Patrick Regan has kindly shared the material from his George Heath site with readers of the Victorian Web, who may wish to consult the original.
There is a superstition current in North Staffordshire (if elsewhere, I am unacquainted with the fact) which holds — or did hold a generation back — that if a farmer, in sowing his yearly breadth, accidentally misses or overlooks one of the "butts," a circumstance which occasionally happens, and does not perceive the omission till the absence of the green blade discovers the fact, it is a sure sign of a death in his household.
The "butts," in the North Staffordshire vernacular, are the long narrow ridges, or beds, thrown together by the plough, with separating furrows for the drainage on which the seed is sown. — Patrick Regan
I was Teamsman for that year
Tho' but slim and over-grown:
Father did the sowing then.
All the yearly breadth was sown,
Save an angle of a field,
Lately broken up from lea —
That where stood the old sheepcote
By the lightning-splintered tree.
Night was down upon us; yet
Father coughed and firked his beard;
'Twas not much — the mould was dry —
Seed was down — the team was geared.
Then he skyward looked, where winds,
Clouds, and rain were gathering might —
"Up, my lads!" he said; "we'll do't
Ere we stable for the night:
"'Tis o'er late a week or more
Now — and every sign of rain;
We may wish it done i'th' morn,"
So we slapped to work again.
Flew the harrows o'er the loam;
Flew the seed from flying fist.
But when springing blades showed green
Then 'twas found a butt was missed!
"I have farmed for forty year,
Sown my seed myself a score,"
Said my father; "but I never,
Never played this game afore."
Then up spake a wrinkled crone,
"'Tis a deadly certain sign;
There will be a death i'th' house
Ere the Christmas berries shine."
Then the household laughed aloud,
Lightly chode the dame, and said
"'Twas a weak old woman's tale :"
But the woman shook her head.
All the family after that
Scanned the butt with dubious eye,
Felt a sinking at their hearts,
Probing not for reason why.
Came disease when fields had flowers,
Breathed upon a lassie fair,
Stole her music, laid her dead —
Dead among her glory hair!
Bare and barren stretched the butt
Just as if the need were less;
Dead and still our darling lay
With no want we might redress.
Dropped the silence on the earth,
Came the ripeness to the corn;
And the reapers went about,
And the crowded fields were shorn.
Sadly eyed we all the butt,
Hinting never aught; and yet
Through the years that barren butt
No one of us may e'er forget.
Last modified 3 September 2002