« AnteriorContinua »
There in the twilight cold and gray
H. W. Longfellow.
I was born and brought up in a house in which my parents had all their lives resided, which stood in the midst of that lonely tract of land called the Lincolnshire Fens. Few families besides our own lived near the spot; both because it was reckoned an unwholesome air, and because its distance from any town or market made it an inconvenient situation. My father was in no very affluent circumstances; and it was a sad necessity which he was put to, of having to go many miles to fetch anything from the nearest village, which was full seven miles distant, through a sad, miry way, that at all times made it heavy walking, and which, after rain, was almost impassable. But he had no horse or carriage of his own.
The church, which belonged to the parish in which our house was situated, stood in this village ; and its distance being, as I said before, seven miles from our house, made it quite an impossible thing for my mother or me to think of going to it. Sometimes, indeed, on a fine dry Sunday, my father would rise early, and take a walk to the village, just to see how goodness thrived, as he used to say; but he would generally return tired and the worse for his walk. It is scarcely possible to explain to anyone who has not lived in the fens what difficult and dangerous walking it is. A mile is as good as four, I have heard my father say, in those parts. My mother, who in the early part of her life had lived in a more civilized spot, and had been used to constant church-going, would often lament her situation. It was from her I early imbibed a great curiosity and anxiety to see that thing which I heard her call a church, and so often lament that she could never go to. I had seen houses of various structures, and had seen in pictures the shapes of ships and boats, and palaces and temples, but never rightly anything that could be called a church, or that could satisfy me about its form. Sometimes I thought it must be like our house, and sometimes I fancied it must be more like the house of our neighbour, Mr. Sutton, which was bigger and handsomer than ours. Sometimes I thought it was a great hollow cave, such as I had heard my father say the first inhabitants of the earth dwelt in.' Then I thought it must be a waggon or a cart, and that it must be something moveable. The shape of it ran in my mind strangely; and one day I ventured to ask my mother what was that foolish thing she was always longing to go to, and which she called a church. Was it anything to eat or drink? or was it only like a great huge plaything, to be seen and stared at? I was not quite five years of age when I made this inquiry.
This question, so oddly put, made my mother smile; but, in a little time, she put on a more grave look, and informed me that a church was nothing that I had supposed it; but it was a great building, far greater than any house which I had seen, where men and women and children came together twice a day, on Sundays, to hear the Bible read, and make good resolutions for the week to come. She told me that the fine music which we sometimes heard in the air came from the bells of St. Mary's Church, and that we never heard it but when the wind was in a particular point. This raised my wonder more than all the rest; for I had somehow conceived that the noise which I heard was occasioned by birds up in the air, or that it was made by the angels, whom (so ignorant I was till that time) I had always considered to be a sort of birds ; for, before this time, I was totally ignorant of anything like religion ; it being a principle with my father, that young heads should not be told too many things at once, for fear they should get confused ideas, and no clear notion of anything. We had always indeed so far observed Sundays, that no work was done on that day; and upon that day I wore my best muslin frock, and was not allowed to sing or to be noisy ; but I never understood why that day should differ from any other. We had no public meetings : indeed the few straggling houses which were near us would have furnished but a slender congregation; and the loneliness of the place we lived in, instead of making us sociable, and drawing us closer together, as my mother used to say it ought to have done, seemed to have the effect of making us more distant and more averse to society than other people. One or two good neighbours indeed we had, but not in numbers to give me an idea of Church attendance.
But now my mother thought it high time to give me some clear instructions in the main points of religion; and my father came readily into her plan. I was now permitted to sit up half an hour later on Sunday evening, that I might hear a portion of Scripture read, which had always been their custom; though by reason of my tender age, and my father's opinion on the impropriety of children being taught too young, I had never till now been an auditor. I was taught my prayers, and those things which you, ladies, I doubt not, had the benefit of being instructed in at a much earlier age.
The clearer my notions on these points became, they only made me passionately long for the privilege of joining in that social service from which it seemed that we alone, of all the inhabitants of the land, were debarred ; and when the wind was in that point which enabled the sound of the distant bells oí St. Mary's to be heard over the great moor which skirted our house, I have stood out in the air to catch the sounds, which I almost devoured ; and the tears have come into my eyes, when sometimes they seemed to speak to me, almost in arti, and as if to reassure our minds, he made his first visit to salt water a very short one, and speedily returned to his accustomed place. He had stayed long enough, however, to provide himself with an ample meal, and having learned how to earn his own living, he thereafter gave us little or no trouble about his food. He went off regularly every morning, sometimes staying only for an hour or two, and at other times remaining on the water all day, the period of his absence being apparently regulated by the abundance or scarcity of fish in the harbour. But he always came home in the evening, and hardly ever failed to report himself in the kitchen, where he liked to get as near the peat fire as he conveniently could. We took measures to guard against his falling a victim to any sportsman's gun during his daily fishing expeditions, and every owner of a fowling-piece, far and near in our island, was asked to be careful not to shoot at a loring anywhere near the harbour of Baltasound. It was quite unnecessary to do more—if indeed anything more could have been done-and “the doctor's loring” became a sacred bird to all our goodnatured neighbours. Strangers coming to the place were also warned of the existence of our tame cormorant, and they, too, abstained from shooting any bird of the kind on sea or on land. Thus for Toby's sake the whole of his tribe enjoyed perfect immunity from the fowler's gun within a wide radius around our house, and in this way he may be held to have done good suit and service to his kind in his da;- and generation.