« ElőzőTovább »
But though Martin and Margery were content to eat coarse oaten bread, and to feed chiefly on porridge the whole year round, and to count as luxuries fried bacon and berry pasties, I was by no means condemned to the same frugal fare. I had milk, unless I chose buttermilk; I had butter to my bread, and every week Mrs. Foster at the Vicarage baked me a nice white cake. If I liked tea I could have it, with plenty of sugar in it too. I was allowed eggs and custard puddings; when at rare intervals the butcher's cart came round a piece of meat was always purchased, and, as I soon discovered, principally on my account. The best bed and the best room in the house were given up to me, and I was better dressedthough that is not saying much-than any other boy in the neighbourhood.
The only school at Eaglesmere was kept by an old woman, who taught reading, writing, and ciphering on easy terms. She had a collection of tattered primers and cracked and broken slates, and a few dilapidated Bibles for the first class, who were supposed to be fully graduated when they could read, or rather stumble through a chapter in the Old Testament, the good lady judiciously permitting all sorts of opinions with regard to pronunciation, and giving unlimited licence in the matter of “ hard names."
But to this select academy I did not go; Martin taught me to read and write, though with respect to the latter accomplishment I had subsequently to unlearn all that I learnt from him. Dame Foster brought me a bran-new spelling-book from Kendal, and every day I committed to memory a portion of a column, going straight through the small volume till I came at length to “Elegant Extracts" at the end, which puzzled and pleased me about equally.
When I had gone through my spelling-book, and could read the Psalms in excellent imitation of Martin's clerkly twang, and could say the Church Catechism without many mistakes, and could find the proper lessons for Sundays and holy days, my preceptor looked blankly at me, wondering what he could teach me next. I think he had a dim idea of making me learn the Baptismal and Marriage Services, or the Commination Service, which he always said was one of the finest compositions in the English language! I could say by heart many of the Psalms as metrically arranged at the end of the Prayer-book; also several ballads which I have never seen in print, but which were among the traditions of our dale; as far as I can recall them they were entirely disqualified from a place in the catalogue of any pure-literature society ; in fact, they were slightly immoral, which did not, however, matter very much, as I quite failed to comprehend the evil that was in them.
At this critical juncture, when my education threatened to stand still, the vicar himself interposed. Martin asked his advice, confessing that he had exhausted his own stock of erudition, alternately exulting in my precocious genius, and deploring his own shortcomings. Arrangements were entered into, and henceforth I went to the Vicarage five days in the week, nominally for two hours, but frequently for whole mornings and afternoons. It did me immense good to find out how little I knew, for having appropriated all poor Martin's store, I had begun to marvel what the vicar himself could teach me, unless it were preaching, and the due performance of the orthodox rubrical ceremonies. I quickly discovered that my education could not be said to have fairly commenced, and I had not studied a month with Mr. Gibson before I was fairly confounded and almost aghast at the unexplored fields which I could just discern lying dim and vast before me. Also it was an incalculable advantage to be associated with a scholar and a gentleman, as Mr. Gibson was, and by-and-by I began to be conscious of new ideas, new aspirations, and totally new visions of the life which I might lead. To be a clergyman like my friend the vicar was the height of my ambition. Of ecclesiastical degrees I knew nothing, but I fancied it must be the summit of earthly grandeur to know Latin, to wear a surplice and gown, to be looked up to by everybody, to possess so many books, and to live in such a fine house as the Vicarage, which after all was only a better sort of cottage very poorly furnished. poter thoughts too haunted me, but I never
Other thoughts too haunted me, but I never gave them utterance. I knew that I was not Martin Wray's grandson ; that Phæbe's mother was his only child ; that I was not, as far as I could learn, related in any way to him or to Margery his wife. Who then was I ? And who was Captain Vassall? And how came I to be living at Eaglesmere ? And my mother—for I must have had one once—what had become of her? Was she too buried in the deep sea, or was she buried anywhere, and why was I never told about her? And the sense of mystery grew stronger and stronger, and I longed to get at the secret if indeed there was one; and when I was not busy with my books I brooded over my perplexities, and wondered and wondered till I grew sick of wondering, and tired of the subject of my unprofitable meditations—myself. I was fast growing into a selfish, self-absorbed, self-conscious, morbid boy, combining in my character much of the child's simplicity and ignorance, with a large admixture of the vanity, and ambition, and wild dreams, and introspective talent which frequently marks that period of adolescence immediately preceding manhood.
It was the 10th of August and my birthday. I was eleven years old. It was Saturday, and I was not studying as usual with Mr. . Gibson, for the last day of the week it was supposed that he devoted entirely to preparations for his Sunday services. But I had lessons
of geography, in which I coule these
to prepare at home—a page of geography, a portion of Latin grammar, and a chapter of English history, on which I was to be questioned on Monday morning. They were not difficult these appointed tasks; I gave my mind to them, and by four o'clock in the afternoon I had mastered them completely, and felt that the evening was my own to spend exactly as I pleased. I resolved to go up the fell with Phæbe to a certain point that I knew of, where I could watch the sunset, which I felt sure from the look of the sky and the state of the atmosphere would be singularly beautiful. Putting away my books I went in search of Margery to ask for Phæbe, as well as to get something nice to eat to carry with us up the mountain. I found granny in the kitchen making girdlecakes, an unwonted luxury, sacred to birthdays and similar high festivals. I preferred my petitions, both of them, and received for answer—“Well, yes, you may gang, I guess, if you'll promise not to be mischiefful nor to get the li'le bairn into any trouble. You mustn't let her get into the bog muckying her new shoes, and you must neither of you pull the bramble-berries; they ain't ripe, nor near it, and they'll only give you both the gripes. I'll make ye a pasty with the windfalls you brought in o' Thursday, and you shall have it for yer supper; but don't go eating o’ the bramble-berries, which isn't Christian food the whiles they're red.”
Margery used a strong Border dialect, which I shall not attempt to transcribe, partly because it would be to general readers so unintelligible as to be tedious, and partly because I am not sure that I could now render correctly the broad vernacular of my boyhood. I will content myself with a word here and there, as being peculiarly distinctive of the northern speech with which I was once so perfectly familiar. I promised to take good care of Phæbe, and to turn my face homewards the moment the sun sank behind the Golden Crags, and then Margery proceeded to put the girdle-cakes and a little bottle of milk into an old basket which generally accompanied us on such excursions, and once more bade me be careful and steady, for “I was eleven years old that day.”
All of a sudden I said, “ Granny, how do you know I am eleven years old ? "
Margery was so startled that she almost dropped the basket. “How do I ken ? " she replied, in some confusion, and in a tone which betokened a slight exasperation of temper. “Why, I do ken!-don't ask foolish questions.”
“But who told you ? ” I persisted.
“ Why should I want telling? Don't I know Phæbe's age to an hour, and why shouldn't I know yours? Bless the lad,—but he's a queer one."
“ You must have been told mine," was my sturdy rejoinder. As I grew older I was less and less afraid of her temper, and cared very little for what Martin, with a sad want of conjugal respect, called “ her tantrums.” “You may well know how old Phæbe is, because you are really her grandmother; and I've heard you say she was born in the white cottage at Hollow End, where Tim the carpenter lives now. Granny, I want to know who I am.”
“You are just the Captain's son-Captain Vassall's own son; he was a good and an honest man, and you were born in lawful wedlock, and that's enough for you to know ; so dinna bother my head off with questions I can't answer.”
“But why am I here? Did Captain Vassall live at Eaglesmere? and what became of my mother? for, Granny, I'm old enough now to know that I must have had a mother, and yet I've never heard anybody mention her.”
“You're old enough to bother a body's brains out, I see. No, Captain Vassall never was in the dale that I know of; but when you lost both father and mother Martin and I agreed to take care of you, and treat you like as our own. And that's all I've got to say; so don't ask me no more.”
“Then my mother is dead ? ” I continued.
“Didn't I say ye had lost baith father and mother? Hech, sirs ! but ye're an awfu' bairn."
“ Was Captain Vassall a gentleman ?”
Margery coolly took me by the shoulders, and pushed me out of the house-place where we were both standing into the garden; then she put out my basket and shut and bolted the door, thus inti. mating her resolve to hear and answer no more questions. I went round the house looking for Phæbe, but could not find her; and not being in the most amiable mood, I resolved not to trouble myself any further, but to go alone and indulge myself in chewing the cud of my own weariful meditations. So, after looking hastily into the barn and calling Phæbe once or twice, I set out, first however drinking my milk, and carrying two girdle-cakes in my hand, while I left the basket under one of the half-wild rose-trees which flourished among the cabbages and berry-bushes.
Slowly I went through the piece of ground we called our" allotment,” and came out ou the rocky heathland beyond, overhanging the mere; and then up-up-up, till I reached the open fell, where, as I had not looked for any path, I scrambled on as best I could, rejoicing that I was cumbered neither with Phæbe nor the basket. As for the girdle-cakes, I ate them right off, to get them out of my way, as I wanted my hands for climbing, having struck upon the steepest and most inaccessible side of Canter's Fell. I was bathed in perspiration and heartily tired when at last I reached the summit, and sat down on the pile of stones which marked the highest point,
which was probably about 1,000 feet above the level of the lake. Behind me and around rose the loftier mountains-Great Gable, Great Gavel, and the enormous Scaw Fell Pikes, with many others, whose names I knew-peak upon peak, and chain upon chaindark, solemn, silent, and stupendous !. I sat still, and looked, and listened. Far below me lay the little lake, and the cottages of Eaglesmere, like the toy houses with which children play; the dale, rocky and undulating, and traversed by several small streams, or becks, stretched itself on one side and at the head of the mere ; and on all sides rose the mountain walls, that shut us in as if we had a world entirely to ourselves. I was used to those barren solitudes ; but to a stranger crossing over from the richer, softer vales of Westmoreland they must have appeared terribly bare, dreary, and almost savage. Grandeur there certainly was on every hand, but it was grandeur without loveliness, save when the sunset glow lighted up the great pass and the narrow ravines with its crimson flush, when the lake flashed with gold and ruby tints, when the rocks showed purple and tawny red in the rich, strange evening light, and when rosy flecks of cloud lay lightly on the craggy brows of the great hills. And so I should see it ere long. Presently the sun would touch the rippling outline of the golden crags, and all the valley and the mountain-sides, and the distant peaks, piercing the blue heavens, would be flooded with an unimaginable glory. And now that I had not Phæbe to render up in time for Saturday-night ablutions, I knew that I need not burry. With all my queerness I never got into absolute mischief, or came to grief in my rambles; my old-fashioned ways and habits caused me to be trusted, and, generally speaking, I came and went pretty nearly as I chose. I resolved to stay till the very last blush of sunset beauty had faded from the scene, and feast my eyes and my soul to the full with that brief but wondrous glory.
I watched the golden waves on the dark crags at the end of the long valley; I saw a tender rosy flush, deepening still to crimson, fill all the lonely pass ; I gazed upon the tremendous cliffs that showed like burnished bronze, as pile upon pile they rose along the dale ; I beheld the purple sbadows, rich and deep, gather in the hollows of the hills, and I looked down upon the mere, burning and heaving, “as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire.”
I drew my breath; the rapture was almost greater than I could bear; the joy was not unmixed with pain, though I knew not what it was that swelled my heart, and thrilled my brain, and filled my eyes with tears. I knew it not; but I was reverently partaking of that great sacrament of beauty which God Himself administers to those who humbly seek Him in the fairest of His works. I was in His holy temple, the sanctuary of the everlasting