Recollections of John Pounds: The Children go to Southsea Common by Reverend Henry Hawkes
When we had passed through King James’s Gate, and were in High Street, I warmly thanked Mr. for all his kindness! and bid him Good Morning; for I wished to be alone; and think of all I had seen and heard of this good old man, I crossed the Grand Parade. The General was there, with his staff, trooping guard.
The band was playing “Rule, Britannia!” There was a gay crowd of lookers-on; interspersed with ill looking idlers, lurking about; both men and women; and children playing everywhere. I hastened through Spur ravelin, and went out upon Southsea Common. “Oh! blessed fresh air!” – I seemed to say to myself, as I came out on the open glacis. How different from those noisome haunts of infamy and wretchedness, in the midst of which that good old man has chosen to live!
What is it – that gathers all those children about him so lovingly? He can do what he pleases with them. His word is law. And they do it, – whatever he says, – with delight; and love him for it. His personal appearance is altogether against him; so dark, and coarse, and not clean; altogether self- neglected.
And that loud harsh voice was at times shocking; revolting. Still, there was something about him, that, with all his coarseness of look, and harshness of voice, and abruptness, and rough usage, bespoke of a loving heart, and kind cherishing spirit, that was very endearing. How happy that little girl seemed, sitting on his knee reading!
But what a poor bit of a place for a school! – And so many crowded into it! – scarcely room for them to learn about: – the roof, so low; the walls, so dark and dirty; and crowded with bird-cages, and other things; his little shelves, heaped with old boots and shoes, cups and saucers and mugs, tattered books and broken slates; all meagre and poverty-stricken. Still, there was an air of happiness and comfort in all the busy group. The old man was happy at his work, cobbling, in the midst of his loving family! For they all seemed like one happy family! So loving, and peaceful, and united! And he rules – the Master-spirit – among them! But he rules – a Father – among them, all love; and loved by them all!
As I was thus walking thoughtfully over the common toward the Fire-barn, the twelve o’clock gun fired from the Kings bastion; and soon after, some children came running out from Spur ravelin, spreading joyously over the common, stooping down here and there, as if to pick flowers. Some came running eagerly toward the furze bushes beside the Fire-barn; where I was now standing; enjoying the fine open view over Spithead; with ships lying at anchor, and yachts sailing about; and the Isle of Wight beyond, giving the effect of lake scenery.
The first boy that came running up rushed headlong in among the furze bushes, and was instantly out of sight. Others came running close after him: “We’s get him such a lot o’ flowers for this a’ternoon!”
Then came running a little girl, all life and activity, with a ringing voice, calling out merrily, “I’se got him some o’ they pretty little flowers – that looks like a little bird flying away!” “Pink and blue, and white!” exclaimed another. “And here’s one,” said the first boy, coming out from the furze bushes, “pinky white. Isn’t it a little beauty?” – showing it to them with delight. “They calls this – blush colour.”
“Here’s some woilets;” said another. “Yes, but they’s not sweet woilets. They’s only dog woilets. Bob’s run over to Copnor, to get him some real sweet woilets.” “I knows ’em;” explained another: “they grows on a green bank there.” “Yes, under a hedge;” said another: “Tse seen ’em.” “So’s I!” said a very little voice, in a tone of delight and triumph: – “Father carries me on his back to see ’em.” “Yes, but Bob’s not find ’em a-blowing now;” said the first boy: “it’s too late for ’em.”
“I’se get him some o’ these yellow furze blossom;” said another. “Mind you’se not prick your fingers;” said another, laughing. “I’se not care for that, I’se get him some. They’s very pretty. And they smells sweet; like honey,”
These, I thought, are some of the happy children we saw with the good old cobbler this morning
“Oh, look here!” exclaimed a little girl, just come up, panting for breath; “isn’t this a pretty daisy? – pink all round the edges! – Oh, you little darling! – White and pink! – I’se take it home, and give it to Mr. Pounds!”
“I’se get him some groundsel for his birds!” said an eager lad, grasping a hand-full, “And I’se take him some chickweed; they’s very fond of it;” said a little voice beside him. “I often gets him chickweed for his birds;” said a stout lad; “and so does brother Jack, and cousin Jenny.” “And they long spikes!” exclaimed another; “they calls ’em canary seed,” “I knows ’em;” said the first boy; “with broad leaves like. Mr. Pounds calls ’em plantain.” “How the birds likes ‘em !” said a lively little fellow, looking up, with bright face; “I likes to stand and watch ‘em peck at ‘em; they likes ‘em so!” “I’se have a bird o’ my own soon;” says another; “and I’se get him plenty o’ they plantain spikes; and plenty o’ groundsel too, and chickweed.”
“Hark, – that lark!” – exclaimed the first boy; looking up, and standing erect and firm; listening intently. “How clear he sings! And so far off!”
“I’se not see it;” said a little boy; turning up his face, and putting both hands before his eyes, to screen them from the sun.
“But y ‘ears it, lad!”
“But its so high up in the sky.”
“That’s it’s nature, lad. It’s a sky lark. Mr. Pounds says, there’s ground larks too. And sky larks, that flies so high, builds their nests down on the ground. They sky larks’ nests ben very hard to find; they’s done down so nice and close like; all down in the grass. You’s tread on ‘em, if you’s not mind. The old birds covers ‘em over so, to keep em safe and warm.
“Oh, yes!” explained the merry little girl with the ringing voice, full of life and enthusiasm; “don’t you remember Mr. Pounds showing us that lark’s nest in that field over the Hill?” “Yes!” – several voices at once; “with two young ons in it.” “And how careful he covers it up again;” said the first boy, very seriously. “And when he offers to take they young birds home for him; and Dick says, ‘Ye knows, Mr. Pounds, your cat’s ’ill bring ‘em up for you;’ Mr. Pounds says,‘No; it’s cruel to put a sky lark in a cage.’ A skylark’s nature is to fly up high in the sky. It darts up on strong wing. And when you puts it in a cage, it darts up, and hits against the top o’ the cage; and comes knocking down again. – Poor thing!”
“Poor thing!” – tenderly sighed several voices.
I turned homeward – with a heart full of gratefulness and admiration, at this new proof of the excellent influence the old cobbler was so happily cherishing. Blessed old man! -Who shall tell the extent of the good thou art doing? – So humble – and unpretending. But thou shalt be blest. For they cannot recompense thee.