“... upon the silent shore
Of memory, we find images and precious thoughts,
That shall not die, and cannot be destroyed.”
I was greatly delighted with Penrith. It was such a complete change from Shipley, and youth is always sure that change must mean something better. In the first place the town was beautiful, and generally built of the new red sandstone on which it stands; but our house was white, being I think of a rough stucco, and it stood on one of the pleasantest streets in the town, the one leading up to the Beacon. Its rooms appeared very large to me then; perhaps I might not think so highly of them now. Its door opened directly into the living-room, and it was always such a joy to open it, and step out of the snow or rain into a room full of love and comfort. Since those days I have liked well the old English houses where the front door opens directly into the living-room. Ten or twelve years ago a lady built in Cornwall-on-Hudson a handsome house having this peculiarity, and I often went to see her, enjoying every time that one step from all out doors, into the sweet home influence beyond it.
The sound of the loom and the shuttle were never heard in the broad still streets of Penrith. Business was a thing rather pushed into a corner, for Penrith was aristocratic, and always had been. The great earls of Lonsdale lent it their prestige, and circling it were some of the castles and seats of the most famous nobility. It had been often sacked, and had many royal associations. Richard the Third had dwelt in its castle when the Duke of Gloucester, and Henry the Eighth’s last wife, Catherine Parr, came from Kendal. The castle itself had been built by Edward the Third, and destroyed by Cromwell. All these and many more such incidents I heard the first day of my residence in the town from a young girl we had hired for the kitchen, and she mingled with these facts the Fairy Cup of Eden Hall, and the great Lord Brougham, Long Meg and her daughters, and the giant’s grave in Penrith churchyard; and I felt as if I had stepped into some enchanted city.
Up to this time I had never been to what I called a proper school. The dame’s school at Shipley I had far outstepped, and I was so eager to learn, that I wished to begin every study at once. There were two good schools in Penrith, one kept by a Miss Pearson, and the other by a man whose name I have forgotten. I wanted to go to Miss Pearson. She had the most select and expensive school. The man’s school was said to be more strict and thorough, and much less expensive; but there was a positive prejudice against boys and girls being taught together. I could tell from the chatter of the girl in the kitchen, that it was looked down upon, and considered vulgar by the best people. I was anxious about the result. Jane and I whispered our fears to each other, but we did not dare to express any opinion to our parents. At last I talked feelingly to Ann Oddy about the situation, and was glad to find her most decidedly on our side.
“I am for the woman,” she said straight out, “and I shall tell the Master so plainly. What does that man know about trembling shy little girls?” she asked indignantly, “and I’ve heard,” she continued, “that he uses the leather strap on their little hands—even when they are trying to do the best they know how. His own children look as if they got plenty of ‘strap.’ I’ve told your mother what I think of him.”
“What did Mother say, Ann?” we eagerly asked.
“She said such a man as that would never do. So I went on—‘Mrs. Huddleston, our society wouldn’t like it. He teaches girls to write a big, round man’s hand. You may see it yourself, Mrs. Huddleston, if you’ll lift his letter to you—good enough for keeping count of what money is owing you, but for young ladies, I say it isn’t right—and his manners! if he has any, won’t be fit to be seen, and you know, Mrs. Huddleston, how men talk, he won’t be fit to be heard at times; at any rate that is the case with most men—except Mr. Huddleston.’”
With such words Ann reasoned, and if I remembered the very words used it would be only natural, for I heard them morning, noon and night, until Mother went to see Miss Pearson, and came home charmed with her fine manners and method of teaching. Then our dress had to be prepared, and I shall never forget it; for girls did not get so many dresses then as they do now, and I was delighted with the blue Saxony cloth that was my first school dress. Dresses were all of one piece then, and were made low with short baby sleeves, but a pelerine was made with the dress, which was really an over-waist with two little capes over the shoulders. My shoes were low and black, and had very pretty steel buckles; my bonnet, a cottage one of coarse Dunstable straw. It had a dark blue ribbon crossed over it, and a blue silk curtain behind, and some blue silk ribbon plaited just within the brim, a Red Riding Hood cloak and French pattens for wet weather completed my school costume, and I was very proud of it. Yet it is a miracle to me at this day, how the children of that time lived through the desperate weather, deep snows and bitter cold, in such insufficient clothing. I suppose it was the survival of the fittest.
My first school day was one of the greatest importance to me. I have not forgotten one incident in all its happy hours. I fell in love with Miss Pearson as soon as I saw her; yes, I really loved the woman, and I love her yet. She was tall and handsome, and had her abundant black hair dressed in a real bow knot on the top of her head; and falling in thick soft curls on her temples, and partly down her cheeks. An exceedingly large shell comb kept it in place. Her dress was dark, and she wore a large falling collar finely embroidered and trimmed with deep lace, and round her neck a long gold chain. She came smiling to meet us, and as soon as the whole school was gathered in front of the large table at which she sat, she rose and said,
“Young ladies, you have two new companions. I ask for them your kindness—Jane and Amelia Huddleston. Rise.”
Then the whole school rose and curtsied to us, and as well as we were able, we returned the compliment. As soon as we were seated again, Miss Pearson produced a large book, and as she unclasped it, said,
“Miss Huddleston will come here.”
Every eye was turned on Jane, who, however, rose at once and went to Miss Pearson’s table. Then Miss Pearson read aloud something like the following words, for I have forgotten the exact form, though the promises contained in it have never been forgotten.
“I promise to be kind and helpful to all my schoolmates.
“I promise to speak the truth always.
“I promise to be honorable about the learning and repeating of my lessons.
“I promise to tell no malicious tales of any one.
“I promise to be ladylike in my speech and manners.
“I promise to treat all my teachers with respect and obedience.”
These obligations were read aloud to Jane and she was asked if she agreed to keep them. Jane said she would keep them all, and she was then required to sign her name to the formula in the book, which she did very badly. When my turn came, I asked Miss Pearson to sign it for me. She did so, and then called up two girls as witnesses. This formality made a great impression on me, the more so, as Miss Pearson in a steady positive voice said, as she emphatically closed the book, “The first breaking of any of these promises may perhaps be forgiven, for the second fault there is no excuse—the girl will be dismissed from the school.”
I was in this school three years and never saw one dismissed. The promise with the little formalities attending it had a powerful effect on my mind, and doubtless it influenced every girl in the same way.
After my examination it was decided that writing was the study to be first attended to. I was glad of this decision, for I longed to write, but I was a little dashed when I was taken to a long table running across the whole width of the room. This table was covered with the finest sea sand, there was a roller at one end, and the teacher ran it down the whole length of the table. It left behind it beautifully straight lines, between which were straight strokes, pothooks, and the letter o. Then a brass stylus was given me, and I was told to copy what I saw, and it was on this table of sand, with a pencil of brass, I took my first lessons in writing. When I could make all my letters, simple and capital, and knew how to join, dot, and cross them properly, I was promoted to a slate and slate pencil. In about half a year I was permitted to use paper and a wad pencil, but as wad, or lead, was then scarce and dear, we were taught at once how to sharpen and use them in the most economical manner. While I was using a wad pencil I was practicing the art of making a pen out of a goose quill. Some children learned the lesson easily. I found it difficult, and spoiled many a bunch of quills in acquiring it.
I remember a clumsy pen in my father’s desk almost as early as I remember anything. It was a metal tube, fastened to an ivory handle, and originated just before I was born. I never saw my father use it; he wrote with a quill all his life. In 1832, the year after my birth, thirty-three million, one hundred thousand quills were imported into England, and I am sure that at the present date, not all the geese in all the world would meet the demand for pens in the United States alone. Penny postage produced the steel pen. It belonged to an age of machinery, and could have belonged to no other age; for the great problem to be solved in the steel pen, was to convert iron into a substance as thin as the quill of a dove’s wing, yet as strong as the strongest quill of an eagle’s wing. When I was a girl not much over seven years old, children made their own pens; the steam engine now makes them.
A short time before Christmas my mother received the letter from Uncle Will Singleton she had been expecting. It came one Saturday morning when the snow lay deep, and the cold was intense. Jane and I were in the living-room with Mother. She had just cut a sheet down the middle, where it was turning thin, and I had to seam the two selvedge edges together, thus turning the strong parts of the sheet into the center. This seam required to be very neatly made, and the sides were to be hemmed just as neatly. I disliked this piece of work with all my heart, but with the help of pins I divided it into different places, for the pins represented the cities, and I made up the adventures to them as I sewed. Jane, who was a better needlewoman than I, had some cambric to hem for ruffling, but the hem was not laid, it had to be rolled as it was sewn between the thumb and first finger of the left hand. Jane was always conceited about her skill in this kind of hemming, and as I write I can see her fair, still face with its smile of self-satisfaction, as her small fingers deftly and rapidly made the tiny roll, she was to sew with almost invisible needle and thread. Mother was singing a song by Felicia Hemans, and Father was in the little parlor across the hall reading a book called “Elijah, the Tishbite;” for he had just been in the room to point out to Mother how grandly it opened. “Now Elijah the Tishbite,” without any weakening explanations of who or what Elijah was, and Mother had said in a disconcerting voice, “Isn’t that the way it opens in the Bible, William?” There was a blazing fire above the snow-white hearth, and shining brass fender, and a pleasant smell of turpentine and beeswax, for Ann Oddy was giving the furniture a little rubbing. Suddenly there was a knock at the door, and Ann rose from her knees and went to open it. The next moment there was evident disputing, and Ann Oddy called sharply, “Mr. Huddleston, please to come here, sir.”
When Father appeared, Mother also went to the door, and Jane and I stopped sewing in order to watch and to listen. It was the postman and he had charged a shilling for a letter, that only ought to be eight pence and while Ann was pointing out this mistake, my mother took the letter from her hand and looked at it.
“William,” she said, “it is a death message, do not dispute about that toll.” So Father gave the postman the shilling, and the door was shut, and Mother went to the fireside and stood there. Father quickly joined her. “Well, Mary,” he said, “is it from your brother? What does he say?”
“Only eight words, William,” Mother answered; and she read them aloud, “Come to me, Mary. The end is near.”
Father was almost angry. He said she could not go over Shap Fells in such weather, and that snow was lying deep all the way to Kendal. He talked as though he was preaching. I thought Mother would not dare to speak any more about going to Kendal. But when Father stopped talking, Mother said in a strange, strong way,
“I shall certainly go to my brother. I shall try to get a seat in the coach that passes through here at ten o’clock to-night.” I had never seen Mother look and talk as she did then, and I was astonished. So was Father. He watched her leave the room in silence, and for a few minutes seemed irresolute. Then Ann came in and lifted the beeswax, and was going away when Father said,
“Where is your mistress, Ann?”
“In her room, Mr. Huddleston.”
“What is she doing?”
“Packing her little trunk. She says she is going to Kendal.”
“She ought not to go to Kendal. She must not go.”
“She’s right enough in going, Mr. Huddleston, and she is sure to go.”
“I never heard anything like this!” cried Father. He really was amazed. It was household rebellion. “Ann,” he continued, “go upstairs and remind your mistress that John Henry has been sickly for two weeks. I have myself noticed the child looking far from well.”
“Yes, sir, the child is sickly, but her brother is dying.”
“Do you think the child should be left?”
“It would be worse if the brother died alone. I will look after John, Mr. Huddleston.”
Then Father went upstairs, and Mother went by the night mail, and we did not see her again for nearly three weeks.
I do not apologize for relating a scene so common, for these simple intimacies and daily events, these meetings and partings, these sorrows and joys of the hearth and the family, are really the great events of our life. They are our personal sacred history. When we have forgotten all our labors, and even all our successes, we shall remember them.
Mother was the heart and hinge of all our home and happiness, and while she was away, I used to lie awake at nights in my dark, cold room and think of death entering our family. In his strange language he whispered many things to my soul that I have forgotten, but one thing I am sure of—I had no fear of death. My earliest consciousness had been a strong and sure persuasion of God’s goodness to men. And I had no enmity towards God; though a dozen catechisms told me so, I would not admit the statement. I loved God with all my child heart. He was truly to me “my Father who art in heaven.” Well then, death whom He sent to every one, even to little babies, must be something good and not evil. Also, I thought, if the dead are unhappy, their faces would show it, and I had never seen a dead face without being struck by its strange quiet. The easiest way to my school lay through the graveyard, and though it was in the midst of the town, I knew no quiet like the quiet of the dead men in that churchyard. I have felt it like an actual pressure on my ear drum.
In the day I talked to my sister of the changes Uncle’s death would make in our lives. When Christmas came, father would not permit us to go to any parties, and Jane was sure we would have to wear mourning, a kind of clothing I hated, I reminded her that the Pennants had not worn black when Mary Pennant died, and Jane reminded me that the Pennants were Quakers, and that when Frances and Eliza Pennant came back to school wearing their brown dresses, it was all the girls could manage, not to scorn them.
Of course we talked at school of our uncle, Dr. Singleton, and his expected death, and I do not understand how this circumstance imparted to us a kind of superiority, but it did. Jane put on airs, and was always on the point of crying, and I heard Laura Patterson correct the biggest pupil in the school for “speaking cross to a girl whose uncle was dying.” I dare say I had my own plan for collecting sympathy, for some of my classmates asked to walk home with me, others offered to help me with my grammer, and Adelaide Bond gave me the half of her weekly allowance of Everton toffy.
At last Mother returned home and, oh, how glad we were to see her! She came into the lighted room just as we were sitting down to supper, and an angel from heaven would not have been as welcome. My father was somewhere in the Patterdale country, where he went for a week or two at regular intervals; and, oh, how good, how glorious a thing it was, to have Mother home again!
The first thing Mother did the following day was to send for black stuff and the dressmaker. I pleaded in vain, though Mother, being of Quaker descent, was as averse to mourning dresses as I was, but she was sure Father would insist on them, because of what the Society, and people in general would say. Jane made no objections. She was very fair, and had that soft pearly complexion which is rendered more lovely by black. As for Ann, she could only look at the wastefulness of putting new dresses away in camphor for a year. She said, “Girls will grow long and lanky, and in a year the skirts will be short and narrow, and the waists too small, and the armholes too tight, and the whole business out of fashion and likelihood.”
In a few days Father came home. The girl was pipeclaying the hearth and building up the fire for the evening, and Ann laying the table for Mother’s tea as he entered. He was so delighted to find Mother at home that he said to her, “Let the girls stay and have a cup of tea with us tonight.” Then when he had set down by the fire, Jane drew her stool close to him, and I slipped on to his knee, and whispered something in his ear I shall never tell to any one. Such a happy meal followed, but little was said about Uncle Singleton. Father asked if all was well with him? Mother answered almost joyfully, “All is well!”
“Poor fellow,” continued Father. “His life was defeat from its beginning to its end.”
“No, William,” cried Mother, “at the end it was victory!” and she lifted her radiant face, and her eyes rained gladness, as she said the word “victory” with that telling upward inflection on the last syllable, common in the North Country. I can never forget either the words or the look with which they were uttered. I thought to myself, “How beautiful she is!”
I waited after tea, hoping that Mother would tell us more about Uncle’s death, but she talked of our black dresses and the bad weather, and then some neighbors came in, and I went upstairs to Ann. She had one of those high peaked sugar loaves before her, and was removing the thick dark purple paper in which they were always wrapped. The big sugar nippers were at her side, and I knew she was going to nip sugar for the next day’s use. It was, however, a kind of work it was pleasant to loiter over, and after talking awhile Ann said, “What did Mrs. Huddleston say about her brother?” Then I repeated what Mother said, and involuntarily tried to imitate her look and the tones of her voice. Ann asked if that was all, and I answered, “Yes.” Then I said, “Was he a bad man, Ann, or a good man, tell me;” and she said, “He was bad and good, like the rest of men. Don’t ask me any questions. Your mother will tell you all about him when the right time comes.”
And the right time did not come until eleven years afterwards.
In a week our dresses were ready, and we went back to school. We met with great sympathy. Jane looked beautiful, and received the attentions shown her with graceful resignation. I looked unlike myself, and felt as if I had somebody’s else frock on. But I had a happy heart, ready to make the best of any trouble, beside I knew I was unreasonable, since Ann, who was generally on my side, told me that I ought to be thankful I had any dress at all to wear, and so many nicer little girls than myself without one to put on their backs. And as for color, one color was just as good as another.
That was not true in my case, but I knew that it was no use telling Ann that story. Yet it is a fact, that I am, and have always been powerfully affected both by color and smell—the latter’s influence having a psychical or spiritual tendency. But how could I explain so complex a feeling to Ann, when I could not even understand it myself?
Queen Victoria ascended the throne of England a few weeks before I went to Penrith, but she was not crowned until a year afterwards. I remember the very June day so bright and exquisite it was! The royal and loyal town of Penrith was garlanded with roses, flags were waving from every vantage point, and the musical bells of the ancient church rang without ceasing from dawn until the long summer gloaming was lost in the mid-summer night. Yet child as I was, I noticed and partly understood, the gloom and care on the faces of so many who had no heart to rejoice, and no reason to do so.
Without much explanation the story of ordinary English life at this period would be incredible to us, and I shall only revert to it at points where it touched my own life and character. Is it not all written in Knight’s and many other histories at every one’s hand? But I saw the slough of despair, of poverty and ignorance, in which the working class struggled for their morsel of bread. And the root of all their trouble was ignorance. For instance, the wealthy town of Penrith had not, when I first saw it, one National or Lancastrian school, nor yet one free school of any kind, but the little Sunday school held in the Methodist chapel two hours on Sunday afternoons. Fortunately it was the kind of Sunday school Raikes intended. There were no daintily dressed children, and fashionably attired teachers in it—not one. The pupils were semi-starved, semi-clothed, hopeless, joyless little creatures; their teachers were hard working men and women, who took from their Sabbath rest a few hours for Christ’s sake. For how could such little ones come unto Him, if there were none to show the way?
There was even at this date, 1838, villages in England without either church or school, though Methodism had swept through the land like a Pentecostal fire half a century before; and at this same time, the big cities of London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol had not one ragged school in them. A parliamentary investigation two years afterward found plenty of villages such as Dunkirk with one hundred and thirteen children, of whom only ten could read and write; and Boughton with one hundred and nineteen children, where only seven went to a school that taught writing, and thirty-two to a Sunday school. Learning and literature were not in fashion then, especially for women. Yes, indeed, it is true that I knew in my youth, many women of wealth, beautiful women who managed their large houses with splendid hospitality and were keenly alive to public affairs, who looked on books as something rather demoralizing, and likely to encroach in some way upon works more in the way of their duty. I was very often reproved for “wasting my time over a book” so that my reading had a good deal of that charm which makes forbidden fruit “so good for food, so pleasant to the eyes, so much to be desired to make one wise.”
And in Penrith I began a new set of books which charmed me quite as much as “Robinson Crusoe” and the “Arabian Nights” had done. On my seventh birthday my father gave me Cook’s “Voyages Round the World,” and this volume was followed by Anson’s “Voyage,” by Mungo Park’s “Travels in Africa,” and Bruce’s “Travels in Abyssinia.” Twenty-two years ago I stood one afternoon at the grave of Bruce in a lonely kirk yard a few miles outside Glasgow. It was a neglected mound with the stone slanting down above it. I remembered then, as I do now, how severely his book had been criticized and even discredited. But later travellers substantiated all that Bruce had said and added to his recital still more unlikely stories.
There was also another book which at this time thrilled and charmed me beyond expression. I doubt if there is a single copy of it in America, and not many in England, such as remain I dare say being hid away in the old libraries of ancient farm or manor houses. It was called “News From the Invisible World,” by John Wesley. It was really a book of ghostly visitations and wonderful visions. My father took it out of my hands twice and then put it, as he supposed, out of my reach; but by putting a stool upon a chair, and climbing upon the chair and then upon the stool I managed to reach it. I can see myself today in a little gingham frock, and a white pinafore performing this rather dangerous feat. We were dressed very early in the morning, but never so early as not to find a good fire in the study; and the coal used in the north of England, is that blessed soft material, which gives in its bright manifold blazes, the light of half a dozen candles. Lying face downward upon the hearthrug, I could read with the greatest ease, and often spent an hour in “the invisible world” very much to my liking before the day really began.
One morning while thus engaged, Ann Oddy came in and I asked her to put the book back in its place. She looked at me suspiciously, and said, “Who put it up there?”
“My father,” I answered.
“What for?” she continued.
“Because it is about ghosts, Ann, and such stories as you often tell me. Put it up or Father will be cross with me.”
“Well, Amelia,” she said in a kind of dreamy way, “your father ought to know, but he isn’t a bit well lately, so I won’t bother him at this time.”
Then I promised to tell her the stories, and added, “They are all true, Ann, for John Wesley wrote them.”
“True!” she ejaculated. “Well, well, I am astonished at Mr. Huddleston’s putting anything John Wesley wrote out of the way. I am that.” About A.D. 1890 I asked a learned doctor connected with the Methodist Book Concern, if they had a copy of it, and he answered very sharply, “I never heard of the book.” Yet I know it existed in my childhood, and that during my seventh and eighth years, I read it frequently.
The first year of my life in Penrith went happily onward in the regularity of its duties and pleasures. At home I remember but few changes. Soon after the Queen’s coronation, I had another brother, who was called William Henry, and when he was about two months old, my father went to Manchester, and brought back with him the greatest of household comforts of that day—a dozen boxes of Congreve or Lucifer matches. Only those who have stood shivering over the old tinder box on a bitter winter night, trying to get a spark while the baby screamed in the darkness, can form any estimate of the pleasure which these few boxes of matches made in our house. My father took us all into a dark room, and then permitted each person to strike a light. Laughter and exclamations of wonder and pleasure greeted every fresh match as it burst into instantaneous flame, even Ann was enthusiastic. “This time,” she admitted, “Mr. Huddleston has brought home something sensible and good for everybody”—a covert slur upon Father’s gifts, which usually took the form of books, or a bit of spar for the parlor chimney piece, or perhaps a likeness of Mr. Wordsworth, or a view of Derwentwater. We had both read and heard wonderful things of these matches for nearly three years, but the first put upon the market were intended only for the rich; for they were in more or less costly caskets, the cheapest of which was sold for a guinea. In a short time a phial full of matches were sold for five shillings, and when my father bought our first “light boxes” they were a shilling each. Then came the practical chemist and the factory system, and the penny box of matches was in every home. Yet I have no doubt that in many a home in England the empty five shilling box is affectionately preserved; for during their vogue, they were sensible and highly prized wedding gifts, among a large class of respectable people of limited means.
At the beginning of my second school year, I was promoted to a copy book. I could write pretty well with wad, and did not very often spoil a goose quill. That first copy book! Never shall I forget it. Its cover was canary color, and on the front was a picture of a negro. He was loaded with chains and hoeing cotton, while a white man stood over him using an impossible whip, and there were four lines by Cowper underneath the two figures:
“I would not have a slave to till my ground,
To carry me, to fan me while I sleep,
And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth
That sinews bought and sold, have ever earned.”
At that time I had never seen a negro, and my sense of amazement, fright and repugnance was so great, that I feel sure I had not even seen the picture of one. The tremendous excitement attending the enfranchisement of the slaves belonging to England was over before I was two years old, and after it, I think the nation must have repented their extravagant sympathy, for I am sure that at this time I had never heard either my father or any one else allude to the event.
Miss Pearson laid the book on my desk with evident pleasure, and I looked at the picture, covered my eyes with my hands, and burst into tears. I was never a crying child, and my teacher was astonished, and asked me rather sternly, “What is the matter with you, Amelia? Are you sick?”
“No,” I whispered. “I am afraid. Take it away.”
“I have not been bad,” I continued. “I do not like that picture. Please take it away.”
Then she sat down by my side and told me a story about the black man, and what England had just done for him. I hardly heard or understood her, until she said, “I shall leave the book with you. You must look at the picture every day until you at least feel pity for the slave. See, this is your copy for today. Let me see how cleanly, and well you can do it.”
I had ceased crying. I was ashamed of my own emotion, and I went courageously to work with a quill pen of my own cutting; but as soon as I returned home, I went to my mother and told her all. She soothed and petted me, but advised me to make no remarks about the picture. “There has been a deal of hard feeling about the negro, Milly, and we find it best to let that subject alone. No one talks of it now. Lucy Lowthian was here this morning. She is going to have a party on Saturday afternoon.”
“Are we going to it, Mother?”
“Yes,” she answered cheerily. “Look at this lace and white satin ribbon. I am going to trim your dresses with it.”
I instantly turned to the more personal and interesting subject, but I could not forget, nor yet have I ever forgotten that picture on my first copy book. Undoubtedly it was an exaggeration of even the Congo type, but why did I cry at the sight of it? I was neither a fearful nor a crying child. Why did I cry? It puzzled me then, but I know now, that there was undoubtedly some sudden soul shock, some prophetic apprehension, which my inner woman trembled before, and which my physical woman could only interpret by tears.
In my studies I was progressing well, even my musical efforts were beginning to make a little show. I had distinctly told my teacher that I wished to learn “tunes” and “songs” and without regarding my wishes, she had compelled me to make an astonishing study of what she called the gamut. To the study of the gamut was added an hour’s practice of the scales daily, and as the necessary noise would have been distracting to my father, I went to my teacher’s home to make it. This practicing often stood in the way of pleasures, and Jane, who had urgently entreated not to learn music, had many self-complacent little observations to make on her own prudence. For while I was studying scales, major and minor, she went with Mother to shop, or to make calls. And she had a nice ladylike way of comparing things, that was very discouraging. Yet I had not the slightest intention of stopping my music lessons, and indeed I feel sure Father would not have permitted me to do so, except for some good reason. Once only I made a remark tending in that direction, and he answered,
“I allowed you to learn music, Milly, at your own eager request. Are you going to give it up because it is difficult? I should feel ashamed of you!” and he spoke with such scorn that I hastened to assure him, “I would not give up music for anything.”
My third year in Penrith remains very clearly in my memory. It was an anxious year to all, for Chartism was keeping the country in constant rioting and turmoil. I can remember well, the terror and hatred which the very name “Chartist” called forth; for the scenes of the French Revolution were yet red and flaming in the memories of men and women. The very day Victoria was crowned, the military were compelled to put down the rebellion led by John Thom, who claimed to be the Messiah, and if the numbers who followed him had been larger and better educated, the worst scenes of the French Days of Terror might have been repeated.
For ten years after the coronation Chartism was a living, constant anxiety to the government and the people. Yet in the midst of this general fear, and the decay of business which it entailed, there occurred a serious quarrel agitating the whole country, about the Ladies of the Queen’s Bedchamber. The Melbourne government having lost the confidence of both Houses, a new Administration was to be formed, and Sir Robert Peel was entrusted with the duty. In performing it, Sir Robert removed the Ladies who had been long in attendance on Her Majesty, and gave their high positions, with the large emoluments accruing therefrom, to the wives of the nobles who had assisted him in forming the new government. The Queen was indignant and refused to part with her old friends. Sir Robert visited her, and declared a government could not be formed unless the high offices in her household were filled by ladies of the ruling party. Her Majesty in a firm, but polite letter told Sir Robert she could not agree to a course so repugnant to her feelings.
The discussions in and out of Parliament on this question, were long and violent. Every man and woman, every boy and girl in England, took part in them. The women were largely in favor of the Queen, and a great number of men, remembering her youth, thought she ought to be humored in a matter so personal. But in political and administrative circles, she was severely blamed, and that very often in unkind and even disrespectful and disloyal terms.
For some reason my father strongly disapproved her conduct. He said she was a child, and ought to be obedient to the advice given her by the active heads of the government; and over and over he declared there were far more important things to be attended to than the Ladies of her Bedchamber. I heard him telling my mother that the planters in the West Indies were ruined and asking relief from Parliament, the freed negroes having absolutely refused to work; and then in a voice full of anger he demanded why twenty millions of pounds had been spent to give the negro a complete life of laziness, while clever English mechanics were working twelve hours every day for a mouthful of bread—starving as they worked. And Mother would shake her head and answer, “It does seem hard, William.”
“Mary,” he would continue, almost in a whisper, “Mary! Mary! only think of what twenty millions of pounds could have done for our own poor men, and their starving, ignorant children! We had no right to give it. It was not our duty, until we had done our duty to the needy and oppressed of our own people.”
And I wonder today, if Father knew that he was talking Chartism. At any rate, it was the only time, and only way, I ever heard him name the Great Emancipation of 1833.
None of these arguments moved my mother’s loyalty; she was a warm—my father called her a most unreasonable—advocate for the Queen’s rights. Ann was equally loyal, and greatly elated when Mother ranged herself on the Queen’s side.
“It is more than I expected,” she said, “for Missis do always say ‘Amen’ to whatever Mr. Huddleston says. But the Queen is right!” she added. “That I will declare and maintain;” and Ann, who was rolling pastry struck the table a mighty blow with the rolling pin, which if it intimated her way of “maintaining” would certainly be effective.
In our school the quarrel was a very simple one. There were only three girls in it who were for Sir Robert Peel, and the father of one was in the post office, the father of the other a supervisor in the excise, and the third girl was called “Peel,” and was, or thought she was, a connection of the Peel family. Miss Pearson expressed no opinion on the subject, except, that it was not to be named in school hours; but as we walked to-and-from school, we talked only of the Queen, and of any fresh news that might have come to us. By “news” I mean solely the effects of this quarrel in the schools of Penrith, for in the man’s school, it had full swing. The boys had constant fisticuff fights, and the master enjoyed and encouraged them. He said they were making good soldiers for Her Majesty and that they ought to be proud of their swollen eyes, and bruises.
So the quarrel went on, making a grim sort of amusement in days of great public anxiety and alarm; until finally a specially called meeting of the Cabinet, decided in a kind of half-and-half way, in favor of the Queen retaining the Ladies of her Bedchamber, there being a precedent in the case of Queen Anne, who retained the Ladies of her Bedchamber a year and a half after their husbands had been dismissed from office. Father was then satisfied. There was a precedent. It was then and there I learned the word “precedent,” and its meaning. I wondered then, and I wonder yet at the power vested in these three syllables. It seems to settle constantly and satisfactorily difficult questions in law, and other departments of social affairs. In some way probably, every generation has associated it with,
“A land of settled government,
A land of just and old renown,
Where freedom broadens slowly down
From precedent to precedent.”
After the Cabinet decided the Bedchamber question, a dull quiet settled over Penrith, and I suppose also over the whole country; for even a little domestic dispute has usually this convalescent period of silence. And as the holidays were on, and we were leaving Penrith in August, Jane and I were set free from school for a short time. There was some talk of a visit to Ambleside and Ulverston, but my brother William was ill and suddenly became alarmingly worse, and after an interval of great suffering he went away from us forever.
The child had died at midnight, but when I awoke in the morning I was quite sensible of the change that had taken place. The presence of death was felt all through the house, and not only in that dim chamber veiled in white, where the dead boy lay. As I went down stairs, I opened very softly the door of this room. My father was kneeling by the little crib praying. His words fell wet with tears at God’s feet, as in low agonizing tones, he poured out his love and his grief. I stole noiselessly away, feeling shocked and unhappy, lest I had unlawfully witnessed a soul pleading with God. A little later, I went with Mother to look at my dead brother. In a simple little night gown he lay in his usual crib but, oh, how grandly tranquil, how distant, how far, far different, he was!
He was buried in Penrith churchyard, and his funeral was after the manner then prevalent in the North Country. A little table covered with a white cloth, and holding salt, and sprigs of boxwood was placed just within the open door. This was to notify all passers-by of the presence of death in the house, and also to assure them, of the faith of the living in the resurrection, and in eternal life. On the third day after his death, the funeral took place, the coffin being carried by six boys of about ten years of age, by means of white linen scarfs passed through brass rings on the sides of the coffin, which was uncovered, but strewn with pansies. As they went through the town, the child-bearers sang a hymn very sweetly. Father and Mother, Jane and I, and a large company of friends walked behind. Willie’s small grave was not far from the famous Grant’s grave, and I think I could find my way there without hesitation. A little grave was all the child of ten months old asked, a little grave that we could step across, but it separated him from us, further than all the starry space.
After this event I knew that I had done with Penrith. School opened in July, but I did not go back to it, and I had a childish feeling of offence because Miss Pearson did not ask me to do so. I thought it was because she had many new pupils, and I had a heartache about it. Yes, there are plenty of school girls who will understand me. A child’s love for a teacher is a very strong and pure love, and even a fancied slight can hurt like a wound. Only two months since, I had a letter from a little girl whom I taught fifty-six years ago. She was then about nine or ten years old, she is now a very handsome woman, white-haired but full of hope and pleasure, and large social interests in the beautiful city of Los Angeles. And she loves me still, and has never forgotten me. I think such a love as that is well worth the winning.
I spent the next few weeks in wandering about the adjacent country, with Father. We went first to Eden Hall, and got a sight of its wonderful fairy cup, which carries the luck of the Musgraves; for if it
“breek or fall,
Farewell to the luck of Eden Hall.”
One never to be forgotten day I spent at Lowther Castle. The magnificence of its furnishings amazed me, but after all I was more interested in the three large caves near the castle, cut out of the red sandstone, and said to have been the residence of Owen Cęsarius, the giant whose grave is in Penrith churchyard. He was according to tradition a man of colossal size, who ruled Cumberland before Saxon times, when “there were giants in the land,” and no giant killer had appeared.
I had seen Long Meg and her daughters twice, but I begged Father to take me once more to Little Salkeld near which she keeps her long, long vigil. I cannot tell why these old Druid temples fascinate me, why I both fear and like them, nor yet say to what feeling their charm finds response in me. Long Meg is, however, one of the most important Druid temples in England. Meg is a square column of red sandstone eighteen feet high and fifteen feet in circumference, with no sign of a tool having been used on it. Her daughters are sixty-seven in number, some of them ten feet high, and they stand in a circle three hundred and fifty yards in circumference. Wordsworth wrote a poem about these stones, and Father taught me a few lines of it, all of which I have long forgotten, except his questioning,
“At whose behest arose on British ground
That sisterhood in hieroglyphic round;
Forth-shadowing the infinite, the inviolable God?”
Long and earnestly I looked at these,
“stones of power,
By Druids raised in magic hour,”
for I knew I should never see them again. Will any one tell me what is the influence they exert over many and widely different personalities? No, it is a thing to be felt, and not explained.
Two days after the visit to Long Meg we left Penrith for Ripon, one of the three great religious centres of Yorkshire, the other two being York and Beverly. I was glad to leave Penrith, and yet no town in which I have ever sojourned, has left on my memory such a clear and beautiful picture. In its calm retirement all the charm of its storied past, and its picturesque present were so appealing, for any day and every day its streets were made notable by the people likely to be met on them—the Earl of Lonsdale, the great Chancellor, Lord Brougham, the fortunate Musgrave of Eden Hall, or the lordly Howards from their Castle of Greystoke standing in a park of five thousand acres. Other famous men of a different kind were also to be met there. Wordsworth was frequently in Penrith, for he married his cousin a Miss Hutchinson of Penrith. So were Coleridge, Southey, and other writers of that period. Wordsworth in my time was a very old man, and I thought also a very disagreeable one.
Young as I was, I noticed also the difference with which the two sets of notables were regarded by the public. If the Earl, or Lord Brougham appeared, every hat was lifted, every face was full of interest, and many women curtsied if they had to pass them. For the men of the land were easily recognized by their splendid equipages, and other insignia of their rank. The men of the pen walked without notice, along the streets until they settled in some book store.
And entirely apart from this living and present source of interest, there was that sense of the occult world brooding over the town, which I feel sure, few people staying long there, could escape. The old Druid priests were not dead; unseen and afar, they could still influence, and they who doubted this, had only to go and sit silent and attent in one of their deserted temples. I know, that while I was certainly impressed by Lonsdale and Brougham, I was far more so by the “stones of power” in old sacrificial, holy places, and by the three giant caves, close to Lowther Castle, wherein the giant Owen Cęsarius had dwelt. He represented to me the mighty men of Old Britain, for there were “giants” in the land in his day. Mythical! No, he is no more mythical than Julius Cęsarius. Have I not sat, and talked, and played around his grave in Penrith churchyard?
 Judging Chartists by their own words we should not now think they merited exile, hard labor, and life imprisonment. I do not suppose I ever understood their claims, but I have looked up their record and I find they were fighting for five not very wicked points: first, universal suffrage, excluding women, which was the great mistake of Chartism; second, the division of England into equal electoral districts; third, votes by ballot; fourth, annual Parliaments and no property qualifications for members; fifth, payments to every member for his legislative services. For advocating these demands, I saw in 1843, at Liverpool Railway Station, a long row of these Chartists chained together on their way to a convict ship which was to carry them to Botany Bay, or Norfolk Island.
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