AT SHIPLEY, YORKSHIRE
“Sweet childish days that were as long
As twenty days are now.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“A child to whom was given
So much of earth, so much of heaven.”
Before I was three years old my father removed to Yorkshire, to Shipley, in the West Riding. I never can write or speak those two last words, “West Riding,” without a sensible rise of temperature, and an intense longing to be in England. For the West Riding is the heart of England, and, whatever is distinctively English, is also distinctively West Riding. Its men and women are so full of life, so spontaneously cheerful, so sure of themselves, so upright and downright in speech and action, that no one can for a moment misunderstand either their liking or disliking. Their opinions hold no element of change or dissent. They are as hearty and sincere in their religion, as their business, and if they form a friendship with a family, it will likely be one to the third and fourth generation. I correspond today with people whom I never saw, but whose friendship for my family dates back to a mutual rejoicing over the victory of Waterloo.
Of course I was not able to make any such observations on West Riding humanity when I first went there, but I felt the goodness of the people then, and in later years I both observed and experienced it. And it was well for me in my early childhood to live a while among such a strong, happy people. They impressed upon my plastic mind their confidant cheerfulness, and their sureness that life was a very good thing.
Shipley was then a pretty country town, though it is now a great manufacturing city, not far behind Bradford and Leeds. I was three years there and during those years gradually dropped all remains of infancy, and became a child, a child eager for work and for play, and half-afraid the world might not last until I found out all about it. At first I went to a dame’s school. She did not take children over five years of age, and to these babies she taught only reading and needlework and knitting. We sat on very low benches in a room opening into a garden, and we spent a good deal of time in the garden. But she taught me to hem, and to seam, to fell and to gather, to stroke and to backstitch, and when I left her I could read any of the penny chap books I could buy. Most of them contained an abbreviated adventure from the “Arabian Nights” collection.
Soon after we removed to Shipley a woman came into our lives, called Ann Oddy, and my sister and I were told to be respectful to her and to obey her orders. She was a clever housekeeper, a superior cook, and had many domestic virtues; but she was authoritative, tyrannical, and quite determined to have things her own way. Fortunately I won her favor early, and for two simple reasons: first, my hair was easy to curl, and Sister Jane’s had to be carefully put in papers, and then did not “keep in.” Second, because she thought Jane was always ready to go “neighboring” with Mother, and then was so secret as to where she had been, and so “know nothing” of what was said; but I was better pleased to stay in the children’s room with a book and herself for company.
Indeed I liked Ann’s society. She had a grewsome assortment of stories, chiefly about bad fellows and their young women, but sometimes concerning bad children who had come to grief for disobeying their good parents, or for breaking the Sabbath Day. There was generally, however, an enthralling climax, relating to a handsome young man, whom she saw hanged at York Castle for murdering his sweetheart. At this narration I usually laid down my book, and listened with trembling interest to the awful fate of this faithless lover, and Ann’s warnings against men of all kinds who wanted helpless women to marry them. In those days I felt sure Ann Oddy had the true wisdom, and was quite resolved to look upon all handsome young men as probable murderers.
The three years I spent at Shipley were happy years. I enjoyed every hour of them, though the days were twenty times as long as days are now. There was a great deal of visiting, and visiting meant privileges of all kinds. We were frequently asked out to tea with our parents, especially if there were children in the house to which we were going, and there were children’s parties nearly every week at somebody’s house.
It was a good thing, then, that our usual fare was very plain, and not even the quantity left to our own desire or discretion. Breakfast was always a bowl of bread and milk boiled, and a rather thick slice of bread and butter after it. Fresh meat was sparingly given us at dinner, but we had plenty of broth, vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding. Our evening meal was bread and milk, rice or tapioca pudding, and a thick slice of sweet loaf—that is, bread made with currants, and caraway seeds, and a little sugar. But when we went out for dinner or tea, we had our share of the good things going; and, if the company was at our house, Ann Oddy usually put a couple of Christ Church tarts, or cheesecakes, among our plain bread. She always pretended to wonder where they came from; and, if I said pleadingly, “Don’t take them away, Ann,” she would answer in a kind of musing manner, “I’ll be bound the Missis put them there. Some people will meddle.” Then Jane would help herself, and I did the same, and we both knew that Ann had put the tarts there, and that she intended us to eat them. Yet this same little pretense of surprise was kept up for many years, and I grew to enjoy the making of it more perfect, and the changing of the words a little.
The house at which I liked best of all to visit was that of Jonathan Greenwood. He had a pretty place—with a fine strawberry bed—at Baildon Green. He was then a handsome bachelor of about forty years of age, and I considered him quite an old man. I knew also that he was Miss Crabtree’s sweetheart, and Ann’s look of disapproval, and the suspicious shake of her head made me anxious about both of them. What if Miss Crabtree should have another sweetheart! And what if Jonathan killed her because she had deceived him! Then there might be the York tragedy over again. These thoughts troubled me so much that I ventured to suggest their probability to Ann. She laughed my fears to scorn.
“Martha Crabtree have another sweetheart! Nay, never my little lass! It will be the priest, not the hangman, that will tie Jonathan up.”
“Tie Jonathan up, Ann!” I ejaculated.
“To be sure,” she answered. “Stop talking.”
“Do as I bid you.”
Then I resolved to ask Jonathan that afternoon. It was Thursday, and he would be sure to call for a cup of tea as he came from Leeds market. I did not do so, because he asked permission for me to go to Baildon Green with him, and stay until after the fair, and during the visit I knew I should find many better opportunities for the question. To go to Baildon Green, was the best holiday that came to me, unless it was to go to Mr. Samuel Wilson’s, at the village of Baildon. He had a much finer house, and a large shop in which there were raisins and Jordan almonds, and he had also a handsome little son of my own age, with whom I loved to play. But one visit generally included the other, and both were very agreeable to all my desires.
At Baildon Green I had many pleasures. I liked to be petted and praised and to hear the women say, “What a pretty child it is! God bless it!” and I liked to hang around them, and listen to their conversation as they made nice little dinners. I liked in the evening to look at the Penny Magazine, and to have Mr. Greenwood explain the pictures to me, and I certainly liked to go with him in his gig to Leeds on Leeds market day. Sometimes he took me with him into the Cloth Hall; sometimes also men would say, “Why, Jonathan, whose little lass is that?” And he would answer, “It is Mr. Huddleston’s little lass.” “Never!” would be the ejaculation, but I knew the word was not intended for dissent, but somehow for approval.
When I was at Baildon Green Saturday was the great day. Very early in the morning the weavers began to arrive with the web of cloth they had woven during the week. In those days there were no mills—all the cloth was made in the weavers’ homes. Baildon Green was a weaving village. In every cottage there was a loom and a big spinning wheel. The men worked at the loom, the women and children at the wheel. At daybreak I could hear the shuttles flying, and the rattle of the unwieldy looms in every house. On Saturday they brought their webs to Jonathan Greenwood. He examined each web carefully, measured its length, and paid the weaver whatever was its value. Then, giving him the woolen yarn necessary for next week’s web, he was ready to call another weaver. There were perhaps twenty to thirty men present, and, during these examinations many little disputes arose. I enjoyed them. The men called the master “Jonathan,” and talked to him in language as plain, or plainer, than he gave them. Sometimes, after a deal of threaping, the master would lose his temper, then I noticed he always got the best of the argument. In the room where this business took place there was a big pair of scales, and I usually sat in them, swinging gently to and fro, and listening.
These weavers were all big men, the master bigger than any of them; and they all wore blue-checked linen pinafores covering them from neck to feet. Underneath this pinafore the master wore fine broadcloth and high shoes with silver latchets. I do not know what kind of cloth the men wore, but it was very probably corduroy, as that was then the usual material for workingmen’s clothes, and on their feet were heavy clogs clasped with brass, a footgear capable of giving a very ugly and even dangerous kick.
I have never seen a prouder or more independent class of men than these home weavers; and just at this time they had been made anxious and irritable by the constant reports of coming mills and weaving by machinery. But their religion kept them hopeful and confident, for they were all Methodists, made for Methodists, and Methodism made for them. And it was a great sight on a Sabbath morning to see them gathering in their chapel, full of that incompatible spiritual joy which no one understands but those who have it, and which I at that time, took for simple good temper. But I know now that if I was a preacher of the Word, I would not ask to be sent to an analyzing, argumentative, cold Scotch kirk; nor to a complacent, satisfied English church; nor even to a meditative, tranquil Quaker meeting-house; I would say, “Send me to an inspiring, joyful, West Riding Methodist chapel.”
This visit to Baildon Green was the last of my Shipley experiences. During it Mr. Greenwood told me that he would have “a handsome wife” when I came again, and that she would take me about a bit. I was not much pleased at the prospect. Men were always kinder to me than women, and not so fussy about my hair being in curl, and my frock clean. So I did not speak, and he asked, “Are you not pleased, Milly?”
“No,” I answered bluntly.
“But why?” he continued.
“Because I like you—all to myself.” Then he laughed and was much pleased, and I learned that day that you may wisely speak the truth, if it is complimentary.
The event of this visit was Baildon Feast, a great public rejoicing on the anniversary of the summer solstice. It had been observed beyond the memory of man, beyond historical notice, beyond even the traditions of the locality. There was no particular reason for its observance that I could ever learn; it was just Baildon Feast, and that was all anybody knew about it.
I was awakened very early on the first day of the feast by the bands “playing the sun up,” and before we had finished breakfast the procession was forming. Now Baildon Green is flat and grassy as a meadow, and when I was six years old it had a pond in the center, while from the northwest there rose high hills. Only a narrow winding path led to the top of these hills, and about half way up, there was a cave which tradition averred had been one of Robin Hood’s retreats—a very probable circumstance, as this whole country-side was doubtless pretty well covered with oak forests.
A numerous deputation from the village of Baildon, situated on the top of the hill, joined the procession which started from Baildon Green at an early hour. The sun was shining brightly, and I had on a clean white frock, pretty white sandals, a new blue sash, and a gypsy hat trimmed with blue ribbons. When the music approached it put a spirit into my feet and my heart kept time to the exciting melody. I had never walked to music before, and it was an enchanting experience.
The procession appeared to my childish apprehension a very great one. I think now it may have consisted of five hundred people, perhaps less, but the great point of interest was two fine young heifers garlanded with flowers, and ornamented with streaming ribbons of every color. Up the winding path they went, the cattle lowing, the bands playing, the people singing and shouting up to the high places on which the village of Baildon stood. There at a particular spot, hallowed by tradition, the cattle garlanded for sacrifice were slain. I do not know whether any particular method or forms were used. I was not permitted to see the ceremony attending their death, and I confess I was much disappointed.
“It isn’t fit for a little lass to see,” said my friend Jonathan, “and I promised thy father and mother I wouldn’t let thee see it, so there now! Nay, nay, I wouldn’t whimper about such a thing as that. Never!”
I said I wasn’t whimpering, and that I didn’t care at all about seeing the animals killed, but I did care, and Baildon Fair without its tragedy no longer interested me, yet I stayed to see the flesh distributed among all who asked for it. There was an understanding, however, that those who received a festival roast should entertain any stranger claiming their hospitality. This ancient rite over, the people gave themselves up to sports of all kinds.
But their Methodism kept them within the bounds of decency, for there were favorite preachers invited from all the towns around, and if the men and boys were busy in the cricket fields all day, they were sure to be in the chapel at night. There was also a chapel tea party the last afternoon of the feast, and after it a great missionary meeting at which Bishop Heber’s hymn, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains,” was sung with such mighty fervor as made me thrill and tremble with an emotion I can yet recall. That night I solemnly determined to be a missionary. I would go to the darkest of all heathen lands, and be the first to tell the story of Jesus. I went home in a state of beatific surrender, and whenever I think of that night, I am aware of a Presence, and the face I wore when I was a little child turns to me. And I am troubled and silent before that little ghost with its eager eyes and loving enthusiasms, for I have done none of the things I promised to do, and an intangible clutch of memory gives me a spell of sadness keen and regretful.
This Baildon experience was one of those instances of learning in childhood things of no immediate use. I was hardly six years old then; I was seventy-six when it struck me, that I had perhaps taken part in a non-intentional sacrifice to the God Baal. For four years ago I was much interested in discovering that the Shetlanders, even to the close of the nineteenth century, kept the same feast at the summer solstice, and also made their children in some of the lonely islands pass through the Beltane fires, in fact paying the old God Bel or Baal the same services as the Hebrew prophets so often reproached the Israelites with performing. But I believe that wherever Druidical remains are found, relics of this worship may be traced either in names, superstitions, signs or traditions. In a letter I received from a Bradford lady dated September twenty-seventh, A.D. 1911, she says, “It was rather strange but we had a man at our house from Thornton the other day, and he was telling us how they paraded the cattle they were going to kill at the feast through the streets, and I thought of you, and what you remembered of it in Baildon.”
These details may seem to the reader trivial and futile; on the contrary, they were the very material from which life was building character. For all that surrounds a child, all that it sees, hears, feels or touches, helps to create its moral and intellectual nature. See then how fortunate were my first six years. My physical being was well cared for by loving parents in a sweet orderly home, and my mental life well fed by books stimulating the imagination. Through the “Arabian Nights” tales I touched the domestic life of the wonderful East, China, India, Persia and Arabia; and at the missionary meetings, and at my home, I met men who had been to these far away places, and brought back with them curious and beautiful things, even the very gods they worshipped. There had been hitherto in other respects a good deal of judicious neglect in my education. Books had never been anything but a source of wonder and delight to me. I had never heard of a grammar and an arithmetic, and had never been deprived of a visit or a holiday because if I did not go to school, I would miss a mark, or lose my place in a class.
Fortunately this desultory education was marbled all through with keen spiritual incidents and issues. For the spiritual sight of children turns more sharply upon the world within the breast, than they show, or that anyone imagines. They hold in their memories imperishable days which all others have forgotten, visions beautiful and fearful, dreams without name or meaning, and they have an undefined impression of the awful oldness of things. They see the world through doors very little ajar, and they know the walking of God through their dreaming sleep.
The happy and prosperous children are those, who had before all else the education that comes by reverence. This education is beyond all doubt the highest, the deepest, the widest and the most perfect of all the forms of education ever given to man. A child that has not been taught to reverence God, and all that represents God to man—honor, honesty, justice, mercy, truth, love, courage, self-sacrifice, is sent into the world like a boat sent out to sea, without rudder, ballast, compass or captain.
But the education by reverence must begin early. Children of very tender years may be taught to wander through those early ages of faith, when God took Enoch, and no one was astonished; when Abraham talked with God as friend with friend; when the marvelous ladder was let down by Jacob’s pillow; when Hagar carrying her dying child in the desert saw without surprise the angel of the Lord coming to help her. Nor is there any danger in permitting them to enter that dimmer world lying about childhood, to which Robinson Crusoe and Scheherazade hold the keys. The multiplication table can wait, until the child has been taught to reverence all that is holy, wise and good, and the imagination received its first impulse. So I do not call such events as I have chronicled trifling; indeed, I know that in the formation of my character, they had a wide and lasting influence.
A few days after the fair, Jonathan Greenwood was going to Bradford so he left me at my home as he passed there, and as soon as I came in sight of our house, I saw my sister running to the gate to meet me.
“I have a little brother!” she cried. “I have a little brother, Amelia.”
“Mine, too,” I asserted; and she answered, “Yes, I dare say.”
“Is he nice?” I asked.
“Middling nice. You should see how everyone goes on about him.”
“My word!” cried Jonathan, “you girls will be nobodies now. But, I shall stick by you, Milly.”
“Yes,” I answered dubiously, for I had learned already that little girls were of much less importance than little boys. So I shook my head, and gave Jonathan’s promise a doubtful “yes.”
“Tell Ann Oddy,” he said, “that I will be in for a cup of tea at five o’clock.” Then he drove away, and Jane and I walked slowly up the garden path together.
“Father called him John Henry, first thing,” said Jane, “and Mother is proud of him, as never was.”
“I want to see him,” I answered. “Let us go to the children’s room.”
“He is in Mother’s room, and Mother is sick in bed, and Ann is so busy with the boy, she forgot my breakfast, so I had breakfast with Father.”
“Breakfast with Father! Never!”
“Yes, indeed, and dinner, too, for three days now. Perhaps as you have come home, Ann will remember that girls need something for breakfast. Father wasn’t pleased at her forgetting me.”
“What did she say?”
She said, “Mr. Huddleston, I cannot remember everything, and the Mistress and the little lad do come first, I should say.”
“Was Father angry?” I asked.
“He said something about Mrs. Peacock.”
“What is Mrs. Peacock doing here?”
“She is hired to help, but I think she never leaves her chair. Ann sniffed, and told Father, Mrs. Peacock had all she could do to take care of Mrs. Peacock. Then Father walked away, and Ann talked to herself, as she always does, when she is angry.”
This conversation and much that followed I remember well, not all of it, perhaps, but its spirit and the very words used. It occurred in the garden which was in gorgeous August bloom, full of splendid dahlias and holly-hocks, and August lilies. I have never seen such holly-hocks since. We called them rose-mallows then which is I think a prettier name. The house door stood open, and the rooms were all so still and empty. There was a bee buzzing outside, and the girl Agnes singing a Methodist hymn in the kitchen, but the sounds seemed far away, and our little shoes sounded very noisy on the stairway.
I soon had my head on my mother’s breast, and felt her kisses on my cheek. She asked me if I had a happy visit, but she did not take as much interest in my relations as I expected; she was so anxious to show me the new baby, and to tell me it was a boy, and called after his father’s brother. I was jealous and unhappy, but Mother looked so proud and pleased I did not like to say anything disagreeable, so I kissed Mother and the boy again, and then went to the children’s room and had a good cry in Ann Oddy’s arms.
“Ann,” I said, “girls are of no account;” and she answered, “No, honey, and women don’t signify much either. It is a pity for us both. I have been fit to drop with work ever since you went away, Amelia, and who cares? If any man had done what I have done, there would be two men holding him up by this time.”
“Ann, why do men get so much more praise than women, and why are they so much more thought of?”
“God only knows child,” she answered. “Men have made out, that only they can run the world. It’s in about as bad a state as it well can be, but they are proud of their work. What I say is, that a race of good women would have done something with the old concern by this time. Men are a poor lot. I should think thou would want something to eat.”
I told her I was “as hungry as could be,” but that Jonathan was coming to tea at five o’clock.
“Then he’ll make it for himsel’,” she said. “Mr. Huddleston has gone to Windhill to some sort of meeting. Mrs. Huddleston can’t get out of bed. I have the baby on my hands, and Mrs. Peacock makes her own tea at five o’clock—precisely.”
“Then Ann let me make Jonathan’s tea. I am sure I can do it, Ann. Will you let me?”
“I’ll warrant thee.” Then she told me exactly what to do, and when Jonathan Greenwood came, he found a good pot of tea and hot muffins ready, and he had given Agnes some Bradford sausage, with their fine flavoring of herbs, to fry, and Agnes remembered a couple of Kendal wigs that were in the house and she brought them in for a finishing dish. I sat in my mother’s chair, and poured out tea; but I sent for Jane when all was ready, and she gave me a look, still unforgotten, though she made no remark to disturb a meal so much to her liking. Later, however, when we were undressing for bed, and had said our prayers, she reminded me that she was the eldest, and that I had taken her place in making tea for Mr. Greenwood. Many a time I had been forced to receive this reproof silently, but now I was able to say:
“You are not the oldest any longer, Jane. John is the oldest now. Girls don’t count.”
In my childhood this eldest business was a sore subject, and indeed to this day the younger children in English families express themselves very decidedly about the usurpation of primogenital privileges, and the undue consideration given to boys.
A few weeks after the advent of my brother, John Henry, we removed to Penrith in Cumberland, and the night before leaving, a circumstance happened which made a great impression on me. There was a circle of shrubs in the garden, and a chair among them on which I frequently sat to read. This night I went to meet Mother at the garden gate, and as we came up the flagged walk, I saw a man sitting on the chair. “Let us go quickly to the house,” said Mother; but a faint cry of “Mary!” made her hesitate, and when the cry was repeated, and the man rose to his feet, my mother walked rapidly towards him crying out, “O Will! Will! O my brother! Have you come home at last?”
“I have come home to die, Mary,” he said.
“Lean on me, Will,” she replied. “Come into the house. We leave for Penrith to-morrow, and you can travel with us. Then we shall see you safely home.”
“What will your husband say?” the man asked.
“Only kind words to a dying man. Are you really so ill, Will?” And the man answered, “I may live three months. I may go much sooner. It depends——”
Then my mother said, “This is your uncle, Dr. Singleton, Milly;” and I was very sorry for a man so near death, and I went and took his hand, but he did not seem to care about me. He only glanced in my face, and then remarked to Mother, “She seems a nice child.” I felt slighted, but I could not be angry at a man so sick.
When I went upstairs I told Ann that my uncle had come, and that he said he was going home to Kendal to die. “He will travel with us to-morrow as far as Kendal; Mother asked him to do so,” I added.
“I dare say. It was just like her.”
“Don’t you like my uncle, Ann? I thought he was a very fine gentleman.”
“Maybe he is. Be off to your bed now. You must be up by strike-of-day to-morrow;” and there was something in Ann’s look and voice, I did not care to disobey.
Indeed Ann had every one up long before it was necessary. We had breakfast an hour before the proper time; but after all, it was well, for the house and garden was soon full of people come to bid us “good-bye.” Some had brought lunches, and some flowers and fruits, and there was a wonderful hour of excitement, before the coach came driving furiously up to the gate. It had four fine horses, and the driver and the guard were in splendid livery, and the sound of the horn, and the clatter of the horses’ feet, and the cries of the crowd stirred my heart and my imagination, and I believe I was the happiest girl in the world that hour. I enjoyed also the drive through the town, and the sight of the people waving their handkerchiefs to Father and Mother from open doors and windows. I do not think I have ever since had such a sense of elation and importance; for Father and I had relinquished our seats inside the coach to Uncle Will Singleton, and I was seated between the driver and Father, seeing well and also being well seen.
Never since that morning have I been more keenly alive in every sense and more ready for every event that might come; the first of which was the meeting and passing of three great wains loaded high with wheat, and going to a squire’s manor, whose name I have forgotten. There were some very piquant words passed between the drivers about the coach going a bit to the wrong side. On the top of the three wagons about a dozen men were lying at their ease singing the prettiest harvest song I ever heard, but I only caught three lines of it. They went to a joyful melody thus:
“Blest be the day Christ was born!
We’ve gotten in the Squire’s corn,
Well bound, and better shorn.
Hip! Hip! Hurrah!”
But as they sang the dispute between the drivers was growing less and less friendly, and the driver of the coach whipped up his horses, and took all the road he wanted, and went onward at such a rattling pace as soon left Shipley forever behind me.
 Kendal wig, a very fine tea cake raised with yeast. It is baked and allowed to cool, then cut apart, toasted and buttered.
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