The Settlers at Home, by Harriet Martineau.
This shortish novel first appeared in 1841, and was published in a collection of the author's four short 1841 novels, "The Playfellow".
The scene is set in Lincolnshire, a part of England much of which is flat and prone to flooding by the sea. It was drained in the 1600s by Dutch engineers by the creation of drains and sea defences. To this day part of the county is called Holland. After the draining the land was leased by the King to various settlers from overseas, among whom were the Linacres, the hero-family of this book. The King's enemies break down the sea defences, and the land is flooded, with haystacks, mills and barns floating away, farm animals drowning, and everyone in great peril. By various mishaps the three Linacre children and a boy from a roguish nomadic family, are deprived of the Linacre mother and father just when they most need them, and find themselves in the care of Ailwin, the strong and sturdy maid-of-all-work. Before they can get reunited with the parents, Geordie, the weakly two-year-old, dies, and they have various struggles for survival, with foul water killing many of the animals they would rely on for food. At last help comes in the form of the local pastor, who has enlisted the aid of some men to row him to wherever he is needed.
This book is pretty strong reading, and probably more of a tragedy than any other category.
THE SETTLERS AT HOME, BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
THE SETTLERS AT HOME.
Two hundred years ago, the Isle of Axholme was one of the most remarkable places in England. It is not an island in the sea. It is a part of Lincolnshire—a piece of land hilly in the middle, and surrounded by rivers. The Trent runs on the east side of it; and some smaller rivers formerly flowed round the rest of it, joining the Humber to the north. These rivers carried down a great deal of mud with them to the Humber, and the tides of the Humber washed up a great deal of sea-sand into the mouths of the rivers; so that the waters could not for some time flow freely, and were at last prevented from flowing away at all: they sank into the ground, and made a swamp of it—a swamp of many miles round the hilly part of the Isle of Axholme.
This swamp was long a very dismal place. Fish, and water-birds, and rats inhabited it: and here and there stood the hut of a fowler; or a peat-stack raised by the people who lived on the hills round, and who obtained their fuel from the peat-lands in the swamp. There were also, sprinkled over the district, a few very small houses—cells belonging to the Abbey of Saint Mary, at York. To these cells some of the monks from Saint Mary's had been fond of retiring, in old times, for meditation and prayer, and doing good in the district round; but when the soil became so swampy as to give them the ague as often as they paid a visit to these cells, the monks left off their practice of retiring hither; and their little dwellings stood empty, to be gradually overgrown with green moss and lank weeds, which no hand cleared away.
At last a Dutchman, having seen what wonders were done in his own country by good draining, thought he could render this district fit to be inhabited and cultivated; and he made a bargain with the king about it. After spending much money, and taking great pains, he succeeded. He drew the waters off into new channels, and kept them there by sluices, and by carefully watching the embankments he had raised. The land which was left dry was manured and cultivated, till, instead of a reedy and mossy swamp, there were fields of clover and of corn, and meadows of the finest grass, with cattle and sheep grazing in large numbers. The dwellings that were still standing were made into farm-houses, and new farmhouses were built. A church here, and a chapel there was cleaned, and warmed, and painted, and opened for worship; and good roads crossed the district into all the counties near.
Instead of being pleased with this change, the people of the country were angry and discontented. Those who lived near had been long accustomed to fishing and fowling in the swamp, without paying any rent, or having to ask anybody's leave. They had no mind now to settle to the regular toilsome business of farming,—and to be under a landlord, to whom they must pay rent. Probably, too, they knew nothing about farming, and would have failed in it if they had tried. Thus far they were not to be blamed. But nothing can exceed the malignity with which they treated the tenants who did settle in the isle, and the spiteful spirit which they showed towards them, on every occasion.
These tenants were chiefly foreigners. There was a civil war in England at that time: and the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire people were so much engaged in fighting for King Charles or for the Parliament, that fewer persons were at liberty to undertake new farms than there would have been in a time of peace. When the Dutchman and his companions found that the English were not disposed to occupy the Levels (as the drained lands were called), they encouraged some of their own countrymen to come over. With them arrived some few Frenchmen, who had been driven from France into Holland, on account of their being Protestants. From first to last, there were about two hundred families, Dutch and French, settled in the Levels. Some were collected into a village, and had a chapel opened, where a pastor of their own performed service for them. Others were scattered over the district, living just where their occupations required them to settle.
All these foreigners were subject to bad treatment from their neighbours; but the stragglers were the worst off; because it was easiest to tease and injure those who lived alone. The disappointed fishers and fowlers gave other reasons for their own conduct, besides that of being nearly deprived of their fishing and fowling. These reasons were all bad, as reasons for hating always are. One excuse was that the new settlers were foreigners—as if those who were far from their own land did not need particular hospitality and kindness. Another plea was that they were connected with the king, by being settled on the lands which he had bargained to have drained: so that all who sided with the parliament ought to injure the new tenants, in order to annoy the king. If the settlers had tried to serve the king by injuring his enemies, this last reason might have passed in a time of war. But it was not so. It is probable that the foreigners did not understand the quarrel. At any rate, they took no part in it. All they desired was to be left in peace, to cultivate the lands they paid rent for. But instead of peace, they had little but persecution.
One of these settlers, Mr Linacre, was not himself a farmer. He supplied the farmers of the district with a manure of a particular kind, which suited some of the richest soils they cultivated. He found, in the red soil of the isle, a large mass of that white earth, called gypsum, which, when wetted and burnt, makes plaster of Paris; and which, when ground, makes a fine manure for some soils, as the careful Dutchmen well knew. Mr Linacre set up a windmill on a little eminence which rose out of the Level, just high enough to catch the wind; and there he ground the gypsum which he dug from the neighbouring patch or quarry. He had to build some out-houses, but not a dwelling-house; for, near his mill, with just space enough for a good garden between, was one of the largest of the old cells of the monks of Saint Mary's, so well built of stone, and so comfortably arranged, that Mr Linacre had little to do but to have it cleaned and furnished, and the windows and doors made new, to fit it for the residence of his wife and children, and a servant.
This building was round, and had three rooms below, and three over them. A staircase of stone was in the very middle, winding round, like a corkscrew,—leading to the upper rooms, and out upon the roof, from which there was a beautiful view,—quite as far as the Humber to the north-east, and to the circle of hills on every other side. Each of the rooms below had a door to the open air, and another to the staircase;— very unlike modern houses, and not so fit as they to keep out wind and cold. But for this, the dwelling would have been very warm, for the walls were of thick stone; and the fire-places were so large, that it seemed as if the monks had been fond of good fires. Two of these lower rooms opened into the garden; and the third, the kitchen, into the yard;—so that the maid, Ailwin, had not far to go to milk the cow and feed the poultry.
Mrs Linacre was as neat in the management of her house as people from Holland usually are; and she did not like that the sitting-room, where her husband had his meals, and spent his evenings, should be littered by the children, or used at all by them during her absence at her daily occupation, in the summer. So she let them use the third room for their employments and their play. Her occupation, every summer's day, was serving out the waters from a mineral spring, a good deal frequented by sick people, three miles from her house, on the way to Gainsborough. She set off, after an early breakfast, in the cool of the morning, and generally arrived at the hill-side where the spring was, and had unlocked her little shed, and taken out her glasses, and rinsed them, before any travellers passed. It was rarely indeed that a sick person had to wait a minute for her appearance. There she sat, in her shed when it rained, and under a tree when it was fine, sewing or knitting very diligently when no customers appeared, and now and then casting a glance over the Levels to the spot where her husband's mill rose in the midst of the green fields, and where she almost fancied sometimes that she could see the children sitting on the mill-steps, or working in the garden. When customers appeared, she was always ready in a moment to serve them; and her smile cheered those who were sick, and pleased those who came merely from curiosity. She slipped the halfpence she received into a pocket beneath her apron; and sometimes the pocket was such a heavy one to carry three miles home, that she just stepped aside to the village shop at Haxey, or into a farm-house where the people would be going to market next day, to get her copper exchanged for silver. Since the times had become so troubled as they were now, however, she had avoided showing her money anywhere on the road. Her husband's advice was that she should give up attending the spring altogether; but she gained so much money by it, and it was so likely that somebody would step into her place there as soon as she gave it up, so that she would not be able to regain her office when quieter times should come, that she entreated him to allow her to go on while she had no fears. She took the heavy gold ear-rings out of her ears, wore a plainer cap, and left her large silver watch at home; so that she looked like a poor woman whom no needy soldier or bold thief would think of robbing. She guessed by the sun what was the right time for locking up her glasses and going home; and she commonly met her husband, coming to fetch her, before she had got half-way.
The three children were sure to be perched on the top of the quarry bank, or on the mill-steps, or out on the roof of the house, at the top of the winding staircase. Little George himself, though only two years old, knew the very moment when he should shout and clap his hands, to make his mother wave her handkerchief from the turn of the road. Oliver and Mildred did not exactly feel that the days were too long while their mother was away, for they had plenty to do; but they felt that the best part of the day was the hour between her return and their going to bed: and, unlike people generally, they liked winter better than summer, because at that season their mother never left them, except to go to the shop, or the market at Haxey.
Though Oliver was only eleven, and Mildred nine, they were not too young to have a great deal to do. Oliver was really useful as a gardener; and many a good dish of vegetables of his growing came to table in the course of the year. Mildred had to take care of the child almost all day; she often prepared the cabbage, and cut the bacon for Ailwin to broil. She could also do what Ailwin could not,—she could sew a little; and now and then there was an apron or a handkerchief ready to be shown when Mrs Linacre came home in the evening. If she met with any difficulty in her job, the maid could not help her, but her father sometimes could; and it was curious to see Mildred mounting the mill when she was at any loss, and her father wiping the white plaster off his hands, and taking the needle or the scissors in his great fingers, rather than that his little girl should not be able to surprise her mother with a finished piece of work. Then, both Oliver and Mildred had to learn their catechism, to say to Pastor Dendel on Sunday; and always a copy or an exercise on hand, to be ready to show him when he should call; and some book to finish that he had lent them to read, and that others of his flock would be ready for when they had done.
Besides all this, there was an occupation which both boy and girl thought more of than of all others together. Among the loads of gypsum that came to the mill, there were often pieces of the best kind,—lumps of real, fine alabaster. Alabaster is so soft as to be easily worked. Even a finger-nail will make a mark upon it. Everybody knows how beautiful vases and little statues, well wrought in alabaster, look on a mantelpiece, or a drawing-room table. Oliver had seen such in France, where they are very common: and his father had carried one or two ornaments of this kind into Holland, when he had to leave France. It was a great delight for Oliver to find, on settling in Axholme, that he could have as much alabaster as he pleased, if he could only work it. With a little help from Pastor Dendel and his father, he soon learned to do so; and of all his employments, he liked this the best. Pastor Dendel brought him a few bowls and cups of pretty shapes and different sizes, made of common wood by a turner, who was one of his flock; and Oliver first copied these in clay, and then in alabaster. By degrees he learned to vary his patterns, and at last to make his clay models from fancies of his own,—some turning out failures, and others prettier than any of his wooden cups. These last he proceeded to carve out of alabaster.
Mildred could not help watching him while he was about his favourite work, though it was difficult to keep little George from tossing the alabaster about, and stamping on the best pieces, or sucking them. He would sometimes give his sister a few minutes' peace and quiet by rolling the wooden bowls the whole length of the room, and running after them: and there was also an hour, in the middle of the day, when he went to sleep in his large Dutch cradle. At those times Mildred would consult with her brother about his work; or sew or watch him by turns; or read one of the pastor's little books, stopping occasionally to wonder whether Oliver could attend at once to his carving, and to what she was reading. When she saw that he was spoiling any part, or that his hand was shaking, she would ask whether he had not been at work long enough; and then they would run out to the garden or the quarry, or to jump George (if he was awake again) from the second mill-step.
One fine month of August, not a breath of wind had been blowing for a week or two, so that the mill-sails had not made a single turn; not a load of gypsum had been brought during the time, and Oliver was quite out of alabaster; though, as it happened, he much wanted a good supply, for a particular reason. Every morning he brought out his tools; and every morning the sky was so clear, the corn-fields so still—the very trees so silent, that he wondered whether there had ever been so calm a month of August before. His father and he employed their time upon the garden, while they had so good an opportunity. Before it was all put in order, and the entire stock of autumn cabbages set, there came a breezy day; and the children were left to finish the cabbage patch by themselves. While they were at work, it made them merry to hear the mill-sails whirring through the air, and to see, at intervals, the trees above the quarry bowing their heads, and the reeds waving in the swamp, and the water of the meadow-ponds dimpling and rippling, as the wind swept over the Levels. Oliver soon heard something that he liked better still—the creak of the truck that brought the gypsum from the quarry, and the crack of the driver's whip.
He threw down the dibble with which he was planting out his cabbages— tripped over the line he had set to direct his drilling, tumbled on his face, scrambled up again, and ran, rubbing the dirt from his knees as he went, to look out some alabaster from the load.
Mildred was not long after him, though he called to her that she had better stay and finish the cabbages, and though little George, immediately on feeling himself at liberty, threw himself upon the fresh mould of the cabbage bed, and amused himself with pulling up, and flinging right and left, the plants that had just been set. How could Mildred attend to this, when she was sure she was wanted to turn over the gypsum, and see what she could find? So Master George went on with his pranks, till Ailwin, by accident, saw him from the yard, ran and snatched him up, flung him over her shoulder, and carried him away screaming, till, to pacify him, she set him down among the poultry, which he presently found more amusing than young cabbage plants.
"Now we shall have a set of new cups for the spring, presently," said Oliver, as he measured lump after lump with his little foot-rule.
"Cups for the waters!" exclaimed his father. "So that is the reason of this prodigious hurry, is it, my boy? You think tin cups not good enough for your mother, or for her customers, or for the waters. Which of them do you think ought to be ashamed of tin cups?"
"The water, most of all. Instead of sparkling in a clear bright glass, it looks as nasty as it tastes in a thing that is more brown and rusty every time it is dipped. I will give the folk a pair of cups that shall tempt them to drink—a pair of cups as white as milk."
"They will not long remain white: and those who broke the glasses will be the more bent upon spoiling your cups, the more pains you spend upon them."
"I hope the Redfurns will not happen to hear of them. We need not blab; and the folk who drink the waters go their way, as soon as they have done."
"Whether the Redfurns be here or there, my boy, there is no want of prying eyes to see all that the poor foreigners do. Your mother is watched, it is my belief, every time she dips her cup; and I in the mill, and you in the garden. There is no hope of keeping anything from our enemies."
Seeing Oliver look about him uneasily, Mr Linacre reproached himself for having said anything to alarm his timid boy: so he added what he himself always found the most comforting thought, when he felt disturbed at living among unkind neighbours.
"Let them watch us, Oliver. We do nothing that we need be ashamed of. The whole world is welcome to know how we live,—all we do, from year's end to year's end."
"Yes, if they would let us alone, father. But it is so hard to have our things broken and spoiled!"
"So it is; and to know what ill-natured talk is going on about us. But we must let them take their own way, and bear it as well as we can; for there is no help for it."
"I wish I were a justice!" cried Mildred. "How I would punish them, every one!"
"Then I wish you were a justice, my dear; for we cannot get anybody punished as it is."
"Mildred," said Oliver, "I wish you would finish the cabbages. You know they must be done; and I am very busy."
"Oh, Oliver! I am such a little thing to plant a whole cabbage bed. You will be able to come by and by; I want to help you."
"You cannot help me, dear: and you know how to do the cabbages as well as anybody. You really cannot help me."
"Well, I want to see you then."
"There is nothing to see yet. You will have done, if you make haste, before I begin to cut. Do, dear!"
"Well, I will," replied Mildred, cheerfully. Her father caught her up, and gave her one good jump down the whole flight of steps, then bidding her work away before the plants were all withered and dead.
She did work away, till she was so hot and tired that she had to stop and rest. There were still two rows to plant; and she thought she should never get through them,—or at any rate, not before Oliver had proceeded a great way with his carving. She was going to cry; but she remembered how that would vex Oliver: so she restrained herself, and ran to ask Ailwin whether she could come and help. Ailwin always did what everybody asked her; so she gave over sorting feathers, and left them all about, while she went down the garden.
Mildred knew she must take little George away, or he would be making confusion among the feathers that had been sorted. She invited him to go with her, and peep over the hedge at the geese in the marsh; and the little fellow took her fore-finger, and trotted away with his sister to the hedge.
There were plenty of water-fowl in the marsh; and there was something else which Mildred did not seem to like. While George was quack-quacking, and making himself as like a little goose as he could, Mildred softly called to Ailwin, and beckoned her to the hedge. Ailwin came, swinging the great spade in her right hand, as easily as Mildred could flourish George's whip.
"Look,—look there!—under that bank, by the dyke!" said Mildred, as softly as if she had been afraid of being heard at a yard's distance.
"Eh! Look—if it be not the gipsies!" cried Ailwin, almost as loud as if she had been talking across the marsh. "Eh dear! We have got the gipsies upon us now; and what will become of my poultry? Yon is a gipsy tent, sure; and we must tell the master and mistress, and keep an eye on the poultry. Sure, yon is a gipsy tent."
Little George, thinking that everybody was very much frightened, began to roar; and that made Ailwin talk louder still, to comfort him; so that nothing that Mildred said was heard. At last, she pulled Ailwin's apron, so that the tall woman stooped down, to ask what she wanted.
"I do not think it is the gipsies," said she. "I am afraid it is worse than that. I am afraid it is the Redfurns. This is just the way they settle themselves—in just that sort of tent—when they come to fowl, all autumn."
"If I catch that Roger," said Ailwin, "I'll—." And she clenched her hand, as if she meant to do terrible things, if she caught Roger.
"I will go and call father, shall I?" said Mildred, her teeth chattering, as she stood in the hot sun.
She was turning to go up the garden, when a laugh from George made her look back again. She saw a head covered with an otter-skin cap,—the face looking very cross and threatening, peeping over the hedge,—which was so high above the marsh, that the person must have climbed the bank on purpose to look into the garden. There was no mistaking the face. It was certainly Roger Redfurn—the plague of the settlers, who, with his uncle, Stephen Redfurn, was always doing all the mischief he could to everybody who had, as he said, trespassed on the marshes. Nobody liked to see the Redfurns sitting down in the neighbourhood; and still less, skulking about the premises. Mildred flew towards the mill; while Ailwin, who never stopped to consider what was wise, and might not, perhaps, have hit upon wisdom if she had, took up a stone, and told Roger he had better be gone, for that he had no friends here. Roger seemed to have just come from some orchard; for he pulled a hard apple out of his pocket, aimed it at Ailwin's head, and struck her such a blow on the nose as made her eyes water. While she was wiping her eyes with her apron, and trying to see again, Roger coaxed the child to bring him his apple again, and disappeared.
When Mildred reached the mill, she found Pastor Dendel there, talking with her father about sending some manure to his land. The pastor was so busy, that he only gave her a nod; and she had therefore time to recover herself, instead of frightening everybody with her looks and her news at once. Oliver could not stay in the house while the pastor was at the mill: so he stood behind him, chipping away at the rough part of his work. Mildred whispered to him that the Redfurns were close at hand. She saw Oliver turn very red, though he told her not to be frightened. Perhaps the pastor perceived this too, when he turned round, for he said—
"What is the matter, children? Mildred, what have you been doing, that you are so out of breath? Have you been running all the way from Lincoln spire?"
"No, sir; not running—but—"
"The Redfurns are come, sir," cried Oliver. "Father, the Redfurns are come."
"Roger has been peeping over the hedge into the garden," cried Mildred, sinking into tears.
The miller looked grave, and said here was an end of all peace, for some time to come.
"Are you all at the mercy of a boy like Roger Redfurn," asked the pastor, "so that you look as if a plague had come with this fresh breeze?"
"And his uncle, sir."
"And his aunt," added Mildred.
"You know what Stephen Redfurn is, sir," observed Mr Linacre. "Roger beats even him for mischief. And we are at their mercy, sir. There is not a magistrate, as you know, that will hear a complaint from one of us against the country-people. We get nothing but trouble, and expense, and ridicule, by making complaints. We know this beforehand; for the triumph is always on the other side."
"It is hard," said the pastor: "but still,—here is only a man, a woman, and a boy. Cannot you defend yourselves against them?"
"No, sir; because they are not an honourable enemy," replied Mr Linacre. "If Stephen would fight it out with me on even ground, we would see who would beat: and I dare say my boy there, though none of the roughest, would stand up against Roger. But such fair trials do not suit them, sir. People who creep through drains, to do us mischief, and hide in the reeds when we are up and awake, and come in among us only when we are asleep, are a foe that may easily ruin any honest man, who cannot get protection from the law. They houghed my cow, two years ago, sir."
"And they mixed all mother's feathers, for the whole year," exclaimed Mildred.
"And they blinded my dog," cried Oliver;—"put out its eyes."
"Oh! What will they do next?" said Mildred, looking up through her tears at the pastor.
"Worse things than even these have been done to some of the people in my village," replied the pastor: "and they have been borne, Mildred, without tears."
Mildred made haste to wipe her eyes.
"And what do you think, my dears, of the life our Protestant brethren are leading now, in some parts of the world?"
"Father came away from France because he was ill-used for being a Protestant," said Oliver.
"The pastor knows all about that, my boy," observed Mr Linacre.
"Yes, I do," said the pastor. "I know that you suffered worse things there than here; and I know that things worse than either are at present endured by our brethren in Piedmont. You have a warm house over your heads; and you live in sunshine and plenty. They are driven from their villages, with fire and sword—forced to shelter among the snow-drifts, and pent up in caves till they rush out starving, to implore mercy of their scoffing persecutors. Could you bear this, children?"
"They suffer these things for their religion," observed Oliver. "They feel that they are martyrs."
"Do you think there is comfort in that thought,—in the pride of martyrdom,—to the son who sees his aged parents perish by the wayside,—to the mother whose infant is dashed against the rock before her eyes?"
"How do they bear it all, then?"
"They keep one another in mind that it is God's will, my dears; and that obedient children can, if they try, bear all that God sees fit to lay upon them. So they praise His name with a strong heart, though their voices be weak. Morning and night, those mountains echo with hymns; though death, in one form or another, is about the sufferers on every side.
"My dear," said Mr Linacre, "let us make no more complaints about the Redfurns. I am ashamed, when I think of our brethren abroad, that we ever let Stephen and Roger put us up to anger. You will see no more tears here, sir, I hope."
"Mildred will not quite promise that," said the pastor, smiling kindly on the little girl. "Make no promises, my dear, that a little girl like you may be tempted to break. Only try to forgive all people who tease and injure you; and remember that nothing more ever happens than God permits,—though He does not yet see fit to let us know why."
"I would only just ask this, sir," said Mr Linacre. "Is there anything going forward just now which particularly encourages our enemies to attack us?"
"The parliament have a committee sitting at Lincoln, at present; and the king's cause seems to be low in these parts. We are thus at the mercy of such as choose to consider us king's men: but there is a higher and truer mercy always about us."
The miller took off his hat in token of respect.
The pastor's eye had been upon Oliver for some time. He now asked whether he meant to make his new cups plain, like all the rest, or to try to ornament them. Mildred assured him that Oliver had carved a beading round the two last bowls that he had cut.
"I think you might attempt something far prettier than beading," said the pastor; "particularly with so many patterns before your eyes to work by."
He was looking up at the little recess above the door of the house, near which they were standing. This recess, in which there had formerly been an image, was surrounded with carved stone-work.
"I see some foliage there which would answer your purpose, Oliver, if you could make a model from it. Let us look closer."
And Pastor Dendel fixed a short ladder against the house wall, and went up, with Oliver before him. They were so busy selecting the figures that Oliver thought he could copy, and drawing them upon paper, and then setting about modelling them in clay, that the Redfurns did not prevent their being happy for this day, at least. Mr Linacre, too, was hard at work all day, grinding, that the pastor's manure might be served to-morrow; and he found hard work as good for an anxious mind as those who have tried generally find it to be.
When Mrs Linacre was told in the evening of the arrival of the disagreeable neighbours who were in the marsh, she was sorry; but when she had gone round the premises with her husband at night, and found all safe, and no tokens of any intrusion, she was disposed to hope that the Redfurns would, this time, keep to their fishing and fowling, and make no disturbance. Oliver and Mildred crept down to the garden hedge at sunrise, and peeped through it, so as to see all that was doing in the carr, as the marsh was called. [In that part of the country, a carr means a morass.] After watching some time, they saw Stephen and Roger creep out from under the low brown tent. As the almost level sun shone full in their faces, they rubbed their eyes; then they stretched and yawned, and seemed to be trying hard to wake themselves thoroughly.
"They have been sound asleep, however," observed Oliver to his sister; "and it is still so early, that I do not believe they have been abroad about mischief in the night. They would not have been awake yet if they had."
"Look! There is a woman!" exclaimed Mildred. "Is that Nan?"
"Yes; that is Nan Redfurn,—Stephen's wife. That is their great net that she has over her arm. They are going to draw the oval pond, I think. We can watch their sport nicely here. They cannot see an inch of us."
"But we do not like that they should watch us," said Mildred, drawing back. "We should not like to know that they were peeping at us from behind a hedge."
"We should not mind it if we were not afraid of them," replied Oliver. "It is because they plot mischief that we cannot bear their prying. We are not going to do them any mischief, you know; and they cannot mean to make any secret of what they are doing in the middle of the carr, with high ground all about it." Satisfied by this, Mildred crouched down, with her arm about her brother's neck, and saw the great net cast, and the pond almost emptied of its fish,—some few being kept for food, and the small fry—especially of the stickleback—being thrown into heaps, to be sold for manure.
"Will they come this way when they have done drawing the pond?" asked Mildred, in some fear, as she saw them moving about.
"I think they will sweep the shallow waters, there to the left, for more stickleback," replied Oliver. "They will make up a load, to sell before the heat of the day, before they set about anything else."
Oliver was right. All the three repaired to the shallow water, and stood among the reeds, so as to be half hidden. The children could see, however, that when little George came down the garden, shouting to them to come to breakfast, the strangers took heed to the child. They turned their heads for a moment towards the garden, and then spoke together and laughed.
"There, now!" cried Oliver, vexed: "that is all because we forgot to go to breakfast. So much for my not having a watch! Mother need not have sent George to make such a noise; but, if I had had a watch, he would not have come at all; and these people would not have been put in mind of us."
"You will soon be able to have a watch now, like the boys in Holland," said Mildred. "Your alabaster things will change away for a watch; will not they? But we might not have remembered breakfast, if you had had a watch."
"We are forgetting it now," said Oliver, catching up George and running to the house, followed by Mildred, who could not help feeling as if Roger was at her heels.
They were surprised to find how late it was. Their father was already gone with Pastor Dendel's load of manure. Their mother only waited to kiss them before she went, and to tell them the their father meant to be back as soon as he could; and that meantime, neighbour Gool had promised to keep an eye on the mill. If anything happened to frighten them, Oliver or Ailwin had only to set the mill-sails agoing, and neighbour Gool and his men would be with them presently. She did not think, however, that anything would happen in the little time that their father would be away.
"I will tell you what we will do!" cried Oliver, starting from his chair, after he had been eating his bread and milk, in silence, for some time after his mother's departure. "Let us dress up a figure to look like father, and set him at the mill-window; so that those Redfurns shall not find out that he is away. Won't that be good?"
"Put him on the mill-steps. They may not look up at the window."
"The mill-steps, then. Where is father's old hat? Put it on the broom there, and see how it looks. Run up to the mill, dear, and bring his jacket—and his apron," he shouted as his sister ran.
Mildred brought both, and they dressed up the broom.
"That will never do," said Mildred. "Look how the sleeves hang; and how he holds his head! It is not a bit like a man."
"'Tis a good scarecrow," declared Ailwin. "I have seen many a worse scarecrow than that."
"But this is to scare the Redfurns, and they are far wiser than crows," said Mildred. "Look how George pulls at the apron, and tugs at the broomstick behind! It does not scare even him."
"It will look very different on the steps—in the open air," Oliver declared. "A bunch or two of straw in the sleeves, and under the jacket, will make it seem all alive."
And he carried it out, and tied it upon the mill-steps. It was no easy matter to fasten it so as to make it look at all like a man naturally mounting stairs. The more difficult it was, however, the more they all became interested in the business. Mildred brought straw, and Ailwin tied a knot here, and another knot there, while Oliver cocked the hat in various directions upon the head, till they all forgot what they were dressing up the figure for. The reason popped into Ailwin's head again, when she had succeeded in raising the right arm to the rail, in a very life-like manner.
"There!" said she, stepping backwards to view her work, "that makes a very good master for me. I will obey him in everything he bids me till master comes home."
At the same moment, she walked backwards against something, and little George clung screaming to Mildred's knees. Roger had spread his arms for Ailwin to walk back into; and Stephen was behind, leaning against the cow-shed. They had been watching all that the party had been doing, and, having overheard every word, had found out the reason.
The children saw at once how very foolish they had been; and the thought confused them so much, that they did not know what to do next. Poor Ailwin, who could never learn wisdom, more or less, now made matters worse by all she said and did. Stout and strong as she was, she could do nothing, for Roger had taken the hint she had given by walking backwards, with her arms crossed behind her: he had pinioned her. She cried out to Oliver to run up, and set the mill-sails agoing, to bring neighbour Gool. Stephen took this second hint. He quietly swung Oliver off the steps, sent down his scarecrow after him, and himself took his seat on the threshold of the mill. There he sat, laughing to see how Ailwin wearied herself with struggles, while Roger, by merely hanging on her arms, prevented her getting free. When, however, Oliver flew at the boy, and struck him some fierce blows, Stephen came down, drove the little girl and the baby into the house, and locked them in, and then went to help Roger with his strong arm.
It was clear to Mildred what she ought to do. Crying as she was, she put George in a corner, with some playthings, to keep him from the fire till she came to him again, and then mounted the stairs, as quickly as her trembling limbs would let her,—first to her mother's room, and then out upon the roof. She tied a large red handkerchief of her mother's upon her father's Sunday walking-stick, and then waved it, as high as she could hold it, above her head, while she considered how she could fasten it; for it would never do to leave George alone below for many minutes. Perhaps neighbour Gool had seen it already, and would soon be here with his men. But, lest he should not, she must fix her flag, and trust to Stephen and Roger not thinking of looking up to the roof from the yard below. At last, after many attempts, she thrust the stick into a crevice of the roof, and fixed it with heavy things round it,—having run down three or four times, to see that George was safe.
There was, indeed, no time to be lost, for the intruders below were doing all the mischief they could think of, short of robbing and burning the premises. The great tall man, Stephen, strolling about the lower rooms, found Mrs Linacre's knitting, and pulled out the needles, and unravelled the work. Roger spied a heap of bulbs on the corner of a high shelf. They were Mr Linacre's rare and valuable tulip-roots, brought from Holland. Roger cut one of them open, to see what it looked like, and then threw the whole lot into the boiler, now steaming over the fire, saying the family should have a dish the more at dinner to-day. They got hold of Oliver's tools, and the cup he was at work upon. Stephen raised his arm, about to dash the cup to the ground, when Oliver sprang forward, and said—
"You shall have it,—you shall have my cup;—you don't know what a beauty it will be, when it is done. Only let me finish it, and you shall have it in exchange for the stickleback you caught this morning. The stickleback will do to manure our garden; and I am sure you will like the cup, if you will only let me finish it."
"Manure your garden, indeed!" cried Stephen, gruffly. "I'll cut up your garden to shreds first. What business has your garden in our carr? You and your great landlord will find what it is to set your outlandish plants growing where our geese ought to be grazing. We'll show you that we don't want any foreigners here; and if you don't like our usage, you may go home again; and nobody will cry for you back."
"We pay for our garden and our mill," said Oliver. "We wrong nobody, and we work for our living, and you are a very cruel man."
"You pay the king: and the parliament does not choose that the king should have any more money to spend against them. Mind you that, boy! And—"
"I am sure I don't know anything about the king and the parliament, or any such quarrels," said Oliver. "It is very hard to punish us for them, it is very cruel."
"You shall have reason to call me cruel twenty times over, if you don't get away out of our carr," said Stephen. "Manure your garden, indeed! Not I! And you shall not manure another yard in these Levels. Come here, Roger."
They went out again into the yard, and Oliver, now quite overcome, laid down his head on his arms, and cried bitterly.
"Here's your cup, however," said Ailwin, now released by Roger's being employed elsewhere. "This bit of plaster is the only thing they have laid hands on that they have not ruined." Oliver started up, and hid his work and tools in a bundle of straw, in the corner of the kitchen.
"What Mildred will say, I don't know," said Ailwin. "That boy has wrung the neck of her white hen."
Oliver was desperate on hearing this. He ran out to see whether he could not, by any means, get into the mill, to set the sails agoing: but there were Stephen and Roger, carrying water, which they threw over all the gypsum that was ground,—floating away as much as they could of it, and utterly spoiling the rest, by turning it into a plaster.
"Did you ever see the like?" cried Ailwin. "And there is nothing master is so particular about as keeping that stuff dry. See the woman, too! How I'd like to tug the hair off her head! She looks badly, poor creature, too."
Stephen's wife had, indeed, come up to enjoy the sport, when she found that no man was on the premises, and that there was no danger. There she stood, leaning against a post of the mill, her black, untidy hair hanging about her pale, hollow cheeks, and her lean arms crossed upon her bosom.
"There were such ague-struck folk to be seen at every turn," said Ailwin, "before the foreigners came to live in the carr. I suppose they brought some healing with them; for one does not often see now such a poor creature as that. She might be ashamed of herself,—that woman; she laughs all her poor sides can, at every pailful Roger pours out.— Eh! But she's not laughing now! Eh! What's the matter now?"
The matter was that neighbour Gool was in sight, with three or four men. A cheer was heard from them while they were still some way off. Oliver ran out and cheered, waving his hat over his head. Ailwin cheered, waving a towel out of the window. Mildred cheered from the roof, waving her red flag; and George stood in the doorway, shouting and clapping his little hands.
If the object was to catch the trespassers, all this cheering took place a little too soon. Stephen and Roger were off, like their own wild-ducks,—over the garden hedge, and out of sight. Neighbour Gool declared that if they were once fairly among the reeds in the marsh, it would be sheer waste of time to search for them; for they could dodge and live in the water, in a way that honest people that lived on proper hard ground could not follow. Here was the woman; and yonder was the tent. Revenge might be taken that way, better than by ducking in the ponds after the man and boy. Suppose they took the woman to prison, and made a great fire in the carr, of the tent and everything in it!
Oliver did not see that it could make up to them for what they had lost, to burn the tent; and he was pretty sure his father would not wish such a thing to be done. His father would soon be home. As for the woman, he thought she ought to go to prison, if Mr Gool would take her there.
"That I will," said Gool. "I will go through with the thing now I am in it. I came off the minute I saw your red flag; and I might have been here sooner, if I had not been so full of watching the mill-sails, that I never looked off from them till my wife came to help to watch. Come, you woman," said he to Nan Redfurn, "make no faces about going to prison, for I am about to give you a ride there."
"She looks very ill," thought Oliver,—"not fit to be jolted on a horse."
"You'll get no magistrate to send me to prison," said the woman. "The justices are with the parliament, every one. You will only have to bring me back, and be sorry you caught me, when you see what comes of it."
"Cannot we take care of her here till father comes home?" said Oliver, seeing that neighbour Gool looked perplexed, and as if he believed what the woman said.
"No, no," said Mildred, whispering to her brother. "Don't let that woman stay here."
"Neighbour Gool will take care of us till father comes home," said Oliver: "and the woman looks so ill! We can lock her up here: and, you see, Ailwin is ever so much stronger than she is, poor thing!"
Neighbour Gool put on an air of being rather offended that nothing great was to be done, after his trouble in coming to help. In his heart, however, he was perhaps not very sorry; for he knew that the magistrates were not willing to countenance the king's settlers in the Levels, while the Parliament Committee was sitting at Lincoln. Gool patted Oliver's head when the boy thanked him for coming; and he joked Mildred about her flag: so he could not be very cross. He left two men to guard the prisoner and the premises, till Mr Linacre should return.
These two men soon left off marching about the garden and yard, and sat down on the mill-steps; for the day grew very hot. There they sat talking in the shade, till their dinners should be ready. Nan Redfurn was so far from feeling the day to be hot, that when her cold ague-fit came on, she begged to be allowed to go down to the kitchen fire. Little George stood staring at her for some time, and then ran away; and Mildred, not liking to be in the same room with a woman who looked as she did, and who was a prisoner, stole out too, though she had been desired to watch the woman till dinner should be ready. Ailwin was so struck with compassion, that she fetched her warmest woollen stockings and her winter cloak of linsey-woolsey,—it was such a piteous thing to hear a woman's teeth chattering in her head, in that way, at noon in the middle of August. Having wrapped her up, she put her on a stool, close to the great kitchen fire; and drew out the screen that was used only in winter, to keep off the draughts from the door. If the poor soul was not warm in that corner, nothing could make her so. Then Ailwin began to sing to cheer her heart, and to be amazingly busy in cooking dinner for three additional persons. She never left off her singing but when she out went for the vegetables, and other things she wanted for her cooking; and when she came in again she resumed her song,—still for the sake of the poor creature behind the screen.
"Do you feel yourself warmer now, neighbour?" said she at the end of an hour. "If not, you are past my understanding."
There was no answer; and Ailwin did not wonder, as she said to herself, that it was too great a trouble for one so poorly to be answering questions: so Ailwin went on slicing her vegetables and singing.
"Do you think a drop of cherry-brandy would warm you, neighbour?" she asked, after a while. "I wonder I never thought of that before; only, it is a sort of thing one does not recollect till winter comes. Shall I get you a sup of cherry-brandy?"
Ailwin thought it so odd that such an offer as this should not be replied to, that she looked hastily behind the screen, to see what could be the reason. There was reason enough. Nobody was there. Nan Redfurn had made her way out as soon as she found herself alone, and was gone, with Ailwin's best winter stockings and linsey-woolsey cloak.
In a minute the whole party were looking over the hedge into the marsh. Nothing was to be seen but the low brown tent, and the heap of little fish. Neither man, woman, nor boy appeared when their names were shouted forth.
"Oh! My best stockings!" said Ailwin, half crying.
"You have saved your cherry-brandy, my woman, that is certain," observed one of Gool's men.
"I shall never have any pleasure in it," sighed the maid. "I shall never enjoy it on account of its reminding me how yon woman has fooled me."
"Then we will save you that pain," said the man. "If you will oblige us with it to-day we won't leave any to pain you in the winter."
"For shame," cried Oliver, "when you know she has lost her stockings and her cloak already! And all out of kindness! I would not drink a drop of her cherry-brandy, I am sure."
"Then you shall, Oliver, for saying so, and taking my part," said Ailwin. "I am not going to give it to anyone else that has not the ague; some people may be assured of that."
"If I thought there was any cherry-brandy for me when I came back," said the man, throwing a stone down to try the nature of the bog-ground beneath, "I would get below there, and try what I could find. I might lay hold of a linsey-woolsey cloak somewhere in the bog."
"You can never catch the Redfurns, I doubt," said Ailwin. "What was it they said to you, Oliver, as they were going off?"
"They laughed at me for not being able to catch eels, and asked how I thought I should catch them. They said when I could decoy wild-fowl, I might set a trap for the Redfurns. But it does not follow that that is all true because they said it. I don't see but they might be caught if there was anyone to do us justice afterwards. That's the worst part of it, father says."
"There's father!" cried Mildred, as the crack of a whip was heard. All started off, as if to see who could carry bad news fastest. All arrived in the yard together, except Ailwin, who turned back to take up George, as he roared at being left behind.
"We must want a wise head or two among us," said the vexed miller. "If we were as sharp as these times require, we surely could not be at the mercy of folk we should scorn to be like. We must give more heed and see what is to be done."
"Rather late for that, neighbour, when here is the stock you were grinding and grinding for a week, all gone to plaster," said one of Gool's men.
"That is what I say," replied the miller, contemplating the waste; "but it may be better late than not at all."
Mrs Linacre was more affected than her husband by what had happened. When she came home, poor Mildred's fortitude had just given way, and she was crying over the body of her dear white hen. This caused Ailwin's eyes to fill at the thought of her stockings and cloak, so that the family faces looked cheerless enough.
"We deserve it all," said Mrs Linacre, "for leaving our place and our children to the care of Gool's men, or of anybody but ourselves. I will go no more to the spring. I have been out of my duty; and we may be thankful that we have been no further punished."
As she spoke a few tears started. Her tears were so rare, that the children looked in dismay at their father.
He gently declared that the more injury they suffered from the country-people the more they needed all the earnings they could make. They must cling to the means of an honest maintenance, and not throw away such an employment as hers. He would not leave the children again while the Redfurns were in the neighbourhood. He would not have left them to-day, to serve anyone but the pastor; nor to serve even him, if he had not thought he had bespoken sufficient protection. Nothing should take him from home, or his eye off the children, to-morrow, she might depend upon it.
Mrs Linacre said that if she must go she should take a heavy heart with her. This was, she feared, but the first of a fresh series of attacks. If so, what might not they look for next? However, she only asked to be found in her duty. If her husband desired her to go, she would go; but she should count over the hours of the day sadly enough.
Oliver ventured to bring up an old subject. He said what he most wanted was to have earned money enough to get a watch. He was sure he could hide it so that Roger should never guess he had one; and it would be such a comfort to know exactly how the time was going, and when to look for his mother home, instead of having to guess, in cloudy weather, the hour of the day, and to argue the matter with Ailwin, who was always wrong about that particular thing.
His father smiled mournfully, as he observed, that he hoped Oliver would never so want bread as to leave off longing for anything made of gold or silver.
ONE WAY OF MAKING WAR.
Mrs Linacre went to the spring as usual, the next morning. If the weather had been doubtful—if there had been any pretence for supposing that the day might not be fine, she would have remained at home. But she looked in vain all round the sky for a cloud: and the wide expanse of fields and meadows in the Levels, with their waving corn and fresh green grass, seemed to bask in the sunshine, as if they felt its luxury. It was a glowing August day;—just such a day as would bring out the invalids from Gainsborough to drink the waters;—just such a day as would tempt the traveller to stop under the shady shed, where he could see waters bubbling up, and taste of the famous medicinal spring, which would cure the present evil of heat, whatever effect it might have on any more lasting ailment. It was just the day when Mrs Linacre must not be missed from her post, and when it would be wrong to give up the earnings which she might expect before sun-down. So she desired her children not to leave the premises,—not even to go out of their father's sight and hearing; and left them, secure, at least, that they would obey her wishes.
They were quite willing to do so. Mildred looked behind her, every few minutes, while she worked in the garden, to see whether Roger was not there, and at every rustle that the birds made among the trees on the Red-hill,—the eminence behind the house,—she fancied that some one was hidden there. Oliver let his tools and his alabaster lie hidden, much as he longed to be at work with them. Mildred had lost her greatest treasure,—the white hen. He must take care of his greatest treasure. Twice, in the course of the morning, he went in, having thought of a safer place; and twice more he put them back among the straw, as safest there after all. He let them alone at last, on Mildred saying that she was afraid Roger might somehow discover why he went in and out so often.
They ran to the mill three or four times to tell their father that the brown tent was still under the bank in the carr, and that they could see nobody; though the wild-ducks and geese made such a fluttering and noise, now and then, that it seemed as if some one was lurking about the ponds. Often in the course of the morning, too, did Mr Linacre look out of the mill-window, or nod to them from the top of the steps, that they might see that he did not forget them. Meantime, the white smoke curled up from the kitchen chimney, as Ailwin cooked the dinner; and little George's voice and hers were often heard from within, as if they were having some fun together.
The children were very hot, and began to say that they were hungry, and thought dinner-time was near, when they suddenly felt a strong rush of wind from the west. Oliver lost his cap, and was running after it, when both heard a loud shout from their father, and looked up. They had never heard him shout so loud as he now did, bidding them run up the Red-hill that moment. He waved his arm and his cap in that direction, as if he was mad. Mildred scampered up the hill. She did not know why, nor what was the meaning of the rolling, roaring thunder which seemed to convulse the air: but her head was full of Roger; and she thought it was some mischief of his. One part of the Red-hill was very steep, and the ground soft. Her feet slipped on the moss first, and when she had got above the moss, the red earth crumbled; and she went back at every step, till she caught hold of some brambles, and then of the trunk of a tree; so that, trembling and panting, she reached at last the top of the eminence.
When she looked round, she saw a rushing, roaring river where the garden had been, just before. Rough waters were dashing up against the hill on which she stood,—against the house,—and against the mill. She saw the flood spreading, as rapidly as the light at sunrise, over the whole expanse of the Levels. She saw another flood bursting in from the Humber, on the north-east, and meeting that which had just swept by;— she saw the two floods swallowing up field after field, meadow after meadow, splashing up against every house, and surrounding all, so that the roofs, and the stacks beside them, looked like so many little islands. She saw these things in a moment, but did not heed them till afterwards,—for, where was Oliver?
Oliver was safe, though it was rather a wonder that he was so, considering his care for his cap. Oliver was an orderly boy, accustomed to take great care of his things; and it did not occur to him to let his cap go, when he had to run for his life. He had to part with it, however. He was flying after it, when another shout from his father made him look round; and then he saw the wall of water, as he called it, rolling on directly upon the house. He gave a prodigious spring across the garden ditch, and up the hill-side, and but just escaped; for the wind which immediately preceded the flood blew him down; and it was clinging to the trunk of a tree that saved him, as his sister had been saved just before. As it was, his feet were wet. Oliver panted and trembled like his sister, but he was safe.
Every one was safe. Ailwin appeared at an upper window, exhibiting little George. Mr Linacre stood, with folded arms, in the doorway of his mill; and his wife was (he was thankful to remember) on the side of a high hill, far away. The children and their father knew, while the flood was roaring between them, what all were thinking of; and at the same moment, the miller and his boy waved, the one his hat, and the other a green bough, high and joyously over their heads. Little George saw this from the window, and clapped his hands, and jumped, as Ailwin held him on the window-sill.
"Look at Geordie!" cried Mildred. "Do look at him! Don't you think you hear him now?"
This happy mood could not last very long, however, as the waters, instead of going down, were evidently rising every moment. From the first, the flood had been too deep and rapid to allow of the miller crossing from his mill to his house. He was a poor swimmer; and no swimmer, he thought, could have avoided being carried away into the wide marsh, where there was no help. Then, instead of the stream slackening, it rushed more furiously as it rose,—rose first over the wall of the yard, and up to the fourth—fifth—sixth step of the mill-ladder, and then almost into the branches of the apple-trees in the garden.
"I hope you will not mind being hungry, Mildred," said her brother, after a time of silence. "We are not likely to have any dinner to-day, I think."
"I don't mind that, very much," said Mildred, "but how do you think we are to get away, with this great river between us and home?"
"We shall see what father does," said Oliver. "He is further off still, on the other side."
"But what is all this water? When will it go away?"
"I am afraid the embankments have burst. And yet the weather has been fine enough lately. Perhaps the sluices are broken up."
Seeing that Mildred did not understand the more for what he said, he explained—
"You know, all these Levels were watery grounds once; more wet than the carr yonder. Well,—great clay banks were made to keep out the Humber waters, over there, to the north-east, and on the west and north-west yonder, to keep two or three rivers there from overflowing the land. Then several canals and ditches were cut, to drain the land; and there are great gates put up, here and there, to let the waters in and out, as they are wanted. I am afraid those gates are gone, or the clay banks broken down, so that the sea and the rivers are pouring in all the water they have."
"But when will it be over? Will it ever run off again? Shall we ever get home again?"
"I do not know anything about it. We must wait, and watch what father will do. See! What is this coming?"
"A dead horse!" exclaimed Mildred. "Drowned, I suppose. Don't you think so, Oliver?"
"Drowned, of course.—Do you know, Mildred," he continued, after a silence, during which he was looking towards the sheds in the yard, while his sister's eyes were following the body of the horse as it was swept along, now whirled round in an eddy, and now going clear over the hedge into the carr,—"do you know, Mildred," said Oliver, "I think father will be completely ruined by this flood."
"Do you?" said Mildred, who did not quite know what it was to be ruined. "How? Why?"
"Why, it was bad enough that so much gypsum was spoiled yesterday. I am afraid now the whole quarry will be spoiled. And then I doubt whether the harvest will not be ruined all through the Levels: and I am pretty sure nothing will be growing in the garden when the waters are gone. That was not our horse that went by; but our horse may be drowned, and the cow, and the sow, and everything."
"Not the fowls," said Mildred. "Look at them, all in a row on the top of the cow-shed. They will not be drowned, at any rate."
"But then they may be starved. O dear!" he continued, with a start of recollection, "I wonder whether Ailwin has thought of moving the meal and the grain up-stairs. It will be all rotted and spoiled if the water runs through it."
He shouted, and made signs to Ailwin, with all his might; but in vain. She could not hear a word he said, or make anything of his signs. He was vexed, and said Ailwin was always stupid.
"So she is," replied Mildred; "but it does not signify now. Look how the water is pouring out of the parlour-window. The meal and grain must have been wet through long ago. Is not that a pretty waterfall? A waterfall from our parlour-window, down upon the tulip-bed! How very odd!"
"If one could think how to feed these poor animals," said Oliver,—"and the fowls! If there was anything here that one could get for them! One might cut a little grass for the cow;—but there is nothing else."
"Only the leaves of the trees, and a few blackberries, when they are ripe," said Mildred, looking round her, "and flowers,—wild-flowers, and a few that mother planted."
"The bees!" cried Oliver. "Let us save them. They can feed themselves. We will save the bees."
"Why, you don't think they are drowned?" said Mildred.
The bees were not drowned; but they were in more danger of it than Mildred supposed. Their little shed was placed on the side of the Red-hill, so as to overlook the flowery garden. The waters stood among the posts of this shed; and the hives themselves shook with every wave that rolled along.
"You cannot do it, Oliver," cried Mildred, as her brother crept down the slope to the back of the shed. "You can never get round, Oliver. You will slip in, Oliver!"
Oliver looked round and nodded, as there was no use in speaking in such a noise. He presently showed that he did not mean to go round to the front of the shed. That would never have done; for the flood had washed away the soil there, and left nothing to stand upon. He broke away the boards at the back of the bee-shed, which were old and loosely fastened. He was glad he had come; for the bees were bustling about in great confusion and distress, evidently aware that something great was the matter. Oliver seized one of the hives, with the board it stood on, and carried it, as steadily as he could, to a sunny part of the hill, where he put it down on the grass. He then went for another, asking Mildred to come part of the way down to receive the second hive, and put it by the first, as he saw there was not a moment to lose. She did so; but she trembled so much, that it was probable she would have let the hive fall, if it had ever been in her hands. It never was, however. The soil was now melting away in the water, where Oliver had stood firmly but a few minutes before. He had to take great care, and to change his footing every instant; and it was not without slipping and sliding, and wet feet, that he brought away the second hive. Mildred saw how hot he was, as he sat resting, with the hive, before climbing the bank, and begged that he would not try any more.
"These poor bees!" exclaimed Oliver, beginning to move again, on the thought of the bees being drowned. But he had done all he could. The water boiled up between the shed and the bank, lifted the whole structure, and swept it away. Oliver hastened to put down the second hive beside the first; and when he returned, saw that the posts had sunk, the boards were floating away, and the remaining hive itself sailing down the stream.
"How it rocks!" cried Mildred. "I wish it would turn quite over, so that the poor things might get out, and fly away."
"They never will," said Oliver. "I wish I had thought of the bees a little sooner. It is very odd that you did not, Mildred."
"I don't know how to think of anything," said Mildred, dolefully; "it is all so odd and so frightful!"
"Well, don't cry, if you can help it, dear," said her brother. "We shall see what father will do. He won't cry;—I am sure of that."
Mildred laughed: for she never had seen her father cry.
"He was not far off crying yesterday, though," said Oliver, "when he saw your poor hen lying dead. He looked—but, O Mildred! What can have become of the Redfurns? We have, been thinking all this while about the bees; and we never once remembered the Redfurns. Why, their tent was scarcely bigger than our hives; and I am sure it could not stand a minute against the flood."
While he spoke, Oliver was running to the part of the hill which commanded the widest view of the carr, and Mildred was following at his heels,—a good deal startled by the hares which leaped across her path. There seemed to be more hares now on the hill than she had seen in all her life before. She could not ask about the hares, however, when she saw the brown tent, or a piece of it, flapping about in the water, a great way off, and sweeping along with the current.
"Hark! What was that? Did you hear?" said Oliver, turning very pale.
"I thought I heard a child crying a great way off," said Mildred, trembling.
"It was not a child, dear. It was a shriek,—a woman's shriek, I am afraid. I am afraid it is Nan Redfurn, somewhere in the carr. O dear, if they should all be drowned, and nobody there to help them!"
"No, no,—I don't believe it," said Mildred. "They have got up somewhere,—climbed up something,—that bank or something."
They heard nothing more, amidst the dash of the flood, and they fancied they could see some figures moving on the ridge of the bank, far out over the carr. When they were tired of straining their eyes, they looked about them, and saw, in a smoother piece of water near their hill, a dog swimming, and seeming to labour very much.
"It has got something fastened to it," cried Mildred;—"something tied round its neck."
"It is somebody swimming," replied Oliver. "They will get safe here now. Cannot we help them? I wish I had a rope! A long switch may do. I will get a long switch."
"Yes, cut a long switch," cried Mildred: and she pulled and tugged at a long tough thorny bramble, not minding its pricking her fingers and tearing her frock. She could not help starting at the immense number of large birds that flew out, and rabbits that ran away between her feet, while she was about it; but she never left hold, and dragged the long bramble down to the part of the hill that the dog seemed to be trying to reach. Oliver was already there, holding a slip of ash, such as he had sometimes cut for a fishing-rod.
"It is Roger, I do believe; but I see nothing of the others," said he. "Look at his head, as it bobs up and down. Is it not Roger?"
"O dear! I hope not!" cried Mildred, in a tone of despair. "What shall we do if he comes?"
"We must see that afterwards: we must save him first. Now for it!"
As Oliver spoke, the dog ducked, and came up again without Roger, swimming lightly to the bank, and leaping ashore with a bark. Roger was there, however,—very near, but they supposed, exhausted, for he seemed to fall back, and sink, on catching hold of Oliver's switch, and by the jerk twitched it out of the boy's hand.
"Try again!" shouted Oliver, as he laid Mildred's bramble along the water. "Don't let go, Mildred."
Mildred let the thorns run deep into her fingers without leaving her hold. Roger grasped the other end: and they pulled, without jerking, and with all their strength, till he reached the bank, and they could help him out with their hands.
"Oh, I am so glad you are safe, Roger!" said Oliver.
"You might have found something better than that thorny switch to throw me," said Roger. "My hands are all blood with the spikes."
"Look at hers!" cried Oliver, intending to show the state that his sister's hands were in, for Roger's sake; but Mildred pulled away her hands, and hid them behind her as she retreated, saying,—
"No, no. Never mind that now."
Oliver saw how drenched the poor boy looked, and forgave whatever he might say. He asked Mildred to go back to the place where they had been standing, opposite the house; and he would come to her there presently. He then begged Roger to slip off his coat and trousers, that they might wring the wet out of them. He thought they would soon dry in the sun. But Roger pushed him away with his shoulder, and said he knew what he wanted;—he wanted to see what he had got about him. He would knock anybody down who touched his pockets. It was plain that Roger did not choose to be helped in any way; so Oliver soon ran off, and joined Mildred, as he had promised.
"I do not like to leave him, all wet, and so tired that I could knock him over with my little finger," exclaimed Oliver. "But he won't trust me about any thing."
"There is father again! Tell him," cried Mildred.
Both children shouted that Roger was here, and pointed behind them; but it was plain that their father could not make out a word they said, though they had never called out so loud in their lives. Roger heard them, however, as they judged by seeing him skulking among the trees behind, watching what use they were making of his name.
The children thought their father was growing very anxious. He still waved his hat to them, now and then, when he looked their way; but they saw him gazing abroad, as if surprised that the rush of waters did not abate. They observed him glance often round the sky, as if for signs of wind; and they longed to know whether he thought a wind would do good or harm. They saw him bring out, for the third time, a rope which he had seemed to think too short to be of any use; and this appeared to be the case, now as at first. Then he stooped down, as if to make a mark on the side of the white door-post (for the water had by this time quite hidden the steps); and Oliver thought this was to make out, for certain, whether the flood was regularly rising or not. They could not imagine why he examined so closely as they saw him do the door lintel, and the window-frame. It did not occur to them, as it did to him, that the mill might break down under the force of the current.
At last it was clear that he saw Roger; and from that moment, he scarcely took his eyes from his children. Oliver put his arm round Mildred's neck, and said in her ear,—
"I know what father is watching us for. He is afraid that Stephen is here too, and no one to take care of us;—not even Ailwin."
"Perhaps Stephen is here,—in the wood," cried Mildred, in terror. "I wish this water would make haste and run away, and let us get home."
"It cannot run faster than it does. Look how the waves dash along! That is the worst of it:—it shows what a quantity there is, where this came from. But I don't believe Stephen is here. I have a good mind to ask Roger, and make him tell me."
"No, don't, Oliver! Stephen may be drowned. Do not put him in mind."
"Why, you see he does not care for anything. He is teasing some live thing at this minute,—there, on the ground."
Oliver himself forgot everything but the live animals before his eyes, when he saw how many there were under the trees. The grass was swarming with mice, moles, and small snakes; while rabbits cocked up their little white tails, in all directions, and partridges flew out of every bush, and hares started from every hollow that the boy looked into.
"Ah soaked out of their holes;—don't know what to do with themselves;— fine sport for those that have a mind to it," said Roger, as he lay on the ground, pulling back a little mouse by its long tail, as often as it tried to run away.
"You have no mind for sport to-day, I suppose, Roger. I should not think anybody has."
"I don't know;—I'm rarely hungry," said the boy.
"So were we; but we forgot it again. Father is in the mill there..."
"You need not tell me that. Don't I see him?"
"But we think he is looking out for Stephen."
"He won't find him," said Roger, in a very low voice; so low that Oliver was not sure what he said.
"He is not here on the hill, then, Roger?"
"On the hill,—no! I don't know where he is, nor the woman either. I suppose they are drowned, as I was, nearly. If they did not swim as I did, they must be drowned: and they could hardly do that, as I had the dog."
The children looked at each other; and their looks told that they thought Roger was shocked and sorry, though he tried not to appear so.
"There might have been a boat, perhaps, out on the carr. Don't you think the country-people in the hills would get out boats when they saw the flood spreading?"
"Boats, no! The hill-people have not above three boats among them all. There are about three near the ponds; and they are like nut-shells. How should any boat live in such a flood as that? Why, that flood would sweep a ship out to sea in a minute. You need not think about boats, I can tell you."
"But won't anybody send a boat for us?" inquired Mildred, who had drawn near to listen. "If they don't send a boat, and the flood goes on, what are we to do? We can't live here, with nothing to eat, and no beds, and no shelter, if it should rain."
"Are you now beginning to cry about that? Are you now beginning to find that out, after all this time?" said Roger, contemptuously.
"I thought we should get away," sobbed the little girl. "I thought a boat or something would come."
"A pretty silly thing you must be!" exclaimed Roger.
"If she is silly, I am silly too," declared Oliver. "I am not sure that it is silly to look for a boat. There are plenty out on the coast there."
"They are all dashed to pieces long ago," decided Roger. "And they that let in the flood will take good care you don't get out of it,—you, and your outlanders. It is all along of you that I am in this scrape. But it was shameful of them not to give us notice;—it was too bad to catch us in the same trap with you. If uncle is drowned, and I ever get out alive, I will be revenged on them."
Mildred stopped crying, as well as she could, to listen; but she felt like Oliver when he said,—
"I don't know a word of what you mean."
"I dare say not. You foreigners never know anything like other people."
"But won't you tell us? Who made this flood?"
"To be sure, you weren't meant to know this. It would not have done to show you the way out of the trap. Why—the Parliament Committee at Lincoln ordered the Snow-sewer sluice to be pulled up to-day, to drown the king's lands, and get rid of his tenants. It will be as good as a battle gained to them."
The children were aghast at the wickedness of this deed. They would not believe it. It would have been tyrannical and cruel to have obliged the settlers, who were not interested in a quarrel between the king of England and his people, to enlist, and be shot down in war. They would have complained of this as tyrannical and cruel. But when they were living in peace and quiet on their farms, paying their rents, and inclined to show good-will to everybody, to pull up the flood-gates, and let in the sea and the rivers to drown them because they lived in the king's lands, was a cruelty too dreadful to be believed. Oliver and Mildred did not believe it. They were sure their father would not believe it; and that their mother, if ever she should return to her home and family, would bring a very different account—that the whole misfortune would turn out to be accidental. So they felt assured: but the fact was as Roger had said. The Snow-sewer sluice had been pulled up, by the orders of the Committee of the Parliament, then sitting at Lincoln: and it was done to destroy the king's new lands, and deprive him of the support of his tenants. The jealous country-people round hoped also that it would prevent foreigners from coming to live in England, however much they might want such a refuge.
Some of the sufferers knew how their misfortune happened. Others might be thankful that they did not; for the thought of the malice of their enemies must have been more bitter than the fear of ruin and death.
A HUNGRY DAY.
"We shall see what father does," was still the consolation with which Oliver kept down his sister's fears. He had such confidence in his father's knowing what was best to be done on all occasions, that he felt they had only to watch him, and imitate whatever he might attempt. They remained quiet on the island now, hungry and tired as they were, because he remained in the mill, and seemed to expect the water to subside. The most fearful thought was what they were to do after dark, if they should not get home before that. They supposed, at last, that their father was thinking of this too; for he began to move about, when the sun was near setting, more than he had done all the afternoon.
They saw him go carefully down into the stream, and proceed cautiously for some way—till the water was up to his chin. Then he was buffeted about so terribly that Mildred could not bear to look. Both Oliver and Roger were sure, by what he ventured, and by the way he pulled himself back at last to the steps, that he had tied himself by the rope they had seen him measure. It was certainly too short for any good purpose; for he had to go back, having only wetted himself to the skin. They saw this by the yellow light from the west which shone upon the water. In a few minutes they could distinguish him no longer, though the mill stood up black against the sky, and in the midst of the gleaming flood.
"Father will be wet, and so cold all night!" said Mildred, crying.
"If I could only swim," exclaimed Oliver, "I would get over to him somehow, and carry a rope from the house. I am sure there must be a rope long enough somewhere about the yard. If I could only swim, I would get to him."
"That you wouldn't," said Roger. "Your father can swim; and why does not he? Because nobody could swim across that stream. It is a torrent. It would carry any stout man out over the carr; and you would be no better than a twig in the middle of it."
"I am afraid now this torrent will not slacken," said Oliver, thoughtfully. "I am afraid there is some hollow near which will keep up the current."
"What do you mean by that?"
"They say in Holland, where they have floods sometimes, that when water flows into a hollow, it gets out in a current, and keeps it up for some way. Oh! The quarry!" he cried, with sudden recollection. "Mildred, let us go, and look what is doing on that side before it is dark."
They ran round the hill; and there they saw indeed that the flood was tumbling in the quarry, like water boiling in a pot. When it rushed out, it carried white earth with it, which made a long streak in the flood, and explained how it was that the stream between the house and the mill was whiter and more muddy than that between their hill and the house. At once it occurred to Roger that the stream between the hill and the house was probably less rapid than the other; and he said so. Oliver ran back; and so did Mildred, pleased at the bare idea of getting to the house.
Once more arrived opposite the house, they saw a strange sight. The mill no longer stood in its right place. It had moved a good way down towards the carr. Not only that, but it was still moving. It was sailing away like a ship. After the first exclamation, even Roger stood as still as death to watch it. He neither moved nor spoke till the mill was out of sight in the dusk. When Mildred burst into a loud cry, and Oliver threw himself down, hiding his face on the ground, Roger spoke again.
"Be quiet—you must," he said, decidedly, to the little girl. "We must bestir ourselves now, instead of stopping to see what other folks will do."
"Oh, father! Father will be drowned!" cried they.
"You don't know that. If he drifts out to the Humber, which is likely, by the way he is going, some ship may pick him up—or he may light upon some high ground. We can't settle that now, however; and the clear thing is that he wouldn't wish us to starve, whether he drowns or not. Come, get up, lad!" said he, stirring Oliver with his foot.
"Don't lie there, Oliver; do get up!" begged Mildred.
Oliver rose, and did all that Roger bade him.
"You say there is a long rope somewhere about the house," said Roger. "Where is it?"
"There is one in the cow-shed, I know."
"And if I cannot get there, is there one in the house?"
"In the lumber-room," said Mildred. "The spare bed is tied round and round with a long rope—I don't know how long."
"I wish we had set about it an hour ago," muttered Roger, "instead of waiting for dark. A pretty set of fools we have been to lose the daylight! I say, lad, can you think of anyway of making a fire? Here are sticks enough, if one could set them alight."
"To cook a supper?" asked Mildred.
"No; I mean to sup within doors; only we must do some work first."
Oliver had a steel knife; but it was too dark to look for a flint, if any other plan than a fire would do.
"Well, don't plague any more about a fire," said Roger, "but listen to me. Can you climb a tree? I'll be bound you can't: and now you'll die if you can't."
"I can," said Oliver; "but what is Mildred to do?"
"We'll see that afterwards. Which of these trees stands nearest to the nearest of yon upper windows?"
Oliver and Mildred pointed out a young ash, which now quite bent over the water.
"That is not strong enough," said Roger, shaking the tree, and finding it loosened at the roots. "Show me a stouter one."
A well-grown beech was the next nearest. Roger pulled Oliver by the arm, and made him stand directly under the tree, with his sister beside him. He desired them not to move from where they were, and to give a loud halloo together, or a shriek (or anything that might be heard furthest)—about once in a minute for an hour to come, unless they should hear a rope fall into the tree, or anywhere near them. They were to watch for this rope, and use all their endeavours to catch it. There would be a weight at the end, which would make it easier to catch. Oliver must tie this rope to the trunk of the tree, stretching it tight, with all his strength, and then tying it so securely that no weight would unfasten it.
"Mind you that," said Roger. "If you don't, you will be drowned, that's all. Do as I tell you, and you'll see what you will see."
Roger then whistled for his dog, snatched Oliver's black ribbon from about his neck, and fastened it round the dog's neck, to hold by. He then showed the dog the house, and forced him into the water, himself following, till the children could no longer see what became of them.