The Woman Of The Hurdles

This beautiful little village Idyll was written by the Rev. S. Maddock about the year 1835. I give it almost word for word.

It was on one of those frosty days in the month of February, when a clear and exhilarating atmosphere gives fresh elasticity to both body and mind, that I determined to take a solitary ramble. An almost cloudless sky and a brilliant sunshine made one forget that the blast of winter had swept across the land, and stripped it of its beautifying verdure.

I bent my course towards the east, when having passed through some narrow winding lanes whose mossy banks sparkled with dew I arrived at the top of a rugged hill, the summit of which was covered with fine beech woods at the entrance to which are various beaten tracks formed by the footsteps of the peasantry who daily frequent them for their scanty supply of fuel. I chose the path to the right which skirted the wood, and after following its various windings I at length found myself leaving the wood on my left, and a varied scene opened upon me towards the South - fields beautiful by their undulating surfaces, and some partly surrounded by thick and extensive woods.

I felt induced to proceed, but soon discovered that I had strayed from the path, and that no further trace of footsteps remained. I stopped to reflect what I should do, being anxious to pursue my ramble. While I was musing I saw a figure at some little distance in a large open field, whose surface was but faintly tinged with the yet tender blades of wheat ; but it was very difficult to say whether it was the figure of a man or a woman. However, I was determined to make my way to the moving form, to ask for further directions. I approached nearer and perceived it was that of a female, apparently middle-aged, dressed in the coarse, homely garb of a peasant, over which she wore a man's gaberdine, and over that an old coat. I accosted her, and she returned my greeting with great civility and readily gave me the information I desired. I love to talk to the shepherd or the labourer of his employments, and if as sometimes happens, I find in the "keeper of the sheep" or the "tiller of the ground" a child of Jesus, a fellow traveller to the Celestial City, my heart rejoices as one who findeth hidden treasure.

One of these my new acquaintance proved to be, and I entered into conversation with her according to my usual plan, and asked her what her employment was.

"Oh, sir," she said, "I am keeping the birds from the corn. I have a large flock. They go to a great distance during the day, but they lodge in yonder wood at night. I am obliged to be here by break of day, to mind that they do not feed upon this corn. At night I light a large fire to frighten them away, and I stay till the sun has sunk below yonder hill, then when my feathered flock are safe at rest, I return to my humble cottage ; wearied it is true in body, and stiffened with the cold, but with a thankful heart."

Interrupting her I asked : "Have you no shelter to flee to in the chilling tempest and the falling rain ?"

"Yes, sir. I rest under yonder hurdles, or sometimes in the bottom of that dell. That rude shelter has been one of much comfort to me, many sweet thoughts have passed through my mind whilst I have rested under these hurdles. I have gone over these fields with my own hard labour for near three months, I have been watching the new springing corn to keep it from those hungry birds."

I asked my humble friend whether she knew anything of the grace of God in the heart, which springs up like the tender herb - first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.

"I bless God I do, sir ; I have had many a sweet repast as I have said, under those hurdles at times : that spot has been none other than the Gate of Heaven."

Surprised by and delighted with what had fallen from the lips of so humble a saint of God, I said : "Happy are the people that are in such a case ; yea, happy is that people that have the Lord for their God."

I asked her to go with me a few paces till the way was more direct. We proceeded together along the side of a deep glen, when my guide pointing to the path I ought to pursue, added "May God prosper you, sir."

I promised to retrace my footsteps to the hurdles by the time of her lighting her evening fire. Finding a rude stone I rested on it to ruminate on the past interview.

Having rambled about till I found by my lengthened shadow that the sun must be nearly set by the time I had reached the wind-rent hurdles, I turned my steps, and soon recognised my humble friend blowing the feeble embers of her evening fire into a flame.

"Well, my friend," I said, "am I in time to see your birds go to rest ?"

"Oh, sir," she said, "you see my fire keeps them off, they will not come near me now, they have passed yon headland and are settling for the night on the branches of that wood."

The poor woman begged me to stay a few minutes with her, observing that my unexpected visit had been to her like one from a heavenly messenger, adding that she believed God had sent me. We talked together some little time, and then sang that beautiful hymn of Cowper's :-

"Far from the world, O Lord, I flee -
From strife and tumult far."

"Sweet words," said she, "they seem just made for this spot, where none but God seeth me, perhaps for whole days together."

The sun was just setting, it had tinged the western sky with varied and glowing hues, the sombre tints of evening were spreading themselves along the north, while in the falling breeze were heard by turns the bleating sheep returning to their folds, the sound of the shepherd's dog, in responsive note to his master's shrill whistle, and the faint echo of the sheep-bell now wafted by the swelling gale and now with soft cadence dying on the listening ear. I lingered on the spot, indeed I was reluctant to leave it, and felt constrained to say, it is good to have been here.

From what I can learn from one or two of the people here, this dear old woman's name was Guy. If so, I knew her daughter "Becky" Guy when she was an old woman and I was a child and a young girl. She used to dine at the Vicarage every Sunday in order that she might attend both the morning and afternoon services, and thus be spared a second long walk to Charlwood where she lived. She followed in her mother's footsteps, being a humble and sincere Christian.

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