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Ghyll, hourly becoming more ruefully convinced that they
were orphans, gave many evidences of this awaking power,
as lodgtxl by a providential arrangement, in situations of
trial that most require it. They huddled together, in the
evening, round their hearth-fire of peats, and held their little
councils upon what was to be done towards any chance
if chance remained of yet giving aid to their parents;
for a slender hope had sprung up that some hovel or sheep-
fold might have furnished them a screen (or, in Westmore-
land phrase, a bield) against the weather-quarter of the
storm, in 'which hovel they might be lying disabled or
snowed up ; and secondly, as regarded themselves, in what
way they were to make known their situation, in case the
snow should continue or increase ; for starvation stared them
in the face, if they should be confined for many days to their

Meantime, the eldest sister, little Agnes, though sadly
alarmed, and feeling the sensation of eariness as twilight
came on, and she looked out from the cottage door to the
dreadful fells, on which, too probably, her parents were
lying corpses, (and possibly not many hundred yards from
their own threshold,) yet exerted herself to take all the
measures which their own prospects made prudent. And
she told Miss Wordsworth, that, in the midst of the oppres-
sion on her little spirit, from vague ghostly terrors, she did
not fail, however, to draw some comfort from the considera-
tion, that the very same causes which produced their danger
in one direction, sheltered them from danger of another
kind, such dangers as she knew, from books that she had
read, would have threatened a little desolate flock of children


in other parts of England ; that, if they could not get out
into Grasmere, on the other hand, bad men, and wild seafar-
ing foreigners, who sometimes passed along the high road
in that vale, could not get to them ; and that, as to their
neighbors, so far from having anything to fear in that
quarter, their greatest apprehension was lest they might not
be able to acquaint them with their situation ; but that, if
that could be accomplished, the very sternest amongst them
were kind-hearted people, that would contend with each
other for the privilege of assisting them. Somewhat cheered
with these thoughts, and having caused all her brothers and
sisters except the two little things, not ye"t of a fit age
to kneel down and say the prayers which they had been
taught, this admirable little maiden turned herself to every
household task that could have proved useful to them in a
long captivity. First of all, upon some recollection that the
clock was nearly going down, she wound it up. Next, she
took all the milk which remained from what her mother had
provided for the children's consumption during her absence,
and for the breakfast of the following morning, this luck-
ily was still in sufficient plenty for two days' consumption,
(skimmed or " blue " milk being only one half-penny a quart,
and the quart a most redundant one, in Grasmere,) this
she took and scalded, so as to save it from turning sour.
That done, she next examined the meal-chest ; made the
common oatmeal porridge of the country (the burgoo of the
royal navy) ; but put all of the children, except the two
youngest, on short allowance ; and, by way of reconciling
them in some measure to this stinted meal, she found out a
little hoard of flour, part of which she baked for them upon
the hearth into little cakes ; and this unusual delicacy per-
suaded them to think that they had been celebrating a feast.
Next, before night coming on should make it too trying to
her own feelings, or before fresh snow coming on might make
it impossible, she issued out of doors. There her first task


was, vdth the assistance of two younger brothers, to cawy
in from the peat-stack as many peats as might serve them for
a week's consumption. That done, in the second place, she
examined the potatoes, buried in " brackens " (that is, with-
ered fern) : these were not many ; and she thought it better
to leave them where they were, excepting as many as would
make a single meal, under a fear that the heat of their cot-
tage would spoil them, if removed.

Having thus made all the provision in her power for
supporting their own lives, she turned her attention to the
cow. Her she milked ; but, unfortunately the milk she
gave, either from being badly fed, or from some other cause,
was too trifling to be of much consideration towards the
wants of a large family. Here, however, her chief anxiety
was to get down the hay for the cow's food from a loft above
the outhouse; and in this she succeeded but imperfectly,
from want of strength and size to cope with the difficulties
of the case ; besides that the increasing darkness by this
time, together with the gloom of the place, made it a matter
of great self-conquest for her to work at all; and, as re-
spected one night at any rate, she placed the cow in a situa-
tion of luxurious warmth and comfort. Then retreating
into the warm house, and " barring " the door, she sat down
to undress the two youngest of the children ; them she laid
carefully and cosily in their little nests up-stairs, and sang
them to sleep. The rest she kept up to bear her company
until the clock should tell them it was midnight; up to
which time she had still a lingering hope that some welcome
shout from the hills above, which they were all to strain
their ears to catch, might yet assure them that they were
not wholly orphans, even though one parent should have
perished. No shout, it may be supposed, was ever heard ;
nor could a shout, in any case, have been heard, for the
night was one of tumultuous wind. And though, amidst its
ravings, sometimes they fancied a sound of voices, still, in


the de.id lulls that now and then succeeded, they heard
nothing to confirm their hopes. As last services to what she
might now have called her own little family, Agnes took
precautions against the drifting of the snow within the door
and the imperfect window which had caused them some dis-
comfort on the preceding day ; and, finally, she adopted the
most systematic and elaborate plans for preventing the pos-
sibility of their fire being extinguished, which, in the event
of their being thrown upon the ultimate resource of their
potatoes, would be absolutely (and in any event nearly) in-
dispensable to their existence.

The night slipped away, and another morning came,
bringing with it no better hopes of any kind. Change there
had been none but for the worse. The snow had greatly
increased in quantity ; and the drifts seemed far more for-
midable. A second day passed like the first ; little Agnes
still keeping her little flock quiet, and tolerably comfortable ;
and still calling on all the elders in succession to say their
prayers, morning and night.

A third* day came ; and whether it was on that or on
the fourth, I do not now recollect ; but on one or other there
came a welcome gleam of hope. The arrangement of the
snow-drifts had shifted during the night ; and though the
wooden bridge was still impracticable, a low wall had been
exposed, over which, by a very considerable circuit, and
crossing the low shoulder of a hill, it seemed possible that a
road might be found into Grasmere. In some walls it was
necessary to force gaps ; but this was effected without much
difficulty, even by children, for the Westmoreland walls are
always "open," that is, uncemented with mortar, and the
push of a stick will readily detach so much from the upper
part of an old crazy field wall, as to lower it sufficiently for
female or for childish steps to pass. The little boys accom-
panied their sister until she came to the other side of the
hill, which, lying more sheltered from the weather, and to


windward, offered a path onwards comparatively easy. Here
they parted ; and little Agnes pursued her solitary mission
to the nearest house she could find accessible in Grasmere.

No house could have proved a wrong one in such a case.
Miss Wordsworth and I often heard the description renewed
of the horror which, in an instant, displaced the smile of
hospitable greeting, when little weeping Agnes told her sad
tale. No tongue can express the fervid sympathy which
travelled through the vale, like the fire in an American
forest, when it was learned that neither George nor Sarah
Green had been seen by their children since the day of the
Langdale sale. "Within half an hour, or little more, from
the remotest parts of the valley, some of them distant
nearly two miles from the point of rendezvous, all the
men of Grasmere had assembled at the little cluster of cot-
tages called " Kirktown," from their adjacency to the vener-
able parish church of St. Oswald. There were at the time
I settled in Grasmere (viz. in the spring of 1809, and,
therefore, I suppose at this time, fifteen months previously)
about sixty-three households in the vale, and the total num-
ber of souls was about two hundred and sixty-five ; so that
the number of fighting men would be about sixty or sixty-
six, according to the common way of computing the proper*
tion ; and the majority were so athletic and powerfully built,
that, at the village games of wrestling and leaping, Pro-
fessor Wilson, and some visitors of his and mine, scarcely
one cf whom was under five feet eleven in height, with pro-
portionable breadth, seem but middle-sized men amongst the
towering forms of the Dalesmen. Sixty at least, after a
short consultation as to the plan of operations, and for
arranging the kind of signals by which they were to com-
municate from great distances, and in the perilous events of
mists or snow-storms, set off, with the speed of Alpine hun-
ters, to the hills. The dangers of the undertaking were
considerable, under the uneasy and agitated state of the


weather ; and all the women of the vale were in the greatest
anxiety, until night brought them back, in a body, unsuc-
cessful. Three days at the least, and I rather think five,
the search was ineffectual ; which arose partly from the
great extent of the ground to be examined, and partly from
the natural mistake made of ranging almost exclusively on
the earlier days on that part of the hills over which the path
of Easedale might be presumed to have been selected under
any reasonable latitude of circuitousness. But the fact is,
when the fatal accident (for such it has often proved) of a
permanent mist surprises a man on the hills, if he turns and
loses his direction, he is a lost man ; and without doing this
so as to lose the power of s'orienter in one instant, it is well
known how difficult it is to avoid losing it insensibly and by
degrees. Baffling snow-showers are the worst kind of mists.
And the poor Greens had, under that kind of confusion,
wandered many a mile out of their proper track.

The zeal of the people, meantime, was not in the least
abated, but rather quickened, by the wearisome disappoints
ments ; every hour of daylight was turned to account ; no
man of the valley ever came home to dinner ; and the reply
of a young shoemaker, on the fourth night's return, speaks
sufficiently for the unabated spirit of the vale. Miss Words-
worth asked what he would do on the next morning. " Go
up again, of course," was his answer. But what if to-mor-
row also should turn out like all the rest ? " Why, go up in
stronger force on the next day." Yet this man was sacri-
ficing his own daily earnings without a chance of recom-
pense. At length sagacious dogs were taken up ; and,
about noonday, a shout from an aerial height, amongst thick
volumes of cloudy vapor, propagated through repeating bands
of men from a distance of many miles, conveyed as by tele-
graph the news that the bodies were found. George Green
was found lying at the bottom of a precipice, from which he
had fallen. Sarah Green was found on the summit of the


precipice ; and, by laying together all the indications of
what had passed, the sad hieroglyphics of their last agonies,
it was conjectured that the husband had desired his wife to
pause for a few minutes, wrapping her, meantime, in his own
great-coat, whilst he should go forward and reconnoitre the
ground, in order to catch a sight of some object (rocky peak,
or tarn, or peat-field) which might ascertain their real situa-
tion. Either the snow above, already lying in drifts, or the
blinding snow-storms driving into his eyes, must have misled
him as to the nature of the circumjacent ground ; for the
precipice over which he had fallen was but a few yards from
the spot in which he had quitted his wife. The depth of
the descent, and the fury of the wind (almost always violent
on these % cloudy altitudes), would prevent any distinct com-
munication between the dying husband below and his de-
spairing wife above ; but it was believed by the shepherds
best acquainted with the ground and the range of sound as
regarded the capacities of the human ear, under the proba-
ble circumstances of the storm, that Sarah might have
caught, at intervals, the groans of her unhappy partner, sup-
posing that his death were at all a lingering one. Others,
on the contrary, supposed her to have gathered this catas-
trophe rather from the want of any sounds, and from his
continued absence, than from any one distinct or positive
expression of it; both because the smooth and unruffled
surface of the snow where he lay seemed to argue that he
had died without a struggle, perhaps without a groan, and
because that tremendous sound of " hurtling " in the upper
chambers of the air, which often accompanies a snow-storm,
when combined with heavy gales of wind, would utterly
oppress and stifle (as they conceived) any sounds so feeble
as those from a dying man. In any case, and by whatever
sad language of sounds or signs, positive or negative, ,he
might have learned or guessed her loss, it was generally
aep-eed that the wild shrieks heard towards midnight in


Langdale Head announced the agonizing moment which
brought to her now widowed heart the conviction of utter
desolation and of final abandonment to her own fast-fleeting
energies. It seemed probable that the sudden disappear-
ance of her husband from her pursuing eyes would teach her
to understand his fate, and that the consequent indefinite
apprehension of instant death lying all around the point on
which she sat had kept her stationary to the very attitude
in which her husband left her, until her failing powers and
the increasing bitterness of the cold, to one no longer in
motion, would soon make those changes of place impossible,
which, at any rate, had appeared too dangerous. The foot-
steps in some places, wherever drifting had not obliterated
them, yet traceable as to the outline, though partially filled
up with later falls of snow, satisfactorily showed that, how-
ever much they might have rambled, after crossing and
doubling upon their own paths, and many a mile astray
from their right track, still they must have kept together to
the very plateau or shelf of rock at which their wanderings
had terminated ; for there were evidently no steps from this
plateau in the retrograde order.

By the time they had reached this final stage of their
erroneous course, all possibility of escape must have been
long over for both alike ; because their exhaustion must
have been excessive before they could have reached a point
so remote and high ; and, unfortunately, the direct result of
all this exhaustion had been to throw them farther off their
home, or from " any dwelling-place of man," than they were
at starting. Here, therefore, at this rocky pinnacle, hope
was extinct for either party. But it was the impression of
the vale, that, perhaps within half an hour before reaching
this fatal point, George Green might, had his conscience or
his heart allowed him in so base a desertion, have saved
himself singly, without any very great difficulty. It is to be
hoped, however, and, for my part, I think too well of


human nature to hesitate in believing, that not many,
even amongst the meaner-minded and the least generous of
men, could have reconciled themselves to the abandonment
of a poor fainting female companion in such circumstances.
Still, though not more than a most imperative duty, it was
one (I repeat) which most of his associates believed to have
cost him (perhaps consciously) his life. For his wife not
only must have disabled him greatly by clinging to his arm
for support ; but it was known, from her peculiar charactei
and manner, that she would be likely to rob him of his
coolness and presence of mind by too painfully fixing his
thoughts, where her own would be busiest, upon their help-
less little family. " Stung with the thoughts of home," to
borrow, the fine expression of Thomson in describing a sim-
ilar case, alternately thinking of the blessedness of that
warm fireside at Blentarn Ghyll, which was not again to
spread its genial glow through her freezing limbs, and of
those darling little faces which, in this world, she was to see
no more ; unintentionally, and without being aware even of
that result, she would rob the brave man (for such he was)
of his fortitude, and the strong man of his animal resources.
And yet, (such in the very opposite direction, was equally
the impression universally through Grasmere,) had Sarah
Green foreseen, could her affectionate heart have guessed
even the tenth part of that love and neighborly respect for
herself which soon afterwards expressed themselves in show-
ers of bounty to her children ; could she have looked behind
the curtain of destiny sufficiently to learn that the very des-
olation of these poor children which wrung her maternal
heart, and doubtless constituted to her the sting of death,
would prove the signal and the pledge of such anxious
guardianship as not many rich men's children receive, and
that this overflowing offering to her own memory would not
be a hasty or decaying tribute of the first sorrowing sensi-
bilities, but would pursue her children steadily until their


hopeful settlement in life, or anything approaching this,
to have known or have guessed, would have caused her (as
all said who knew her) to welcome the bitter end by which
such privileges were to be purchased.

The funeral of the ill-fated Greens was, it may be sup-
posed, attended by all the vale ; it took place about eight
days after they were found ; and the day happened to be in
the most perfect contrast to the sort of weather which pre-
vailed at the time of their misfortune : some snow still
remained here and there upon the ground ; but the azure of
the sky was unstained by a cloud, and a golden sunlight
seemed to sleep, so balmy and tranquil was the season, upon
the very hills where they had wandered, then a howling
wilderness, but now a green pastoral lawn, in its lower
ranges, and a glittering expanse, smooth, apparently, and
riot difficult to the footing, of virgin snow, hi its higher.
George Green had, I believe, an elder family by a former
wife ; and it was for some of these children, who lived at a
distance, and who wished to give their attendance at the
grave, that the funeral was delayed. After this solemn
ceremony was over, at which, by the way, I then heard
Miss Wordsworth say that the grief of Sarah's illegitimate
daughter was the most overwhelming she had ever wit-
nessed, a regular distribution of the children was made
amongst the wealthier families of the vale. There had
already, and before the funeral, been a perfect struggle to
obtain one of the children, amongst all who had any facili-
ties for discharging the duties of such a trust ; and even the
poorest had put in their claim to bear some part in the
expenses of the case. But it was judiciously decided that
none of the children should be intrusted to any persons who
seemed likely, either from old age or from slender means, or
from nearer and more personal responsibilities, to be under
the necessity of devolving the trust, sooner or later, upon
strangers, who might have none of that interest in the chil-


dren which attached, in their minds, the Grasmere people to
the circumstances that made them orphans. Two twins,
who had naturally played together and slept together from
their birth, passed into the same family : the others were
dispersed ; but into such kind-hearted and intelligent fami-
lies, with continued opportunities of meeting each other on
errands, or at church, or at sales, that it was hard to say
which had the happier fate. And thus in so brief a period
as one fortnight, a household that, by health and strength,
by the humility of poverty, and by innocence of life, seemed
sheltered from all attacks but those of time, came to be
utterly broken up. George and Sarah Green slept in Gras-
mere churchyard, never more to know the want of " sun or
guiding star." Their children were scattered over wealthier
houses than those of their poor parents, through the vales of
Grasmere or Rydal ; and Blentarn Ghyll, after being shut
up for a season, and ceasing for months to send up its little
slender column of smoke at morning and evening, finally
passed into the hands of a stranger.



THE South-wind brings
Life, sunshine, and desire,
And on every mount and meadow
Breathes aromatic fire ;
But over the dead he has no power,
The lost, the lost, he cannot restore ;
And, looking over the hills, I mourn
The darling who shall not return.

I see my empty house,

I see my trees repair their boughs ;

And he, the wondrous child,

Whose silver warble wild

Outvalued every pulsing sound

Within the air's cerulean round,

The hyacinthine boy, for whom

Morn well might break and April bloom,

The gracious boy, who did adorn

The world whereinto he was born,

And by his countenance repay

The favor of the loving Day,

Has disappeared from the Day's eye ;

Far and wide she cannot find him ;

My hopes pursue, they cannot bind him.


Returned this day, the South-wind searches,
And finds young pines and budding birches ;
But finds not the budding man ;
Nature, who lost, cannot remake him ;
Fate let him fall, Fate can't retake him ;
Nature, Fate, men, him seek in vain.

And whither now, my truant wise and sweet,

0, whither tend thy feet ?

I had the right, few days ago,

Thy steps to watch, thy place to know ;

How have I forfeited the right ?

Hast thou forgot me in a new delight ?

I hearken for thy household cheer,

O eloquent child !

Whose voice, an equal messenger,

Conveyed thy meaning mild.

What though the pains and joys

Whereof it spoke were toys

Fitting his age and ken,

Yet fairest dames and bearded men,

Who heard the sweet request,

So gentle, wise, and grave,

Bended with joy to his behest,

And let the world's affairs go by,

Awhile to share his cordial game,

Or mend his wicker wagon-frame,

Still plotting how their hungry ear

That winsome voice again might hear ;

For his lips could well pronounce

Words that were persuasions.

Gentlest guardians marked serene
His early hope, his liberal mien ;


Took counsel from his guiding eyes
To make this wisdom earthly wise.
Ah, vainly do these eyes recall
The school-march, each day's festival,
When every morn my bosom glowed
To watch the convoy on the road ;
The babe in willow wagon closed,
With rolling eyes and face composed ;
With children forward and behind,
Like Cupids studiously inclined ;
And he the chieftain paced beside,
The centre of the troop allied,
With sunny face of sweet repose,
To guard the babe from fancied foes.
The little captain innocent
Took the eye with him as he went ;
Each village senior paused to scan
And speak the lovely caravan.
From the window I look out
To mark thy beautiful parade,
Stately marching in cap and coat
To some tune by fairies played ;
A music heard by thee alone
To works as noble led thee on.

Now Love and Pride, alas ! in vain,
Up and down their glances strain.
The painted sled stands where it stood ;
The kennel by the corded wood ;
The gathered sticks to stanch the wall
Of the snow-tower, when snow should fall ;
The ominous hole he dug in the sand,
And childhood's castles built or planned ;
His daily haunts I well discern,
The poultry-yard, the shed, the barn,

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 17 of 66)