Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter I.: THE MYSTERIES OF WISDOM. - Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
Return to Title Page for Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Chapter I.: THE MYSTERIES OF WISDOM. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) 
Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) (London: Charles Fox, 1834).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE MYSTERIES OF WISDOM.
“Come, my maiden: come and tell me. You know what it is I like to hear of a Sunday evening,” said Nurse Ede to her little girl. Nurse was sitting with her hands before her, beside the old round table from which she had cleared away the supper. As it was Sunday evening, she could not work; and nurse had never been taught to read. Little Mildred was standing on the door-sill, watching Owen and Ambrose who were engaged outside. As she turned in at her mother’s summons, she said she thought it rained; which the sheep would be glad of to-morrow.
Mrs. Ede went to the door to call in her boys, lest Owen’s best jacket should suffer by the rain.
“Bless the lads!” cried she. “What are they sprawling on the ground in that manner for?”
“Watching the ants home,” Mildred explained. “There are more ants than ever, mother: all in a line. Ambrose found where they went to at one end; and now he is looking for the other nest. They are running as fast as ever they can go.”
“Though’tis Sunday,” observed nurse. “Well! ’tis not every body that Sunday is given to: and it is no rule, my dear, because the ants run as fast as ever they can go, that you should not walk quietly to school and to church, as the Lord bids. Come in, my dears, and leave the ants to go to their beds. It is coming up for rain, and mizzles somewhat already. Come in, and tell me about school this morning. I had not the luck to be at a school in my day,” she went on to say, while the boys followed her in, and brushed the dust from each other’s elbows and knees. “I had nothing to tell my poor father of a Sunday evening, of what I had learned. So let me hear now. I am sure you were steady children this morning.”
On the occasion of Sunday evening, the children were indulged with the use of the fine, large footstool, which the late Mrs. Arruther had worked with her own hands as a wedding present for nurse’s mother. When infants, it had been their weekly privilege to show their mother which of the embroidered flowers was a rose, and which a heart’s-ease, and which a tulip; and now that they were somewhat too old to confound the rose and the tulip, they took it in turn to sit on the stool at their mother’s knee, while they imparted their little learning to her who meekly received from her own children some scraps of knowledge which she had been denied the opportunity of gaining during her own young days.
“I warrant I know what set ye to look after the ants,” said she. “There is a bit about the ants in the bible that I have heard read in church. Which of ye can read it to me, I wonder?”
Ambrose looked at Owen, and Owen looked doubtfully at the large old bible which Mildred reverently brought down from the shelf, at a glance from her mother. Owen did not know where, in all that great book, to look for the bit about the ant. While he was turning over the leaves, stopping to consider every great A he came to, Mildred wanted to know whether it was an ant that had tickled her face at church this morning, and hung from her hair by a thread smaller than she could see.
It was of the nature of an ant, her mother thought. It had much the make of an ant: but it was called a money-spinner.
“Does it spin money?” asked Mildred quickly.
“O yes. My father used to tell me it would spin penny pieces from the ground up as high as our thatch.”
“And as high as the mill, perhaps?”
“I dare say. But my father did not tell me that, by reason of the mill not being built in his time.”
“I wish I had not put the money-spinner away,” said Mildred, thoughtfully. “I wish I could get another.”
“Perhaps one will be sent to you one of these days, if you be a steady girl. And you will get penny pieces, and perhaps silver as you grow bigger, if you look to the sheep as your master would have you. Now, boys: have you found about the ant?”
No. They had found “Adam” near the beginning, and had got past “Aaron,” and found that “Abimelech” was too long a word to be the one they wanted. The “Ands” abounded so as to tantalize and perplex them exceedingly; and when Owen recollected that “ant” might begin with a small “a,” both came to a full stop. Their mother was kind enough, however, to say that another part of the bible would do as well. They might read her the piece they had read in school in the morning.
Owen began. He did his best; never looking off the book, or sparing himself the trouble of spelling every word that he did not know: but his mother gained little by what he read. He mixed his spelling with his reading so completely, and varied his tone so little, not knowing that he should render the stops as evident to his mother’s ear as they were to his eye, that she could make nothing of the sense. The passage was about some priests carrying the ark over Jordan; and this was a puzzle to her. Her principal idea about Jordan was that almonds came thence; and she now therefore learned for the first time that almonds came like fish out of the water: and how the ark, which she knew had carried Noah and his family, and a pair of every living creature in the world, should itself be carried on the shoulders of a few clergymen, was what she could not clearly comprehend. It happened that Owen had been told that there were two arks, and the difference between them; but he did not remember to explain this: so his mother, who would not for the world wonder at any thing that could be found in the bible, supposed that it was all right, sighed to think that her poor husband had not lived to witness his eldest boy’s learning, and then smiled at Ambrose when it became his turn to try.
Ambrose was in the class below Owen. At present, he could read only by spelling every word. While he was about it, Mildred’s eyes and attention wandered. The rain was now pattering against the lattice, and dripping from the thatch in little streams, which a ray from the parting clouds in the west made to glitter like silver. Then the light grew almost into sunshine on the wall of the room, and on the shelf where nurse laid up the apparatus of her art. Mrs. Ede was employed by her few opulent neighbours as a nurse only; but she was regarded as also a doctor by the poor residents in the village of Arneside. She held herself in readiness, not only to nurse them, night or day, when they were ill, but to administer to them from the phials and bottles of red, yellow, and black liquids which stood on her shelf. These medicines now shone in the western light so brilliantly as to catch her little daughter’s eye; and, while looking, Mildred observed two or three new articles of a strange construction which lay upon the shelf, or hung against the wall. She could not wait till Ambrose had done reading to ask what they were; and she was answered as she might have known she would be,—by a mysterious look, and a finger laid upon the lips. It was not only that Ambrose was reading, but that it was utterly in vain to question Mrs. Ede about the circumstances of her art. Whether she was persuaded that knowledge as to her means would destroy faith in her practice, or that she wished to preserve a becoming degree of awe in her little ones by mystery in the one matter in which she was wiser than they,—it so happened that they had never enticed her into the slightest confidence respecting the furniture of the south wall of her room. When Ambrose brought in the roots he had been directed to procure on the heath, the basket and rusty knife were gravely delivered up, and received without a smile, and with only a word of inquiry as to whether the roots had grown on a moonshiny or shady piece of turf; and whether the dew was off or on when they were dug up. Sometimes, when she was believed to be gone out for the day, one little sinner placed a stool for another to climb, that the mysteries might be handled and smelled as well as looked at. Tasting was out of the question, so dreadful were the stories which they had heard of little people who had fallen down dead with the mere drawing of a forbidden cork. Once, also, nurse returned unexpectedly when Owen had come in from the mill, and Mildred from the moor, and they were trying experiments with the longest of her bandages; Owen in a corner, holding one end, and his sister at the opposite corner, turning herself round and round to see how many times the long strip would fold about her body. What she heard said by way of warning to Ambrose, when the exposure was made to him, might have taught her the uselessness of questions: but she forgot the incident of the bandage when she this evening offended again by her curiosity. She did what she could to profit by Ambrose’s reading, rocking herself and crossing her arms in imitation of her mother; but her eyes would still turn upon the shelf, and her heart could not help envying the kitten which had made a daring leap up, and was now thrusting in its nose, and making a faint jingle among the sacred vessels.
“This is what you should attend to, my dear,” nurse explained, laying her hand upon the bible, when the boy was at length taking breath after his task. “The Lord gave the bible for little girls to understand; and they should not ask what it is not proper for them to know.”
“How are we to find out what it is proper for us to know?” asked Owen.
His mother told him that there would always be somebody at hand to tell him;—either Mr. Waugh, or the parson, or herself. She would do her best, she was sure.
“I shall not ask Mrs. Arruther, I can tell her,” observed Owen. “She never lets Mr. Waugh alone about the Sunday school; and she has done all she can to set the parson against it.”
“She is very strong in her mind against that school, indeed, Owen; and many’s the time when she has been sharp with me for letting you learn, having herself a bad opinion of learning for such as we are. And often enough I have been uneasy about what I ought to do: but, having great confidence in Mr. Waugh, and having always heard my poor father and others say that a little learning is a fine thing for those that can get it, I hoped I was not out of my duty when I let you go to the school, as Mr. Waugh desired. And I hope Ambrose and Mildred are both very thankful for being allowed to go, as well as you, though not belonging to the paper-mill, and able only to take their schooling every other week, when it is not their turn with the sheep.”
“Ambrose can’t keep up in the class though, as if he went every Sunday, like the other boys.”
“The more reason for his making the best of his time when he is there. Only think, Ambrose, what it would have been for you to be out on the hills every Sunday, away from the church, and no more able to read your bible than I am. I trust, my dear, that you will be as well able as Owen, though not perhaps so soon, (but you will have time before you to go on learning when he is done,) to read a chapter to me when I grow old, and maybe not able to hear the clergyman in church. But you must none of you be bent upon learning more than it is proper for you to know, lest you should bring me to think that Mrs. Arruther has been right all the time, and that I have been doing harm when I was most anxious for your good. Why can’t my little maiden,” she went on to say, “play with the kitten, or look out at the door, as well as be for ever glancing up at that shelf?”
Mildred lost no time in availing herself of this permission to play. Puss had disappeared; but when called, she showed herself through a hole in the crazy wall of the cottage, and jumped upon Mildred all the way as she went to the door.
“Me! where are all the clouds gone?” exclaimed Mildred, shading her eyes with her hand, and looking up into the sky. “ ’Twas right black when you called me in; and now it is all blue. There’s not a cloud.”
“They are all fetched up above the sky, my dear, to make a fine Sunday evening.”
“I doubt whether the sheep will like it altogether as we do,” observed Ambrose. “There is a mist on their walk yonder; and it is my belief their coats are heavy with wet at this very time.”
Ambrose was very consequential about sheep, there being no one at home to contradict anything he might say about creatures that he had more to do with than either mother or brother. All that could be done was to question whether it signified to the sheep whether they were more in a mist on a Saturday or a Sunday evening. If it made no difference to them, and they were hidden and out of sight, it remained a fine Sunday evening to people below; and that was enough to be thankful for.
While the whole party was gazing with shaded eyes towards the upland which was enveloped with a white cloud, through whose folds neither beast nor man could at present be discerned, somebody seized little Mildred by the shoulders from behind. Of course, being startled, she screamed.
“Dear me, Ryan, is it you?” exclaimed nurse to the old man who had approached unawares. “And all dripping with the rain,—your sack and all,—and we have no fire! But I will get one presently. Boys, bring in some furze from the shed; and Mildred, strike a light. Don’t think of standing in your wet clothes, neighbour. But who would have expected to see you travelling with your sack on a Sunday?”
Ryan would not be blamed for making a push to see an old friend. He had a mind for an hour’s chat with nurse Ede, if she would let him dry his sack, and lay his head upon it, in any corner of her cottage. As for the hour’s chat, nurse was quite willing; and Ryan was welcome to house-room: but she was engaged, she was sorry to say, to sit up with Mrs. Arruther to-night. She had promised to be at the Hall by nine o’clock. No time was lost. The fierce heat of the burning furze soon made Ryan as dry and warm as on any summer’s noon, and quite ready for chat and bread and eggs.
“So the poor old lady is ill, is she?” said he. “What, is she very bad?”
“Very bad. With all the trying, there is no getting down to the wound; and she is sadly afflicted with spasms in the blood that make her heart turn round till I sometimes doubt whether it will ever come right again. She has awful nights.”
“If all be true that is said,” declared Ryan, “there is enough happening to bend her heart till it breaks.”
How? What? Who was doing any harm to Mrs. Arruther?—There was no use in the children’s asking and listening. This was one of the pieces of knowledge not meant for them. They could find out no more than that the news related to Mr. Arruther, the lady’s son, and the member for a small borough in the district; and that the gentleman had done something very wicked. What was his crime could not be discovered. Whether he had overlooked seams in sorting rags, or let a lamb stray, or torn his clothes in the briers, and forgotten to mend them, or played with the hassock at church, must be ascertained hereafter: but some one of these offences it must be, as the children had heard of no others.
“And what is your news, Ryan?” asked his hostess in her turn. “Sure you must have some, so far as you travel this way and that?”
“Ay; I have news. I have news plenty; such as you have hardly chanced to hear in your day, I fancy.”
“Why, really! and yet I have lived in the time when all the news about Buonaparte used to come; when our people used to be hanging the flag from the church almost every month, for a victory or something. It can hardly be anything greater than that. Hark, children, hark! Mr. Ryan is going to tell us some news. But I hope, Ryan, it is such as may be told on a Lord’s day evening.”
“Certainly. If my news be not diligently spread, we may chance soon to have no more Lord’s day evenings. You may look shocked; but what is to come of all Christian things when the heathen come upon us? and what heathens are so bad as the Turks, you know?”
Mrs. Ede quailed with consternation, never having heard of the Turks, and having no other idea about heathens than that the bible called them very bad people, and that (for so she had always taken for granted) they lived upon a heath—probably after the manner of gipsies. She was afraid this bad news was too true, so many opportunities as Mr. Ryan had for knowing what was going on abroad.
“Indeed you are right, Mrs. Ede. It was a man from abroad that told me. He has not been three months over from Hamburgh with his lot of rags from the Mediterranean; and he informs me that the Turks are coming up to take Russia and Europe, and make Turkish slaves of all the Christians.”
“The Lord have mercy! And then, I suppose, I had better not let my boy and girl go out on the hills after the sheep. It will be safer to keep them at home, won’t it? I would do without their little wages, rather than that they should light upon any Turks under the hedges, or in any lane.”
“You will have notice in good time, neighbour. I myself will endeavour to let you know, the first minute I can. And if I don’t, you will find it out by all the church-bells tolling, and the battles on all sides through the country. O, yes; every bell that has a clapper will toll, partly to give notice, and partly to see what the Turks can do against the Christian bells of our Christian churches. Yes, every bell in the land will toll.”
“Same as when the princess died,” said Mildred. “I heard the great bell all the way from P— that day, when I was on the hill-top. Maybe I’ll hear it again, if the wind come from that way.”
“Indeed you shall not be on the hill-top, child, the day that the Turks come. Could you give us an idea when it will be, Ryan? It would be a pity but some of the ewes should yean first, if it is not dictating to the Lord to say so.”
The enemy could hardly be coming just yet, Ryan thought, as the Government was going to change the Parliament, in hopes of getting one that would be more fit to preserve the empire than the present. Mr. Arruther would be soon coming into the neighbourhood to manage his election; and that event might serve in some sort as a token.
“Mrs. Arruther would have known all about the Turks, if everything had been right,—you know what I mean?” said Mrs. Ede to her guest. “But I suppose, as it is, I had better not mention anything of danger to the poor lady, sick as she is.”
“By no means, unless she breaks the subject to you. Tell her other sorts of news. Tell her that I and my sack are likely soon to come travelling at the rate of a hundred miles an hour.”
“O, Mr. Ryan, where will you find the horses that will bring you at that rate? Why, a hundred horses would not bring you so quick as that, if you had money to hire them!”
Ryan smiled, and said that he meant to travel at this rate without horses at all. Ay; they might wonder at any one travelling at such a rate on foot; but the way was this:—there was a new sort of road going to be made, on which never a horse was to set foot, and where, by paying half-a-crown to get upon it, a man and his baggage,—and a woman too,—might do as he had said. It was to be called a rail-road.
Because it was to be railed in, no doubt, to keep off those who could not pay half-a-crown. Now, if the government could keep the enemy off this road, and let all its own people upon it, all might run away, so as to leave the Turks no chance of following. This seemed to open a prospect of escape; and nurse rose in better spirits, to put on her bonnet to go to Mrs. Arruther’s. A curious picture was before her mind’s eye, of Ryan’s gliding along a rail-road with his sack on his back, as fast as she had sometimes gone in dreams,—for all the world like boys sliding on the ice in winter. The wonder was that, if Ryan spoke truth, this curious road would be quite as efficacious on the hottest day of summer as after a week’s frost.
When she had finished her little arrangements for the comfort of her guest, and bidden him good night, she called Ambrose out after her, and desired him to fetch cheese from the village grocer’s for Ryan’s breakfast, the moment the shop should be opened. If he was there by the time the first shutter was taken down, he might cut for himself and Mildred a quarter of the cheese he should bring home. It would give a relish to their bread when they should have been after the sheep for a couple of hours, and feel ready for their breakfast on the hill-side.