Some years ago it was more desolate, as it was so isolated from the world. Now the children’s voices blend with the song of the wood birds, and they have a garden there of dandelions, daisies, and flowers. The roof and walls are now covered with stone crop and moss, and traveller’s joy, which gives it a variety of color. The currant bushes are pruned, and the long rose branches are trimmed, and present a blooming appearance. This house, with forty acres of land, some rocky and sterile, and some rich meadow and peat, formed the possessions of the Prestons in Westmoreland. For two hundred years this land had been theirs. Mr. Preston and his wife were industrious and respectable people. They had two children, Martha and John. The sister was eight years older than her brother and acted a motherly part towards him. As her mother had to go to market, to see to the cows and dairy, and to look after the sheep on the fell, Martha took most of the care of little Johnny.
It is said that a very active mother does not always make a very active daughter, and that is because she does things herself, and has but little patience with the awkward and slow efforts of a learner. Mrs. Preston said that Martha was too long in going to market with the butter, and she made the bread too thick, and did not press all the water out of the butter, and she folded up the fleeces the wrong way, and therefore she did all herself. Hence Martha was left to take the whole care of Johnny, and to roam about in the woods. When she was about fifteen her mother died, so that Martha was left her mother’s place in the house, which she filled beyond the expectation of all the neighbors. Her father died when Johnny was sixteen, and his last advice to his daughter was, to take care of her brother, to look after his worldly affairs, and above all to bear his soul in prayer to heaven, where he hoped to meet the household once more. The share of her father’s property when he died, was eighty pounds. Here Martha spent her days, frugal, industrious and benevolent. And it is said, there will not be a grave in Grasmere churchyard, more decked with flowers, more visited with respect, regret, and tears, and faithful trust, than that of Martha Preston when she dies. In the next story you will be interested in what happened at the Grey Cottage.
One winter’s night when the evening had shut in very early, owing to the black snow clouds that hung close around the horizon, Martha sat looking into the fire. Her old sheep dog, Fly, lay at her feet. The cows were foddered for the night, and the sheep were penned up in the yard. Fly was a faithful dog, and for some reason, this evening, he was very restless. Why he pricked up his ears, and went snuffing to the door, and pacing about the room, was more than Martha could tell.