[From Manx Quarterly #13 1913]
By JUAN OTHGHYLL
"These familiar flowers; these well-remembered bird-notes, this sky with its fitful brightness, these furrowed and grassy fields, each with a sort of personality given to it by the capricious hedgerows-such things as these are the mother tongue of our imagination and transform our perception into love.' =" The Mill on the Floss." GEORGE ELIOT.
Every time we stroll around the valley our eyes are captivated by the scene. The silvery stream winding its way through the glen, the green fields stretching away upwards till lost in the brown heath of the mountains, the whitewashed cottages looking so clean, bright, and homely in the sunshine, dotted here and there along the hill-sides, interspersed with their flower and kitchen gardens, ranging from the old village nestling under the headlands by the seashore, till lost in the distance under the towering keep of Snaefell's ridge. A line of old stunted and dwarfed trees makes a pleasing contrast with its dark green foliage along the line of vision, just on the edge of the steep dip that drops down to the river in its stony bed which carries the eye away to the upper end of the valley, till it strikes on the one hideous blot, "The Haman" and its heap of "deads "-useless dross from the mine-that disfigures our otherwise beautiful village. Beyond these, the eye roams over the uplands to the rugged line of mountains where the purple shadows of the fleeting clouds chase each other across the wide Moaney and over the hills in never-ending procession.
But of all the spots in this lovely valley that the eye roams so lovingly over, the best and most cherished is yon white farmhouse on the sloping hill, peeping through the trees that cluster thick in luxuriant verdure. What happy days and hours are recalled as we linger over the pleasant spot and think of the pranks and gambols of other days. There, the fuschia blooms with rich profuseness outside the oldfashioned windows, and the bees humble and humble, and are merrily busy garnering the honey from the sacs in the base of the pendulous flowers. Sometimes we too, sought the honeyed treasure, breaking into the secret storehouse of the lovely flower, and tipping the tongue to taste the sweetness that had not been culled by the busy bees. Then the big plane tree that grew in front, by the old pump, what a dear old chap he was, stretching Me mighty limbs- over the home like some giant guardian, giving protection, peace, and restful shade in the hot summer days. What swings on those resilient branches that drooped to the field beneath, amidst the gay laughter and joyousness of the merry crowd of youngsters, whilst high up in the loftier branches the starlings twittered, and preened themselves in unconcern.
A little way beyond, behind the old hedge, littered in a mass of convolvulus, with its huge white trumpet flowers, lay the garden of delights, stretching along the hillside, facing south. Oh I what gooseberries grew in that garden ; big, rich, and luscious, red and round, mellow and long. Those long and mellow ones were the favourites, and many were the feasts they provided to rapacious and capacious maws that never seemed to be satiated-it was the rule to eat all and pocket none ; whilst underneath the shelter of the high and mossy wall on the north side, there were strawberries that grew- wild, the remnants of some bygone and better cultivated tribe. Under the old and stunted thorn that hung over the rest of the hedgerow, a robin-redbreast built his nest year after year, and if you chanced to pass that way the parent birds would complacently sit and watch you as you went by. And what flowers grew in that old garden 1 The American currant bush with its blaze of red beneath the apple tree, the gilliflower, carnations, leopardsbanea asters, with a host of those riotous favourites the peonies and dahlias, that with marguerites and geraniums lend such charm and brightness to all old and quaint gardens ; whilst red and white roses mingled with the honeysuckle, and clambered up the gable of the house. In these modern days, when everything is so highly cultivated and specialised, we are apt to look down and disparage the old and simple flowers in our admiration of the more highly developed forms, but the days of long ago are inseparably entwined with these old-time favourites, whose very simplicity gave them a homely charm all their own, and on whose plucking there was no embargo, and whose common lot strewed the pathway of our youthful feet.
Then the menagerie of live stock, each one of which has a favourite for its own particular merit and peculiarity. The hutch with its white rabbits that looked at you with pink eye, ; the hedge-hog that kept the beetles away ; the crickets that chirped so merrily round the kitchen fireplace, and were ever a mystery ; old dog ;Duff, who would join in chasing the cats for mischief, till they took refuge in the trees, and who could romp and play Rugby football with the best; the hens and ducks that had their house in the little plantation at the rear ; old stalwart horse lack, so stately and dignified ; and the cows, the favourites of whom were Merly, Hip, and Silky. What a mischief Merly was I How frequently she used to slip her tie chain and find the meal barrel that was kept m a disused stall, burying her head in it till she was covered with the meal all over. Merly was a brown and white heifer without horns, a terror for climbing hedges and getting through gates, a regular " Tom-boy " of a cow for making trouble, but she would answer at once to the call of Merly ! ;merly ! Hip was a sedate and matronly big white animal, with bony hips, hence her name, whilst Silky was the belle of the herd, a beautiful black, with just a little white-the most lovely coat that shone with a sheen-like silk or satin. She always reminded us of a story of a silk robed buffalo that, roamed the American praries, and was the desire of every mighty hunter ; so silky was ours of the silken robe.
In the barn above the cowhouse, what fun we used to have I It was our den, a kind of gymnasium, and much frequented on wet days. The door opened in two halves, an upper and a lower, so that whilst the lower was shut, the upper was opened to admit light, for there were no windows. This was the place for our wrestling and boxing matches, and usually, whilst two were disporting themselves in the pugilistic art, the others were peeping over the closed half of the door and watching a bird trap set up in the garden to catch a sparrow or other unwary fowl of the air. This arrangement consisted of a sieve propped up with a stick to which a long string was attached, which reached to the barn, the trap being baited with bread crumbs. It was not a very successful lure, and the sparrows and other feathered kindred never mourned the loss of any of their number, for the excitement in the barn when one of the contestants got a knock on the nose that put him " hors de combat," or placed him in danger of dropping through one of the ventaliting holes in the floors, on to the head of Merly, or the horns of Silky, was usually such as to frighten all the birds away. If one was ever unfortunate enough to get caught beneath the trap, there was such a scramble to ctitch him when the sieve was raised, that the unlucky bird was able to flutter out with no less display of noise and excitement than his would-be captors expressed, ana only the loss of a few feathers perhaps to remind him of his escapade.
Inside the home, the kitchen was a cosy little place. The " chollagh " or old-fashioned fireplace had been replaced by the more modern stove, but against the opposite wall stood a great dresser with its wonderful display of old-fashioned jugs and antique plates, whilst on the other wall hung an old-time clock which Scotch folks called a "wagon-the-wa." In the vestibule leading to the front door stood the grandfather's clock with its curious face of wondrous wisdom, that told you all sorts of time of sun and moon, and stars and tides, Around the porchway of the front door and the old french windows, the fuschia and the roses bloomed in luxuriant profusion, as if each vied to gain first place in the adornment of the old home ; and from here you had a nice peep of the old village and the bay. Built into the steep hillside, and sheltered from the sun, was a cool place, the back kitchen or dairy, where mysterious operations were carried on in and where on butter-making days laborious energy turned the churn that charmed the butter from the milk, and where stood the large cupboard where the hungry could always find a store of good and satisfying things such as milk and soda scones, to satisfy the craving of their appetites, whilst overhead the rafters hung with an array of various things that betokened store of plenty for great occasions.
What fun there was in the fields, too, in hay and harvesting time, the connarin-like odour of the fields in summer revive these gay recollections, but especially those of that last day when the corn was all stacked in the haggart, and the fields were bare. Then there was rioting and feasting, and the "Melliah" was celebrated in grand style. Friends from all around joined in that night of glee, and everything was as joyous as a marriage feast. There was milk, homemade lemonade, and "pop," pinjane, custards, jellies, and cakes galore, with' dishes of fruit for between times ; for there were games, mad jolly games-none of your dreamy waltzes-but jolly miller, polkas, kiss in the ring, which of course the "gels" did no like, and country dances like " Roger de Coverley," that gave life and jollity to all in the party.
But of all the happy times spent in that old homestead, what a treat it was to spend an afternoon there on Sunday. There were books it was a pleasure to read in the of garden, or in the sunny field you could recline dreamily listening to the rooks cawing, they worried over their domestic troubles in the little plantation. Beyond was a glimpse of the sea and the yachts from Douglas sailing. in the distance. But the happiest hours, those in which we had the greatest pleasure, were when the merry crowd gathered round the tea table on these special occasions. There were none but a band of lively and happy youngsters, elders were excluded-all save the one dear soul that presided over her "childer." The kindliest, best, truest, and most lovable soul that ever breathed. All of us claimed a share of the love in that heart, and none were ever refused the balm and sympathy it had to give. Oh ! these occasions its love was manifest in the lavish display of all those dainties and delicacies that the home provided, and its loving generosity was not satisfied until each guest had tasted all the good things, the sweets on each dish, till each and all were filled. It is a tribute to the good sense and the cookery in the homestead that rarely any suffered through over-indulgence in the good things provided.
Those days, alas ! are gone, and with them the Heart of Love. The young brood is scattered far and wide, but their thoughts often revert to the scenes of their youth, to dwell fondly, aye lovingly, on the Homestead, on the Hill, and its memories so dear.
Any comments, errors or omissions
gratefully received MNB
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2007