Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IV.: SIGNS IN THE SKY. - 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)
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Chapter IV.: SIGNS IN THE SKY. - 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).
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SIGNS IN THE SKY.
A few years passed away, and Mrs. Ede was in possession of the blessings she prayed for. Her children were all spared to her, in health, and, by her and their own industry, secured from want. Upon the whole, she had reason to be satisfied with them, though there was a wider difference in their characters and attainments than she could have wished to see. She did not grow restless about what, she supposed, came by nature. She concluded it to be God’s will that Owen should be “as sharp as a briar,” active in his business, ready about bringing home things pleasant and wonderful to hear, and looked upon by his employer and the village at large as a rising youth who would one day be a credit to his native place. Nurse concluded it to be God’s will that Owen should be thus, while his brother and sister were far from being like him. What had made them dull she scarcely knew; unless it was being out so much on the hills without companions, or anything to do but to look after the flock, and knit. They had lost their little learning sadly, and did not now like going to the Sunday-school, as they forgot during the week what they had learned the Sunday before, and became ashamed of growing so tall while they knew so little of what was looked for in a Sunday-school. At home, too, it was a great temptation to nurse to apply to Owen when she wanted to speak about anything that interested her, or to have any little business transacted: he comprehended so much more readily, observed so much more justly, and sympathised so much more warmly than his brother and sister. But nurse was very conscientious about making no differences in her treatment of her children; and she took pains to bring forward the younger ones, continually saying to herself, how very steady Ambrose was, and how thankful she ought to be for a daughter who, like Mildred, made no difficulty of doing whatever she was asked, as soon as she understood what was meant.
Contented as she thought it her duty to be, nurse could not be otherwise than rejoiced when a change took place in the family arrangements, which seemed to open to Ambrose some of the advantages which his brother had enjoyed. Owen had risen from sorting rags in the mill to offices of higher trust, and requiring greater accomplishments than were necessary for the lowest operation of paper-making. He was now made a superior personage in the mill. It was his business to superintend some processes of the manufacture; to give the necessary notice to the exciseman when any paper had to be changed, or to be reweighed by the supervisor before it was sent out for sale; to see that the excise laws were observed as to the lettering of the different rooms, and the numbering of the engines, vats, chests, and presses; to remind his employer when the time approached for purchasing the yearly license; and (fearful responsibility!) to take charge of the labels which were to be pasted upon every ream. Nurse used to call Ambrose to listen, and say how he should like such a charge, when Owen related that if one label should be lost, his employer would be liable to a penalty of 200l.; and that, as it was necessary to Mr. Waugh’s convenience to purchase five hundred labels at a time, the destruction of one lot would subject him to be fined 100,000l.
Owen rather enjoyed his responsibility; and, with a new sense of dignity, set about his studies in his leisure hours with more zeal than ever.—What was better, he entered with all possible earnestness into his mother’s project of getting his brother into the mill before his honest influence with Mr. Waugh was exerted for any other object. Mr. Waugh had not the least objection to make trial of another son of Mrs. Ede’s. He had heard that the lad was not over-bright; but he could but try; and if he did not succeed, there were still flocks to be kept on the heath as before. So Ambrose, with a smile on his sunbrowned face, made ready, the next Monday morning, to set forth, with his brother, for the mill.
“If you find it rather close,” said his mother to him, “being under a roof from six o’clock to six—”
“But I am to come out for breakfast and dinner, mother.”
“I was going to say, you can get a good deal of air in the two hours allowed for meals. And you won’t think much of the air on the hills when you have so much company about you. Think of there being thirty men in the mill, and ten women, besides the children! You can never be dull; and you must bring me home the news, as Owen always did.—The dullness will be for Mildred, when she has not you for a companion any longer. I say, Mildred, my dear; you must take care and not lose your tongue.”
Mildred did not know that she should have anything to say all day, except calling to the sheep.
“Why, my dear, I have been thinking that you and Ambrose have never made yourselves sociable with other young shepherds, as they used to do in my father’s time. There must be plenty, I am sure, from end to end of yonder hills; and why should you keep within such a narrow range as you have kept hitherto? The sheep and you have legs to carry you farther; and you have eyes to keep your flock from mixing with another. Why should not you join company with somebody that may be sitting knitting like you, all alone, and wishing for a chat?”
“There’s Maude Hallowell of the next parish, just above the Birchen dale; but that’s a long way off,” replied Mildred.
“A long way! Well, I wonder what’s the use of young limbs, to call the Birchen dale a long way! Try it, my dear; and tell Maude that she should come over to your side in her turn. But she won’t see such a sight as you may see, if the day be clear, when you come to the high point of the ridge over Birchen dale. How I once saw the sea glistening, miles off, through a gap of the hills!”
“And the island, mother?”
“Why, no. The island lies off there, they tell me; but it was too far away, I fancy, for me to see it. But, do you try, when you go to look for Maude Hallowell.”
The Isle of Man was spoken of with great affection by the people here, as untaxed islands usually are by their neighbours of a taxed country. Many were the little secret privileges enjoyed throughout this district, even as far as the village of Arneside,—privileges of participation in various good things slily brought from the island, in opposition to all the preaching of the winemerchants and wholesale grocers of L—, and in Arneside, of the clergyman and Mr. Waugh the paper-maker. All the children attached ideas of mystery to the island, which they perpetually heard mentioned and had never seen; and the getting any nearer to it,—the actually seeing the sea amidst which it lay, was regarded as an approach to the revelation of a great secret. Mildred thought she should like to go and look for Maude.
Nobody had imagined what an event these promotions would prove to the whole family. It brought more new ideas into their minds than all their Sunday schooling had done.
Maude was something of a scholar in her way. She might be found sitting in the heather, her knees up to her chin, and her plaid drawn over her head, poring over a particular sort of pamphlet, which was the only work she was much disposed to read. Her distaff lay on the ground beside her, while she was studying; and when she took it up, she was apt to look into the sky, or far out seawards, instead of minding her spinning. She invariably started when Mildred laid a hand on her shoulder, or shouted on approaching her.
“Why, Maude, what makes your eyes look so big to-day?” asked Mildred, one sultry afternoon, after having led her flock to a place where she might possibly find a scanty shade under a birch.
“My eyes? I’m sure I don’t know,” replied Maude, winking, as if to reduce her eyes to their natural dimensions. “I don’t know what ails my eyes. But I’ve such a thing to tell you! It takes away my breath to think of it.”
“The heat’s enough for that. The hill-breeze has hied away, and it is as hot—Me! I wish the clouds would come up.”
“There will be clouds enough by-and-bye, or water enough at least,—clouds or no clouds,” Maude solemnly averred. “Has your mother told you anything about the comet?”
“No. If it is anything bad, I doubt whether she knows it; for she was merry enough, this morning.”
“Merry enough, I dare say. Not know it! These are not the sort of things your mother does not know, as I heard a person say last night. Do but you ask her about the comet, in a natural way, and see what she will say. No, don’t ask her. Safer not. I’ll tell you.—You see this book. If you will believe me, there is a comet coming up as fast as it can come, and it will raise a flood that will drown—O Mildred, ’tis awful to think of.”
“What will it drown? Not our poor sheep?”
“Our sheep and us too. My dear, the sea will come pouring through that gap, and fill up all below, and leave us no footing on all these hills.”
“Mercy, Maude! I must go and tell my mother; my poor mother!” exclaimed Mildred, starting up from her blossomy seat.
“Your mother will be safe enough,” Maude replied constrainedly.
“Safe! How? Why?”
“Now, Maude, do tell me what you mean. Are you sure?”
“Yes, that I am; and you may know when it is coming, by the signs. The book tells the signs; but you must hold your tongue about them, the book says, for fear of bringing on the whole sooner than it need. There will be black storms coming up first, with thunder and lightning. That is to be this summer, while the stars stand in a particular way. I’m going to stay out late to-night, to see how the stars stand. You’ll bide with me, Mildred?”
Mildred shivered as she reminded her companion how far she had to travel home: but Maude insisted that it would be necessary to see how the stars stood, in order to find out afterwards when they began to move on and cross each other. But before the three great stars came together in the sky, a cruel enemy was to rise up against the land, and there were to be some dreadful battles. This revived Mildred’s old terrors about the Turks; and Maude looked more solemn than ever when she heard how many years it was since nurse Ede had expected the Turks. By a natural association of ideas, Maude went on to explain that those who were in the confidence of the unseen powers, and who might be said to have brought on these judgments, would be in no danger. They would be safe amidst the storm they had raised, floating on the surface of the flood like straws; while all others, as far as the flood should extend, would, it was strongly apprehended, be drowned, unless they made use of “the precautions recommended in the supplement to this pamphlet; sold, &c. &c.” Those who were to be preserved would have warning of the approach of the crisis by a tingling in the ancles, while the careless and confident would have another warning given them by a slight, dull pain near the nape of the neck. So, Mildred was to keep watch for any thing her mother might say about her ancles, and to take fright directly if she felt anything about the nape of her own neck.
When she was sufficiently recovered to lay hold of the book, she found that it was a very curious-looking book indeed, with a great number of little moons and stars, and the picture of a wise man, and of a large comet with a fiery tail. She could not but believe now all that Maude had told her.
How they were to get the other information,—about preserving themselves,—was the next question. This book had come over from the island; but not direct into Maude’s hands. It had found its way over the moors from shepherd to shepherd; and no one now seemed to know to whom it belonged, and who might be expected to procure the supplement. Owen, who had so much to do with paper, and who knew all about printing and books, was certainly the best person to apply to; and Mildred earnestly begged the loan of the pamphlet, that she might show it to him.
“Ah, if I might!” replied Maude: “but William Scott is to have it next; and then Bessy is to show it to her father. I dare not let it go direct to your brother; but when the others have done with it—I’ll quicken them in the reading, and then hide it under yonder big stone. See, here is a dry chink where nobody will think of prying. You may find the book here, early next week. But, for your life, don’t let Owen show it. If he goes and blabs, there is no saying what will become of us all.”
Mildred did not know what worse could befall than, according to the book, must happen at all events; and she thought Owen might as well be trusted as the many people who were already acquainted with the prophecy.
“I wish,” observed Maude, “the book said which quarter the first storms would come up from.” And as she spoke she looked towards the sea.
“Ah, how black it is there!” Mildred anxiously observed. “It is coming up for—for—rain. Don’t you fear so? O Maude, let us be gone! Maude, do, for pity sake, go part of the way home with me.”
Impossible. Maude must make the best of her way to her own home. If Mildred made haste, she might perhaps get to Arneside before the clouds burst. And this affectionate friend hied down the hill as fast as she could, saying she should send one of her brothers to look after the sheep. The companion whom she had terrified to the utmost was left to shift for herself and her flock. The cry of “Maude! O Maude!” followed her far on her way; but she only turned and waved her hand, to advise her friend to make haste homewards.
Mildred’s flock did not seem to have observed the signs of the sky. It was still bright sunshine where they cropped the sweet grass; and they were unwilling to leave their pasture. Mildred had never known them so slow in their obedience; and when, at last, the overcast sky conveyed to them that a storm was coming, they only huddled together, instead of moving on, and began to bleat and frighten one another in a very piteous way. Mildred began to cry a little in her flutter; but probably the sheep did not find it out; for it made no difference in their proceedings. Their mistress was not long in deciding that she must leave them to their own wills, and take care of herself; and a crack of thunder, nearly over head, confirmed her resolution. On she pressed, along the ridge where there seemed to be no more air than in the closest thicket in the dale. She panted with heat so violently that she was compelled to stop, though chased by thunder-clouds, and dreading above all things to encounter the lightning alone. It came in broad sheets of flame, and not a drop of rain yet to put it out; as Mildred would have said. When she reached the point of the ridge from which she must turn into her own valley, she cast one more glance behind her towards her flock. She had never seen the hills look as they did to-day. Their tops were shrouded in darkness; and in the bottom all was nearly as murky as if the sun had long set. The flock might just be seen in a cluster below the mists upon the russet hill-side. At the moment when Mildred discovered them, the clouds seemed to open, and let out a stream of blue flame upon them. She shrieked; but there was no one to hear her. In another instant, the poor animals were seen scattered far apart; and their mistress believed that she saw one stretched on its side; the only one now on the spot from which they had just fled. She loved every individual sheep of her flock, more or less; but she could not at present tarry to see which she had lost. She scudded on, tossed in mind as to whether she should go home, or stop at some friendly house in the village. Her mother’s presence had formerly been her refuge whenever she was frightened; but now she hesitated between a desire to see what nurse said about the storm, and a dread lest she should have had something to do with it. She might have left the point to be settled by circumstances.
It was impossible to walk the whole way with her hands before her eyes. The next time she looked up, she found that the clouds had been too quick for her: the storm was now before her. It seemed gathering about the village, and the grey church looked almost white against the murky back-ground. Another bolt fell,—fell into the midst of the large yew in the churchyard, under which Mrs. Arruther’s handsome monument stood, looking almost new with its bright iron rails round it. The tree was riven, as if by magic. Mildred was too far off to hear the crash; and to her it seemed as if the wide-spreading tree had been reached by a finger of fire, at whose touch it fell asunder, and bestrewed the ground in a circle. In horror she turned her back to the spectacle; and the dreadful recollection came into her mind that some people said mysteriously, that her mother had somehow obtained great influence over Mrs. Arruther; and others, that it might have been better for Mrs. Arruther to have seen less of nurse Ede latterly. At this moment, it seemed as if the storm had been sent on a mission to Arneside churchyard; for westward all was again bright; and the sea, which was seldom distinguishable from this point, lay like a golden line on the horizon. Mildred could not but turn again to watch the progress of the storm. On it sped over the hills, giving out as yet no rain. It was a bleak and dreary district which now lay beneath the mass of clouds. A single farm, two miles from Arneside, was the only visible habitation. Once more the lightning came down among the group of buildings; and before it had travelled far, a tinge of smoke rose among the barn roofs, and a red glimmer succeeded, which Mildred considered as kindled by some malicious power which wrought its will through the elements. The rain now pattered heavily on the crown of her head, and she ran, far more swiftly than before, down to the village. Instead of turning to her mother’s house, she directed her steps through the village street on her way to the mill. About the middle of it she found Ambrose, standing very quietly with his hands in his pockets, staring at a picture which headed a bill pasted up against a dead wall.
“Look at the fellow! going to fly off from the sail of the windmill, with a flourish of his long tail,” said Ambrose to a companion, as Mildred came up. “I wonder what it means?”
“Why, read what it means, man; where’s the use of your learning?” asked the other. “I am sure those big black letters stare one in the face so, they might of themselves almost teach a child to read.”
“O, but I lost my learning while I was a shepherd. Mr. Waugh was right mad with me the other day, because I could make nothing of the directions of the parcels I had to sort out. I have been getting up my reading a bit with Owen this week; but you may as well tell me what that fellow is with the long tail. I shall be an hour making it out for myself.”
“Well, then: ’tis a little rogue of a devil going out to see the world; and—”
“O, Ambrose, the storm!” cried his sister.
“Ay, the tree is down in the churchyard. I have been seeing it; and here is a splinter I brought away. Me! here comes the rain. A fine pepper we are going to have.”
“I hope it will pepper hard enough. Farmer Mason’s barns are on fire. Won’t you go and help?”
“Who told you so?—Which barn?—How did it get on fire?” and many other questions which might wait till the next day, had to be answered before anybody would stir to get the key of the engine house; and then, so many youths ran foul of one another, and differed as to where the key was deposited, and were each bent on being the one to tell the clergyman, that Mildred had given the alarm at the paper-mill before anything effectual was done.
Mr. Waugh and Owen were together in the counting-house, looking at a pamphlet which Mr. Waugh had just put into Owen’s hands.
“That’s the almanack, I do believe,” cried Mildred. “O, I wanted so that you should see that almanack.”
Mr. Waugh explained (Owen being too much absorbed) that this was not an almanack, but a tract which he was lending to Owen. Owen was going to take it home, as he was very eager to read it; but Mr. Waugh feared there would be little in it to amuse any of the family besides. It was not so entertaining, he feared, as an almanack from the island: but he hoped Mildred had nothing to do with those almanacks. It was not safe to have anything to do with them, as they were against the law. It was all very well for the island people to read them if they chose, as they were not against the law there: but here people were liable to be put in prison for them. “Put in prison!” exclaimed Mildred, forgetting for the moment her errand. Yes;—Mr. Waugh knew of twenty-five people who had been sent to gaol by one magistrate, in one month, for selling these illegal almanacks.
“I don’t believe Maude has sold one to anybody,” Mildred thought aloud.
“Well; tell her (whoever she is) that she had better not. People should never sell an almanack till they see that it bears a fifteen penny stamp. The Government makes 27,000l. by the almanack-duty; and the Government does not like to be cheated of the duty. It is but a small sum, certainly, to punish so many people for; but let your friend Maude take care of the law. No, no; your brother will tell you this is no almanack; though it may tell him things nearly as wonderful as he could find in any almanack. Bless me! the people are crying fire!”
“O, I forgot.” And Mildred explained what she came for. The tract was thrust into Owen’s pocket: the population of the mill was turned out to help; and all Arneside was presently on the road to farmer Mason’s.