Read CHAPTER ONE - DOWN IN THE COUNTRY. of Will of the Mill , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

“Here, I say, Josh, such a game!”

“What is it?”

The first speaker pointed down the gorge, tried to utter words, but began to choke with laughter, pointed again, and then stood stamping his feet, and wiping his eyes.

“Well,” cried the other, addressed as Josh, “what is it?  Don’t stand pointing there like an old finger-post!  I can’t see anything.”

“It’s ­it’s ­it’s ­he ­he ­he! ­Oh my! ­Oh dear!”

“Gahn!  What an old silly you are!  What’s the game?  Let’s have a bit of the fun.”

“The sun ­sun ­sun ­”

“Don’t stand stuttering there in that stupid way.”

“I couldn’t help it ­there, I’m better now.  I was coming along the top walk, and there he was right down below, sitting under his old white mushroom.”

“Well, I can’t see anything to laugh at in that.  He always is sitting under his old white umbrella, painting, when he isn’t throwing flies.”

“But he isn’t painting.  He’s fast asleep; and I could almost hear him snore.”

“Well, if you could hear him snore, you needn’t make a hyena of yourself.  I don’t see anything to laugh at in that.”

“No; you never see any fun in anything.  Don’t you see the sun’s gone right round, and he’s quite in the shade?”

“Well, suppose he is; where’s the fun?”

Will Willows wiped his eyes, and then, with a mirthful look, continued ­

“Oh, the idea struck me as being comic ­keeping a great umbrella up when it wasn’t wanted.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Josh, solemnly; “a shower might come down.”

“But, I say, Josh, that won’t do.  I’ve got such a rum idea.”

“Let’s have it.”

“Come along, then.”

A few words were whispered, though there was not the slightest need, for no one was in sight, and the rattle and whirr of machinery set in motion by a huge water-wheel, whose splashings echoed from the vast, wall-like sides of the lovely fern-hung glen in which it was placed, would have drowned anything lower than a shout.

Willows’ silk-mill had ages ago ceased to be a blot in one of the fairest valleys in beautiful Derbyshire, for it was time-stained with a rich store of colours from Nature’s palette; great cushions of green velvet moss clung to the ancient stone-work, rich orange rosettes of lichen dotted the ruddy tiles, huge ferns shot their glistening green spears from every crack and chasm of the mighty walls of the deep glen; and here and there, high overhead, silver birches hung their pensile tassels, and scrub oaks thrust out their gnarled boughs from either side, as if in friendly vegetable feeling to grasp hands over the rushing, babbling stream; for Beldale ­Belle Dale, before the dwellers there cut it short ­formed one long series of pictures such as painters loved, so that they came regularly from the metropolis to settle down at one of the picturesque cottages handy to their work, and at times dotted the dale with their white umbrellas and so-called “traps.”

Nature was always the grandest of landscape gardeners, and here she may be said to have excelled.  Her work had been very simply done:  some time or other when the world was young the Great Gray Tor must have split in two, forming one vast jagged gash hundreds of feet deep, whose walls so nearly matched, that, if by some earthquake pressure force had been applied, they would have fitted together, crushing in the verdant growth, and the vast Tor would have been itself again.

But, needless to say, this had never happened, and the lovely place, so well named, became Belle Dale.

High up in the Pennine Range the waters gathered in the great reservoirs of bog and moss to form a stream, an infant river, which ran clear as crystal, of a golden hue, right down the bottom of the gorge; here trickling and singing musically, there spreading into a rocky pool, plunging down into fall after fall, to gather again into black, dark hollows as if to gain force for its next spring; and nowhere in England did moss, fern, and water-plant grow to greater perfection than here, watered as they were by the soft, fall-made mists.

All through the summer the place was full of soft, dark nooks, and golden hollows shaded by birch, through whose pensile twigs the sunshine seemed to fall in showers of golden rain ­cascades of light that plunged into the transparent waters, and flashed from the scales of the ruddy-spotted trout.

No two boys ever had brighter homes, for their dwellings were here ­Josh Carlile’s at the Vicarage, planted on a shelf where the arrow-spired church looked down from near the head of the dale, where the first fall plunged wildly full thirty feet beside the little, mossy, stone-walled burial-ground.  It was the home of mosses of every tint, from the high-up, metallic green in the cracks among the stones, down to the soft pink and cream patches of sphagnum, sometimes of their own vivid green when charged with water ready to spurt out at the touch of a traveller’s foot.

Will’s home ­nest, he called it ­was far below, at the mill, that pleasant home built first by one of his exiled ancestors, an old Huguenot who fled from France full of fervour, for his religion’s sake, seeking refuge in old England, where, like many others, he found a safe asylum to live in peace, and think.

Old Guillaume Villars had “Monsieur” written before his name; but he was one of France’s fine old working gentlemen, a great silk-weaver, and his first thought was to find a place where he and his following, a little clan, could earn their bread as sturdy workers living by the work of their hands; no beggars nor parasites they, but earnest toilers, the men who introduced their industry every here and there.

Some two hundred years ago, old Guillaume found Belle Dale ready with its motive power to his hand.  He wanted water for his silk-mill:  there it was, and, in a small way, he and his began their toil.

Their nearest neighbours, few indeed, soon found them quiet, earnest, religious men, and the welcome they had was warm.  In their gratitude they said, “France to us is dead; this in future is our home;” and, though clinging to their language, they cast aside their fine patrician names, making them English and homely like those of the dwellers near.  There was something almost grotesque at times in the changes that they made, but they were not noticed here.  The D’aubignes became Daubeneys, or homely Dobbs; Chapuis, Shoppee; Jean Boileau, the great silk-weaver’s right hand, laughingly translated his name to Drinkwater; and, as the time went on and generations passed, a descendant, “disagreeable old Boil O!” as the two boys called him, was the odd man, Jack-of-all-trades, and general mechanician at Beldale Mill, the servant of old Guillaume Villars’ son, many generations down ­John Willows now, father of Will of the Mill.

A long piece of pedigree this, but we must say who’s who, and what’s what, and, by the same rule, where’s where; so here we have Beldale Mill and the boys ­just the place they loved and looked forward to reaching again from the great school at Worksop, when the holidays came round.

There was no such place for beauty, they felt sure; no such fishing anywhere, they believed; in fact, everything the country boy could wish for was to their hand.  Collect? ­I should think they did:  eggs, from those of the birds of prey to the tiny dot of the golden-crested wren; butterflies and moths, from the Purple Emperors that were netted as they hovered over the tops of the scrub oaks, and hawk-moths that darted through the garden, the only level place about the bottom of the glen.  Fishing too ­the artist who came down was only too glad to make them friends, seeing how they knew the homes of the wily trout in the rocky nooks below the great fall down by the sluice, where the waters rushed from beneath the splashing wheel; and in the deep, deep depths of the great dam where the waters were gathered as they came down from the hills above, forming a vast reserve that never failed, but kept up the rattle and clatter of looms from year to year, and formed a place where the boys early learned to dive and swim, making their plunges from one of the ferny shelves above.  They were pretty high, some of these shelves, and required a cool head and steady nerve to mount to them in safety; but they had been improved in time.  By a little coaxing, James Drinkwater had been induced by the boys to climb with them on the one side or the other of the gorge, armed with hammer and cold chisel, to cut a step here, and knock out a stone there, so that most of the shelves formed by the strata of limestone had been made accessible, and glorious places to ascend to for those who loved to scramble.

One of these shelves ­the best of all, so Will said ­was quite three hundred feet above the dam.  It was filled with bristling, gnarled oak, and the walls beneath were draped with Nature’s curtains, formed of the long strands of small-leaved ivy; and there, if you liked, you could look down, to the left, upon a lovely garden, the mossy roofs of mill and house, all to the left; while to the right you looked up the zig-zag gorge with its closed-in, often perpendicular walls, to see the glancing waters of the stream, and far up, the great plunging fall, flashing with light when the sun was overhead, deep in shadow as it passed onward towards the west.

Best of all, Will said, was lying on your breast looking right into the dam, pitching down collected pebbles, which fell with a splashless “chuck!” making “ducks’ eggs,” as they called it, and sending the white Aylesburys scuttling out of the way.

So much for the home of Will of the Mill.