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    Ch. 4: A Shepherd of the Downs

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    Chapter 4
    Previous Chapter
    Caleb Bawcombe--An old shepherd's love of his home--Fifty years'
    shepherding--Bawcombe's singular appearance--A tale of a titlark--Caleb
    Bawcombe's father--Father and son--A grateful sportsman and Isaac
    Bawcombe's pension--Death following death in old married couples--In a
    village churchyard--A farm-labourer's gravestone and his story

    It is now several years since I first met Caleb Bawcombe, a shepherd of
    the South Wiltshire Downs, but already old and infirm and past work. I
    met him at a distance from his native village, and it was only after I
    had known him a long time and had spent many afternoons and evenings in
    his company, listening to his anecdotes of his shepherding days, that I
    went to see his own old home for myself--the village of Winterbourne
    Bishop already described, to find it a place after my own heart. But as
    I have said, if I had never known Caleb and heard so much from him about
    his own life and the lives of many of his fellow-villagers, I should
    probably never have seen this village.

    One of his memories was of an old shepherd named John, whose
    acquaintance he made when a very young man--John being at that time
    seventy-eight years old--on the Winterbourne Bishop farm, where he had
    served for an unbroken period of close on sixty years. Though so aged he
    was still head shepherd, and he continued to hold that place seven years
    longer--until his master, who had taken over old John with the place,
    finally gave up the farm and farming at the same time. He, too, was
    getting past work and wished to spend his declining years in his native
    village in an adjoining parish, where he owned some house and cottage
    property. And now what was to become of the old shepherd, since the new
    tenant had brought his own men with him?--and he, moreover, considered
    that John, at eighty-five, was too old to tend a flock on the hills,
    even of tegs. His old master, anxious to help him, tried to get him some
    employment in the village where he wished to stay; and failing in this,
    he at last offered him a cottage rent free in the village where he was
    going to live himself, and, in addition, twelve shillings a week for the
    rest of his life. It was in those days an exceedingly generous offer,
    but John refused it. "Master," he said, "I be going to stay in my own
    native village, and if I can't make a living the parish'll have to keep
    I; but keep or not keep, here I be and here I be going to stay, where I
    were borned."

    From this position the stubborn old man refused to be moved, and there
    at Winterbourne Bishop his master had to leave him, although not without
    having first made him a sufficient provision.

    The way in which my old friend, Caleb Bawcombe, told the story plainly
    revealed his own feeling in the matter. He understood and had the
    keenest sympathy with old John, dead now over half a century; or rather,
    let us say, resting very peacefully in that green spot under the old
    grey tower of Winterbourne Bishop church where as a small boy he had
    played among the old gravestones as far back in time as the middle of
    the eighteenth century. But old John had long survived wife and
    children, and having no one but himself to think of was at liberty to
    end his days where he pleased. Not so with Caleb, for, although his
    undying passion for home and his love of the shepherd's calling were as
    great as John's, he was not so free, and he was compelled at last to
    leave his native downs, which he may never see again, to settle for the
    remainder of his days in another part of the country.

    Early in life he "caught a chill" through long exposure to wet and cold
    in winter; this brought on rheumatic fever and a malady of the thigh,
    which finally affected the whole limb and made him lame for life. Thus
    handicapped he had continued as shepherd for close on fifty years,
    during which time his sons and daughters had grown up, married, and gone
    away, mostly to a considerable distance, leaving their aged parents
    alone once more. Then the wife, who was a strong woman and of an
    enterprising temper, found an opening for herself at a distance from
    home where she could start a little business. Caleb indignantly refused
    to give up shepherding in his place to take part in so unheard-of an
    adventure; but after a year or more of life in his lonely hut among the
    hills and cold, empty cottage in the village, he at length tore himself
    away from that beloved spot and set forth on the longest journey of his
    life--about forty-five miles--to join her and help in the work of her
    new home. Here a few years later I found him, aged seventy-two, but
    owing to his increasing infirmities looking considerably more. When he
    considered that his father, a shepherd before him on those same
    Wiltshire Downs, lived to eighty-six, and his mother to eighty-four, and
    that both were vigorous and led active lives almost to the end, he
    thought it strange that his own work should be so soon done. For in
    heart and mind he was still young; he did not want to rest yet.

    Since that first meeting nine years have passed, and as he is actually
    better in health to-day than he was then, there is good reason to hope
    that his staying power will equal that of his father.

    I was at first struck with the singularity of Caleb's appearance, and
    later by the expression of his eyes. A very tall, big-boned, lean,
    round-shouldered man, he was uncouth almost to the verge of
    grotesqueness, and walked painfully with the aid of a stick, dragging
    his shrunken and shortened bad leg. His head was long and narrow, and
    his high forehead, long nose, long chin, and long, coarse, grey
    whiskers, worn like a beard on his throat, produced a goat-like effect.
    This was heightened by the ears and eyes. The big ears stood out from
    his head, and owing to a peculiar bend or curl in the membrane at the
    top they looked at certain angles almost pointed. The hazel eyes were
    wonderfully clear, but that quality was less remarkable than the unhuman
    intelligence in them--fawn-like eyes that gazed steadily at you as one
    may gaze through the window, open back and front, of a house at the
    landscape beyond. This peculiarity was a little disconcerting at first,
    when, after making his acquaintance out of doors, I went in uninvited
    and sat down with him at his own fireside. The busy old wife talked of
    this and that, and hinted as politely as she knew how that I was in her
    way. To her practical, peasant mind there was no sense in my being
    there. "He be a stranger to we, and we be strangers to he." Caleb was
    silent, and his clear eyes showed neither annoyance nor pleasure but
    only their native, wild alertness, but the caste feeling is always less
    strong in the hill shepherd than in other men who are on the land; in
    some cases it will vanish at a touch, and it was so in this one. A
    canary in a cage hanging in the kitchen served to introduce the subject
    of birds captive and birds free. I said that I liked the little yellow
    bird, and was not vexed to see him in a cage, since he was cage-born;
    but I considered that those who caught wild birds and kept them
    prisoners did not properly understand things. This happened to be
    Caleb's view. He had a curiously tender feeling about the little wild
    birds, and one amusing incident of his boyhood which he remembered came
    out during our talk. He was out on the down one summer day in charge of
    his father's flock, when two boys of the village on a ramble in the
    hills came and sat down on the turf by his side. One of them had a
    titlark, or meadow pipit, which he had just caught, in his hand, and
    there was a hot argument as to which of the two was the lawful owner of
    the poor little captive. The facts were as follows. One of the boys
    having found the nest became possessed with the desire to get the bird.
    His companion at once offered to catch it for him, and together they
    withdrew to a distance and sat down and waited until the bird returned
    to sit on the eggs. Then the young birdcatcher returned to the spot, and
    creeping quietly up to within five or six feet of the nest threw his hat
    so that it fell over the sitting titlark; but after having thus secured
    it he refused to give it up. The dispute waxed hotter as they sat there,
    and at last when it got to the point of threats of cuffs on the ear and
    slaps on the face they agreed to fight it out, the victor to have the
    titlark. The bird was then put under a hat for safety on the smooth turf
    a few feet away, and the boys proceeded to take off their jackets and
    roll up their shirt-sleeves, after which they faced one another, and
    were just about to begin when Caleb, thrusting out his crook, turned the
    hat over and away flew the titlark.

    The boys, deprived of their bird and of an excuse for a fight, would
    gladly have discharged their fury on Caleb, but they durst not, seeing
    that his dog was lying at his side; they could only threaten and abuse
    him, call him bad names, and finally put on their coats and walk off.

    That pretty little tale of a titlark was but the first of a long
    succession of memories of his early years, with half a century of
    shepherding life on the downs, which came out during our talks on many
    autumn and winter evenings as we sat by his kitchen fire. The earlier of
    these memories were always the best to me, because they took one back
    sixty years or more, to a time when there was more wildness in the earth
    than now, and a nobler wild animal life. Even more interesting were some
    of the memories of his father, Isaac Bawcombe, whose time went back to
    the early years of the nineteenth century. Caleb cherished an admiration
    and reverence for his father's memory which were almost a worship, and
    he loved to describe him as he appeared in his old age, when upwards of
    eighty. He was erect and tall, standing six feet two in height, well
    proportioned, with a clean-shaved, florid face, clear, dark eyes, and
    silver-white hair; and at this later period of his life he always wore
    the dress of an old order of pensioners to which he had been admitted--a
    soft, broad, white felt hat, thick boots and brown leather leggings, and
    a long, grey cloth overcoat with red collar and brass buttons.

    According to Caleb, he must have been an exceedingly fine specimen of a
    man, both physically and morally. Born in 1800, he began following a
    flock as a boy, and continued as shepherd on the same farm until he was
    sixty, never rising to more than seven shillings a week and nothing
    found, since he lived in the cottage where he was born and which he
    inherited from his father. That a man of his fine powers, a
    head-shepherd on a large hill-farm, should have had no better pay than
    that down to the year 1860, after nearly half a century of work in one
    place, seems almost incredible. Even his sons, as they grew up to man's
    estate, advised him to ask for an increase, but he would not. Seven
    shillings a week he had always had; and that small sum, with something
    his wife earned by making highly finished smock-frocks, had been
    sufficient to keep them all in a decent way; and his sons were now all
    earning their own living. But Caleb got married, and resolved to leave
    the old farm at Bishop to take a better place at a distance from home,
    at Warminster, which had been offered him. He would there have a cottage
    to live in, nine shillings a week, and a sack of barley for his dog. At
    that time the shepherd had to keep his own dog--no small expense to him
    when his wages were no more than six to eight shillings a week. But
    Caleb was his father's favourite son, and the old man could not endure
    the thought of losing sight of him; and at last, finding that he could
    not persuade him not to leave the old home, he became angry, and told
    him that if he went away to Warminster for the sake of the higher wages
    and barley for the dog he would disown him! This was a serious matter to
    Caleb, in spite of the fact that a shepherd has no money to leave to his
    children when he passes away. He went nevertheless, for, though he loved
    and reverenced his father, he had a young wife who pulled the other way;
    and he was absent for years, and when he returned the old man's heart
    had softened, so that he was glad to welcome him back to the old home.

    Meanwhile at that humble cottage at Winterbourne Bishop great things had
    happened; old Isaac was no longer shepherding on the downs, but living
    very comfortably in his own cottage in the village. The change came
    about in this way.

    The downland shepherds, Caleb said, were as a rule clever poachers; and
    it is really not surprising, when one considers the temptation to a man
    with a wife and several hungry children, besides himself and a dog, to
    feed out of about seven shillings a week. But old Bawcombe was an
    exception: he would take no game, furred or feathered, nor, if he could
    prevent it, allow another to take anything from the land fed by his
    flock. Caleb and his brothers, when as boys and youths they began their
    shepherding, sometimes caught a rabbit, or their dog caught and killed
    one without their encouragement; but, however the thing came into their
    hands, they could not take it home on account of their father. Now it
    happened that an elderly gentleman who had the shooting was a keen
    sportsman, and that in several successive years he found a wonderful
    difference in the amount of game at one spot among the hills and in all
    the rest of his hill property. The only explanation the keeper could
    give was that Isaac Bawcombe tended his flock on that down where
    rabbits, hares, and partridges were so plentiful. One autumn day the
    gentleman was shooting over that down, and seeing a big man in a
    smock-frock standing motionless, crook in hand, regarding him, he called
    out to his keeper, who was with him, "Who is that big man?" and was told
    that it was Shepherd Bawcombe. The old gentleman pulled some money out
    of his pocket and said, "Give him this half-crown, and thank him for the
    good sport I've had to-day." But after the coin had been given the giver
    still remained standing there, thinking, perhaps, that he had not yet
    sufficiently rewarded the man; and at last, before turning away, he
    shouted, "Bawcombe, that's not all. You'll get something more by and

    Isaac had not long to wait for the something more, and it turned out not
    to be the hare or brace of birds he had half expected. It happened that
    the sportsman was one of the trustees of an ancient charity which
    provided for six of the most deserving old men of the parish of Bishop;
    now, one of the six had recently died, and on this gentleman's
    recommendation Bawcombe had been elected to fill the vacant place. The
    letter from Salisbury informing him of his election and commanding his
    presence in that city filled him with astonishment; for, though he was
    sixty years old and the father of three sons now out in the world, he
    could not yet regard himself as an old man, for he had never known a
    day's illness, nor an ache, and was famed in all that neighbourhood for
    his great physical strength and endurance. And now, with his own cottage
    to live in, eight shillings a week, and his pensioners' garments, with
    certain other benefits, and a shilling a day besides which his old
    master paid him for some services at the farm-house in the village,
    Isaac found himself very well off indeed, and he enjoyed his prosperous
    state for twenty-six years. Then, in 1886, his old wife fell ill and
    died, and no sooner was she in her grave than he, too, began to droop;
    and soon, before the year was out, he followed her, because, as the
    neighbours said, they had always been a loving pair and one could not
    'bide without the other.

    This chapter has already had its proper ending and there was no
    intention of adding to it, but now for a special reason, which I trust
    the reader will pardon when he hears it, I must go on to say something
    about that strange phenomenon of death succeeding death in old married
    couples, one dying for no other reason than that the other has died. For
    it is our instinct to hold fast to life, and the older a man gets if he
    be sane the more he becomes like a newborn child in the impulse to grip
    tightly. A strange and a rare thing among people generally (the people
    we know), it is nevertheless quite common among persons of the labouring
    class in the rural districts. I have sometimes marvelled at the number
    of such cases to be met with in the villages; but when one comes to
    think about it one ceases to wonder that it should be so. For the
    labourer on the land goes on from boyhood to the end of life in the same
    everlasting round, the changes from task to task, according to the
    seasons, being no greater than in the case of the animals that alter
    their actions and habits to suit the varying conditions of the year.
    March and August and December, and every month, will bring about the
    changes in the atmosphere and earth and vegetation and in the animals,
    which have been from of old, which he knows how to meet, and the old,
    familiar task, lambing-time, shearing-time, root and seed crops hoeing,
    haymaking, harvesting. It is a life of the extremest simplicity, without
    all those interests outside the home and the daily task, the innumerable
    distractions, common to all persons in other classes and to the workmen
    in towns as well. Incidentally it may be said that it is also the
    healthiest, that, speaking generally, the agricultural labourer is the
    healthiest and sanest man in the land, if not also the happiest, as some

    It is this life of simple, unchanging actions and of habits that are
    like instincts, of hard labour in sun and wind and rain from day to day,
    with its weekly break and rest, and of but few comforts and no luxuries,
    which serves to bind man and wife so closely. And the longer their life
    goes on together the closer and more unbreakable the union grows. They
    are growing old: old friends and companions have died or left them;
    their children have married and gone away and have their own families
    and affairs, so that the old folks at home are little remembered, and to
    all others they have become of little consequence in the world. But they
    do not know it, for they are together, cherishing the same memories,
    speaking of the same old, familiar things, and their lost friends and
    companions, their absent, perhaps estranged, children, are with them
    still in mind as in the old days. The past is with them more than the
    present, to give an undying interest to life; for they share it, and it
    is only when one goes, when the old wife gets the tea ready and goes
    mechanically to the door to gaze out, knowing that her tired man will
    come in no more to take his customary place and listen to all the things
    she has stored up in her mind during the day to tell him; and when the
    tired labourer comes in at dusk to find no old wife waiting to give him
    his tea and talk to him while he refreshes himself, he all at once
    realizes his position; he finds himself cut off from the entire world,
    from all of his kind. Where are they all? The enduring sympathy of that
    one soul that was with him till now had kept him in touch with life, had
    made it seem unchanged and unchangeable, and with that soul has vanished
    the old, sweet illusion as well as all ties, all common, human
    affection. He is desolate, indeed, alone in a desert world, and it is
    not strange that in many and many a case, even in that of a man still
    strong, untouched by disease and good for another decade or two, the
    loss, the awful solitude, has proved too much for him.

    Such cases, I have said, are common, but they are not recorded, though
    it is possible with labour to pick them out in the church registers; but
    in the churchyards you do not find them, since the farm-labourer has
    only a green mound to mark the spot where he lies. Nevertheless, he is
    sometimes honoured with a gravestone, and last August I came by chance
    on one on which was recorded a case like that of Isaac Bawcombe and his

    The churchyard is in one of the prettiest and most secluded villages in
    the downland country described in this book. The church is ancient and
    beautiful and interesting in many ways, and the churchyard, too, is one
    of the most interesting I know, a beautiful, green, tree-shaded spot,
    with an extraordinary number of tombs and gravestones, many of them
    dated in the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries, inscribed with names
    of families which have long died out.

    I went on that afternoon to pass an hour in the churchyard, and finding
    an old man in labourer's clothes resting on a tomb, I sat down and
    entered into conversation with him. He was seventy-nine, he told me, and
    past work, and he had three shillings a week from the parish; but he was
    very deaf and it fatigued me to talk to him, and seeing the church open
    I went in. On previous visits I had had a good deal of trouble to get
    the key, and to find it open now was a pleasant surprise. An old woman
    was there dusting the seats, and by and by, while I was talking with
    her, the old labourer came stumping in with his ponderous, iron-shod
    boots and without taking off his old, rusty hat, and began shouting at
    the church-cleaner about a pair of trousers he had given her to mend,
    which he wanted badly. Leaving them to their arguing I went out and
    began studying the inscriptions on the stones, so hard to make out in
    some instances; the old man followed and went his way; then the
    church-cleaner came out to where I was standing. "A tiresome old man!"
    she said. "He's that deaf he has to shout to hear himself speak, then
    you've got to shout back--and all about his old trousers!"

    "I suppose he wants them," I returned, "and you promised to do them, so
    he has some reason for going at you about it."

    "Oh no, he hasn't," she replied. "The girl brought them for me to mend,
    and I said, 'Leave them and I'll do them when I've time'--how did I know
    he wanted them in a hurry? A troublesome old man!"

    By and by, taking a pair of spectacles out of her pocket, she put them
    on, and going down on her knees she began industriously picking the old,
    brown, dead moss out of the lettering on one side of the tomb. "I'd like
    to know what it says on this stone," she said.

    "Well, you can read it for yourself, now you've got your glasses on."

    "I can't read. You see, I'm old--seventy-six years, and when I were
    little we were very poor and I couldn't get no schooling. I've got these
    glasses to do my sewing, and only put them on to get this stuff out so's
    you could read it. I'd like to hear you read it."

    I began to get interested in the old dame who talked to me so freely.
    She was small and weak-looking, and appeared very thin in her limp, old,
    faded gown; she had a meek, patient expression on her face, and her
    voice, too, like her face, expressed weariness and resignation.

    "But if you have always lived here you must know what is said on this

    "No, I don't; nobody never read it to me, and I couldn't read it because
    I wasn't taught to read. But I'd like to hear you read it."

    It was a long inscription to a person named Ash, gentleman, of this
    parish, who departed this life over a century ago, and was a man of a
    noble and generous disposition, good as a husband, a father, a friend,
    and charitable to the poor. Under all were some lines of verse, scarcely
    legible in spite of the trouble she had taken to remove the old moss
    from the letters.

    She listened with profound interest, then said, "I never heard all that
    before; I didn't know the name, though I've known this stone since I was
    a child. I used to climb on to it then. Can you read me another?"

    I read her another and several more, then came to one which she said she
    knew--every word of it, for this was the grave of the sweetest, kindest
    woman that ever lived. Oh, how good this dear woman had been to her in
    her young married life more'n fifty years ago! If that dear lady had
    only lived it would not have been so hard for her when her trouble come!

    "And what was your trouble?"

    "It was the loss of my poor man. He was such a good man, a thatcher; and
    he fell from a rick and injured his spine, and he died, poor fellow, and
    left me with our five little children." Then, having told me her own
    tragedy, to my surprise she brightened up and begged me to read other
    inscriptions to her.

    I went on reading, and presently she said, "No, that's wrong. There
    wasn't ever a Lampard in this parish. That I know."

    "You don't know! There certainly was a Lampard or it would not be stated
    here, cut in deep letters on this stone."

    "No, there wasn't a Lampard. I've never known such a name and I've lived
    here all my life."

    "But there were people living here before you came on the scene. He died
    a long time ago, this Lampard--in 1714, it says. And you are only
    seventy-six, you tell me; that is to say, you were born in 1835, and
    that would be one hundred and twenty-one years after he died."

    "That's a long time! It must be very old, this stone. And the church
    too. I've heard say it was once a Roman Catholic church. Is that true?"

    "Why, of course it's true--all the old churches were, and we were all of
    that faith until a King of England had a quarrel with the Pope and
    determined he would be Pope himself as well as king in his own country.
    So he turned all the priests and monks out, and took their property and
    churches and had his own men put in. That was Henry VIII."

    "I've heard something about that king and his wives. But about Lampard,
    it do seem strange I've never heard that name before."

    "Not strange at all; it was a common name in this part of Wiltshire in
    former days; you find it in dozens of churchyards, but you'll find very
    few Lampards living in the villages. Why, I could tell you a dozen or
    twenty surnames, some queer, funny names, that were common in these
    parts not more than a century ago which seem to have quite died out."

    "I should like to hear some of them if you'll tell me."

    "Let me think a moment: there was Thorr, Pizzie, Gee, Every, Pottle,
    Kiddle, Toomer, Shergold, and--"

    Here she interrupted to say that she knew three of the names I had
    mentioned. Then, pointing to a small, upright gravestone about twenty
    feet away, she added, "And there's one."

    "Very well," I said, "but don't keep putting me out--I've got more names
    in my mind to tell you. Maidment, Marchmont, Velvin, Burpitt, Winzur,
    Rideout, Cullurne."

    Of these she only knew one--Rideout.

    Then I went over to the stone she had pointed to and read the
    inscription to John Toomer and his wife Rebecca. She died first, in
    March 1877, aged 72; he in July the same year, aged 75.

    "You knew them, I suppose?"

    "Yes, they belonged here, both of them."

    "Tell me about them."

    "There's nothing to tell; he was only a labourer and worked on the same
    farm all his life."

    "Who put a stone over them--their children?"

    "No, they're all poor and live away. I think it was a lady who lived
    here; she'd been good to them, and she came and stood here when they put
    old John in the ground."

    "But I want to hear more."

    "There's no more, I've said; he was a labourer, and after she died he

    "Yes? go on."

    "How can I go on? There's no more. I knew them so well; they lived in
    the little thatched cottage over there, where the Millards live now."

    "Did they fall ill at the same time?"

    "Oh no, he was as well as could be, still at work, till she died, then
    he went on in a strange way. He would come in of an evening and call his
    wife. 'Mother! Mother, where are you?' you'd hear him call, 'Mother, be
    you upstairs? Mother, ain't you coming down for a bit of bread and
    cheese before you go to bed?' And then in a little while he just died."

    "And you said there was nothing to tell!"

    "No, there wasn't anything. He was just one of us, a labourer on the

    I then gave her something, and to my surprise after taking it she made
    me an elaborate curtsy. It rather upset me, for I had thought we had got
    on very well together and were quite free and easy in our talk, very
    much on a level. But she was not done with me yet. She followed to the
    gate, and holding out her open hand with that small gift in it, she said
    in a pathetic voice, "Did you think, sir, I was expecting this? I had no
    such thought and didn't want it."

    And I had no thought of saying or writing a word about her. But since
    that day she has haunted me--she and her old John Toomer, and it has
    just now occurred to me that by putting her in my book I may be able to
    get her out of my mind.
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