It is Sabine Baring-Gould Week at Hooting Yard, and today our hero sinks into a bog. He is out on Dartmoor with a man called Thomas from the Ordnance Survey. As night falls, the pair realise they are hopelessly lost. This passage is quoted in William Purcell’s biography, but he does not tell us from where in Baring-Gould’s preposterously profuse writings he has extracted it:
“The bog at night exhaled a deathlike sickly odour. Not a sound could be heard. No bird was roused, not an insect hummed. It was night now; not even a spark, not a Jack o’ Lantern. We could no longer see each other, and we had ceased to call to each other. Then all at once a fear came over me that we had got into Crowdy Marsh. I had seen quite enough of that. It is not composed of peat; it is simply water which is slimy with decomposing vegetable matter. It is dangerous to men and fatal to beasts…
“All at once I uttered a cry of ‘Help me’, and sank to my armpits. It was instantaneous. I was in water, not on moss; and in sinking all I could do was to catch at some particles of floating moss fibre, half-rotten reed and water-weed, and rake myself forward with strokes like those of a swimmer till I could lay hold of the spongelike surface of moss that formed the skin over the quaking bog. The moss was a foot thick, very porous but light, so that it floated till saturated with water. In my struggles I drew much of this moss towards me, but, as I pressed on it it sank under my weight, became waterlogged, and surrounded me, helping to suck me down. Against the wan sky I could see the moss as a mound black as ink, which wavered and rolled as I clung to and dragged at it.
“Finding that my efforts were unavailing, and by this means I could never extricate myself, I extended the bamboo I held horizontally, a hand at each extremity, and pressed this down on the surface of the moss. By this means I managed to heave myself up, and I had just enough power to throw my head and my neck forward on the moss, with arms extended like a spider. I felt as if I were striving against a gigantic octopus, that was endeavouring with boneless, fleshy arms to drag me under water. So great indeed was the suction that the leather gaiters that extended to the knee were torn off my legs.
“Having thus reached the surface, and spread myself upon it, I worked myself along till I arrived at a hassock of coarse grass or reed, and on that I planted myself to breathe… I was quivering in every muscle after the supreme strain of wrenching myself out of the mire… There was still a long tract of moss very similar in nature to that through part of which I had struggled, and I was fain to go through it in the same manner as before, writhing along like a lizard.
“At length, I came to firm land, exhausted, panting, my brow beaded with sweat, yet at the same time conscious of extreme cold from immersion. I called again and again… and soon came up with Thomas. The stench of the decomposing matter in my nostrils sickened me. However, a sense of relief and exhilaration came over me, and we made our way on till we struck a road, and finally reached our inn. I found my purse in my pocket sodden, my watch in my waistcoat pocket stopped…
“I found moss on my left shoulder, so that I had sunk that far, and, as I had said, the suction tore my gaiters off my legs.”
This is in Baring-Gould’s ‘Further Reminiscences’ where the full story is told on pages 246 – 252. And, actually, it was Bodmin Moor, rather than Dartmoor. Sadly, there is not yet an online version of this available yet – but you might like to know that the first autobiography, ‘Early Reminiscences’ is online at http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nnc1.cu54760020.
Mr Graebe : Many thanks.