A story from “Twixt Moor and Mead” written by Rev James Dodd Jackson and published in1887. The stories are based on those told by his grandparents when he came to stay at Slack Cottage in Garsdale in the mid-1800s, and some places and characters are deliberately made easy to identify.
The summer day was wearing to its close, and “Aald” Ben [ modelled on Leonard Dodd, the author’s grandfather who lived at Slack Cottage] stood at the stile making a meteorological survey. He was no Fellow of learned societies, but like most Dalesmen had some store of weather-wisdom, and hearing the chairs creak as he sat by the fire, and feeling the “rheumatic” uncommonly savage in his right shoulder, he had come out to see if the face of the sky and the flight of the swallows confirmed these infallible omens. As he looked he shook his shaggy head. From the west, great masses of cloud came sweeping up over the valley, forming quickly over the Dale-head a dense dark covering, hanging low down on the mountain side; the swallows just skimmed the ground, and the wind sighed in the great sycamores on the other side of the dusty road. “It’s gaan to rain,” said Aald Ben.
Satisfied with the accuracy of his forecast, the old man stood still a moment to gaze with a loving eye on the scene familiar to him for sixty years. A fair scene it was. His own native Rowandale [Garsdale] stretched away east and west from his door—fully six miles to the nearest market town,—seven to the nearest railway station. [This was written in the early 1880s, soon after the building of the Settle–Carlisle Line and Hawes Junction Station, but the story is set in the mid-1800s when the nearest station was at the present Dawson’s Coal Yard, a mile the other side of Sedbergh.] As he faced the south, the road lay at his feet, bordered on each side by a generous breadth of grass [now reduced by road widening], affording many a meal to wandering cattle and passing flocks of sheep. On the other side of the highway flowed the gentle Rowan [Clough]—“the Beck” Aald Ben called it—making soft music over its pebbly bed. This ran deep below the road level and was not guarded except by a line of stately trees, which, plunging their roots into alluvial soil, threw their branches over the brown waters, to the grief of many an angler, and the salvation of many a speckled trout. Across the tiny river marched by the stream’s edge a strip of meadow long as the dale itself, but all too narrow. About half of this was level land; the rest reached up the side of the hill, and the hill was scarce more than a bow-shot from the water. Above the meadow rose the open fell [Rise Hill — the story is set before the 1871 land enclosure] on its sides here and there a plantin’ of firs, [Garsdale Hall Plantation] or a tangled wood of birch and mountain ash and holly, with wild cherry and hazel, and other such trees as love the mountain blast. Above the woods again were wild and craggy slopes [Aygill Pike], where only heather and wine-red mountain moss, soft as velvet, broke the monotony of the short grass and the grey rocks. From these highlands the gills came down, leaping over many a scaur, and making melody in deep ravines worn by their waters through a long, long past—these ravines, as the brook neared the base of the hill, forming glorious little glens, full of woods and brake, home of wild flowers and birds innumerable. On the sides of these streams, usually where the meadow ran with the pasture, stood mostly the houses of the farmers, clothed in whitewash and sheltered beneath ancient trees—old, old houses with walls thick as those of a baronial stronghold. Turning now his face to the north, and resting his hand on the mossy wall here broken by the stile in which he stood, Ben looked into his own small garden, filled with “berry trees” now laden to bending ’neath a luscious harvest—this lay the his left-hand, and divided with the paddock to the right, the broadside of his dwelling. Ah! That old house, how it gleamed in its whitewash—how the jessamine caressed the porch and framed in living green the leaded window—how the bull’s eyes in the tiny panes caught the reflected rays of the stormily-setting sun! On the grey flag-roof what wealth of lichen had grown to beauty through the two long centuries during which the drama of smiles and tears, and births and youth, marriages and toil and death and sorrow had been played unrecorded beneath! Running against the front was a “bink”, a garden raised against the house wall, almost to the window-sill, whence arose the mingled fragrance of thyme and marsh-mallow, wallflowers and golden locks, and daisies of red and white, At the western end of the dwelling was the cow-byre, now empty, for in summer the “kye” [old plural of “cow”] were in the pasture, and the peat-house waiting for its store of winter fuel. Behind all came the meadow, running to meet the hill [Baugh Fell] which rose behind as before, away and away to the blue. Such was the scene, and over it swept the breath of a July evening, bearing scent of new-mown hay, and mellow lowing of distant cattle, and notes of birds twittering for the coming shower.
“Ay! Ay! It’s gaan to rain,” once more said Aald Ben, not this time only to himself, for he had been joined by a slip of a boy [the author] who scarce reached his hip—and that boy’s mother was Ben’s eldest-born [the author’s real mother was Eleanor, 1834-1919] and that boy’s father was a preacher in the city [Revd James Jackson. He became President of the Primitive Methodist Conference in 1897.] and had brought his dear ones to rest awhile in his wife’s old house [Slack Cottage].
“Going to rain! Gran’pa,” said the boy in his tongue of the town. “And will there be a flood? And will the beck come into the house? Then Sis and I will make a raft of the big table and sail round the paddock; and oh! Perhaps the fish will come into the house too.”
So quoth the boy, and, clapping his hands, he ran back to the flaxen-haired little maiden standing on the threshold, shouting in very glee, “Sis, there’s going to be a flo-o-od.”
That night as they sat by the fire—the shutters closed, the rain beating on the tiny panes, against which the wind tossed the branches of the jessamine—after Aald Ben and the preacher had each lighted his last pipe, and the boy, tired with a long day’s play, rested by his father’s side, and the girl laid her bonnie face against her mother’s knee, Aald Izzabel the while making dreamy music with her knitting needles—then, the old man laughed to himself in a low laugh, and began to tell an oft-told tale:—
“I was thinkin’,” he said to his daughter by way of introduction, “that ye must ha’ made a mistak’ at that lad’s chrissening. Ye sud ha’ called him Noah, or p’raps Jonah wad ha’ bin better. Ye’ve bin here hardly three weeks and twenty times he’s asked me, ‘Is there going to be a flood, Gran’pa?? Why can’t we have a good big roaring flood?’ Yes, Agnes, me lass, ye ha’ made a mistak’ for sure.”
“Well,” laughed the tender, jealous mother, “he’s only a boy, and ‘boys will be boys,’ you know, Father.”
“Ay! Ay! For sure,” was the reply, “lads mun be lads, I ken that, and I was as big a hemp as ony mysel’. Bless the bairn! But I ha’ bin wondering what he’s ha’ said if he’d seen the flood that came down twenty-five year sen, and went with the brig by the kirk, and mony another besides. Ye town’s-folk ha’ mony a joke about the size of our back, but that night, Aald Parson Grayson [Thomas Blades or Henry Thompson?]
often said, it put him in mind o’ the waves o’ the sea.
“Did I say just now it was twenty-five year sen? I’se wrang theer—it’s about twenty, an’ tho’ that’s a lang time, it seems to me nobbut yesterday. Let me see—Agnes would be twelve year aald and Ben was ten. Mary had been in t’kirk-garth [church-yard] two year, and Betsy was in the world just three weeks. Ay! It had bin a hardish time wi’ us. The summer before we’d buried Fadther, and now Modther, who had come to live wi’ us when he gat away, was lying theer in her bed hard by the fire, just wearying away. Izzabel had only just gitten downstairs wi’ Betsy, and was none fit to come, but what wi’ Modther and t’bairns, the neighbour lass that came in to help us a bit was well-nigh run off her feet, so, against doctor’s orders, Izzabel had come down.
“I mind it weel—as weel I may! Sixty year I ha’ lived I’t’dale an’ never knew sic a year. All through the summer it had rained an’ rained, and t’beck time and again bank-full. Then on through the autumn still rain, ‘til it had worn into October, an’ then came a clear day or two and—curious, wasn’t it?—in the fairest day of all the year, the flood came.
“It was gaan on for ev’ning, and a lang sad day we’d had. Modther had lain a’ day an’ spoken never as much as as a word, lying still just as we placed her, and breathing herself away. The doctor had gi’en ower coming. ‘It could do neah good,’ he said, ‘and it only meant expense.’ I can see it a’ now just as when it came—theer stood the bed, and ye, Izzabel, giving breast to the barne, set watchin’ and watchin’, thinkin’ every moment wad be t’last. Ben an’ Agnes had just getten in fra school, an’ for fear o’ noise we’d sent them out to laik (play). Suddenly someone said, ‘Whisht!’ tho’ sure enough we were as still as could be.
“ ‘Whisht!’ an’ we listened. A low roar that seemed first to come a lang way was what we heard. I moved to the window, but the sky was blue for t’first time for weeks. Then just as we were askin’ what it meant the noise grew to a thunder. In a moment the road was full o’ sweeping muddy water. It came rushing breast-high through t’paddock and in through the open door, and before we could move, the chairs were swimming and the fire went out with a hiss. The cradle that stood yonder by t’clock came floating towards us. Modther’s poor thin hand hanging ower t’bed-edge was covered. Ah! Willie, me lad, ye’d nooan wish for a big flood had ye seen it as I saw it then.
“Whether it was the shock, the cold water on her hand, or whether it was the death-sign, the doctor could never tell, but a’ without warning, t’aald body sat up i’ bed. She lifted her hand lang an’ lean, an’ pointed to t’door an’ almost screamed—‘The hill’s broken! The hill’s broken! The barnes, oh! The barnes! Gang for the barnes!’
“And sure enough in the surprise o’ the moment we’d forgotten the lile (little) uns, but now in a minute I was out i' t’paddock, makin’ for the road as best I could, shouting for a’ that was in me, ‘Benny! Agnes! Agnes! Benny!’ I mud as weel ha’ bin quiet, for the only answer I gat was the roaring o’ the water rushing madly and rising, I could see, every minute.
“It was hard work getting out as far as the stile, I had to ho’d on a’ t’way by t’wall and wade up to t’waist, an’ the water as cold as ice. When I gat theer, what a sight I saw! Down t’road poured the water, ragin’ and tossin’, swishin’ through the branches of the plane-trees. Between the boughs I could see t’beck out across the fields. Mad as I was wi’ fear for t’lad an’ lass, I noaticed among the wrack sweepin’ downstream, planks an’ beams which I kent as belanging to t’Close Hoose Brig. [Both The Hive and Ben Bridge were made of planks in those days.] There was the body of a new cart that I’d seen a day or two afore standing opposite the smiddy [Low Smithy] waiting to be hooped. Two sheep passed, turning ower and ower, and I sickened at the thowt o’ my bonny barnes i’ that fearful rush. As I stood looking an’ still calling, a grand old ash that had stood lang as I could remember, heeled ower an’ fell wi’ a gert splash into t’stream, for the water bared its roots and pulled at the lower branches, and it floated away like a child’s boat.
“To see a’ this was the wark of an instant, but I saw it as if I didn’t see it. Where were t’barnes? Generally they played near t’stile. If the rush had caught them there—I could think no more—and in the despair o’ the moment I almost plunged into t’flood mysel’.
“As I stood holding on to t’stile I felt a hand on my arm. It was Izzabel. Her face was as pale as death and her lips were blue with the cold. ‘Gang back!’ I shouted, and tried to turn her to t’door. But Izzabel was o’er wilful an’ doesn’t mend, I’se feared, as she gets aalder, and so she just stood looking, first up the road and then down, in a nightmare, as one mud say. Her breast was still bare fra’ sucklin’ the barne an’ her hair had fa’an on her shoulders. ‘Izzabel,’ I said, ‘is’t nowt that ye may dee with the cold, weak as ye are?’ But it was no use; there she stood, and just then, another tree just ower t’road fell, and left a gap. I could look away over to Blue Riggs, and Aald Will Stanmore that died that back-end [autumn] was standing outside the porch, for the house is higher ner this. When he saw us he waved something white and it struck me as kind o’ curious that he sud be takking things so easy like.
“Just as I was watching Aald Will—after waving to me he ran into t’house and I was looking to see if he came out again—Izzabel fetched a scream and pointed down t’road. ‘What’s yon,’ she said, ‘yon amang t’branches? Oh! That’s my lile Benny’s han’kercher. Oh! My barne!’ And sure enough, fluttering from the midst of one of the trees was summat like a sma’ red flag. Only the last Redbergh Hirings I’d bought it for a fairing for t’lad—a red cotton affair wi’ a picter of the animals gaan up into t’ark. We couldn’t see how it was fastened, for the season being late, the leaves were still thick on the trees—but theer it was, p’raps a yard or so above the water. How I’d missed seeing it I couldn’t for t’life o’ me tell. But I hadn’t much time to consider, for Izzabel would ha’t that t’lad was in the tree, and before I could guess, was makkin as if she would take t’road to reach him.
“ ‘Ha’d back, woman,’ I said. ‘He’s none theer, but I’se ga’n to see,’ and I pu’d her back and stept down off t’stone into t’road mysel’. In a tick I was off my feet, but as God would have it, the water washed me against the garden wall and I caught the berry trees hangin’ ower, and holding by them I waded down. It was a struggle to keep foothold, but at last I came opposite the tree. Izzabel was reet. In the branches just ower the water theer was Ben holding on wi’ ya’ [one] hand, and wi’ t’other holding the han’kercher. I declare I sickened as I saw him. Reet underneath was t’beck rushing through the tree, which was swaying an’ bending as if the next minute would see it torn away. The lad’s face was vara white, an’ I could see fra’ the movement of his lips that he was calling me, though I could hear but the noise of the flood. As I held on to the wall and waved my hand to cheer him, Izzabel, without my seeing her, followed me down, though how she managed I could never tell. Then I shouted in her ear that she must bide by the wall while I went for a rope, and I climbed over into t’garden and went that way into t’house. All t’way as I went I wondered if the tree would stand or the boy keep his hold ‘til I gat back.
“When I returned wi’ t’rope it was hard wark to throw it. I was standing deep in the water, which was rushing mad an’ fierce, though p’raps not so strong as afore. But for t’aald woman here I couldn’t ha’ done’t, but she just held on by t’wall wi’ one hand, and at last I gat it fair amang t’branches. The boy dropped the han’kercher into the water and caught it. Then we signed to him to tie the end to a bough and come along to us, hand-over-hand. It was a ter’ble risk, but there was nowt else for’t and the tree was bending lower and lower over the stream. For nobbut a minute the lad looked fearfully at the waves, then we could see him shut his eyes, and grasping the rope let hissel down into t’water. Very slowly he came, the water pulling as before, and the rope trembling with the strain. Sometimes we would give him up for lost, then we would hope again; and all the time I could hear Izzabel praying. At last he was half-way, and over the warst o’ the rush, when a’ at yance the tree bent over and fell, and the rope withered and snapped, and we both cried out together. But, it had snapped between him and the tree, and in a moment I’d drawn him in. As I grasped him and lifted his head above the water, I heard him say one word—‘Daddy;’ and then his head fell and he became senseless in my arms.
“Weel, we gat him in t’house an’ upstairs, and as luck would have it, though the water had put out the fire, the kettle was still hot on the crook, and as the lad was young an’ strong, he soon opened his eyes, and afore lang told his story. The rush had reached him just below the stile and washed him into the tree which he had catcht, and so pu’d hissel’ up. He had seen first me, then his modther come to the stile, and he had shouted hard to get our attention, but without makin’ us hear—then he had waved his han’kercher—which we had seen. Izzabel fand that han’kercher a day or two after, down t’stream, and has it yet.
“After Benny had come round I left him wi’ his modther, and went downstairs. Izzabel, now that the excitement of saving one child was over, began to cry after t’other—as for me, I felt I’d so nearly lost both that I could be thankful that yan was spared; somehow, too, I hadn’t gi’en up hope. The boy had told us that his sister had left him, and gone ower t’brig, and so I went out again on my search wi’ a fair face to the bright side. Twilight was falling, but the flood had spent its force and the house was clear of water, while it just ran shallow over the road, tho’ the beck was full. As I reached the stile I looked ower again to Blue Riggs. Aald Will was still standing at the porch waving as afore, and I waved back to him. I soon saw what he had meant, for he ceased waving, and stooping down, who su’d he lift up in his arms but Agnes, and she waved too. ‘Izzabel,’ I shouted up to the chamber window, ‘come hither,’ and Izzabel came, an’ we both waved an’ shouted, an’ laughed an’ cried for joy.
“After we’d seen the barne across the water gang into Aald Will’s for t’night, we went into t’house again. We found the neighbour-lass kindling a fire, and modther, poor body, sitting up I’ bed. She was breathing hard and fast. ‘Are the barnes all right?’ she whispered, and Izzabel told her what had happened. Then she smiled, and saying,
‘Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,
Stand dressed in living green,’
She went, like Bunyan’s Christian, across the water.
“Three days afterwards, we laid her beside fadther i’ t’kirk-yard. Afore we closed the coffin, Izzabel an’ t’barnes an’ me stood taking a last look at her dear aald face. Izzabel put a hand on each lile head, and said, ‘Ben lad, the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!’ ”
And thus the old man was closing his story, and proceeding to the winding of his watch when the boy asked a question, to which the grandsire replied, “How did the flood come? Ay, that’s the question. Up at the Dale Head, the hillside opened, and the water, ye ken it had been raining lang, rushed out. The same thing had happened yance before, and what mudther said about the hill, she must ha’ said because she remembered that.”
“Grandpa,” once more said the boy, “ I won’t want a big flood any more, but I should like to make a raft of the table.” Aald Ben laughed, and Agnes kissed the incorrigible mouth.
NOTE: [by the author] Such a phenomenon as the above occurred many years ago in the valley above Haworth, of Brontë fame. The writer has seen old residents point out the place where the hillside gave way, and whence accumulated stores of water rushed down the valley, doing immense damage in their course.
COMMENT, looking back on Garsdale history:
James Dodd Jackson was not known for making prophesies, but just two years after the publication of this story, on Wednesday, August 8th 1889, the Great Flood of Garsdale really happened. The rainfall was extremely heavy for over three hours, and the hillside on the slope of Baugh Fell in Grisedale really did burst open, releasing millions of gallons of trapped water. Eight stone bridges and seven wooden ones were washed away entirely, and two sections of the main road disappeared. The school was flooded to a depth of at least four feet, but all of the children were carried to safety. I’ve checked the publication date, and the story really was published just two years before the real event. Slack Cottage had been uninhabited for some time after the death of Leonard Dodd (Aald Ben) in 1879 (eight years before the publication of this story) but Amos & Sarah Richardson were living there in 1889 and the flood did severe damage to the cottage causing it to be uninhabited for some years thereafter. The Winn family who lived at Ing Heads rebuilt their own bridge, then worked their way down the dale repairing other bridges, ending by establishing the building partnership in Sedbergh which has traded until very recently.
The cottage was uninhabited for some, then Amos and Sarah Richardson lived here for at least seven years until they suffered severe damage in the real Garsdale flood of 1889.