It is a singular fact, but fact it is, that very little of what may be
termed peculiarly Romish superstition lingers among the peasantry of
England; this goes far to show how very little hold such superstition
had on their minds or hearts. It may be almost said that there is more
of pre-Christian paganism, of usages condemned by the Catholic Church
surviving, than of any practices recommended by her.
I do know, indeed, of one instance of a Cornish Methodist, who, when
unable to attend his distant chapel, resorted to a rude granite cross of
Brito-Roman date, and there said his prayers; but even in this case one
cannot be certain that there did not linger on a reverence for the stone
itself, which had been a prehistoric menhir before it was sanctified by
being chipped into the sign of our salvation.
In Yorkshire, Milly (my Lady) boxes are carried about by children at
Christmas: these are cradles containing dolls, one to represent the
Virgin Mother, another the Divine Child; and the grocers send candles to
their customers on Christmas Eve, for the lights to be burned at the
Midnight Mass. But such usages are few, and have almost wholly lost their
meaning, were never more than folk customs, and were never inculcated by
the Church before the Reformation. The midsummer bonfires, the Yule log,
the mumming at Christmas, the Maypole, the November “soul-cakes,” the
“sin-eating” at funerals, and a thousand other customs are purely heathen
survivals. The writer knew of a case in Yorkshire of a man who was buried
in his coffin with a candle “to light him on his way to Jerusalem” and
a penny “to pay the toll,” altogether a pagan reminiscence; but has
never in all his experience come across any practice connected with the
doctrine of purgatory, one insisted upon with immense emphasis before
the Reformation, as the saying of masses for the dead brought in a large
revenue for the clergy.
Superstition connected with holy wells is heathen, and was given a
reluctant sanction by the Roman Church, because so deep-rooted that the
people could not be weaned from it.
The custom, so common in the time of our youth, of drinking healths was a
pagan one; the dead were thus saluted silently, and the Bishop of Cork in
1713 charged against it in an address to his diocese. He was answered by
“A Country Curate of Ireland,” and the bishop returned to the charge in a
pamphlet of two hundred and twenty pages.
In Germany, to gloss the heathenism of the custom, it was usual to
drink the first cup to the memory of some saint, usually St. Gertrude,
the patroness of the dead, who had stepped into the place of the Goddess
Holda or Perchta.
But it is chiefly in the prayers used by the illiterate and poor among
the peasantry that we would expect to find some trace of Catholicism,
for the prayer employed in private and secret is precisely where no
interference could affect the convictions and habits formed by ages, and
communicated traditionally at the most impressible age.
Now what do we find actually? That the only prayers used by tens of
thousands, only now very slowly being driven out by the Lord’s Prayer,
or being abandoned because all prayer is given up, are not a Catholic
reminiscence at all, but an heretical one condemned by the Papal Church.
The reader will at once know what the form is to which reference is made.
“Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.
Four posties to my bed.
Six angels are outspread,
Two to bottom, two to head,
One to watch me whilst I pray,
One to bear my soul away.”
This is the usual form; but there are verbal variations. Sometimes it
stands “four corners” instead of “four posties,” and “two at the feet,
and two at the head.” After the first two lines that are invariable, we
“Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head,
One to read and one to write,
Two to guard my bed at night;”
“One to watch and two to pray,
One to keep all fears away.”
A much fuller form of the prayer comes from an old woman of near ninety
years at Tavistock:—
“Monday morning—a new week begin,
Christ deliver our souls from sin.
Tuesday morning—nor curse nor swear,
Christ’s body for it will tear.
Wednesday morning—midst of the week,
Woe to the soul Christ does not seek.
Thursday morning—Saint Peter wrote,
‘Joy to the soul that heaven hath bote.’
Friday—Christ died on the Holy Tree,
To save other men as well as me.
Saturday—six—the evening dead.
Sunday—the books are all outspread.
God is the Branch. I am the flower.
Pray God send me that blessed hour.
Whether I be by sea or by land,
The Lord, sweet Jesus, on my right hand.
I go to bed, my sleep to take,
The Lord doth know if I shall wake.
Sleep I ever, sleep I never,
God receive my soul for ever.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels lie outspread,
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.”
This is very curious. One may well ask where St. Peter wrote the
quotation given in the eighth line. “That heaven hath bote” signifies
“that hath bid or prayed for heaven.”
The prayer, or formula, is very old. In the “Towneley Mysteries,”
belonging to the beginning of the sixteenth century at the very latest
date that can be given, for they are sacred Mysteries which ceased to be
performed after the Reformation, in the scene where the shepherds keep
their watch by night on the eve of the Nativity, the third shepherd says—
“For ferd we be fryght a crosse let us kest
Cryst crosse, benedyght, east and west,
Jesus of Nazorous
God be our spede.”
In the second scene of the _Shepherds_ the second pastor says—
“I wylle lyg downe by
For I must slepe truly.”
The third says:—
“As good a man’s son was I
As any of you,
Bot Mark, come heder, between shalle gin lyg downe.”
“Then myght I lett you bedene; if that you wold rowne.
Fro my top to my too,
Manus tuas commendo
Cryst cross me spede.”
Certainly a very odd form of commendation of the soul, and a variant on
that of the third shepherd.
Launcelot Sharpe, in his remarks on the “Towneley Mysteries” (_Archæol._,
1838), gives “the rural charm which, when a boy, I have often heard in
‘Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Guard the bed that I lie on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Guard the bed that I lie on.’”
Ady, in his “Candle in the Dark, or Treatise concerning the Nature of
Witches and Witchcraft,” Lond., 1656, says, “An old woman in Essex who
was living in my time, she had lived also in Queen Mary’s time, and had
learned thence many popish charms, one whereof was this: every night when
she lay down to sleep she charmed her bed, saying—
‘Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
The bed be blest that I lye on.’
And this she would repeat three times, reposing great confidence therein,
because (as she said) she had been taught it when she was a young maid by
the churchmen of those times.”
In a MS. collection of notes on superstitions made by John Aubrey, which
is in the British Museum, Aubrey enters—
“A PRAYER USED WHEN THEY WENT TO BED.
“Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on,
And blessed guardian angels keep
Me safe from dangers whilst I sleep.”
Aubrey adds, “I remember before the civil wars people when they heard the
clock strike were wont to say, ‘God grant that my last howre may be my
Robert Chambers, in his “Popular Rhymes of Scotland,” does not speak of
this prayer as used north of the Tweed at bed-time, but says: “A curious
instance of far-descended nonsense is to be found in another puerile
‘Matthew, Mark, Luke, John,
Haud the horse till I loup on;
Haud it fast, and haud it sure,
Till I get over the misty muir.’
Boys in Scotland say this in the course of their rollicking sports.”
This singular charm, rather than prayer, is given in a mediæval magical
treatise, “The Enchiridion of Pope Leo,” which was printed at Rome in
1660. It is there called “The White Paternoster,” and runs thus in French—
“Petit Patenôtre blanche que Dieu fit, que
Dieu dit, que Dieu mit en Paradis.
Au soir m’allant coucher, je trouves trois
Anges à mon lit couchés, un aux pieds,
Deux au chevet, la bonne Vierge Marie au
Milieu, qui me dit que je me couchis,
Que rien ne doutes.…
Qui la dira trois fois au soir, trois fois au
Matin, gagnera le Paradise à la fin.”
Under the name of “The White Paternoster” it is referred to by Chaucer in
the “Miller’s Tale”—
“Lord Jhesu Crist, and Seynte Benedyht,
Blesse this hous from every wikked wight,
Fro nyghtes verray, the White Paternoster,
Where wonestow now, Seynt Petre’s soster.”
“Nyghtes verray” is probably a night-were, the hobgoblin. “Were” is an
old Saxon word for man, and the night-man is the ghost. In White’s “Way
to the True Church,” Lond., 1624, White complains of “the prodigious
ignorance” which existed among his parishioners when he entered upon his
ministrations. He gives what he considers to be the “White Paternoster,”
or a form of prayer used before going to bed.
“White Paternoster, Saint Peter’s brother,
What hast i the t’one hand? White booke leaves.
What hast i th’ t’other hand? Heaven gate keys.
Open heaven gates, and streike hell gates,
And let every crysan child creepe to its own mother.
White Paternoster. Amen.”
In the first edition of Wynkyn de Worde’s “Horæ Beatæ Mariæ Virginis,”
1502, a copy now in the Gough Library at Oxford has on the margin,
written in a contemporary hand, “The Little Credo,” “The White
Paternoster,” and “The White Benedictus,” another very curious magical
formula. For an account of this see Dibdin’s “Decameron,” second day.
The “White Paternoster” is as generally in use among the peasants in
France as in England. It takes various forms. In Quercy, part of our
English possessions in Guyenne, it is recited nightly under another name,
the “Pater d’habitude.” The patois may be thus translated:—
Our Saviour salute us;
He is at our head, he is at our feet,
He is now and he is after,
He is in the bed where I lie.
Five angels there I find,
Three at bottom, two at head,
And the mother of God in the midst.
She bids me sleep so sound,
Never fear, nor flames, nor fire,
Nor sudden death at all.
I take our Saviour as my father,
The Virgin Mary as my mother,
Saint John for my cousin,
Saint Michael for my sponsor.
There are god parents four.
Whatever haps, whatever befalls,
I shall go to Paradise.”
There are, in fact, in Guyenne four Paternosters—the great one, the small
one, the Pater of Nazareth, and the Pater of Habit; and these make up one
complete formula. M. Daymard, who has collected the folk-songs of Quercy,
the present Department of Lot, says, “Who has not heard some old woman
mutter her prayers in a monotonous voice, without accent, with, however,
a sort of rhythmic cadence, like the reading of poetry by children
in school?” If in the course of her prayers she be interrupted and
questioned relative to what she has said, and asked to repeat it, it is
rarely that one can be found to continue her prayers without recommencing
“Very often the old women do not understand what they say. They repeat
words which anciently were in Latin, Romance, or French, and which,
passing from mouth to mouth, have become corrupted till they cease to be
comprehensible. Then they have not, as an assistance to their memory, the
help of an air and of couplets; consequently they slide away into the
greatest confusion. Thus it falls out that the majority of these prayers
are long, disconnected, made up of patches ill-stitched together, and
without affinity, without transition. There are also set phrases and
elements of prayer which recur, and which each pious soul throws into her
common prayers without rhyme or reason.”
One of the Quercy prayers deserves quotation, because it also is akin
to something that was customary in England, the Lykewake Dirge, which
is found in Aubrey’s MS., already quoted, and was first published by
Sir Walter Scott. The Quercy prayer is called “La Barbe-Dieu,” _i.e._
Verbum-Dei; _barbe_ is a corruption. It runs thus:—
“The Barbe of God—who knows it, and says it not, he will lose
his soul. There behind thee lies a plank, a little plank
that’s long, not broad. The elect pass over it. The lost fall
from it and cry and groan, falling into the abyss of hell.
Learn the Barbe of God at seven years old. There is no time for
repentance when parted are body and soul.”
In a book published at Toulouse in 1673 by the Père Amilha, in the
Languedoc patois, entitled “Le Tableau de la bido del parfait Chresten,”
a popular book of Christian instruction in faith and morals, is a caution
against superstitious practices. Among these are the following questions:
“Have you tried to make a denier float on the water, whereby to detect
the thief who has stolen your goods? Have you taken off the cross from
the rosary, and said the Little Pater and the White Pater?”
These prayers, which were supposed to have a power to save from
everlasting death by mere recitation of them, are mentioned by J. B.
Thiers, in his “Treatise on Superstition,” as condemned by the Church;
and he names among them the Barbe de Dieu as heretical.
Quenot, in his “Statistique de la Charente,” in 1818, gives the form in
which the White Paternoster was said in that department of France—
“Dieu l’a fait, je la dit,
J’ai trouvé quatre anges couchés dans mon lit,
Deux à la tête, deux aux pieds,
Et le bon Dieu au milieu.”
The forms in which it is said throughout France are infinitely varied,
but the same ideas reign throughout all, and all derived from a common
source. That source is apparently Albigensian Manichæism. It seems from
the questions put to these heretics that the “Perfect,” the apostle of
the sect, taught a fourfold Paternoster, and taught it as a sort of
charm, with the assertion, which repeatedly occurs in all these folk
rhymed Paters, that they who recited it secured thereby their eternal
It is certainly—if this fourfold Albigensian Pater be the origin of
our “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John”—a very curious instance of the
underground growth of the heresy throughout Europe, and the hold it
obtained on the poor and ignorant.
I give a remarkable instance from Lincolnshire of the glossing over of
pagan usage by Christianity. I was furnished with it by the Rev. R. M.
Heanley, who wrote:—
UPTON GREY, WINCHFIELD,
_Nov. 16, 1890_.
“DEAR MR. BARING GOULD,—I wonder if you ever came across a
case of the following strange survival, which I met with in
the Lincolnshire marshes, as a cure for ague. It was in the
autumn of 1857 or 1858 that I had taken some quinine to a lad
who lived with his old grandmother. On my next visit the old
dame scornfully refused another bottle, and said she ‘knowed on
a soight better cure nor your mucky stuff.’ With that she took
me round the bottom of the bed and showed me three horse-shoes
nailed there, with a hammer crosswise upon them.
“On my expressing incredulity, she waxed wroth, and said,
‘Naay, lad, it’s a charm. I takes t’ mell (hammer) i’ my left
haan, and I mashys they shoon throice, and Oi sez—
‘Feyther, Son, and Holi Ghoast,
Naale the divil to this poast,
Throice I stroikes with holi crook,
Wun fur God, and wun fur Wod, and wun fur Lok.’”
“Wod is of course Woden, and Lok is the evil-god Loki of
To return to the White Paternoster. We may well question whether the
Manichæan White Paternoster was not a much earlier form of incantation
for blessing the bed, given a slightly Christian complexion. For in the
Anglo-Saxon laws, in the “Codex Exoniensis,” is a most curious formula
for blessing a field that has been blasted by witchcraft, and this bears
some analogy to the blessing of the bed on which the sleeper is about to
lie. According to this Anglo-Saxon authority, all sorts of seeds are cast
out on the earth as an oblation to the plough. Then turves of green grass
from the four corners of the field are cut in the name of Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John. These are carried to the church and four masses said over
them, and are replaced at the four corners of the field before sunset,
and certain incantations recited over them. At the same time that the
four corners of the field are consecrated to the four evangelists the
cross of Christ is signed over the centre, just as in the French forms of
the prayer of the bed the Virgin or Christ occupies the centre. One is
inclined to suspect that in all this there is a reminiscence of the sun
and the four quarters of the heavens, with the deities ruling them.
In Sussex a great bank of chalk downs stands up as if set as a natural
sea-wall against the encroachments of the waves. Nothing can be conceived
more barren, more dreary than this bank on its seaward slope. On the
east coast of England, in Essex, in Lincoln, in Suffolk and Norfolk,
the energy of man has reclaimed tracts of low-lying land from the sea,
and has held back the tide by erecting sea-walls that have a long
gradually-declining escarpment towards the water. Against these the waves
fling themselves, are broken, run up them, lose their force, and sneak
back discomfited. On the land side these walls have an abrupt fall. Now
the south coast of Sussex seems by nature to have been thus constructed
as a great type after which men should build and recover land. About
three or four miles inland—perhaps a little more—begins what is called
the Weald, a flat, rich, and beautiful land, well wooded, full of sweet
villages and gentle pastures, with here and there an undulation, like a
fold in green velvet, and here and there a pond occupying a deserted iron
quarry. From this Wealden district rises to the south the abrupt scar of
the South Downs, a mighty rampart of chalk, tilted up with its long easy
Did that mighty primeval ocean rage against the coast where now stand
Brighton, Worthing, and Shoreham? Did that great natural sea-wall of
chalk restrain its waves and protect the Weald from inundation? We cannot
At one point in the summit of the chalk barrier is a trench cut deep
through the soft white rock, and this is called the Devil’s Dyke. The
story told of it is that the enemy of mankind, looking down on the
fertile Weald, envied its beauty and richness, and set to work one night
to dig through the barrier, so as to let the ocean in, to submerge the
fair district. But he could do this only in one night. His power to work
evil was limited. If he could make his canal before cock-crow, well; but
he might on no account resume the work if left incomplete in one night.
Now there was a cottage on the height, and in it lived an old Goodie,
who was roused by the sound of digging and delving in the night. The
night was dark, dark as Erebus; she opened her casement and peeped forth.
Nothing was visible, but the earth quaked under the efforts made by
Mephistopheles. Then the Goodie, being an old fool, lit a candle, held it
outside the window and screamed out, “Who’s there? What are you a-doing?”
Now a cock saw the candle, and thinking it was the first glimmer of dawn,
began to crow. Then the evil one threw away his spade and fled in a rage.
And, lo! there in the dyke, is shown the half-finished work and the
unejected shovelful of earth.
Such is the legend. In reality, no doubt, the dyke is a very ancient
Now mark a wonderful provision of nature. All the rain that falls along
the range of chalk hills sinks in, soaks down, and might sink away
to—goodness knows where, but that, beneath the chalk lies a bed of very
dense clay, through which the water cannot descend, and between the chalk
and the clay is strewn a narrow film of gravel, called the greensand,
there hardly thicker than your hand. When the water has percolated
through the chalk hills and is stopped by the clay, out it runs, on the
inland scarp, through the greensand, in a thousand crystal-cool and
beautiful springs, thoroughly purified by this perfect natural filter.
On the inland flank of the South Downs, in a little coomb or valley
scooped out of the chalk, gushed nine of these springs and fed a tarn
or lake, not natural, but formed by an embankment thrown up to form a
reservoir for a mill. Above this lake set in the lap of the Downs were
clumps of Scotch pines, and a wood of beech, in spring full of the purple
and the white scented wood orchis; on the Downs about grew the quaintly
beautiful bee-orchis, rare elsewhere save on chalk.
In a solitary cottage under the hill, in a shady spot where the sun
rarely came, lived a widow and her daughter. The widow was very infirm,
crippled with rheumatism, and was allowed eighteenpence a week and a
loaf by the parish. She was too weak and helpless to earn anything
for herself, and she could not have subsisted, she and her child,
on eighteenpence and one loaf, had it not been for certain means of
acquiring money that the neighbourhood afforded. The South Down chalk
hills abound in hedgehogs. They are to be found in burrows in great
numbers, and at evening, when the dew is falling, the side of the down
may be seen alive with these little creatures scampering about seeking
their prey. The widow’s girl, Jane, a young girl uncouth in form, with
low brow and dull unintelligent eyes, was clever in finding hedgehogs,
and these she carried about coiled up in a basket, and sold them to
people who were troubled with slugs and snails in their gardens, or with
cockroaches and black-beetles in their kitchens. She got a shilling
for each hedgehog, and could, had the demand required it, have found a
hedgehog _per diem_, which would have brought her in 365 shillings in
the year, or £18, 5s. 0d.—a handsome income. But, unfortunately, the
public were not athirst for hedgehogs; and the market was soon glutted.
Consequently Jane had to seek other means of earning money. She found
dormice in the woods, and as there were two large schools for boys,
Hurstpierpoint and Lancing, within a walk, and in schools for boys the
passion for the acquisition of dormice is insatiable, “Crazy Jane,” as
the dull-witted girl was called, found that she could sell at 4d. each
as many dormice as she could find. But then the dormice were only to be
caught when hybernating. In summer they were too wide-awake to allow
themselves to be captured.
Another source of revenue was offered by the orchis plants on the Downs.
Crazy Jane dug up the roots, collected bunches of the flowers, and
trudged with them to Worthing or Brighton, where she was able to dispose
of her flowers and of her tubers. Thus, the widow and her daughter had
not merely eighteenpence and a loaf to live on, but they lived also on
dormice, hedgehogs, and orchis bulbs. She had long distances to go to
dispose of her goods had Crazy Jane, but what mattered that to her? She
was sturdily built, strong as a horse, and disregarded all kinds of
bad weather. Jane had had no schooling. She had been forced to attend
the National School, but had been unable to acquire her letters; she
could not write a pot-hook on the slate, or do any calculations apart
from hedgehogs, dormice, and bulbs. In all particulars relative to her
business she was keen, keen in exacting every penny, able to reckon up
her gains; but apart from hedgehogs, dormice, and bulbs she could not
count and sum. So she had been dismissed her school as mentally incapable
of acquiring knowledge. This permission to her to withdraw was a great
relief to Jane, for she had been the butt of ridicule to the scholars.
Every dunce could crow over Jane as more stupid than himself. The witty
or would-be wags poked fun at her, the malicious tortured and irritated
her. Jane was usually good-natured, but when angered flew into paroxysms
of mad fury that occasioned merriment to the ill-conditioned, and often
provoked the interference of the master. Jane would have come off worse
than she did at school had it not been for Jim Thacker, the miller’s son
at Ninewells, who constituted himself her protector, and thrashed the
insolent boys who tormented Crazy Jane, and screened her from their gibes.
This protection he afforded her awoke on the poor dull-witted girl’s
part the liveliest devotion, a devotion that was irksome to the boy,
for she followed him like a dog, shrank behind him at the least threat
of annoyance, clung to him when in trouble, and was uneasy when he was
out of her sight. This attracted notice in the school, and provoked
merriment. She was called Jim Thacker’s dog. And like a dog she
seemed—faithful, regardful, a little too demonstrative of affection,
but exacting nothing for this fidelity but an occasional nod and word.
It was a relief to Jim when Crazy Jane was excused school as mentally
deficient; and it was a relief to her, because thenceforth she could
wander unrestrained over the Downs, hunting hedgehogs and dormice, and
One day—it was in spring—Jim Thacker was walking near the mill pond,
when he heard screams of terror and pain, apparently, and saw Crazy
Jane pursued and attacked by the male swan of a pair that lived in the
pond. In her search for orchis bulbs she had approached too near where
the female swan was sitting on her eggs, and the male in wild fury had
flown to the protection of its mate, and considering Jane as an enemy
threatening his mate and eggs, had rushed at her with flapping wings and
outstretched beak. An excited swan is not a foe to laugh at, the strength
of its wings is so great that a blow of them has been known to break the
leg of a horse; moreover, with its great beak it can nip and hurt. The
flap of the great wings, the discordant notes that issued from the long
neck, the menacing bill, had paralysed Jane, and in trying to flee she
had stumbled over a root and fallen.
Jim snatched up a pronged stick and ran to her aid, calling to the
swan. He reached her as the bird was driving at her with his bill, and
thrusting the fork adroitly under the neck, held the angry bird back.
“Now Jane,” said he, “get up and run away whilst I keep the swan at bay.”
But she was so bewildered with her fright that it was some time before
she could understand what to do, and when, finally, she did scramble
away, she had not the strength and breath to go far, but sank among the
old leaves at a little distance from the pool, sobbing, trembling, with
her black hair scattered about her shoulders and face.
Jim came to her and helped her to her feet, brought her to the mill, and
there his mother soothed the fears of the frightened girl, gave her milk
and bread and honey, and finally dismissed her with a sixpence in her
After this, Crazy Jane became somewhat of a nuisance again, as she had
been at the school. She had come to regard Jim with a veneration that
almost reached adoration. He was the only person who had ever stood up
for her and defended her against enemies. He had never laughed at her,
played tricks with her, teased her; but had ever been ready to come to
her aid when powerless to protect herself. She hung about the mill, not
for milk and bread and honey, not for a sixpence, but only that she might
get a sight of Jim, and receive a kind and cheery word from him. She
would have overwhelmed him with hedgehogs had he been willing to have
one, would have filled his boxes with dormice had he expressed the desire
to have them. There was nothing she would not to do for him to show her
gratitude and regard. And Jim’s mother, Mrs. Thacker, made use of the
girl now and then to take messages or do commissions for her to Steyning,
or to Hurst, or to Brighton, or Worthing—commissions which she executed
with fidelity, and for which she doggedly, even sullenly, refused
payment. It was reward enough to her to be allowed to see Jim, and to
hear him say, “What an active girl you are, Jane!”
On Sundays, when Jim went to church, Jane was always to be seen hanging
about in the neighbourhood of the mill, waiting to follow him. She was
in her ragged, dingy week-day dress, for she had no change of attire.
And when he started, with his book under his arm, she followed at a
distance, and when he entered the sacred building she remained outside,
hidden behind one of the gravestones, for she dared not stay seated on
the churchyard wall, lest she should be teased, and perhaps pulled off,
and have stones thrown at her by those boys and young men who congregate
about churchyard gates, and do not enter the church.
When service was over, and Jim returned home, then, from her
hiding-place, rose the crazy girl also, and followed him back, never
getting very near, always maintaining a respectful distance, but never
allowing him to get out of her sight.
This, naturally, provoked comment, and caused Jim annoyance. He spoke
to Jane about it, remonstrated, and forbade her to pursue him in this
manner. This made her cry, but not abandon the practice, and he was
finally obliged to endure what could not be altered, hoping that in
course of time she would herself tire of the dog-like pursuit.
But he was mistaken. For her dull mind this allegiance to Jim, expressed
so uncouthly, had become a sort of religion that bound her, and years
passed, and her conduct remained the same; she neither pressed further on
his attention nor wearied of her devotion. The habit of following him,
of hanging about the mill, had become part of her life, with which she
could not break. So time passed. Jim had grown from boyhood to manhood,
and had become miller in the room of his father, deceased; and there had
been changes in the cottage also; the widow was dead, and Jane remained
there lonely, but content, pursuing her usual avocations, and obtaining
a small allowance from the parish. She had grown from girlhood into
womanhood, but without any mental development. She was as dull-witted
as ever, and in addition had acquired a jerky motion of her head and
shoulders whenever spoken to—a nervous agitation which was but St.
Vitus’ dance. A quiet harmless girl she remained. There was a talk about
removing her to the workhouse, but the project fortunately for her was
never carried out. She would have pined and died under the restraints and
routine of the Union.
In due time Jim Thacker was married. He had fallen in love with a bright,
sharp, pretty girl, the daughter of a farmer. There was no impediment
on either side, and they were married. Few were better pleased than
Crazy Jane, who went to the church, but did not enter it, and looked on,
laughing and clapping her hands from behind a gravestone, when the bridal
party left the church.
“Oh fine! fine!” exclaimed Jane. “Now Jim Thacker has got a pretty wife.
Fine! fine! fine!”
And when Jim sent her some of the wedding feast, cake and oranges and
pie, she capered and laughed and cried alternately, and then, all at
once, sat herself down in the wood, and a mood of sulkiness and sadness
came over her, she knew not wherefore, and she threw up the old brown
beech leaves over her head, and let them rain about her, as though she
were burying herself under the fallen leaves.
This mood lasted for a day only, and then passed. She remained as before,
good-natured, following Jim as a dog, but never intruding herself on him
and his young wife.
The latter did not take kindly to Jane. She was annoyed at the persistent
haunting of the neighbourhood of the mill, by her animal-like devotion to
Jim, and remonstrated with her husband.
“What can I do?” he asked; “the poor crazy creature does no harm.”
“It is absurd, it is scandalous,” said the young wife petulantly. “It
makes you an object of ridicule throughout the country.”
Jim’s mother, and after her death, Jim himself, had often sent broken
meat, a blanket, some little comfort, perhaps a few bushels of coal to
Crazy Jane; but the new mistress at the mill forbade these charities.
“Let her be starved out,” she said. “The creature is a nuisance. Who can
be confident with a mad woman so near? She may set fire to the mill, she
may murder me, if I go alone into the woods. And”—she pouted—“I should
not be surprised if she were to attempt it, as she is jealous of me. She
has hitherto engrossed so much of Jim’s attention, and now thinks I rob
her of what should be hers.”
“How can you talk such trash?” said Jim, annoyed.
So Crazy Jane was the occasion of the first little disagreement between
Jim and his wife.
It is a satisfaction to some natures to have an opportunity for
grumbling, an excuse for venting their vexation. Mrs. Thacker had a
fretful, irritable temper, and the presence of Crazy Jane furnished her
with an occasion for giving tongue to her annoyance, and scolding and
finding fault with her husband. She knew perfectly that she had no real
grounds for her jealousy, and the fact that she knew this excused her in
her own mind for her fretfulness towards her husband on the subject. Some
women regard their ebullitions of ill-temper and jealousy as justified by
the fact that they are unreasonable. Jim was so good-natured that he did
not become angry, and his good-nature provoked his wife.
So time passed, and Mrs. Thacker bore her husband a little daughter; and
the child grew, and as it grew became an object of intense, affectionate
regard to Crazy Jane. Indeed, it seemed as though her devotion to Jim
had been transferred to the child. She hovered about the mill as before,
but now, so that she might watch the child, not the father, and seemed
quite pleased when she could offer the little girl a bunch of wild
strawberries, or a posy of lilies of the valley.
This also gave annoyance to Mrs. Thacker. She did not like her child to
be near the mad girl—or woman—she was a girl no longer. “Who can say what
she might do? She might carry her off, as the gipsies do?”
“But where could she carry her to?”
“I don’t like her to touch the child; she is not clean.”
Time advanced. It seemed to stand still only with Crazy Jane, who had
settled into one fixed type of face and figure that never altered; and
no one looking at her could guess her age. Her face was childlike, so
simple; but her figure was too formed for that of a child. Her black hair
showed no trace of change. In spite of the many vexations occasioned her
by Mrs. Thacker, she remained in the cottage. The miller’s wife went to
the parish guardians to complain, and urge that the creature should be
removed to the Union. She went to the police, to complain that the girl
was a menace to herself and the child. She visited the village doctor, to
insist that Jane was mad, and ought to be in an asylum; she endeavoured
to incite the rector to take steps to get her put into some charitable
institution; she had repeated squabbles with her husband—all in vain.
Time advanced, and when little Mabel, his child, was twelve years old,
Crazy Jane was still in the cottage unmolested. One winter’s day,
Mabel had been sent over the downs, a walk of three miles, to her
grandmother’s house, the mother of Mrs. Thacker. It was the old lady’s
birthday, and the child had gone with congratulations and a present from
the miller’s wife.
The day had been warm and fine, but towards afternoon there ensued a
sudden change, and unexpectedly the wind shifted to the north-east, with
black and threatening clouds, and there fell a blinding, dense snow.
A little uneasiness was felt by James and his wife about the child,
but not much, for they concluded that Mabel had been detained by her
grandmother. “Surely,” said Mrs. Thacker, “my mother would never let the
child start when there was a threat of a change.”
“But the threat came with the change, at once; no one could have looked
“If that be the case, you or some one had better go to my mother’s and
Jim Thacker thought so as well. He drew on his thick coat, tied a
kerchief over his head to hold on his cap, for the wind on the downs blew
a gale, and started.
Three hours later he returned, covered with snow.
“Is Mabel home?” he inquired as he entered the room.
“No—had she left?” Mrs. Thacker was near on fainting. She saw by her
husband’s face that he was alarmed.
“Yes,” he answered gravely. “She left her grandmother’s before the
“O Jim! Jim!” The poor mother could say no more, but burst into tears,
and sank with her head on the table.
There was no time to be wasted in lamentations. Jim called to his
man. A lantern was lighted, and the two with sticks went forth again
into the storm. Meantime the darkness had become complete. The wind
raged, the snow fell in huge flakes against the windows like dabs of
plaster. It covered roof, ground, walls. Mrs. Thacker was left alone in
the house with a maid only. Her agitation, her alarm, were great. She
loved her child passionately. How could a child struggle through such a
storm and beat a way through the snow? Every road was deep buried, the
landmarks obscured. The child would stray on the Downs, perhaps sink with
weariness, and sleep the fatal sleep of death; perhaps in its wanderings
come, blinded with snow, to the edge of a chalk quarry, fall over, and be
dashed to pieces.
The night wore on. The father, with his man, had gone over the ground
again between the farmhouse where lived the mother of his wife and his
own mill, but had discovered no traces of his little one. He called up
men from a cottage or two that he passed. He got help from the farm to
which the child had gone. As the hours passed he became more hopeless.
He expected one thing only—to find his child’s body, for he deemed it
impossible for her to be alive under the circumstances. If she had
strayed on the Wold, there was no house on the Downs into which she could
have been received.
The condition of mind of Mrs. Thacker was worse than that of her
husband. He was battling with the storm, searching; she was condemned to
inactivity, could only bow and pray, have hot water ready, bricks heated,
in the event of her child’s return, to bathe her, to place against her
body to restore heat.
Once she was frightened. She heard a crash against the front door, a
blow that near beat it in, and then all was still. What was it? Dare she
open? Then she supposed there had been a fall of a mass of snow from the
roof, and that this had produced the sound. Ten minutes later she heard
voices—her husband and the men returning—and she ran to the door to throw
it open, and ask news. As she did so, something—a great heap of snow, but
something tender, something on which the snow had heaped itself, fell
A cry! Mrs. Thacker stooped, Jim ran up with the lantern. It was Crazy
Jane, with the child in her arms. The child asleep, and Jane—dead.
How and where the silly girl had found Mabel was never known. All the
child could remember was, that Jane had discovered her as she rambled
about in the snow, and that Jane had carried her till she fell asleep.
How far Jane had wandered, how far borne the heavy burden, could not be
told, but it must have been far, for she had died of over-exhaustion at
the very moment when she had reached the door of the house, the outside
of which she had watched for many years, the inside of which she had not
been allowed for long to enter.
And so—faithful to the last—the poor dull-minded creature had repaid in
good measure, pressed down and running over, the little acts of kindness
shown her in years gone by, by Jim at school, and Jim by the pool, and
Jim at home, defending her from children, from the swan, and last, but
not least, from his wife.