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[Illustration: "'WHO ARE YOU, MY CHILD?' I SAID'--Page 3
"Wich i hav seed in the paper a page Boy wanted, and begs to say J.
Cole is over thertene, and I can clene plate, wich my brutther is
under a butler and lernd me, and I can wate, and no how to clene
winders and boots. J. Cole opes you will let me cum. I arsks 8 and
all found. if you do my washin I will take sevven. J. Cole will serve
you well and opes to giv sattisfaxshun. i can cum tomorrer.
"P.S.--He is not verry torl but growin. My brutther is a verry good
hite. i am sharp and can rede and rite and can hadd figgers if you
* * * * * * *
I had advertised for a page-boy, and having puzzled through some
dozens of answers, more or less illegible and impossible to
understand, had come to the last one of the packet, of which the
above is an exact copy.
The epistle was enclosed in a clumsy envelope, evidently home-made,
with the aid of scissors and gum, and was written on a half-sheet of
letter-paper, in a large hand, with many blots and smears, on
There was something quaint and straightforward in the letter, in
spite of the utter ignorance of grammar and spelling; and while I
smiled at the evident pride in the "brutther" who was a "verry good
hite," and the offer to take less wages if "I would do his washin," I
found myself wondering what sort of waif upon the sea of life was
this not very tall person, over thirteen, who "would serve me well."
I had many letters to answer and several appointments to make, and
had scarcely made up my mind whether or not to trouble to write to my
accomplished correspondent, who was "sharp, and could rede and rite,
and hadd figgers," when, a shadow falling on the ground by me as I
sat by the open window, I looked up, and saw, standing opposite my
chair, a boy,--the very smallest boy, with the very largest blue eyes
I ever saw. The clothes on his little limbs were evidently meant for
somebody almost double his size, but they were clean and tidy.
In one hand he held a bundle, tied in a red handkerchief, and in the
other a bunch of wild-flowers that bore signs of having travelled far
in the heat of the sun, their blossoms hanging down, dusty and
fading, and their petals dropping one by one on the ground.
"Who are you, my child?" I said, "and what do you want?"
At my question the boy placed his flowers on my table, and, pulling
off his cap, made a queer movement with his feet, as though he were
trying to step backwards with both at once, and said, in a voice so
deep that it quite startled me, so strangely did it seem to belong to
the size of the clothes, and not the wearer,--
"Please'm, it's J. Cole; and I've come to live with yer. I've brought
all my clothes, and every think."
For the moment I felt a little bewildered, so impossible did it seem
that the small specimen of humanity before me was actually intending
to enter anybody's service; he looked so childish and wistful, and
yet with a certain honesty of purpose shining out of those big, wide-
open eyes, that interested me in him, and made me want to know more
"You are very small to go into service," I said, "and I am afraid you
could not do the work I should require; besides, you should have
waited to hear from me, and then have come to see me, if I wanted you
to do so."
"Yes, I know I'm not very big," said the boy, nervously fidgeting
with his bundle; "leastways not in hite; but my arms is that long,
they'll reach ever so 'igh above my 'ed, and as for bein' strong, you
should jest see me lift my father's big market basket when it's
loaded with 'taters, or wotever is for market, and I hope you'll not
be angry because I come to-day; but Dick--that's my brutther Dick--he
says, 'You foller my advice, Joe,' he says, 'and go arter this 'ere
place, and don't let no grass grow under your feet. I knows what it is
goin' arter places; there's such lots a fitin' after 'em, that if you lets
so much as a hour go afore yer looks 'em up, there's them as slips in
fust gets it; and wen yer goes to the door they opens it and sez, "It
ain't no use, boy, we're sooted;" and then where are yer, I'd like to
know? So,' sez he, 'Joe, you look sharp and go, and maybe you'll get
it.' So I come, mum, and please, that's all."
"But about your character, my boy," I said. "You must have somebody
to speak for you, and say you are honest, and what you are able to
do. I always want a good character with my servants; the last page-
boy I had brought three years' good character from his former
"Lor!" said Joe, with a serious look, "did he stay three years in a
place afore he came to you? Wotever did he leave them people for,
where he were so comfortable? If I stay with you three years, you
won't catch me a leavin' yer, and goin' somewheres else. Wot a muff
that chap was!"
I explained that it did not always depend on whether a servant wanted
to stay or not, but whether it suited the employers to keep him.
"'Praps he did somethin', and they giv' 'im the sack," murmured Joe;
"he was a flat!"
"But about this character of yours," I said; "if I decide to give you
a trial, although I am almost sure you are too small, and won't do,
where am I to go for your character? Will the people where your
brother lives speak for you?"
"Oh, yes!" cried the little fellow, his cheeks flushing; "I know
Dick'll ask 'em to give me a caricter. Miss Edith, I often cleaned
'er boots. Once she come 'ome in the mud, and was a-goin' out agin
directly; and they was lace-ups, and a orful bother to do up even;
and she come into the stable-yard with 'er dog, and sez: 'Dick, will
you chain Tiger up, and this little boy may clean my boots if he
likes, on my feet?' So I cleaned 'em, and she giv' me sixpence; and
after that, when the boots come down in the mornin', I got Dick
always to let me clean them little boots, and I kep 'em clean in the
insides, like the lady's maid she told me not to put my 'ands inside
'em if they was black. Miss Edith, she'll giv me a caricter, if Dick
Just then the visitors' bell rang; and I sent my would-be page into
the kitchen to wait until I could speak to him again, and told him to
ask the cook to give him something to eat.
"Here are your flowers," I said; "take them with you."
He looked at me, and then, as if ashamed of having offered them,
gathered them up in his hands, and with the corner of the red
handkerchief wiped some few leaves and dust-marks off my table, then
saying in a low voice, "I didn't know you 'ad beauties of yer own,
like them in the glass pots, but I'll giv' 'em to the cook." So
saying, he went away into the kitchen, and my visitors came in, and
by and by some more friends arrived.
The weather was very warm, and we sat chattering and enjoying the
shade of the trees by the open French window. Presently, somebody
being thirsty, I suggested lemonade and ice, and I offered
strawberries, and (if possible) cream; though my mind misgave me as
to the latter delicacy, for we had several times been obliged to do
without some of our luxuries if they entailed "_fetching_," as we had
no boy to run errands quickly on an emergency and be useful. However,
I rang the bell; and when the housemaid, whose temper, since she had
been what is curiously termed in servants'-hall language "single-
handed," was most trying, entered, I said, "Make some lemonade, Mary,
and ask cook to gather some strawberries quickly, and bring them,
with some cream."
Mary looked at me as who should say, "Well, I'm sure! and who's to do
it all? You'll have to wait a bit." And I know we should have to
wait, and therefore resigned myself to do so patiently, keeping up
the ball of gossip, and wondering if a little music later on would
perhaps while away the time.
Much to my amazement, in less than a quarter of an hour Mary entered
with the tray, all being prepared; and directly I looked at the
strawberry-bowl I detected a novel feature in the table decoration. A
practised hand had evidently been at work; but whose? Mary was far
too matter-of-fact a person. Food, plates, knives and forks, glasses,
and a cruet-stand were all she ever thought necessary; and even for a
centre vase of flowers I had to ask, and often to insist, during the
time she was single-handed.
But here was my strawberry-bowl, a pretty one, even when unadorned,
with its pure white porcelain stem, intwined with a wreath of blue
convolvulus, and then a spray of white, the petals just peeping over
the edge of the bowl, and resting near the luscious red fruit; the
cream-jug, also white, had twining flowers of blue, and round the
lemonade-jug, of glass, was a wreath of yellow blossoms.
"How exquisite!" exclaimed we all. "What fairy could have bestowed
such a treat to our eyes and delight to our sense of the beautiful?"
I supposed some friend of the cook's or Mary's had been taking
lessons in the art of decoration, and had given us a specimen.
Soon after, my friends having gone, I thought of J. Cole waiting to
be dismissed, and sent for him.
Cook came in, and with a preliminary "Ahem!" which I knew of old
meant, "I have an idea of my own, and I mean to get it carried out,"
said, "Oh, if you please 'm, if I might be so bold, did you think
serious of engagin' the boy that's waitin' in the kitchen?"
"Why do you ask, Cook? "I said.
"Well, ma'am," she replied, trying to hide a laugh, "of course it's
not for me to presume; but, if I might say a word for him, I think
he's the very handiest and the sharpest one we've ever had in this
house, and we've had a many, as you know. Why, if you'd only have
seen him when Mary come in in her tantrums at 'aving to get the tray
single-handed, and begun a-grumblin' and a-bangin' things about, as
is her way, being of a quick temper, though, as I tells her, too slow
a-movin' of herself. As I were a-sayin', you should have seen that
boy. If he didn't up and leave his bread and butter and mug of milk,
as he was a-enjoyin' of as 'arty as you like, and, 'Look 'ere,' says
he, 'giv' me the jug. I'll make some fine drink with lemons. I see
Dick do it often up at his place. Giv' me the squeezer. Wait till I
washes my 'ands. I won't be a minnit.' Then in he rushes into the
scullery, washes his hands, runs back again in a jiffy. 'Got any snow
sugar? I mean all done fine like snow.' I gave it him; and, sure
enough, his little hands moved that quick, he had made the lemonade
before Mary would have squeezed a lemon. 'Where do yer buy the
cream?' he says next. 'I'll run and get it while you picks the
strawberries.' Perhaps it wasn't right, me a trustin' him, being a
stranger, but he was that quick I couldn't say no. Up he takes the
jug, and was off; and when I come in from the garden with the
strawberries, if he hadn't been and put all them flowers on the
things. He begs my pardon for interfering like, and says, 'I 'ope
you'll excuse me a-doin' of it, but the woman at the milk-shop said I
might 'ave 'em; and I see the butler where Dick lives wind the
flowers about like that, and 'ave 'elped 'im often; and, please, I
paid for the cream, because I'd got two bob of my own, Dick giv' me
on my birthday. Oh, I do 'ope, Mrs. Cook,' he says, 'that the lady'll
take me; I 'll serve 'er well, I will, indeed;' and then he begins to
cry and tremble, poor little chap, for he'd been running about a lot,
and never eaten or drank what I gave him, because he wanted to help,
and it was hot in the kitchen, I suppose, and he felt faint like, but
there he is, crying; and just now, when the bell rung, which was two
great big boys after the place, he says, 'Oh, please say "We're
sooted," and ask the lady if I may stay.' So, I've taken the liberty,
ma'am," said Cook, "for somehow I like that little chap, and there's
a deal in him, I do believe."
So saying, Cook retired; and, in a moment, J. Cole was standing in
her place, the blue eyes brimming over with tears, and an eager
anxiety as to what his fate would be making his poor little hands
clutch at his coat-sleeves, and his feet shuffle about so nervously,
that I had not the courage to grieve him by a refusal.
"Well, Joseph," I said, "I have decided to give you a month's trial.
I shall write to the gentleman who employs your brother; and if he
speaks well of you, you may stay."
"And may I stay now, please?" he said. "May I stay before you gets
any answer to your letter to say I'm all right? I think you'd better
let me; there ain't no boy; and Mrs. Cook and Mary'll 'ave a lot to
do. I can stay in the stable, if you don't like to let me be in the
house, afore you writes the letter."
"No, Joe," I replied: "you may not be a good, honest boy, but I think
you are; and you shall stay here. Now go back to Mrs. Wilson, and
finish your milk, and eat something more if you can, then have a good
rest and a wash; they will show you where you are to sleep, and at
dinner, this evening, I shall see if you can wait at table."
"Thank you very kindly," said the boy, his whole face beaming with
delight, "and I'll be sure and do everythink I can for you." Then he
went quickly out of the room; for I could see he was quite overcome,
now that the uncertainty was over.
Alone once more, I reasoned with myself, and felt I was doing an
unwise thing. Just at that time my husband was away on business for
some months; and I had no one to advise me, and no one to say me nay
either. My conscience told me my husband would say, "We cannot tell
who this boy is, where he has lived, or who are his associates; he
may be connected with a gang of thieves for what we know to the
contrary. Wait, and have proper references before trusting him in the
And he would be right to say so to me, but not every one listens to
conscience when it points the opposite way to inclination. Well, J.
Cole remained; and when I entered the dining-room, to my solitary
dinner, he was there, with a face shining from soap and water, his
curls evidently soaped too, to make them go tidily on his forehead.
The former page having left his livery jacket and trousers, Mary had
let Joe dress in them, at his earnest request.
She told me afterwards that he had sewn up the clothes in the neatest
manner wherever they could be made smaller; and the effect of the
jacket, which he had stuffed out in the chest with hay, as we
discovered by the perfume, was very droll. He had a great love of
bright colors, and the trousers being large, showed bright red socks;
the jacket sleeves being much too short for the long arms, of which
he was so proud, allowed the wristbands of a vivid blue flannel shirt
to be seen.
I was alone, so could put up with this droll figure at my elbow; but
the seriousness of his face was such a contrast to the comicality of
the rest of him, that I found myself beginning to smile every now and
then, but directly I saw the serious eyes on me, I felt obliged to
become grave at once.
The waiting at table I could not exactly pronounce a success; for,
although Joe's quick eyes detected in an instant if I wanted
anything, his anxiety to be "first in the field," and give Mary no
chance of instructing him in his duties, made him collide against her
more than once in his hasty rushes to the sideboard and back to my
elbow with the dishes, which he generally handed to me long before he
reached me, his long arms enabling him to reach me with his hands
while he was yet some distance from me, and often on the wrong side.
I also noticed when I wanted water he lifted the water-bottle on
high, and poured as though it was something requiring a "head." Mary
nearly caused a catastrophe at that moment by frowning at him, and
saying, sotto voce, "Whatever are you doing? Is that the way to pour
out water? It ain't hale, stoopid!"
Joe's face became scarlet; and to hide his confusion he seized a
dish-cover, and hastily went out of the room with it, returning in a
moment pale and serious as became one who at heart was every inch a
family butler with immense responsibilities.
Joe was quiet and sharp, quick and intelligent; but I could see he
was quite new to waiting at table. To remove a dish was, I could see,
his greatest dread; and it amused me to see the cleverness with which
he managed that Mary should do that part of the duty.
When only my plate and a dish remained to be cleared away, he would
slowly get nearer as I got towards the last morsel, and before Mary
had time, would take my plate, and go quite slowly to the sideboard
with it, leisurely remove the knife and fork, watching meanwhile in
the mirror if Mary was about to take the dish away; if not he would
take something outside, or bring a decanter, and ask if I wanted
I was, however, pleased to find him no more awkward, as I feared he
would have been, and when, having swept the grate and placed my
solitary wineglass and dessert-plate on the table, he retired, softly
closing the door after him, I felt I should make something of J.
Cole, and hoped his character would be good.
The next morning a tastefully arranged vase of flowers in the centre
of the breakfast-table, and one magnificent rose and bud by my plate,
were silent but eloquent appeals to my interest on behalf of my
would-be page; and when Joe himself appeared, fresh from an hour's
self-imposed work in my garden, I saw he had become quite one of the
family; for Bogie, my little terrier, usually very snappish to
strangers, and who considered all boys as his natural enemies, was
leaping about his feet, evidently asking for more games, and our old
magpie was perched familiarly on his shoulder.
"Good-morning, Joe," I said. "You are an early riser, I can see, by
the work you have already done in the garden."
"Why, yes," replied Joe, blushing, and touching an imaginary cap;
"I'm used to bein' up. There was ever so much to do of a mornin' at
'ome; and I 'ad to 'elp father afore I could go to be with Dick, and
I was with Dick a'most every mornin' by seven, and a good mile and a
arf to walk to 'is place. Shall I bring in the breakfust, mum? Mary's
told me what to do."
Having given permission, Joe set to work to get through his duties,
this time without any help, and I actually trembled when I saw him
enter with a tray containing all things necessary for my morning
meal, he looked so over-weighted; but he was quite equal to it as far
as landing the tray safely on the sideboard. But, alas! then came the
ordeal; not one thing did poor Joe know where to place, and stood
with the coffeepot in his hand, undecided whether it went before me,
or at the end of the table, or whether he was to pour out my coffee
I saw he was getting very nervous, so took it from him, and in order
to put him at his ease, I remarked,--
"I think, perhaps, I had better show you, Joe, just for once, how I
like my breakfast served, for every one has little ways of their own,
you know; and you will try to do it my way when you know how I like
it, won't you?"
Thereupon I arranged the dishes, etc., for him, and his big eyes
followed my every movement. The blinds wanted pulling down a little
presently, and then I began to realize one of the drawbacks in having
such a very small boy as page. Joe saw the sun's rays were nearly
blinding me, and wanted to shut them out; but on attempting to reach
the tassel attached to the cord, it was hopelessly beyond his reach.
In vain were the long arms stretched to their utmost, till the
sleeves of the ex-page's jacket retreated almost to Joe's elbows, but
I watched, curious to see what he would do.
"Please 'm, might I fetch an 'all chair?" said Joe; "I'm afraid I'm
not big enuf to reach the tossle, but I won't pull 'em up so 'igh to-
I gave permission, and carefully the chair was steered among my
tables and china pots. Then Joe mounted, and by means of rising on
the tips of his toes he was able to accomplish the task of lowering
I noticed at that time that Joe wore bright red socks, and I little
thought what a shock those bright-colored hose were to give me later
on under different circumstances.
That evening I had satisfactory letters regarding Joe's character,
and by degrees he became used to his new home, and we to him. His
quaint sayings and wonderful love of the truth, added to extreme
cleanliness, made him welcome in the somewhat exclusive circle in
which my housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, reigned supreme.
Many a hearty burst of laughter came to me from the open kitchen-
window across the garden in the leisure hour, when, the servants' tea
being over, they sat at work, while Joe amused them with his stories
and reminiscences of the sayings and doings of his wonderful brother
This same Dick was evidently the one being Joe worshipped on earth,
and to keep his promises to Dick was a sacred duty.
"You don't know our Dick, Mrs. Wilson," said Joe, to the old
housekeeper; "if you did, you'd understand why I no more dare go agen
wot Dick told me, than I dare put my 'and in that 'ere fire. When I
were quite a little chap, I took some big yaller plums once, out of
one of the punnits father was a-packin' for market, and I eat 'em. I
don't know to this hour wot made me take them plums; but I remember
they were such prime big uns, big as eggs they was, and like lumps of
gold, with a sort of blue shade over 'em. Father were very partikler
about not 'avin' the fruit 'andled and takin' the bloom off, and told
me to cover 'em well with leaves. It was a broilin' 'ot day, and I
was tired, 'avin' been stoopin' over the baskits since four in the
morning, and as I put the leaves over the plums I touched 'em; they
felt so lovely and cool, and looked so juicy-like, I felt I must eat
one, and I did; there was just six on 'em, and when I'd bin and eat
one, there seemed such a empty place left in the punnit, that I knew
father'd be sure to see it, so I eat 'em all, and then threw the
punnit to one side. Just then, father comes up and says, "Count them
punnits, Dick! there ought to be forty on 'em. Twenty picked large
for Mr. Moses, and twenty usuals for Marts!'--two of our best
customers they was. Well, Dick, he counts 'em, and soon misses one.
'Thirty-eight, thirty-nine,' he sez, and no more; 'but 'ere's a empty
punnit,' he sez. I was standing near, feelin' awful, and wished I'd
said I'd eat the plums afore Dick begun to count 'em, but I didn't,
and after that I couldn't. 'Joe!' sez Dick, 'I wants yer! 'Ow come
this empty punnit 'ere, along of the others? there's plums bin in it,
I can see, 'cos it's not new. Speak up, youngster!' I looked at
Dick's face, Mrs. Wilson, and his eyes seemed to go right into my
throat, and draw the truth out of me. 'Speak up,' he sez, a-gettin'
cross; 'if you've prigged 'em, say so, and you'll get a good hidin'
from me, for a-doin' of it; but if you tells me a lie, you'll get
such a hidin' for that as 'll make you remember it all your life; so
speak up, say you did it, and take your hidin' like a brick, and if
you didn't prig 'em, say who did, 'cos you must 'av' seen 'em go.'
"I couldn't do nothin', Mrs. Wilson, but keep my 'ed down, and
blubber out, 'Please, Dick, I eat 'em.'
"'Oh, you did, yer young greedy, did yer,' he sez; 'I'm glad yer
didn't tell me a lie. I've got to giv' yer a hidin', Joe; but giv' us
yer 'and, old chap, first, and mind wot I sez to yer: "_Own up to it,
wotever you do_," and take your punishment; it's 'ard to bear, but
when the smart on it's over yer forgets it; but if yer tells a lie to
save yerself, yer feels the smart of _that_ always; yer feels ashamed
of yerself whenever yer thinks of it.' And then Dick give me a
thrashin', he did, but I never 'ollered or made a row, tho' he hit
pretty 'ard. And, Mrs. Wilson, I never could look in Dick's face if I
told a lie, and I never shall tell one, I 'ope, as long as ever I
live. You should just see Dick, Mrs. Wilson, he is a one-er, he is."
"Lor' bless the boy," said Mary, the housemaid; "why, if he isn't a-
cryin' now. Whatever's the matter? One minnit you're makin' us larf
fit to kill ourselves, and then you're nearly makin' us cry with your
Dick, and your great eyes runnin' over like that. Now get away, and
take the dogs their supper, and see if you can't get a bit of color
in your cheeks before you come back."
So off Joe went, and soon the frantic barking in the stable-yard
showed he had begun feeding his four-footed pets.
Time went on; it was a very quiet household just then--my husband
away in America, and my friends most of them enjoying their summer
abroad, or at some seaside place--all scattered here and there until
autumn was over, and then we were to move to town, and spend the
winter season at our house there. I hoped my dear sister and her
girls would then join us, and, best of all, my dear husband be home
to make our circle complete.
Day by day Joe progressed in favor with everybody; his size was
always a trouble, but his extreme good nature made everybody willing
to help him over his difficulties. He invented all sorts of curious
tools for reaching up to high places; and the marvels he would
perform with a long stick and a sort of claw at the end of it were
I noticed whenever I spoke of going to town Joe did not seem to look
forward to the change with any pleasure, although he had never been
to London, he told me; but Dick had been once with his father, and
had seen lots of strange things; among others a sad one, that made a
great impression on Dick, and he had told the tale to Joe, so as to
have almost as great an effect on him.
It appeared that one night Dick and his father were crossing Waterloo
Bridge, and had seen a young girl running quickly along, crying
bitterly. Dick tried to keep up with her, and asked her what was the
matter. She told him to let her alone, that she meant to drown
herself, for she had nothing to live for, and was sick of her life.
Dick persuaded her to tell him her grief, and heard from her that her
mother and father had both been drowned in a steamer, and she was
left with a little brother to take care of; he had been a great
trouble to her, and had been led away by bad companions until he
became thoroughly wicked. She had been a milliner, and had a room of
her own, and paid extra for a little place where her brother could
sleep. She fed and clothed him out of her earnings, although he was
idle, and cruel enough to scold and abuse her when she tried to
reason with him, and refused to let him bring his bad companions to
her home. At last he stole nearly all she had, and pawned it; and
among other things, some bonnets and caps belonging to the people who
employed her, given as patterns for her to copy. These she had to pay
for, and lost her situation besides. By degrees all her clothes, her
home, and all she had, went for food; and then this wicked boy left
her, and the next thing she knew was that he had been taken up with a
gang of burglars concerned in a jewel robbery. That day she had seen
him in prison, and he was to be transported for seven years; so the
poor creature, mad with grief, was about to end her life. Dick and
his father would not leave her until she was quiet, and promised them
she would go and get a bed and supper with the money they gave her,
and they promised to see her again the next day at a place she named.
The next morning they went to the address, and found a crowd round
the house. Somebody said a young woman had thrown herself out of a
window, and had been taken up dead. It was too true; and the girl was
the wretched, heart-broken sister they had helped over night. Her
grief had been too much for her, and, poor thing, she awoke to the
light of another day, and could not face it alone and destitute; so,
despairing, she had ended her life. They went to the hospital, and
were allowed to see all that remained of the poor creature; and
Dick's description of it all, and his opinion that the brother "might
have been just such another little chap at first as Joe," and "What
would that brother feel," said Dick, "when he knew what he had done?
for he done it," said Dick; "he done that girl to death, the same as
if he'd shov'd her out of that winder hisself."
"And," said Joe, "I wonder if them chaps is goin' about London now
wot led her brother wrong? I don't like London; and I wish we could
I assured Joe that in London there was no danger of meeting such
people if he kept to himself, and made no friends of strangers.
Joe was also much afraid of having to wait at table when there were
guests. In spite of all I could do, he was hopelessly nervous and
confused when he had to wait on more than two or three people; and as
I expected to entertain a good deal when we were in town, I could not
help fearing Joe would be unequal to the duties.
I could not bear the idea of parting with the little fellow, for,
added to his good disposition, Joe, in his dark brown livery, with
gilt buttons, his neat little ties, and clean hands; his carefully
brushed curls, by this time trained into better order, and shining
like burnished gold in the sun; his tiny feet, with the favorite red
socks, which he could and did darn very neatly himself when they
began to wear out (and when he bought new ones they were always
bright red),--Joe, let me tell you, was quite an ornament in our
establishment, and the envy of several boys living in families round
about, who tried in vain to get acquainted with him, but he would not
be friends, although he always refused their advances with civil
Sometimes a boy would linger when bringing a note or message for me,
and try to draw Joe into conversation. In a few minutes I would hear
Joe's deep voice say, "I think you had better go on now. I've got my
work to do, and I reckon you've got yours a-waiting for yer at your
place." Then the side-door would shut, and Joe was bustling about his
In the beginning of October we arrived in London. There had been much
packing up, and much extra work for everybody, and Joe was in his
What those long arms, and that willing heart, and those quick little
hands got through, nobody but those he helped and worked for could
tell. Whatever was wanted Joe knew where to find it. Joe's knife was
ready to cut a stubborn knot; Joe's shoulders ready to be loaded with
as heavy a weight as any man could carry. More than once I met him
coming down-stairs with large boxes he himself could almost have been
packed in, and he declared he did not find them too heavy.
"You see, Missis," he said, "I'm that strong now since I've been
here, with all the good food I gets, and bein' so happy like, that I
feel almost up to carryin' anythink. I do believe I could lift that
there pianner, if somebody would just give it a hoist, and let me get
hold of it easy."
Yes, Joe was strong and well, and I am sure, happy, and I had never
had a single misgiving about him since he stood with his fading
flowers and shabby clothes at my window that summer day.
At last we were settled in town, and the winter season beginning. Our
house was situated in the West End of London, a little beyond
Bayswater. One of a row of detached houses, facing another row
exactly similar in every way, except that the backs of those we lived
in had small gardens, with each its own stable wall at the end, with
coachman's rooms above, the front of the stable facing the mews, and
having the entrance from there; the mews ran all along the backs of
these houses. On the opposite side the houses facing ours had their
gardens and back windows facing the high-road, and no stables. There
was a private road belonging to this, Holling Park as it was called,
and a watchman to keep intruders out, and to stop organ-grinders,
beggars, and such invaders of the peace from disturbing us.
Somehow I was never as comfortable as in my snug cottage in the
country. Rich, fashionable people lived about us, and all day long
kept up the round of "society life."
In the morning the large handsome houses would seem asleep, nothing
moving inside or out, except a tradesman's cart, calling for orders,
or workmen putting up or taking down awnings, at some house where
there would be, or had been, a ball or entertainment of some kind.
About eleven a carriage or two would be driven round from the mews,
and stop before a house to take some one for a morning drive; but
very seldom was anybody on foot seen about. In the afternoon it was
different,--carriages rolled along incessantly, and streams of
afternoon callers were going and coming from the houses when the
mistress was "at home;" and at my door, too, soon began the usual din
of bell and knocker. Joe was quite equal to the occasion, and enjoyed
Friday, the day I received. Dressed in his very best, and with a
collar that kept his chin in what seemed to me a fearful state of
torture, but added to his height by at least half an inch, Joe stood
behind the hall-door, ready to open it directly the knocker was
released. He ushered in the guests as though "to the manner born,"
giving out the names correctly, and with all the ease of an
experienced groom of the chambers.
The conservatory leading out of the drawing-room was Joe's especial
pride; it was his great pleasure to syringe the hanging baskets, and
attend to the ferns and plants. Many shillings from his pocket-money
were spent in little surprises for me in the form of pots of musk,
maiden-hair, or anything he could buy; his wages were all sent home,
and he only kept for his own whatever he had given to him, and
sometimes a guest would "tip" him more generously than I liked, for
his bright eyes and ready hands were always at everybody's service.
After my husband's return home, who from the first became Joe's
especial care, as to boots, brushing of clothes, etc., it became
necessary to give two or three dinner-parties, and I must confess I
felt nervous as to how Joe would acquit himself.
In our dining-room was a very large bear-skin rug, and the floor
being polished oak, it was dangerous to step on this rug, for it
would slip away from the feet on the smooth surface, and even the
dogs avoided it, so many falls had they met with upon it.
The first day of my husband's arrival we had my sister and a friend
to dine, and had been talking about Joe in the few moments before
My husband had been laughing at the size of my page, and scolding me
a little, or rather pretending to do so, for taking a written
"Little woman," he said, "don't be surprised if one night a few
country burglars make us a visit, and renew their acquaintance with
Mr. J. Cole."
"You don't know Joe," I replied, "or you would never say that."
"Do you know him so well, little wife?" said my dear sensible
husband; "remember he has only been in our service six months. In the
country he had very little of value in his hands, but here, it seems
to me, he has too much. All the plate, and indeed everything of
value, is in his pantry, and he is a very young boy to trust. One of
the women servants should take charge of the plate-chest, I think.
Where does this paragon sleep?"
"Down-stairs," I said, "next to the kitchen, at the back of the
house; and you should see how carefully every night he looks to the
plate-basket, counts everything, and then asks Mrs. Wilson to see it
is right, locks it up, and gives her the key to take care of. No one
can either open or carry away an iron safe easily, and there is
nothing else worth taking; besides, I know Joe is honest, I feel it."
"Well, I hope so, dear," was my husband's reply, but I could see he
was not quite comfortable about it.
At dinner that day Joe had an accident; he was dreadfully nervous, as
usual, and when waiting, he forgot to attend to my guests first, but
always came to me. The parlor-maid, a new one, and not a great
favorite with Joe, made matters worse by correcting him in an audible
voice; and once, when somebody wanted oyster-sauce, she told Joe to
hand it. The poor boy, wishing to obey quickly, forgot to give the
bear-skin a wide berth, slipped on it, and in a moment had fallen
full length, having in his fall deposited the contents of the sauce-
tureen partly into a blue leather armchair, and the rest onto my
The boy's consternation was dreadful. I could see he was completely
overcome with fright and sorrow for what he had done. He got up, and
all his trembling lips could say was, "Oh, please, I'm so sorry; it
was the bear as tripped me up. I am so very sorry."
Even my husband could scarcely keep from smiling, the sorrow was so
genuine, the sense of shame so true.
"There, never mind, Joe," he said kindly; "you must be more careful.
Now run and get a sponge, and do the best you can with it."
After that Joe had the greatest terror of that treacherous skin, and
I heard him telling the parlor-maid about it.
"You mind," he said, "or that bear'll ketch 'old of yer. I shan't
forget how he ketched 'old of my leg that day and knocked me over; so
you'd better take care, and not go nigher than you can 'elp. He's
always a-lookin' out to ketch yer, but he won't 'ave me no more, I
can tell him."
This fall of Joe's made him still more nervous of waiting at table,
and at last, when he had made some very serious mistakes, I had to
speak to him and tell him I was afraid, if he did not soon learn to
wait better, I must send him away, for his master was annoyed at the
mistakes he made, such as pouring port instead of sherry, giving cold
plates when hot ones were required, handing dishes on the wrong side,
My little lecture was listened to quietly and humbly, and Joe had
turned to go away, when, to my surprise and distress, he suddenly
burst into a perfect passion of tears and sobs.
"I will try and learn myself," he said, as well as his sobs would let
him, "indeed, I will. I know I'm stoopid. I sez to myself every time
company comes, 'I'll mind wot I'm about, and remember dishes left-
'anded, pour-in's out right, sherry wine's yeller, and port wine
afterwards with the nuts, grapes, and things; and the cruits when
there's fish, and begin with the strangerest lady next to master's
side, and 'elp missus last.' I knows it all, but when they're all
sittin' down, and everybody wantin' somethin', I don't know if Jane's
a-goin' to giv' it 'em, or I am; and I gets stoopid, and my 'ands
shakes, and somehow I can't do nothin'; but please don't send me
away. I do like you and the master. I'll ask Jane to learn me better.
You see if I don't. Oh, please'm, say you'll try me!"
What could I say but "yes," and for a day or two Joe did better, but
we were a small party, and the waiting was easy; but shortly we were
to have a large dinner-party, and as the time drew near, Joe became
quite pale and anxious.
About this time, too, I had been awakened at night by curious sounds
down-stairs, as of somebody moving about, and once I heard an
unmistakable fall of some heavy article.
My husband assured me it was nothing alarming, and he went down-
stairs, but could neither hear or see anything unusual. All was
Another night I felt sure I heard sounds down-stairs; and in spite of
my husband's advice to remain still, I called Mrs. Wilson, and
entreated her to come down to the kitchen-floor with me. It was so
very easy, I knew, for anybody to enter the house from the back, and
there being a deep area all round, they could work away with their
tools at the ground-floor back windows unseen. Any one could get on
the top of the stable from the mews, drop into the garden, and be
safe; for the watchman and policeman were on duty in the front of the
house only, the back was quite unprotected. True, there were iron
bars to Joe's window and the kitchen, but iron bars could be sawed
through, and I lived in dread of burglars.
This night Mrs. Wilson and I went softly down, and as we neared the
kitchen stairs, I heard a voice say in a whisper, "Make haste!"
"There, Mrs. Wilson, did you hear that?" I said. "Was that
"No, ma'am," she replied; "there's somebody talking, and I believe
it's in Joe's room. Let us go up and fetch the master."
So we returned up-stairs, and soon my husband stood with us at the
door of Joe's room.
"Open the door, Joe!" cried my husband. "Who have you got there?"
"Nobody, please, sir," said a trembling voice.
"Open the door at once!" said the master, and in a moment it was
opened. Joe stood there very pale, but with no sort of fear in his
face. There was nobody in the room, and as Joe had certainly been in
bed, we concluded he must have talked in his sleep, and, perhaps,
walked about also, for what we knew.
The day before the dinner-party, Cook came and told me she felt sure
there was something wrong with Joe. He was so changed from what he
used to be; there was no getting him to wake in the morning, and he
seemed so heavy with sleep, as if he had no rest at night. Also Cook
had proofs of his having been in her kitchen after he was supposed to
have gone to bed; chairs were moved, and several things not where she
had left them. She had asked Joe, and he replied he did go into the
kitchen, but would not say what for.
I did not like to talk to Joe that day, so decided to wait till after
the dinner, and I would then insist on the mystery being cleared up.
I knew Joe would tell the truth; my trust was unshaken, although
circumstances seemed against him.
That night Mrs. Wilson came to my door, and said she was sure Joe was
at his nightwork again, for she could see from her bedroom window a
light reflected on the stable wall, which must be in his room.
"How can we find out," I said, "what he is doing?"
"That is easily done," said my husband. "We can go out at the garden-
door, and down the steps leading from the garden into the area; they
are opposite his window. We can look through the Venetian blinds, if
they are down, and see for ourselves. He won't be able to see us."
Accordingly, having first wrapped up in our furs, we went down, and
were soon at Joe's window, standing in the area that surrounded the
house. The laths of the blind were some of them open, and between
them we saw distinctly all over the room.
At first we could not understand the strange sight that met our gaze.
In the middle of Joe's room was a table, spread with a cloth, and on
it saucers from flower-pots, placed at intervals down each side;
before each saucer a chair was placed, and in the centre of the table
a high basket, from which a Stilton cheese had been unpacked that
morning,-this was evidently to represent a tall _epergne_. On Joe's
wash-stand were several bottles, a jug, and by each flower-pot saucer
two vessels of some kind--by one, two jam-pots of different sizes; by
another, a broken specimen glass and a teacup--and so on; and from
chair to chair moved Joe, softly but quickly, on tiptoe, now with
bottles which contained water. We could see his lips move, and
concluded he was saying something to imaginary persons, for he would
put a jampot on his tray, and pour into it from the bottle, and then
replace it. Sometimes he would go quickly to his bed, which we saw
represented the dinner-wagon, or sideboard, and bring imaginary
dishes from there and hand them. Then he would go quickly from chair
to chair, always correcting himself if he went to the wrong side, and
talking all the time softly to himself. So here was the solution of
the mystery; here melted into air the visions of Joe in league with
The poor boy, evidently alarmed at the prospect of the dinner-party,
and feeling that he must try to improve in waiting at table before
that time somehow, had stolen all those hours nightly from his rest,
to practise with whatever substitutes were at hand for the usual
Here every night, when those who had worked far less during the day
were soundly sleeping, had that anxious, striving little heart shaken
off fatigue, and the big blue eyes refused to yield to sleep, in
order to fight with the nervousness that alone prevented his willing
hands acting with their natural cleverness. I felt a choking in my
throat, when I saw the thin, pale little face, that should have been
on the pillow hours before, lighted up with triumph as the supposed
guests departed; the dumb show of folding the dinner napkins
belonging to myself and the master, and putting them in their
respective rings, told us the ordeal was over. What a weird scene it
was,--the dim light, the silent house, the spread table, and the
empty chairs! One could imagine ghostly revellers, visible only to
that one fragile attendant, who ministered so willingly to their
numerous wants. The sort of nervous thrill that heralds hysterical
attacks was rapidly overcoming me, and I whispered to my husband,
"Let us go now;" but he lingered yet a few seconds, and silently drew
my attention again to the window.
Joe was on his knees by his bedside, his face hidden in his hands.
What silent prayer was ascending to the Throne of Grace, who shall
say? I only know that it were well if many a kneeling worshipper in
"purple and fine linen" could feel as sure of being heard as Joe did
when, his victory won, he knelt, in his humble servant's garb, and
said his prayers that night in spite of the aching head and weary
limbs that needed so badly the few hours' rest that remained before
six o'clock, the time Joe always got up.
Silently we stole away, and in my mind from that moment my faith in
Joe never wavered. Not once, in spite of sad events that came to pass
later on, when even I, his staunchest friend, had to recall to memory
that kneeling little form in the silence of the night, alone with his
God, in order to stifle the cruel doubts of his truth that were
forced upon us all by circumstances I must soon relate.
The famous dinner passed off well. Joe was splendid; his midnight
practice had brought its reward, and he moved about so swiftly, and
anticipated everybody's wants so well, that some of my friends asked
me where I got such a treasure of a page; he must have had a good
butler or footman to teach him, they said; he is evidently used to
waiting on many guests. I was proud of Joe.
The next day he came to me with more than a sovereign in silver, and
told me the gentlemen had been so very kind to him, "and a'most every
one had given him somethin', tho' he never arst, or waited about, as
some fellers did, as if they wouldn't lose sight of a gent till he
paid 'em. But," said Joe, "they would giv' it me; and one gent, he
follered me right up the passage, he did, and sez, 'Ere, you small
boy,' he sez, and he give me a whole 'arf-crown. Whatever for, I
But I knew that must have been Dr. Loring, a celebrated physician,
and my husband's dearest friend. We had told him about Joe's midnight
self-teaching, and he had been much interested in the story.
You little thought, Joe, the hand that patted your curly head so
kindly that night would one day hold your small wrist, and count its
feeble life-pulse beating slowly and yet more slowly, while we, who
loved you, should watch the clever, handsome face, trying in vain to
read there the blessed word "Hope."
And now I must confess to those--for surely there will be a few--who
have felt a little interest, so far, in the fortunes of J. Cole, that
a period in my story has arrived when I would fain lay down my pen,
and not awaken the sleeping past, to recall the sad trouble that
I am almost an old woman now, and all this happened many years ago,
when my hair was golden instead of silver. I was younger in those
days, and now am peacefully and hopefully waiting God's good time for
my summons. Troubles have been my lot, many and hard to bear. Loss of
husband, children, dear, good friends, many by death, and some
troubles harder even than those, the loss of trust, and bitter
awakening to the ingratitude and worthlessness of those in whom I
have trusted,--all these I have endured. Yet time and trouble have
not sufficiently hardened my heart that I can write of what follows
without pain. Christmas was over, and my dear husband again away for
some months. As soon as I could really say, "Spring is here," we were
to leave London for our country home; and Joe was constantly talking
to Mrs. Wilson about his various pets, left behind in the gardener's
care. There was an old jackdaw, an especial favorite of his, a
miserable owl, too, who had met with an accident, resulting in the
loss of an eye; a more evil-looking object than "Cyclops," as my
husband christened him, I never saw. Sometimes on a dark night this
one eye would gleam luridly from out the shadowy recesses of the
garden, and an unearthly cry of "Hoo-oo-t," fall on the ear, enough
to give one the "creeps for a hour," as Mary, the housemaid, said.
But Joe loved Cyclops, or rather "Cloppy," as he called him; and the
bird hopped after Joe about the garden, as if he quite returned the
All our own dogs, and two or three maimed ones, and a cat or two,
more or less hideous, and indebted to Joe's mercy in rescuing them
from traps, snares, etc.,--all these creatures were Joe's delight.
Each week the gardener's boy wrote a few words to Joe of their health
and wonderful doings, and each week Joe faithfully sent a shilling,
to be laid out in food for them. Then there was Joe's especial
garden, also a sort of hospital, or convalescent home rather, where
many blighted, unhealthy-looking plants and shrubs, discarded by the
gardener, and cast aside to be burnt on the weed-heap, had been
rescued by Joe, patiently nursed and petted as it were into life
again by constant care and watching, and, after being kept in pots a
while, till they showed, by sending forth some tiny shoot or bud,
that the sap of life was once more circulating freely, were then
planted in the sheltered corner he called "his own."
What treasures awaited him in this small square of earth. What
bunches of violets he would gather for the Missis; and his longing to
get back to his various pets, and his garden, was the topic of
conversation on many a long evening between Joe and Mrs. Wilson.
Little Bogie, the fox-terrier, was the only dog we had with us in
town, and Bogie hated London. After the quiet country life, the
incessant roll of carriages, tramping of horses, and callings of
coachmen, shrill cab-whistles, and all the noises of a fashionable
neighborhood at night during a London season, were most objectionable
to Bogie; he could not rest, and often Joe got out of bed in the
night, and took him in his arms, to prevent his waking all of us,
with his shrill barking at the unwonted sounds.
As I have said before, I am very nervous, and the prospect of
spending several more weeks in the big London house, without my
husband, was far from pleasant; so I invited my widowed sister and
her girls to stay with me some time longer, and made up my mind to
banish my fears, and think of nothing but that the dark nights would
be getting shorter and shorter, and meanwhile our house was well
protected, as far as good strong bolts and chains could do so.
One night I felt more nervous than usual. I had expected a letter
from America for some days past, and none had arrived. On this
evening I knew the mail was due, and I waited anxiously for the last
ring of the postman at ten o'clock; but I was doomed to listen in
vain. There was the sharp, loud ring next door, but not at ours; and
I went to my room earlier than the others, really to give way to a
few tears that I could not control.
I sat by my bedroom fire, thinking, and, I am afraid, conjuring up
all sorts of terrible reasons for my dear husband's silence, until I
must have fallen asleep, for I awoke chilly and cramped from the
uncomfortable posture I had slept in. The fire was out, and the house
silent as the grave; not even a carriage passing to take up some late
guest. I looked at the clock, half-past three, and then from my
window. It was that "darkest hour before dawn," and I hurried into
bed, and endeavored to sleep; but no, I was hopelessly wide awake. No
amount of counting, or mental exercise on the subject of "sheep going
through a hedge," had any effect, and I found myself lying awake,
listening. Yes, I knew that I was _listening for something that I
should hear before long, but I did not know what._
"Hark! what was that?"--a sudden thud, as if something had fallen
somewhere in the house; then silence, except for the loud beating of
my heart, that threatened to suffocate me. "Nonsense," I said to
myself, "I am foolishly nervous to-night. It is nothing here, or
Bogie would bark;" so I tried again to sleep. Hush! Surely that was a
footstep going up or down the stairs! I could not endure the agony of
being alone any longer, but would go to my sister's room, just across
the landing, and get her to come and stay the rest of the night with
me. I put on my slippers and dressing-gown, and opening my door, came
face to face with my sister, who was coming to me.
"Let me come in," she said, "and don't let us alarm the girls; but I
feel certain something is going on down-stairs. Bogie barked
furiously an hour ago, and then was suddenly silent."
"That must have been when I was asleep," I replied; "but no doubt Joe
heard him, and has taken him in."
"That may be," said my sister, "but I have kept on hearing queer
noises at the back of the house; they seemed in Joe's room at first.
Come and listen yourself on the stairs."
It is strange, but true, that many persons, horribly nervous at the
thought of danger, find all their presence of mind in full force when
actually called upon to face it. So it is with me, and so it was on
that night. I stood on the landing, and listened, and in a few
moments heard muffled sounds down-stairs, like persons moving about
"There is certainly somebody down there, Nelly," I said to my sister,
"and they are down in the basement. If we could creep down quietly
and get into the drawing-room, we might open the window and call the
watchman or policeman; both are on duty until seven."
"But think," said my sister, "of the fright of the girls if they hear
us, and find they are left alone. The servants, too, will scream, and
rush about, as they always do. Let us go down and make sure there are
thieves, and then see what is best to be done. The door at the top of
the kitchen stairs is locked, so they must be down there; and perhaps
if we could get the watchman to come in quietly, we might catch them
in a trap, by letting him through the drawing-room, and into the
conservatory. He could get into the garden from there, and as they
must have got in that way from the mews, over the stable wall, and
through the garden, they would try to escape the same way, and the
watchman would be waiting for them, and cut off their retreat."
I agreed, and we stole down-stairs into the drawing-room, where we
locked ourselves in, then very gently and carefully drew up one of
the side blinds of the bay window. The morning had begun to break,
and everything in the wide road was distinctly visible. In the
distance I could see the policeman on duty, but on the opposite side,
and going away from our house instead of towards it. He would turn
the corner at the top of the road, and go past the houses parallel
with the backs of our row, and then appear at the opposite end of the
park, and come along our side; there was no intermediate turning--
nothing but an unbroken row of about forty detached houses facing
What could we do? I dared not wait until the policeman came back;
quite twenty minutes must pass before then, and day being so near at
hand, the light was increasing every moment, and the burglars would
surely not leave without visiting the drawing-room and dining-room,
and would perhaps murder us to save themselves from detection.
If I could only attract the policeman's attention, but how?
My sister was close to the door listening, and every instant we
dreaded hearing them coming up the kitchen stairs. I could not
understand Bogie not barking, and Joe not waking, for where I was I
could distinctly hear the men moving about in the pantry and kitchen.
"I wonder," I said to my sister, "if I could put something across
from this balcony to the stonework by the front steps? It seems such
a little distance, and if I could step across, I could open the front
gate in an instant, and run after the policeman. I shall try."
"You will fall and kill yourself," my sister said; "the space is much
wider than you think."
But I was determined to try; for if I let that policeman go out of
sight, what horrors might happen in the twenty minutes before he
would come back.
The idea of one of the girls waking and calling out, or Joe waking
and being shot or stabbed, gave me a feeling of desperation, as
though I alone could and must save them.
Luckily the house was splendidly built, every window-sash sliding
noiselessly and easily in its groove. I opened the one nearest to the
hall door steps, and saw that the stone ledge abutted to within about
two feet of the low balcony of the window; but I was too nervous to
trust myself to spring across even that distance. At that moment my
"I hear somebody coming up the kitchen stairs!"
Desperately I cast my eyes round the room for something to bridge the
open space, that would bear my weight, if only for a moment. The
fender-stool caught my eye; that might do, it was strong, and more
than long enough. In an instant we had it across, and I was out of
the window and down the front steps.
As I turned the handle of the heavy iron gate, I looked down at the
front kitchen window. A man stood in the kitchen, and he looked up
and saw me--such a horrible-looking ruffian, too. Fear lent wings to
my feet, and I flew up the road. The watchman was just entering the
park from the opposite end; he saw me, and sounded his whistle; the
policeman turned and ran towards me. I was too exhausted to speak,
and he caught me, just as, having gasped "Thieves at 50!" (the number
of our house), I fell forward in a dead swoon.
When I recovered, I was lying on my own bed, my sister, the scared
servants, and the policeman, all around me. From them I heard that
directly the man in the kitchen caught sight of me, he warned his
companion, who was busy forcing the lock of the door at the head of
the kitchen stairs, and my sister heard them both rushing across the
garden, where they had a ladder against the stable-wall. They must
have pulled this up after them, and tossed it into the next garden,
where it was found, to delay pursuit. The park-keeper had, after
sounding his whistle, rushed to our house, got in at the window, and
ran to the door at the top of the kitchen stairs, but it was quite
impossible to open it; the burglars had cleverly left something in
the lock when disturbed, and the key would not turn. He then went
through the drawing-room into the conservatory, where a glass door
opened on the garden; but by the time the heavy sliding glass panel
was unfastened, and the inner door unbolted, the men had disappeared.
They took with them much less than they hoped to have done, for there
were parcels and packets of spoons, forks, and a case of very
handsome gold salt-cellars, a marriage gift, always kept in a baize-
lined chest in the pantry, the key of which I retained, and which
chest was supposed until now to be proof against burglars; the lock
had been burnt all round with some instrument, most likely a poker
heated in the gas, and then forced inwards from the burnt woodwork.
"How was it," I asked, "Joe did not wake during all this, or Bogie
As I asked the question, I noticed that my sister turned away; and
Mrs. Wilson, after vainly endeavoring to look unconcerned, threw her
apron suddenly over her head, and burst out crying.
"What is the matter?" I said, sitting up; "what are you all hiding
from me? Send Joe to me; I will learn the truth from him."
At this the policeman came forward, and then I heard that Joe was
missing, his room was in great disorder, and one of his shoes,
evidently dropped in his hurry, had been found in the garden, near
some spoons thrown down by the thieves; his clothes were gone, so he
evidently had dressed himself after pretending to go to bed as usual;
his blankets and sheets were taken away, used no doubt, the policeman
said, to wrap up the stolen things.
"Is it possible," I asked, "that you suspect Joe is in league with
"Well, mum," said the man, "it looks queer, and very like it. He
slept down-stairs close to the very door where they got in; he never
gives no alarm, he must have been expecting something, or else why
was he dressed? And how did his shoe come in the garden? And what's
more to the point, if so be as he's innercent, where is he? These
young rascals is that artful, you'd be surprised to know the dodges
they're up to."
"But," I interrupted, "it is impossible, it is cruel to suspect him.
He is gone, true enough, but I'm sure he will come back. Perhaps he
ran after the men to try and catch them, and dropped his shoe then."
"That's not likely, mum," said he, with a pitying smile at my
ignorance of circumstantial evidence; "he'd have called out to stop
'em, and it 'aint likely they'd have let him get up their ladder,
afore chucking of it into the next garden, if so be as he was a-
chasing of 'em to get 'em took. No, mar'm; I'm very sorry, particular
as you seem so kindly disposed; but, in my humble opinion, he's a
artful young dodger, and this 'ere job has been planned ever so long,
and he's connived at it, and has hooked it along with his pals. I
knows 'em, but we'll soon nab him; and if so be as you'll be so kind
as to let me take down in writin' all you knows about 'J. Cole,'
which is his name, I'm informed, where you took him from, his
character, and previous career, it will help considerable in laying
hands on him; and when he's found we'll soon find his pals."
Of course, I told all I knew about Joe. I felt positive he would come
back, perhaps in a few minutes, to explain everything. Besides, there
was Bogie, too. Why should he take Bogie? The policeman suggested
that "perhaps the dawg foller'd him, and he had taken it along with
him, to prevent being traced by its means."
At length, all this questioning being over, the household settled
down into a sort of strange calm. It seemed to us days since we had
said "Good-night," and sought our rooms on that night, and yet it was
only twenty-four hours ago; in that short time how much had taken
place! On going over all the plate, etc., we missed many more things;
and Mrs. Wilson, whose faith in Joe's honesty never wavered, began to
think the poor boy might have been frightened at having slept through
the robbery; and as he was so proud of having the plate used every
day in his charge, when he discovered it had been stolen, he might
have feared we should blame him so much for it, that he had run away
home to his people in his fright, meaning to ask his father, or his
adored Dick, to return to me and plead for him. I thought, too, this
was possible, for I knew how terribly he would reproach himself for
letting anything in his care be stolen. I therefore made up my mind
to telegraph to his father at once; but, not to alarm him, I said:--
"Is Joe with you? Have reason to think he has gone home. Answer
The answer came some hours after, for in those small villages
communication was difficult. The reply ran thus:--
"We have not seen Joe; if he comes to-night will write at once.
Hoping there is nothing wrong."
So that surmise was a mistake, for Joe had money, and would go by
train if he went home, and be there in two hours.
All the household sat up nearly all that night, or rested
uncomfortably on sofas and armchairs; we felt too unsettled to go to
bed, though worn out with suspense, and the previous excitement and
fright. Officials and detectives came and went during the evening,
and looked about for traces of the robbers, and before night a
description of the stolen things, and a most minute one of Joe, were
posted outside the police-stations, and all round London for miles. A
reward of twenty pounds was offered for Joe, and my heart ached to
know there was a hue and cry after him like a common thief.
What would the old parents think? and how would Dick feel?--Dick
whose good counsels and careful training had made Joe what I _knew_
he was, in spite of every suspicion.
The next day I still felt sure he would come, and I went down into
the room where he used to sleep, and saw Mrs. Wilson had put all in
order, and fresh blankets sheets were on the little bed, all ready
for him. So many things put me in mind of the loving, gentle
disposition. A little flower-vase I valued very much had been broken
by Bogie romping with one of my nieces, and knocking it down. It was
broken in more than twenty pieces; and after I had patiently tried to
mend it myself, and my nieces, with still greater patience, had had
their turn at it, we had given it up as a bad job, and thought it had
long ago gone onto the dust-heap.
There were some shelves on the wall of Joe's room where his treasures
were kept; and on one of these shelves, covered with an old white
handkerchief, was a little tray containing the vase, a bottle of
cement, and a camel's-hair brush. The mending was finished, all but
two or three of the smallest pieces, and beautifully done; it must
have taken time, and an amount of patience that put my efforts and
those of the girls to shame; but Joe's was a labor of love, and did
not weary him. He would probably have put it in its usual place one
morning, when mended, and said nothing about it until I found it out,
and then confessed, in his own queer way, "Please, I knew you was
sorry it was broke, and so I mended it;" then he would have hurried
away, flushed with pleasure at my few words of thanks and praise.
On the mantelpiece were more of Joe's treasures, four or five cheap
photographs, the subjects quite characteristic of Joe. One of them
was a religious subject, "The Shepherd with a little lamb on his
shoulders." A silent prayer went up from my heart that somewhere that
same Good Shepherd was finding lost Joe, and bringing him safely back
There were some pebbles he had picked up during a memorable trip to
Margate with Dick, a year before I saw him; which pebbles he firmly
believed were real "aggits," and had promised to have them polished
soon, and made into brooch and earrings for Mrs. Wilson.
There was a very old-fashioned photograph of myself that I had torn
in half, and thrown into the waste-paper basket. I saw this had been
carefully joined together and enclosed in a cheap frame--the only one
that could boast of being so preserved. I suppose Joe could only
afford one frame, and his sense of the fitness of things made him
choose the Missis's picture to be first honored.
How sad I felt looking round the room! People may smile at my feeling
so sad and concerned about a servant, a common, lowborn page-boy. Ay,
smile on, if you will, but tell me, my friend, can you say, if you
were in Joe's position at that time, with circumstantial evidence so
strong against you, poor and lowly as he was, are there four or five,
or even two or three of your friends who would believe in you, stand
up for you, and trust in you, in spite of all, as we did for Joe?
I had gone up to my sitting-room, after telling Mary to light the
fire in poor Joe's room, and let it look warm and cosey; for I had
some sort of presentiment that I should see the poor boy again very
soon--how, I knew not, but I have all my life been subject to
spiritual influences, and have seldom been mistaken in them.
We were all thinking of going early to rest, for since the robbery
none of us had had any real sleep. Suddenly the front door-bell rang
timidly, as if the visitor were not quite sure of its being right to
pull the handle.
"Perhaps that's Joe," said my sister.
But I knew Joe would not ring that bell.
We heard Mary open the door, and a man's voice ask if Mr. Aylmer
"Yes," said Mary, "but he is abroad; but you can see Mrs. Aylmer."
Then came a low murmuring of voices, and Mary came in, saying:--
"Oh, ma'am, it's Dick, Joe's brother; and he says may he see you?"
"Send him in here at once," I replied.
And in a moment Dick stood before me--Dick, Joe's beau-ideal of all
that was good, noble, and to be admired. I must say the mind-picture
I had formed of Dick was totally unlike the reality. I had expected
to see a sunburnt, big fellow, with broad shoulders and expressive
The real Dick was a thin, delicate-looking young man, with a pale
face, and black straight hair. He stood with his hat in his hand,
looking down as if afraid to speak.
"Oh, pray come in," I cried, going forward to meet him. "I know who
you are. Oh, have you brought me any news of poor Joe? We are all his
friends here, his true friends, and you must let us be yours too in
this trouble. Have you seen him?"
At my words the bowed head was lifted up, and then I saw Dick's face
as it was. If ever truth, honor, and generosity looked out from the
windows of a soul, they looked out of those large blue eyes of
Dick's--eyes so exactly like Joe's in expression, that the black
lashes instead of the fair ones seemed wrong somehow.
"God bless you, lady, for them words," said Dick; and before I could
prevent it, he had knelt at my feet, caught my hand and pressed it to
his lips, while wild sobs broke from him.
"Forgive me," he said, rising to his feet, and leaning with one hand
on the back of a chair, his whole frame shaking with emotion.
"Forgive me for givin' way like this; but I've seen them papers about
our Joe, and I know what's being thought of him, and I've come here
ashamed to see you, thinkin' you believed as the rest do, that Joe
robbed you after all your goodness to him. Why, lady, I tell you,
rather than I'd believe that of my little lad, as I thrashed till my
heart almost broke to hear him sob, for the only lie as he ever told
in all his life; if I could believe it, I'd take father's old gun and
end my life, for I'd be a beast, not fit to live any longer. And I
thought you doubted him too; but now I hear you say you're his
friend, and believes in him, and don't think he robbed you, I know
now there's good folks in the world, and there's mercy and justice,
and it ain't all wrong, as I'd come a'most to think as it was, when I
first know'd about this 'ere."
"Sit down, Dick," I said, "and recover yourself, and let us see what
can be done. I will tell you all that has happened, and then perhaps
you can throw some light on Joe's conduct--you who know him so well."
Dick sat down, and shading his eyes with his hand that his tears
might not betray his weakness any more, he listened quietly while I
went over all the events of that dreadful night.
When I had finished, Dick sat for some moments quite silent, then
with a weary gesture, passing his hand across his forehead, he
"I can't make nothing of it; it's a thing beyond my understanding.
I'm that dazed like, I can't see nothin' straight. However, what I've
got to do is to find Joe, and that I mean to do; if he's alive I'll
find him, and then let him speak for hisself. I don't believe he's
done nothing wrong, but if he has done ever so little or ever so
much, he'll '_own up to it whatever it is_,' that's what Joe'll do. I
told him to lay by them words and hold to 'em, and I'll lay my life
he'll do as I told him. I've got a bed down Marylebone way, at my
aunt's what's married to a policeman; I'm to stay there, and I'll
have a talk with 'em about this and get some advice. I know Joe's
innercent, and why don't he come and say so? But I'll find him."
I inquired about the old people, and how they bore their trial.
"Father's a'most beside hisself," said Dick; "and only that he's got
to keep mother in the dark about this, he'd have come with me; but
mother, she's a-bed with rheumatics, and doctor told father her heart
was weak-like, and she mustn't be told, or it would p'raps kill her.
She thinks a deal of Joe, does mother, being the youngest, and always
such a sort of lovin' little chap he were." And here Dick's voice
broke again, and I made him go down to Mrs. Wilson, and have some
refreshment before leaving, and he promised to see me again the first
thing in the morning, when he had talked to his friend, the
Scarcely had Dick gone, when a loud, and this time firm ring,
announced another visitor, and in a cab, too, I could hear. Evidently
there was no going to rest early that night, as ten o'clock was then
Soon, to my surprise, I heard a well-known voice, and Mary announced
Dr. Loring, my husband's old friend, of whom I have already spoken.
"Well, my dear," he cried, in his pleasant, cheerful voice, that in
itself seemed to lift some of the heaviness from my heart, "are you
not astonished to see me at such an hour?"
"Astonished, certainly," I replied; "but very, very glad. You are
always welcome; and more than ever now, when we are in trouble and
sorrow. Do sit down, and stay with me awhile."
"Yes, I will, for an hour, gladly," he said. "But there's something
outside that had better be brought in first. You know I've only just
arrived from Devonshire, and there are two barrels of Devonshire
apples on that cab, one for you, and one for the wife, that is why
you see me here; for I thought it would not be ten minutes out of my
road to pass by here, and leave them with you, and so save the
trouble of sending them by carrier to-morrow."
I rang for Mary, and the doctor suggested the apples being put
somewhere where the smell of them could not penetrate up-stairs; for,
as he truly remarked, "Though a fine ripe pippin is delicious to eat
at breakfast or luncheon, the smell of them shut up in a house is
"I dare say Mrs. Wilson will find a place in the basement," I said;
"for we don't use half the room there is down there."
Having ordered the barrel to be stowed away, I soon settled my
visitor comfortably in an armchair by the fire, with a cup of his
favorite cocoa by his side.
"And now, my dear," said he, "tell me about this burglary that has
taken place, and which has made you look as if you wanted me to take
care of you a while, and bring back some color to your pale cheeks.
And what about this boy? Is it the same queer little fellow who chose
midnight to play his pranks in once before? I'm not often deceived in
a face, and I thought his was an honest one. I"--
"So it was," I interrupted; "don't say a word until I've told you
all, and you will"--
I had scarcely begun speaking, when a succession of the most fearful
screams arose from down-stairs, each rising louder and louder, in the
extreme of terror. My sister, who had gone to her room, rushed down
to me; the girls, in their dressing-gowns, just as they were
preparing for bed, followed, calling out, "Auntie! O Auntie! what is
it? Who is screaming? What can be the matter?" Hardly were they in
the room when Mary rushed in, ghastly, her eyes staring, and in a
voice hoarse with terror, gasped out, "Come! come! he's found! he's
murdered! I saw him. He's lying in the cellar, with his throat cut.
Oh, it's horrible!" Then she began to scream again.
The doctor tried to hold me back, but I broke from him, and ran down-
stairs, where I could find no one; all was dark in the kitchens, but
there was a light in the area, and I was soon there, followed by Dr.
By the open cellar-door stood Mrs. Wilson, and the cabman with her.
Directly she saw me, she called out, "Oh, dear mistress, don't you
come here; it's not a sight for you. Take her away, Dr. Loring, she
musn't see it."
"What is it?" I cried; "Mary says it's"--I could not say the words,
but seizing the candle from Mrs. Wilson's hand, I went into the
The good doctor was close to me, with more light, by the aid of which
we beheld, in the far corner, facing us, what seemed to be a bundle
of blankets, from which protruded a head, a horrible red stream
surrounding it, and flowing, as it were, from the open mouth. One
second brought me close. It was Joe--Joe, with his poor limbs bound
with cruel ropes, and in his mouth for a gag they had forced one of
those bright red socks he would always wear. Thank God, it was only
that red sock, and not the horrible red stream I had feared. He was
dead, of course; but not such a fearful death as that.
The doctor soon pulled the horrid gag from his mouth, and the good-
natured cabman, who evidently felt for us, helped to cut the ropes,
and lift up the poor cold little form.
As they lifted him, something that was in the blankets fell heavily
to the ground. It was poor Bogie's dead body, stabbed in many places,
each wound enough to have let out the poor dumb creature's life.
By this time help had arrived, and once more the police took
possession of us, as it were.
Of course, _now_ everything was explained. The burglars had evidently
entered Joe's room, and Bogie, being in his arms, had barked, and
wakened him. A few blows had soon silenced poor Bogie, and a gag and
cords had done the same for Joe.
When the man saw me from the kitchen window he must have known that
help would soon come, and to prevent Joe giving information too soon
they had hastily seized him, bed-clothes and all, and put him into
that cellar, to starve if he were not discovered.
Perhaps they did not really mean to kill the poor child, and if we
had been in the habit of using that cellar we might have found him in
a few hours or less; but, unfortunately, it was a place we never
used, it reached far under the street, and was too large for our use.
Our coal-cellar was a much smaller one, inside the scullery; the door
of poor Joe's prison closed with a common latch.
Had there been any doubt in the detective's mind as to Joe's guilt,
he might have taken more trouble, and searched for him, even there;
but from the first everybody but ourselves had been sure Joe had
escaped with the burglars, so the cellar remained unsearched.
Mrs. Wilson, wishing to spare me the smell of the apples, thought
that cellar, being outside the house, a very suitable place for them,
and on opening the door had caught sight of something in the distant
corner, and sent Mary to see what it was. Then arose those fearful
shrieks we had heard, and Mary had rushed out of the cellar half mad
In less time than it has taken me to relate this, Joe was laid on the
rug before the drawing-room fire, and I summoned courage to look on
the changed face.
"Could that be Joe--so white, so drawn, so still?"
Dr. Loring was kneeling by the little form, chafing and straightening
the poor stiffened arms, so bent with their cruel pinioning behind
"Doctor," I said, "why do you do any more? Nothing can bring back the
poor fellow, murdered while doing his duty." Then I, too, knelt down,
and took the poor cold hands in mine,
"Oh, my poor child!" I cried, "my little brave heart; who dared say
you were false? Let those who doubted you look at you now, with dry
eyes, if they can."
"My dear," said Dr. Loring suddenly, "have you always hot water in
"Yes, doctor," I said; "yes. Why do you ask? Do you mean--is it
possible--there is life?" And I took Joe's little head in my arms,
and forgot he was only a servant, only a poor, common little page-
boy. I only know I pressed him to my breast, and called him by all
the endearing names I used to call my own children in after years,
when God gave me some, and kissed his white forehead in my joy at the
blessed ray of hope.
No want of willing arms to carry Joe up-stairs. Mrs. Wilson had the
bath filled before the doctor was in the room with his light burden.
"A few drops of brandy, to moisten the lips, first of all," said the
good doctor, "then the bath and gentle friction; there is certainly
life in him."
Now my good sister's clever nursing proved invaluable. All that night
we fought every inch of ground, as it were, with our grim enemy; the
dear, good doctor never relaxed in his efforts to bring back life to
the cramped limbs. The burglars had unknowingly helped to keep alight
Joe's feeble spark of life by wrapping the blankets round him; they
had meant, no doubt, to stifle any sound he might make; but by
keeping him from actual contact with the stone floor, and protecting
him from the cold, they had given him his little chance of life.
Oh, how I blessed that kind thought of Dr. Loring's to bring me a
barrel of apples! Had there been no occasion to open the cellar-door,
Joe would have died before another morning had dawned, died! starved!
What a horrible death! And to know that within a few steps were food,
warmth, and kind hearts--hearts even then saddened by his absence,
and grieving for him. What hours of agony he must have passed in the
cold and darkness, hearing the footsteps of passers-by above his
living tomb, and feeling the pangs of hunger and thirst. What weeks
those three days must have seemed to him in their fearful darkness,
until insensibility mercifully came to his aid, and hushed his senses
Morning was far advanced when, at last, Joe's eyelids began to
flutter, and his eyes opened a very little, to close again
immediately; even the subdued light we had let into the room being
too much for him to bear after so long a darkness; but in that brief
glance he had recognized me, and seeing his lips move, I bent my head
close to them.
Only a faint murmuring came, but I distinguished the words:
"Missis, I couldn't 'elp it! Forgive me. Say 'Our Father.'"
I knelt down, and as well as I could for the tears that almost choked
me, repeated that most simple, yet all-satisfying petition to the
Throne of Grace.
Meanwhile the doctor held Joe's wrist, and my sister, at a sign from
him, put a few drops of nourishment between the pale lips.
"My dear," at length said the doctor, "did you say the boy's brother
was in London?"
"Yes," I replied, "but I have no address, as I expect him here this
"That is well; he may be in time."
"In time?" I repeated; "in time for what? Is he dying? Can nothing
The good doctor looked again with moistened eyes on the little white
face, and said sadly--
"I fear not, but the sight of this brother he seems to have such a
strong love for may rouse him for a while. As it is, he is sinking
fast. I can do no more, he is beyond human skill; but love and God's
help may yet save him. Poor little fellow, he has done his duty
nobly, and even to die doing _that_ is an enviable fate; but we want
such boys as this to live, and show others the way."
There was a slight sound at the room door, and on turning round I saw
Dick--Dick with wild, dumb entreaty in his eyes.
I pointed to the bed, and with a whispered "Hush!" beckoned him to
The shock of seeing his loved little lad so changed was too much for
even his man's courage, for, with a cry he in vain strove to smother,
he sunk on his knees with his face hidden in his hands.
But only for a moment he let his grief overcome him; then, rising, he
took Joe's little form in his arms, and in a voice to which love gave
the softest and gentlest tones said:--
"Joe, lad! Joe, little chap! here's Dick. Look at poor old Dick.
Don't you know him? Don't go away without sayin' good-by to Dick wot
Slowly a little fluttering smile parted the lips, and the blue eyes
unclosed once more. "Dick!" he gasped; "I wanted to tell you, Dick,
but--I--can't. I--ain't--forgot. 'Own--up--to--it--wotever'--I minded
it all. Kiss me--Dick. God--bless--missis. Dick--take me--home--to--
And with a gentle sigh, in the arms of the brother he loved, Joe fell
into a deep sleep, a sleep from which we all feared he would no more
awake on earth, and we watched him, fearing almost to move.
Dick held him in his arms all that morning, and presently towards
noon the doctor took the little wrist, and found the pulse still
feebly beating; a smile lit up his good, kind face, and he whispered
to me, "There is hope."
"Thank God!" I whispered back, and ran away into my own room to sob
out grateful prayers of thanksgiving to Heaven for having spared the
life so nearly lost to us.
When I went back, Joe had just begun to awaken, and was looking up
into his beloved Dick's face, murmuring: "Why, it's Dick. Are you a-
crying about _me_, Dick? Don't cry--I'm all right--I'm only so
And having drank some wine the doctor had ordered should be given
him, he nestled close to Dick's breast, and again fell into a sweet
sleep, a better, life-giving sleep this time, for the faint color
came to his pale little lips, and presently Dick laid him down on the
pillows, and rested his own weary arms. He would not move from Joe's
side for fear, he might wake and miss him, but for many hours our
little fellow slept peacefully, and so gradually came back to life.
We never quite knew the particulars of the robbery, for, when Joe was
well enough to talk, we avoided speaking of it. Dr. Loring said, "The
boy only partly remembers it, like a dream, and it is better he
should forget it altogether; he will do so when he gets stronger.
Send him home to his mother for a while; and if he returns to you,
let it be to the country house where there is nothing to remind him
of all this."
Joe did get strong, and came back to us, but no longer as a page-boy;
he was under-gardener, and his time was spent among his favorite
flowers and pet animals, until one day Dick wrote to say his father
had bought more land to be laid out in gardens, and if Joe could be
spared he and Dick could work together, and in time set up for
themselves in the business.
So Joe left us, but not to forget us, or be forgotten. On each
anniversary of my birthday I find a bunch of magnificent roses on my
breakfast table--"With J. and R. Cole's respectful duty," and I know
the sender is a fine, strong young market-gardener; but sometimes I
look back a few years, and instead of the lovely roses, and the big,
healthy giver, I seem to see a faded dusty bunch of wild-flowers,
held towards me by the little hot hand of a tired child with large
blue eyes, and I hear a timid voice say, "Please'm, it's J. Cole; and
I've come to stay with yer!"