26 DECEMBER 1914, Page 12


WHEN the old nurse, whose recollections of the early nineteenth century were recorded in a former article (Spectator, January 10th, 1914), retired from active life, she settled in a village near the present writer's home. One of the pleasures of his young days was to sit in her cottage parlour, and see the world go by in the mirror of her stories, for she had a new one to fit every passing mood. Some of these tales are preserved in her reminiscences, and though the written word may seem, to those who saw her flashing eyes and heard her eager voice, to lack the charm imposed by her strong personality, still they are even now too full of life to remain in the narrow space of her little autobiography, and the present writer feels impelled, almost against his will, to let others share in this curious literary possession.

The old nurse says of her mother, "she had a large share of romance, and loved a tale of witches, or a love story," and so did her daughter. The supernatural gained fresh interest from her skilful story-telling, and the art of the raconteur still lives in her pages. Here are some of her stories:— "This story was told me by the mother of e. friend of mine—Mrs. Jackson was her name, a ladylike woman, but who appeared to me to be very old when I was a girL Her husband was sailing master on board a man-of-war, and this is what took place once, when she was on board with him. They were in port, and there was a large party of friends and officers spending the evening on the ship, when a sudden storm arose, and no ono could go on shore. They were going to amuse themselves with music, and a violin was brought, but a string broke before the instrument had been touched. 'Never mind,' said the captain, I have a man on board who is a first-rate hand at deceiving the sight: Every one was pleased at the idea of con- juring, and the man was sent for, and asked to show some of his tricks but he said, 'No, I can't to-night, as it is not a good time I' Said the captain, 'What is to hinder you?" Well, Sir, I do not like doing it this stormy weather.' That is all stuff and nonsense,' replied the captain, you must try. Come, set to work.' So the man asked for a chafing-dish, which was brought to him. There was a fire of charcoal in it. He said and did something (Mrs. Jackson did not tell us what), and after a while there appeared in the dish coming out of the fire a tiny tree, with a tiny man holding a hatchet. The tree seemed to grow from the bottom, and the little man chopped at it all the time. The per- forming man was greatly agitated, and asked one of the ladies to lend him her apron (ladies wore them in those days). Mrs. Jackson took hers off and handed it to him. He tied it on, and ran round the table on which the chafing-dish stood, catching- the chips, and apparently in great alarm, lest one of them should fall to the ground. She used to say it was painful to see the poor man's agony of fear. While this was going on the storm grew much worse, so that the people on beard were afraid that the ship would be driven from her anchorage. At last the tree fell under the tiny man's hatchet, and nothing was left on the table but the chafing-dish. The conjuror gave back the apron, and then turning to the captain said, 'Never from this night will I do what I have done to-night. You may believe me or not, but if one of those chips had fallen to the ground nothing could have saved the ship, and every one on board would have gone down with her.'

When the old lady told this story she would say that she had distinctly seen the chips fly, and heard the noise of the chopping. She used to show the apron, which she never wore again, but kept, carefully put away, to be shown to any one who liked to see it."

Later the old nurse goes on

-- "I do not think there was a place in the land so full of witches, white and black, as Dartmouth. My mother was, for her time and station, pretty fairly educated, yet she seemed to me to believe in them firmly. Perhaps I ought not to say so, for she was a dear, good mother, religious in word and deed. I knew people in Dartmouth who never had a doctor when they were ill, but always sent for or went to a witch, a white one of course. Once my mother and some friends, members of the same chapel, tried to cure a girl who had such bad fits that she was said to be possessed of a devil. They agreed to meet at a good woman's house to pray the Lord to remove the evil spirit from the girl. I asked to go, but was told I might not do so. I went to the house, however, but the shutters were shut, and I could neither see nor hear anything. But nothing came of it, and the girl died of her fits."

When she was sitting alone, thinking and writing, the old nurse felt acutely the solitude and weariness of an old age that had outlived contemporaries as well as bodily faculties, but when the friends of another generation were with her she never seemed too tired or too sad to enter keenly into all the interests of their young lives. After a hopeful consul- tation with an oculist she writes : " Is it not strange, that when the most terrible trouble is a little better, what looked light in comparison with want of sight comes back as heavily as ever ? How I wish I could be more thankful

for the mercies I have and not be always longing for the


Every one who has lived through a great crisis has probably shared the old nurse's surprise at finding that smaller troubles, which for a while were reduced to nothingness, soon revive with our own return to ordinary life. " However," as she says, "I will not go into reflections, but write of my young days. How all these things come back to me, a lone old woman, who longs for, and yet is afraid of death. If I could only be sure, be sure! Is it possible there is no other state of being ? Oh, God, it is too dreadful to think of." Then she would turn to " Paradise Lost," and how often have we not heard her repeat the lines,

"And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep,

Still threatening to devour me, opens wide,"

finding relief and a species of comfort in the poetry that so

strongly influenced her outlook on life.

We will end this article with the memory of a happier mood, in which we can feel the magic of spring laying bold on the vivid imagination of the little Devonshire girl :-

"One early spring day I heard my eldest brother tell my mother that he had seen a primrose. She said, 'Do not tell Salome, for if she knows there will be no keeping her at home.' But I had heard, and that was enough. Early next morning away I went rambling all day from field to field picking primroses. First a handful of the common yellow ones, then some coloured. ones, and did ever a Queen prize jewels as I did those coloured flowers P But the joy in them only lasted a little while. I would next see some white ones, and then the coloured ones were thrown- away, and I would set to work to gather the pale ones. Oh, how beautiful they looked! I can see them now, and almost feel the rapture I felt then. It makes me young again—almost. My dear mother used to say, What do you do with all the flowers you pick? You never bring any home.' I do not know what I did with them, but the joy of picking them was beyond expression. Have I over felt such joy or happiness since?"