that was buried, an acquaintance or a
The day was lovely. Wood-doves cooed in the coppice, and blackbirds
fluted; in the blue sky compact white clouds drifted like icebergs in
a still ocean. Jack Weldon had done his best to assume a mourner’s
appearance: he had put on a black round cap with crape about it, a black
coat, but could not muster other than brown continuations. His mother had
hunted up his father’s Sunday pair; but his father had been a short and
stout man. These would not fit the length of Jack’s legs, and about the
waist would have been double, like a Jaeger jersey.
“We must do what we can,” said the widow; “nobody expects us to do more.
I’ll stitch a black crape band round the leg above the knee. Gentlefolks
does it on the arm.”
By this method the snuff-coloured continuations of Jack were given a
suitably lugubrious expression. If they were not black, they tried to
“After all,” said Mrs. Weldon, “you don’t expect for babies what you do
So the procession started, and augmented itself on the way by the
contingent from the toll-gate.
The woman from the latter was of an age agreeable with that of Mrs.
Weldon. The way was long. It comported with the occasion to move slowly.
That two old women, both naturally prone to gossip, should walk all the
way in silence, was not to be expected; and they were soon in full flow
of conversation, carried on in an undertone.
But if it was impossible for two old women to walk three miles in
silence, so was it impossible for two young people to do so.
Jack ought to have led the way, followed by Kate; but Jack was burdened,
and lagged accordingly, and Kate had an impulsive spirit, and therefore
“I say, Jack,” said Kate, “be Rosie terrible heavy?”
“Weighs no more than a feather,” answered he. “Poor mite, she wasted away
to nothing at all.”
“I asked because I thought you seemed tired.”
“Well, you look hot.”
“Hot I be—it is the weather. I’m perspiring wonderful, and can’t get at
my pocket-handkerchief—it is in the pocket next the coffin.”
“If you don’t mind, I’ll wipe your face,” said the girl. “But you must
stand still and stoop.”
Jack halted, bowed, and Kate passed her white cambric pocket-handkerchief
over his face.
“Thank y’,” said the bearer. “It’s terrible refreshing, and smells
“That’s scent I put on it,” explained the girl.
Meanwhile the old women were in lively converse. The black strip round
Jack’s leg had started them; they diverged to the scandal of Thomas
Leveridge being away when his child died, and not being present at the
“I’ll tell you what it is,” said Mrs. Weldon, “men are monsters. They’ve
no more feelings than have traction engines. I wish we could get along
“Ah! Jack is a good son. I’m not speaking of lads, but of married men.
There is poor Mrs. Leveridge, left without a shilling; and whatever she
would have done had not Jack caught her a rabbit, I do not know. It all
comes of politics.”
“You’re right there,” said the woman from the toll-gate; “when they get
politics into their heads, it’s worse than beer. They can get the better
of liquor with a good sleep, but of politics”—she shook her head and
sighed. “I’ll tell y’ what it is,” continued Mrs. Weldon. “It’s our own
faults that the men get that rampageous. We give in to them too much. My
husband never went after ale or politics; but then I taught him his duty
from the beginning.”
“That’s it—it all comes of beginning well,” said the toll-gate mourner.
“It’s the same with dogs and with poultry. Lor’ bless you, if I didn’t
take the stick to my cochin-china, he’d be all over the kitchen.”
“I’d never advise any girl to marry,” said Mrs. Weldon.
“Nor I neither,” was the reply; “it’s a pity they won’t take advice—they
are that wilful.”
Both couples were interrupted in their respective conversations by a
rattle of wheels, shouts, a waving of colours, and up came a light
cart occupied by a couple of men, one driving, both vociferating, one
brandishing a whip, the other waving a parti-coloured sheet attached to
a stick. The cart was drawn by a donkey with coloured rosettes, and was
urged forward by the whip, at the end of which was a favour, accentuated
with a bunch of thorns. The donkey, stung by the thorns, frightened by
the yells, was galloping, and the banner was streaming in the air.
“Hurrah! Vote for Popjoy!” yelled the man with the flag as he flourished
it over his head, and, swinging round the corner, the donkey came almost
against the bearer with the coffin, and swerved so suddenly that the
banner-bearer lost his balance, and was precipitated from the cart into
the road, and fell at the feet of Jack Weldon.
“What are you doing there?” shouted the fallen man. “I’ll have a law
passed to get the likes of you transported for life!”
He tried to rise, but found that he could not, and began to swear.
Then Mrs. Weldon pushed forward.
“Thomas!” she cried, in a voice harsh with indignation, “do you know
where you be? and to whom you speak, you ill-conditioned tadpole?”
“I know well enough. I’m on the road—and I’ve hurt my leg somehow.”
“Do you know what you be?” again exclaimed Mrs. Weldon.
“I should think I did. I’m a free and enlightened elector.”
“Look up, Thomas Leveridge, from where you lie, stopping your little
Rosie on the way to her grave.”
“Ah!” threw in the woman from the toll-gate, “if you, her own father,
won’t come home to see your own sick and dying child, we, who’re no
relations, must bury her without consideration of you.”
Then up came the companion of the prostrate man, who by this time had
mastered the ass.
“I say, Thomas Leveridge! what’s to be done?” he asked.
The man on the road did not answer at once; he looked with glazed eyes
and quivering mouth at the little chest. He tried to speak, but he could
not. He tried to raise himself, but was powerless.
“Shall we get you into the cart?” asked his comrade.
“Ay,” answered Leveridge; “take me home. I can’t go nowhere else. Poor
Some hours later the little funeral party returned to Woodman’s Well,
without the deal chest, walking at an accelerated pace—or rather, let me
say that the old women walked fast; the young mourners lagged. Eventually
they got home, and Jack entered the cottage of the Leveridges. Without
a word he ascended the rickety staircase. It was strewn with scraps of
coloured paper, on which were stray letters of the exhortation, “Vote for
He might have been following a paper-chase; for at intervals along the
road, down the lane, these coloured scraps had shown the way to the
cottage. They had fallen from the hand of the injured man as he had been
conveyed home, and on his way had torn the posters, and strewn them.
On the bed in the upper chamber lay Thomas Leveridge. A surgeon had
already been there, and had pronounced the hip dislocated and a bone
broken. He had replaced the joint and had spliced the bone. Leveridge
was condemned to occupy his bed for some weeks. Beside him sat his wife,
with red eyes and pale cheeks; on the floor was a cradle, empty; and she,
inadvertently, was rocking it with her foot. Her heart was too full for
Jack looked at the man. Leveridge had turned his face to the wall, and
was breathing hard; and at intervals a convulsive movement interrupted
his long-drawn inspirations. He put up his hand to lay hold of the
coverlet and draw it over his shoulder, and it shook—he could catch hold
Jack did not speak. He thought: Let him cry, it will do him good. Tears
will wash out his fault; and a fault it was in him to neglect home, even
for his political party. Home claims first duties, then come others.
If we begin the other way on, we are setting a steeple weathercock
downwards, and laying the foundations in the clouds.
Presently Leveridge turned his face round, but would not let the light
shine on his eyes; therefore he moved it on the pillow to where it was
crossed by the shadow of his wife. Then he sighed and said, “Such a child
as was my Rosie! There is no angel in heaven like her. Dear me! I was all
for patching of the Constitution, and never mended up my own house. I am
a mason, and did not put a bit of plaster to that crack in the wall; and
the wind blew in on my little Rosie, and the draught killed her. I’m sure
if I were dying——”
“You are not dying,” said his wife; “you are only laid by for a bit.”
“Ay,” said Thomas, “I’m tied to home by my leg, and serve me right; and
now I can’t go to the poll.” He began to kick about.
“You must not do that,” said Mrs. Leveridge. “The doctor said you were to
“I can’t help it, Marianne,” said the mason. “I’m real hearty glad I
can’t go to the poll. It just serves me right, and touches me where
I’m most tender. When I think of what I have done in leaving you alone,
and my Rosie ill, I feel that ashamed as I’d like to dive under the
bedclothes and never come up no more. Now look here, Jack. You are not a
married man, nor thinking of it.”
“No,” said Jack, retreating a step; “I’m rather too young, thank you
“No offence, it was well meant,” said the mason. “What I was going to say
to you——But there, I hear your name called below. Run and see who wants
The young man descended the stairs. At the foot stood Kate with a
newspaper in her hand.
“Were you calling me?” asked Jack.
“I wanted to know if you’d be so very good as to go over the
advertisements with me,” said Kate timidly. “I am a poor scholar; and I
want to know if there is something in the paper that might suit me.”
“I’ll do it,” said Jack. He took the newspaper and spread it out on the
kitchen table under the latticed window. “Let’s see—what do you want?”
“Go right through, if you please.”
“‘Messrs. Hampton will sell by auction this day that desirable——’”
“No, Jack, I’m not going to stand that.”
“‘Tenders are invited for new offices.’”
“That’s hardly in my way.”
“‘Three thousand gentlemen’s cast-off suits, overcoats, boots——’”
“No, I shouldn’t know what to do with them all.”
“‘Electrical engineering. A vacancy for an articled pupil.’”
Kate hesitated. “I don’t quite understand. I can feed pigs, bake, and
milk. Is it anything to do with that?”
“No; as far as I can make out, it has to do with electioneering.”
“Then I’ll have nothing to say to it. Go on to the next.”
“‘Bake,’ you said. Then here goes. ‘Wanted at once, a man well up in
smalls. State salary.’”
“But I’m not a man. Is there nothing that will suit me?”
“Here is something new,” said Jack, and he began to laugh.
“‘Matrimony.—Bachelor, tall, handsome, healthy, good social position,
possessing gold mines, and £2000 per annum, wishes to meet with a lady
with view to marriage. Send full particulars. State age. Send photo.
“That’s the situation for me, to a hair! Do answer, Jack. I’m twenty-one.”
“But the photo?”
“I have none.”
“Then what is the good of answering? There will be such a run on this
“You think so, Jack?”
“Sure of it.”
“But not such desirable females as me.”
“There’s no photo,” said the young man sternly.
“But I can get myself photygraphed.”
“And by that time he will be caught up.”
“You think so?”
“Sure of it.”
“It is very hard to find a place.”
“I don’t quite know what you want. Here are a pair of roller-skates
advertised, and here is a light phaeton.”
“No,” said Kate decidedly. “That’s not matrimonial, and it’s matrimonial
I like: read another.”
“There is no other.”
“Then read over the first again.”
Jack did so. Kate mused.
“Look here, Jack,” said she. “Write for me and give a good description;
and say I’ll be photygraphed the first opportunity.”
“That’s no good—he’ll think you colour yourself too high.”
“But if _you_ describe me, Jack.”
“Well—here goes. Bright eyes, rosy cheeks, with a little dimple just at
the corner of the mouth, and dark hair that shines, and lips—” Jack threw
down the paper on the floor, put his foot on it, and burst forth with,
“Drat it! If it’s matrimonial you want, come along with me back to Sugden
to the parson, and we’ll ask him to read the banns next Sunday. But
perhaps you’re too tired?”
“I—I tired? Bless you, I could run all the way.”
* * * * *
After a few weeks Thomas Leveridge was able to get about; and though he
could not go at once to a distance for work, he was able to do small
jobs near home. The squire came to Woodman’s Well. Complaints had been
made by the sanitary officer that the cottages were ruinous and unhealthy.
“I’ll tell you what,” said he to Leveridge, “I will have them put
into thorough repair and send the bill to old Rumage, who’s got the
life-rights. If he won’t pay, then the cottages are mine.”
“And may I do them up?”
“That is famous,” said the mason; “then I shall have time to whitewash
and make sweet before the wedding.”
“Wedding? What wedding? I thought there had been a burial—that the place
was insanitary, and that——”
“Well, sir, out of Death cometh Life. A funeral sometimes leads to a
* * * * *
A year and a day had passed since this conversation; then there issued
from two houses at Woodman’s Well two little parties on their way to the
But this time no little coffin was carried to the graveyard; on the
contrary, two lusty little infants were being conveyed to the baptismal
font; and the parties issued respectively from the cottage of the
Leveridges and from that of the Weldons. And as both parties arrived at
the toll-gate, the woman who inhabited the toll-house issued forth, to
act as sponsor to both babes.
And as she walked along she said to old Mrs. Weldon, “Who ever would have
thought it, last time us two went this way?”
“Who ever would?” answered Mrs. Weldon; “but Jack might have gone far and
“And then—Thomas Leveridge?”
“He’s taken to caring for home first, and politics come second only.”
“Well, well! The last time we were here together it was to a burying;
but it is true, that sayin’ of Scriptur’, ‘From Death we have passed to
Our house is a long one; it takes two minutes to walk from one end to the
other, consequently by the time one has gone from the principal staircase
at the east extremity to the kitchen at the west, one is older by two
minutes; whether one has grown in the time I am unable to say, never
having taken measures before starting and on arriving. It is satisfactory
that the staircase and not the dining-room occupies the extreme east,
otherwise we should always partake of cold meals.
But as if the main block of the house were not, in all conscience, long
enough, at some unknown period since its first construction a back
kitchen was added beyond the kitchen, farther west, and then, a little
room only reached by a stair farther west still. This little “prophet’s
chamber” was, however, one used within my recollection for the keeping
of the feathers of geese and fowls that had been plucked, where they
accumulated till sufficient for the composition of a feather bed, when
they were picked, cleaned, baked, and made up.
Before this final process I well remember, as a child of eight or nine,
scrambling into this little chamber, and then rolling and dancing among
the feathers, and making, as I believed, a snowstorm about me. The after
effects were not conducive to comfort; and I remember that the process of
scrubbing and cleansing me and my clothes after this snowstorm was both
irksome and lengthy. That experience was never repeated, not only because
of the cleansing process, but also because I was put across my father’s
knee, and the lesson not to play with feathers and raise snowstorms was
impressed on me with a square ruler, till my father got hot in the face,
and I—hot, elsewhere.
The same little stair that conducted to the feather room, also gave
admission to a low garret above the back kitchen.
This garret contained all kinds of imaginable and unimaginable lumber.
My dear father, who was an enthusiast for novelties, bought every
possible invention that conduced to the saving of time by cooks—patent
egg-boilers, lemon-squeezers, apple-parers, digesting pots, &c. These the
cooks “chucked” up into the lumber place with mighty disdain, and went
on in their old ways. Moreover, into it went all the pans that they had
left unscoured till rust had eaten through them, all the kettles that
began to leak, by letting them fall on the stone floor; a coffee roaster
that the then reigning cook refused to use, because it was less trouble
to employ ready-roasted coffee; a mortar, the bottom of which had been
knocked out, because she would pound almonds in it on her lap instead of
on the table; a tobacco canister in which bird’s-eye was kept for a lover
when he came on a visit. In fact, this garret was an emporium of objects
illustrative of kitchen wastefulness, and indicative of my father’s
No one ever visited this garret except the cook when “chucking away” some
of “master’s newfangled nonsense,” or when putting away some damaged
article out of reach of her mistress’s eye, consequently it was wholly
given over to rats, that raced about in it with a boldness only equalled
by that of cook when she looked straight into my mother’s eyes and said
there never had been, so long as she had been in the house, one of these
articles my mother missed, as the coffee-roaster, or the china mortar,
or the stewing pan, or the bronchitis kettle; or when my father sent
inquiries about such articles as the lemon-squeezer, or the apple-parer,
or the cream-whipper.
The rats got their pickings in this garret: they licked out the dirty
frying-pans in which was grease, they consumed the contents of the
pie-dishes that had been burnt in the oven with crust adhering to them,
and nibbled at the rabbit-skins that had been put away there to be sold
to the rag-and-bone man when he came round.
I knew of this garret, and loved it, loved it almost as dearly as did the
rats. My mother and father did not like my visiting it, as I came away
from it very dirty in hands and face, and with clothing often torn by
nails; and cook never would endure that I should visit it for reasons of
her own. Consequently, visits to it were surreptitious, and made at rare
We had, when I was about thirteen, a maid of the name of Cicely Crowe;
she was an excellent servant, with a passionate love of neatness, did her
work well and conscientiously, but had not the most amiable disposition
or the most gracious manner. She was not a bad-tempered woman, never
violent, but, just as a diamond is said to be off colour if the least
lacking in absolute clearness, so may she be said to have been off
temper. She was very kind-hearted, but it seemed to go against her pride
to do a kind thing in a kind way. She never saw the good in anything,
only the faults. We all liked Cicely, but we all wished she would try to
be more pleasing. However, we have each our blurs in this world, one in
one way, one in another, and had Cicely’s mood been sunny, and her manner
sparkling, why she would have been snapped up at once, and half the young
men in the village would have been quarrelling as to who should have her.
It was just this uncertainty in her temper which deterred them, and kept
her in our service so many years.
She was a very pretty girl, was Cicely, with brown hair, so neat that
never was a hair out of place, and with large hazel eyes, and such a
complexion!—cream and strawberry were nothing to it, and the colour
palpitated under her transparent skin like the flush of the evening sun
on far-off delicate clouds.
The lads of the village said to each other, “What a lass that Cicely is,
but—” And our friends said to my mother, “What a very nice, respectable
servant girl you have in Cicely.” “Oh dear, yes,” answered my mother,
“she is everything that could be desired, but—” And her fellow-servants
all said, “We have nothing to say against Cicely, but—” And we children
remarked to each other, “Cicely is tremendously nice, but—” No one ever
got any further than “but—,” for no one could bring it over the lips to
say a word in depreciation of Cicely.
Now it fell out all on a summer’s day that cook had gone off for a
holiday, and the kitchen-maid had sickened with measles and been sent
home, and with great trepidation, and with a tremulous voice, and an
appeal in her eyes, my mother had asked Cicely if she _would_, under the
circumstances, boil the potatoes and the greens for the early dinner on
that Sunday. There was nothing to roast, nothing to stew; cook had made
cold pies and shapes, and so on, to last till her return.
Cicely replied ungraciously that everything was put on her, but she
supposed she must do it, and then turned her back on my mother and went
off to change her gown. As I have said, it was Sunday. I had a sore
throat, and so was not allowed to go to church, and was bidden remain at
home, not go outside the doors, and keep myself warm.
Now I had calculated on this, and had borrowed a rat-trap from the
gardener, and when Cicely was upstairs putting on such garments as she
deemed suitable for peeling potatoes and shelling peas, and cooking them,
I slipped up the stairs into the garret, hugging the trap, and holding a
piece of cheese-rind I had surreptitiously seized on and had roasted over
my candle. I was resolved on spending the time whilst my parents were
at church in catching a rat. There was a loose slate in the roof and I
tilted this up, peeped out, and watched my father and mother, brothers
and sisters, and the governess stalk away from the front door in their
Sunday suits, with prayer-books under their arms, and I saw my dear
mother pick off sundry bits of “fluff,” ends of thread, &c., which her
eye detected on the children’s clothes.
Then I heard a bustle of feet underneath, and some tongues, and I knew
that the domestics were also off to church by the back door. Thereupon I
set my trap, and sat down behind a barrel in the corner waiting to hear
the rats come out, and to watch them snuff at, then bite the bait, and,
Whilst I waited, and, waiting, learned my collect which had been set me
as a task, I heard Cicely come into the back kitchen, and with a sharp
motion pull the pan to her in which were the potatoes she had to peel.
Almost immediately after I heard the kitchen door open, and a male voice
exclaim, “Well, Cicely, so here you are?”
“I s’pose I be,” was her answer.
Now the floor of the loft was of boards, and in these boards were knots,
and the centre of some of these had fallen out. The back kitchen was not
ceiled. One of these peep-holes was close to me, so very gently I lay
down flat on the floor and applied my eye to the hole, and then saw that
a young man had entered named Will Swan.
I knew him well. He had a boat, and was a fisherman; an honest, cheerful
fellow, with whom I often went out on the sea. He was uncommonly civil,
and would insist on carrying the fish I caught, or fancied I had caught,
home for me.
Now only did it dawn on my infantile mind that his carrying the fish was
due not so much to a wish to oblige me, as to have an excuse for coming
into our kitchen to see Cicely Crowe.
“What’s brought you here?” asked Cicely.
“I wanted to see you and have a bit of a talk.”
“I’m busy,” was her curt answer.
“Ciss, I want a good-bye before I go.”
“Well, the door is open—Good-bye.”
He halted at the entrance, hesitated a while, and then said: “You will be
pleased to hear, Ciss, that the good-bye I asked for is one for ever.”
She dropped the potato she was peeling, but did not look at him; she took
up the potato again.
“I’m thinking of leaving—going to America.”
She did not answer for a while, but as he waited for an observation, she
said, “Indeed. Hope you’ll enjoy yourself there.”
“I am not going there to enjoy myself, but because—well, Ciss—I can’t
feel any joy here in the old country.”
“You seem merry enough.”
“I am not. I’ve always something in me, gnawing at my heart.”
“Swallowed a crab, I reckon, without having him b’iled first.”
“It’s not that, Ciss. You know well it is not that. If one can’t get now
what will make a fellow happy, it’s best to go, sez I.”
“You’ll get lots, lots over there,” said she, and pointed with the knife
towards the sea, America, the bed of the setting sun.
“I don’t want lots—only one.”
“May you find that one. I hope you will.”
“Do you?” with a flash of happiness.
He hung his head.
“I suppose,” said Will, “that I shall be forgotten when I am far away.”
“Those who go far away must reckon on that,” was her answer. “Psha!” she
had cut her finger. She quickly put a bit of potato rind over the wound
lest Will should observe it. But indeed, he was looking on the floor and
“And, Ciss, you have nothing more to say to me?”
“Of course I have—Good-bye!”
He looked up, took a step nearer to her, gazed steadily into her face:
“Cicely, do you mean it—in this way to say good-bye to one you have
known all these years? It is not a light matter to cross the ocean and
go to the States. Who can tell what may happen there? Some find there
good luck, others, wretchedness and ruin. To go there and do well a chap
must take a good heart with him. I cannot do that. I shall bear but a
heartache with me, and have no hope whatever I do. Come, Ciss—what do you
“The parson don’t like any one coming in late for church. You’d best be
He raised himself to his full height. The angry blood flew to his face
and darkened it, fire leaped from his eyes. I had never seen Will Swan
like that before.
“No—Ciss—no,” he said, and he spoke hoarsely; “I will not cross the
water. No, that would content you. Who can say—if things went contrary
here—you might be willing to come across to me there?”
“Yes—who can say? But I will go where there is no passage across. I will
break down every bridge between us. This has been going on too long—from
one year to another—and I can bear it no further. I will get married to
some other wench, some one who will give a chap a good word; who, when
one leaves only for a day will say a good-bye, and her eyes will fill
with tears. She may never be to me all that you have been and are, but
she will be to me what it is not in your nature to be—kind and gracious.”
“Oh, that—that is it!” exclaimed Cicely. I could see, through my
peephole, how flames passed through her face and then that she became
deadly white. I could see how her bosom heaved, how her hands trembled as
she tried to continue with the potatoes, but was unable to do anything
because of her wounded finger.
Suddenly she took up the pan, thrust past Will, and threw the contents
into the pig-pail. “You have made me spoil all,” she said, and burst into
“Crying! What for?”
“That is it. You have already lost your heart to some other girl, and now
you come to say——”
“Yes, that I am going to the parson to have my banns called.”
“Who is it?” she asked, looking at him, her weeping arrested, and she as
one of stone.
“If I say it shall be you, what will you say?”
She tried to speak, could not, turned, put up her hand against the wall,
brushed it down once, twice, again, impatiently. She could not bring the
word out that she wished to say.
Will remained waiting. No answer came.
“Ciss,” he said, “it shall _not_ be you. Any other rather. No—you,
Then he turned and left the back kitchen.
She stood for a moment watching him as he departed. Then she leaned her
face in her wet hands and burst into convulsive weeping.
Snap. Wee! wee! wee! A rat was caught.
Will Swan did not go to America. What he did was to find an engagement
on a small boat that went to and from Bristol, bringing groceries,
earthenware, timber, ovens from Bridgewater, and which conveyed slates
from the Cornish quarries to that great mercantile city which goes on
building, building without ceasing. He was away sometimes for a week;
sometimes for a fortnight; now and then for over a month. America! He was
not going to expatriate himself for a woman’s sake, when there was plenty
of work to be found in his native land, or rather, on the seas that
The Bristol Channel looks upon the map as though in it could be only calm
water, as in the estuary of the Thames. It is, however, not so. When the
wind blows from the west, how the great Atlantic billows roll in, and
with what fury do they recoil and strike the faces of their brother waves
also seeking an entrance! They tread one another down; they overleap one
another; they beat one another about, and leave a long line of foam down
the centre of the Channel, the dust and wreckage of ten thousand broken
And then, without. When Hartland Point has been turned, what a coast! The
iron-black frowning cliffs stand up sheer from deep sea, and seem to say,
“We look on all passers-by as foes; let none venture to approach us!”
And how the Atlantic billows heave there! It is no exaggeration to say
that they run mountains high. Woe to the vessel, great or small, that
enters or attempts to cross the great loop between Hartland and Trevose.
It is a mouth to champ up and suck the life out of every boat that falls
into it when the wind is inland.
Cicely heard that Will Swan had not gone to the States. She saw him
occasionally in church, but when there he never looked her way. He stood
up straight as a post, sang with lungs like the bellows of a blacksmith,
in his blue jersey, his face brown as a coffee-berry fresh roasted, but
his eye, blue as the summer sea, flashed and twinkled, but never on her.
She heard talk of him too. He was much at the Ship Inn; and Kate Varcoe,
the daughter of the host, was a “likely lass,” cheerful, fresh-faced,
with black dancing eyes. With Kate he chaffed and made merry. Cicely
listened every Sunday to hear the banns called, but no—called they were
not. Next, some one said that William had a sweetheart in Bristol.
Oh, in Bristol! Then why should not she show him that if he could be
false she would be so also. For a while she allowed herself to be walked
out by young Hannaway, a respectable youth, a carpenter by trade, who
made the coffins for all the neighbourhood, and undertook in black for
all the dead in that and the neighbouring parishes.
When next she encountered Will she was at the side of Hannaway. He was
talking with some chums, and a burst of laughter from them pealed out
after she had passed. Had he made some remark relative to her that had
caused this merriment? Her cheeks burned. She was angry. She hated him.
She was dull as a companion, and after three Sundays, as young Hannaway
“got no forrarder” with her, he gave her up and took to walking with Kate
On the quay was a long bench, whereon the sailors and fishermen were
wont to sit and yarn. There Will, when at home, sat and yarned also—now
about ships, then about fish, about tobacco, and last about girls. He was
boastful, and laughed and said that he had only to hold up his little
finger and whistle, and half-a-dozen would perch on it. But this was so
strange in Will, so different from his wont, that an old pilot who had
known him from a child and now heard him, shook his head and said, “He’s
not got that Ciss out of his head yet, I’ll swear.”
Then the news came that Cicely was ill—very ill; “something on the
nerve,” so it was said, and others opined “her orgings were gone scatt.”
Will Swan asked no questions about her, but whistled “Black-eyed Susan”
with his hands in his pockets. It was obvious he cared nothing for her.
Then she began to mend. The disease, whatever it was, went “off the
nerve” again, or the “orgings” got patched up with powders or plaster.
Very white and weak, Cicely sat at her window and looked out. One day she
saw Will Swan coming along the way. “Is he about to ask after me?” she
thought. No, he went by. He did not turn in at the familiar—at one time
familiar—kitchen back entrance. He did not even look up at her window.
Now, at last, Cicely left our service. Her mother was dead, and some one
was needed at home to keep house for her father. She left us without a
word of regret. Indeed, she did not even say good-bye to my father and
mother. My dear mother, in her sweet, gentle way, reproached her for it
when they met.
“I thought, ma’am,” said Cicely, “if you’d wanted to say good-bye, you’d
ha’ come to the kitchen to say it to me. ’Twasn’t for me to intrude.”
“Oh! Cicely, after so many years!”—my mother’s eyes filled. She really
loved that girl, and from the depth of my heart I believe Cicely loved
her, but she was too perverse to show it.
“Now,” said Cicely to herself, “I’ll have no more nonsense.” By which she
meant that she would drive all thoughts of Will from her head. But this
is easier said and resolved on than accomplished. And you, we will say,
think that your thoughts, or fancies, are in your own power, that you can
trifle with them, and, when you like, put them aside. But when the day
comes that you _do_ wish thus to be rid of them, then you find yourself
entangled, chained in the passion, and you cannot break from it. So was
it with Cicely. She thought and worked for her old father more zealously
and lustily than she had for us, but only thought the more continuously
on, and suffered the keener for, young Will Swan.
Summer was over; autumn harvests were gathered in; Martinmas summer had
brooded over the land, enveloping all in a warm, lovely haze; and then,
suddenly came the change. Without warning an equinoctial gale burst on
the coast, the summer was over, the brightness past—winter had come with
gloom and sadness.
On the evening after it had been blowing great guns all day, the door was
thrown open, and one of the coastguard looked in.
“Jan Crowe!” called he to Cicely’s father, who had charge over the
lifeboat, “there’s the _Marianne_ wrecked.”
Cicely uttered a cry. That was Will Swan’s vessel, or, rather, the vessel
in which Will Swan was. She ran down to the beach. The sea was almost
indistinguishable from the air, so lashed and shaken together was wave
with wind, so intermingled were foam and rain. The air was filled with
sound. The sands trembled with the beating of the surf on them. The whole
sky was brown and blurred with clouds sweeping along from the west,
inland, with screaming sea-birds peppered against the vapour, and salt
tears dripping out of it; now driving in rushes, then staying and drawing
up as a veil, and allowing the wind full play to riot and rend between
the clouds and the ocean.
All colour was gone out of land and sea and sky—gone as though melted
together into one medley of dull grey, never to be gathered together
into pure colour again. No outlines were clear. The bold points of land
that ran out into the sea were so be-hazed with spoondrift and rain that
they had changed their appearance, they had lost their consistency, they
seemed to waver and threaten to dissolve into the seething flood that
beat about them.
None but an experienced eye could distinguish the _Marianne_ in the haze
and tossing mass of sea.
Men and women, in fluttering garments, were on the beach, with their
hands to their eyes screening them, gazing seaward.
Cries rose for the boat to be launched. But in such a sea it was not
possible to do anything. The _Marianne_ was a wreck. No living being
was on her. The captain of the coast-guard put his glass to his eye and
looked steadily at the tossing—now seen, now obscured—patch that was once
the _Marianne_. In the gathering darkness little could be distinguished.
“They’ve left her,” he said. “There’s none aboard but a dog. Hark! you
can hear him bark.”
Those near held their breath.
“I can’t hear nothing,” said a seaman.
“You can if you look through my glass,” said the captain, “you can then
both see and hear the little dog yapping. He wouldn’t be yapping like
that unless he’d been left behind.”
“But where be they? There was Cap’n Thomas, and Simon Feathers, and Joe
Wilcock, and Bill Swan.”
“Aye,” said another, “and there’s Tony Graves; his mother be here in a
terrible take-on. ’Tis the first time the boy has been so far to sea.”
“Where be they?” asked the captain. “I can’t see anything of a boat.
They’ve took to it, sure as I’m here, and just as certain she’s capsized.”
“Then they’ll be washed ashore, dead or alive,” said one.
“Of course they will. ’Tain’t no use trying the lifeboat when you know
they’re not in the vessel. You don’t know where to look for ’em.”
So the shore was searched, and, first one, then another was recovered;
the boy Tony first, alive and not much the worse; then Joe Wilcock dead,
or so near death that there seemed no chance of recovering him. With the
barbarous ignorance then common, he was thrown across a barrel to let the
water run out of his lungs. He struggled, gasped, and was still.
Captain Thomas, a large stout man, holding to an oar, forged his way
ashore, but he was much bruised and cut by having been beaten against
sharp slate rocks like razors. He could not speak, but his eyes were
lively, black eyes under white bushy brows. After a quarter of an hour he
gasped out, “Where’s Tony? I stood my life to his mother I’d bring him
“Safe he is,” said some one near.
“Then that’s right,” said the captain. “Where’s the rest?”
They could tell him only of Joe Wilcock. Feathers and Swan had not been
By this time it was night. Lanterns were flashing along the beach. Then
up from the water came some one; it was Cicely, drenched to the skin, her
hair streaming, but wet as seaweed. She was dragging in her arms a dark
Some ran to her with lights. What she was heaving was Will Swan,
conscious, for he looked at her, but speechlessly. The moment others drew
nigh the girl released her load and disappeared.
The night became clearer. The wind shifted to the north, the clouds
parted. Stars appeared in the patches of dark sky. The rain ceased, but
the sea still thundered and gleamed white.
A knock at the cottage door of the old fellow who had charge of the
lifeboat. He was out still, but Cicely opened and saw Will Swan before
her with both hands extended.
She drew her hand back and looked coldly at him.
He was staggered, and said: “Well, Ciss!”
“Well,” she said, “what do you want here?”
Will stepped forward, and tried to put his arm round her to take a kiss.
She thrust him from her impatiently.
For a moment he stood motionless, then he burst forth: “It was you—you
who snatched me out of the water.”
“You are mistaken, it was Jacob Finch. I stood by. I would have done that
for any one.”
Will became white as chalk; then almost in fury, as if he would have torn
her, he cried: “Ciss! you be cruel to me and to yourself. I don’t care,
say yes or no, fight or bite if you will, mine you shall be, or I will
carry you in these arms and throw you and myself together over the cliff
into the sea.”
He seized her in his strong arms, clasped her to his heart, and covered
her face with kisses.
So, in a paroxysm of fury, was this courtship done.
And Cicely melted like wax against glowing iron. But only for a moment,
and then said: “Well, if it must be, it must.”
Fifty years have passed since that day.
There is now an old seaman sits smoking his pipe on the bench, looking
seaward, and he yarns with his mates, and is looked up to and listened to
by the younger men. He has got strapping sons of his own. They are seamen
as was their father. He has a daughter married, and the old chap is fond
of taking one of his grandchildren out with him, to walk on the quay and
sit on the old bench beside him or else on his knee.
That old man is Will Swan.
The Crowe, by holy matrimony, had become a Swan.
The pretty Cicely I remembered so long ago was now dead; and old Bill
wore a black band round his blue jersey arm.
A day or two ago I was sitting by him on the bench.
He was silent for a long time, smoking and blowing clouds.
Presently he turned his face to me. I saw there was trouble in it.
“You knew my wife, sir?” he said.
“Indeed I did, since I was a little child.”
“I know you did.”
Then again silence.
Presently again his face turned, and he drew his pipe from his mouth and
rested it on his knee.
“You’re a minister now, sir?”
“Yes; I am a parson.”
“Then p’r’aps you can tell me something.”
“I will tell you what I can.”
“You see, sir, Ciss was that won’erful sort of a woman. Though us was
married for fifty years her never once in all that time would say as her
Again a long pause; another smoke. Then a turn to me: “You _are_ a
“Yes. What do you want?”
“Well, you can tell me. When I get into life everlasting, do you think
Ciss will meet me at the gates o’ Paradise and say: ‘What are you doin’
here now? Don’t you go bothering of me, _I_ don’t want you’?”
“All that is left behind,” said I, “all, all in the soil and dross of the
grave. Above, the bright happy smile will break out, and the welcome, and
the hands will be stretched out——”
“Thank you,” he said slowly. Great tears were in his eyes and rolling
down his cheeks. “I hopes the same, but I doubts it. There must be a
terrible, mirac’lous change for that to come about. But things may happen
past ’uman understanding, and even onions turn to apples, and jerseys to
pea-jackets. No offence, sir,” and he touched his forehead.