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Martin Rattler by Robert Michael Ballantyne

Part 4 out of 4

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Martin heard the narrative in silence, and when it was finished he sat a
few minutes gazing vacantly before him, like one in a dream. Then
starting up suddenly, he wrung Mr. Jollyboy's hand, "Good-bye, my dear
friend; good-bye. I shall go to Liverpool. We shall meet again."

"Stay, Martin, stay--"

But Martin had rushed from the room, followed by his faithful friend, and
in less than half an hour they were in the village of Ashford. The coach
was to pass in twenty minutes, so, bidding Barney engage two outside
seats, he hastened round by the road towards the cottage. There it stood,
quaint, time-worn, and old-fashioned, as when he had last seen it,--the
little garden in which he had so often played,--the bower in which, on
fine weather, Aunt Dorothy used to sit, and the door-step on which the
white kitten used to gambol. But the shutters were closed, and the door
was locked, and there was an air of desolation and a deep silence
brooding over the place, that sank more poignantly into Martin's heart
than if he had come and found every vestige of the home of his childhood
swept away. It was like the body without the soul. The flowers, and
stones, and well-known forms were there; but she who had given animation
to the whole was gone. Sitting down on the door-step, Martin buried his
face in his hands and wept.

He was quickly aroused by the bugle of the approaching coach. Springing
up, he dashed the tears away and hurried towards the high-road. In a few
minutes Barney and he were seated on the top of the coach, and dashing,
at the rate of ten miles an hour, along the road to Liverpool.



Days, and weeks, and months, passed away, and Martin had searched every
nook and corner of the great sea-port without discovering his old aunt,
or obtaining the slightest information regarding her. At first he and
Barney went about the search together, but after a time he sent his old
companion forcibly away to visit his own relatives, who dwelt not far
from Bilton, at the same time promising that if he had any good news to
tell he would immediately write and let him know.

One morning, as Martin was sitting beside the little fire in his lodging,
a tap came to the door, and the servant girl told him that a policeman
wished to see him.

"Show him in," said Martin, who was not in the least surprised, for he
had had much intercourse with these guardians of the public peace during
the course of his unavailing search.

"I think, sir," said the man on entering, "that we've got scent of an old
woman w'ich is as like the one that you're arter as hanythink."

Martin rose in haste. "Have you, my man? Are you sure?"

"'Bout as sure as a man can be who never seed her. But it won't take you
long to walk. You'd better come and see for yourself."

Without uttering another word, Martin put on his hat and followed the
policeman. They passed through several streets and lanes, and at length
came to one of the poorest districts of the city, not far distant from
the shipping. Turning down a narrow alley, and crossing a low
dirty-looking court, Martin's guide stopped before a door, which he
pushed open and mounted by a flight of rickety wooden stairs to a garret.
He opened the door and entered.

"There she is," said the man in a tone of pity, as he pointed to a corner
of the apartment, "an' I'm afeer'd she's goin' fast."

Martin stepped towards a low truckle-bed on which lay the emaciated form
of a woman covered with a scanty and ragged quilt. The corner of it was
drawn across her face, and so gentle was her breathing that it seemed as
if she were already dead. Martin removed the covering, and one glance at
that gentle, care-worn countenance sufficed to convince him that his old
aunt lay before him! His first impulse was to seize her in his strong
arms, but another look at the frail and attenuated form caused him to
shrink back in fear.

"Leave me," he said, rising hastily and slipping half a sovereign into
the policeman's hand; "this is she. I wish to be alone with her."

The man touched his hat and retired, closing the door behind him; while
Martin, sitting down on the bed, took one of his aunt's thin hands in
his. The action was tenderly performed, but it awoke her. For the first
time it flashed across Martin's mind that the sudden joy at seeing him
might be too much for one so feeble as Aunt Dorothy seemed to be. He
turned his back hastily to the light, and with a violent effort
suppressed his feelings while he asked how she did.

"Well, very well," said Aunt Dorothy, in a faint voice. "Are you the
missionary that was here long ago? Oh! I've been longing for you. Why did
you not come to read to me oftener about Jesus? But I have had Him here
although you did not come. He has been saying 'Come unto me, ye that
labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' Yes, I have found
rest in Him." She ceased and seemed to fall asleep again; but in a few
seconds she opened her eyes and said, "Martin, too, has been to see me;
but he does not come so often now. The darling boy used always to come to
me in my dreams. But he never brings me food. Why does no one ever bring
me food? I am hungry."

"Should you like food now, if I brought it to you?" said Martin in a
low voice.

"Yes, yes; bring me food,--I am dying."

Martin released her hand and glided gently out of the room. In a few
minutes he returned with a can of warm soup and a roll; of which Aunt
Dorothy partook with an avidity that showed she had been in urgent need.
Immediately after, she went to sleep; and Martin sat upon the bed holding
her hand in both of his till she awoke, which she did in an hour after,
and again ate a little food. While she was thus engaged the door opened
and a young man entered, who stated that he was a doctor, and had been
sent there by a policeman.

"There is no hope," he said in a whisper, after feeling her pulse; "the
system is quite exhausted."

"Doctor," whispered Martin, seizing the young man by the arm, "can
nothing save her? I have money, and can command _anything_ that may do
her good."

The doctor shook his head. "You may give her a little wine. It will
strengthen her for a time, but I fear there is no hope. I will send in a
bottle if you wish it."

Martin gave him the requisite sum, and in a few minutes the wine was
brought up by a boy.

The effect of the wine was wonderful. Aunt Dorothy's eyes sparkled as
they used to do in days of old, and she spoke with unwonted energy.

"You are kind to me, young man," she said, looking earnestly into
Martin's face, which, however, he kept carefully in shadow. "May our Lord
reward you."

"Would you like me to talk to you of your nephew?" said Martin; "I have
seen him abroad."

"Seen my boy! Is he not dead?"

"No; he is alive, and in this country, too."

Aunt Dorothy turned pale, but did not reply for a few minutes, during
which she grasped his hand convulsively.

"Turn your face to the light," she said faintly.

Martin obeyed, and bending over her whispered, "He is here; I am Martin,
my dear, dear aunt--"

No expression of surprise escaped from Aunt Dorothy as she folded her
arms round his neck and pressed his head upon her bosom. His hot tears
fell upon her neck while she held him, but she spoke not. It was evident
that as the strength infused by the wine abated her faculties became
confused. At length she whispered,--

"It is good of you to come to see me, darling boy. You have often come to
me in my dreams. But do not leave me so soon; stay a very little longer,"

"This is no dream, dearest aunt," whispered Martin, while his tears
flowed faster; "I am really here."

"Ay, so you always say, my darling child; but you always go away and
leave me. This is a dream, no doubt, like all the rest; but oh, it seems
very very real! You never _wept_ before, although you often smiled.
Surely this is the best and brightest dream I ever had!"

Continuing to murmur his name while she clasped him tightly to her bosom,
Aunt Dorothy gently fell asleep.



Aunt Dorothy Grumbit did _not_ die! Her gentle spirit had nearly fled;
but Martin's return and Martin's tender nursing brought her round, and
she gradually regained all her former strength and vigour. Yes, to the
unutterable joy of Martin, to the inexpressible delight of Mr. Arthur
Jollyboy and Barney, and to the surprise and complete discomfiture of the
young doctor who shook his head and said "There is no hope," Aunt Dorothy
Grumbit recovered? and was brought back in health and in triumph to her
old cottage at Ashford!

Moreover, she was arrayed again in the old bed-curtain chintz with the
flowers as big as saucers, and the old high-crowned cap. A white kitten
was got, too, so like the one that used to be Martin's playmate, that no
one could discover a hair of difference. So remarkable was this, that
Martin made inquiry, and found that it was actually the grand-daughter of
the old kitten, which was still alive and well; so he brought it back
too, and formally installed it in the cottage along with its grandchild.

There was a great house-warming on the night of the day in which Aunt
Dorothy Grumbit was brought back. Mr. Arthur Jollyboy was there--of
course; and the vicar was there; and the pursy doctor who used to call
Martin "a scamp;" and the school-master; and last, though not least,
Barney O'Flannagan was there. And they all had tea, during which dear
Aunt Dorothy smiled sweetly on everybody and said nothing,--and, indeed,
did nothing, except that once or twice she put additional sugar and cream
into Martin's cup when he was not looking, and stroked one of his hands
continually. After tea Martin related his adventures in Brazil, and
Barney helped him; and these two talked more that night than any one
could have believed it possible for human beings to do, without the aid
of steam lungs! And the doctor listened, and the vicar and school-master
questioned, and old Mr. Jollyboy roared and laughed till he became purple
in the face--particularly at the sallies of Barney. As for old Aunt
Dorothy Grumbit, she listened when Martin spoke. When Martin was silent
she became stone deaf!

In the course of time Mr. Jollyboy made Martin his head clerk; and then,
becoming impatient, he made him his partner off-hand. Then he made Barney
O'Flannagan an overseer in the warehouses; and when the duties of the day
were over, the versatile Irishman became his confidential servant, and
went to sup and sleep at the Old Hulk; which, he used to remark, was
quite a natural and proper and decidedly comfortable place to come to an
anchor in.

Martin became the stay and comfort of his aunt in her old age; and the
joy which he was the means of giving to her heart was like a deep and
placid river which never ceases to flow. Ah! there is a rich blessing in
store for those who tenderly nurse and comfort the aged, when called upon
to do so; and assuredly there is a sharp thorn prepared for those who
neglect this sacred duty. Martin read the Bible to her night and morning;
and she did nothing but watch for him at the window while he was out. As
Martin afterwards became an active member of the benevolent societies
with which his partner was connected, he learned from sweet experience
that "it is more blessed to give than to receive," and that "it is
_better_ to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of
feasting." Dear young reader, do not imagine that we plead in favour of
moroseness or gloom. Laugh if you will, and feast if you will, and
remember, too, that "a merry heart is a continual feast;" but we pray you
not to forget that God himself has said that a visit to the house of
mourning is _better_ than a visit to the house of feasting: and, strange
to say, it is productive of greater joy; for to do good is better than to
get good, as surely as sympathy is better than selfishness.

Martin visited the poor and read the Bible to them; and in watering
others he was himself watered, for he found the "Pearl of Great Price,"
even Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.

Business prospered in the hands of Martin Rattler, too, and he became a
man of substance. Naturally, too, he became a man of great importance in
the town of Bilton. The quantity of work that Martin and Mr. Jollyboy and
Barney used to get through was quite marvellous; and the number of
engagements they had during the course of a day was quite bewildering.

In the existence of all men, who are not born to unmitigated misery,
there are times and seasons of peculiar enjoyment. The happiest hour of
all the twenty-four to Martin Rattler was the hour of seven in the
evening; for then it was that he found himself seated before the blazing
fire in the parlour of the Old Hulk, to which Aunt Dorothy Grumbit had
consented to be removed, and in which she _was_ now a fixture. Then it
was that old Mr. Jollyboy beamed with benevolence, until the old lady
sometimes thought the fire was going to melt him; then it was that the
tea-kettle sang on the hob like a canary; and then it was that Barney
bustled about the room preparing the evening meal, and talking all the
time with the most perfect freedom to any one who chose to listen to him.
Yes, seven p.m. was Martin's great hour, and Aunt Dorothy's great hour,
and old Mr. Jollyboy's great hour, and Barney's too; for each knew that
the labours of the day were done, and that the front door was locked for
the night, and that a great talk was brewing. They had a tremendous talk
every night, sometimes on one subject, sometimes on another; but the
subject of all others that they talked oftenest about was their travels.
And many a time and oft, when the winter storms howled round the Old
Hulk, Barney was invited to draw in his chair, and Martin and he plunged
again vigorously into the great old forests of South America, and spoke
so feelingly about them that Aunt Dorothy and Mr. Jollyboy almost fancied
themselves transported into the midst of tropical scenes, and felt as if
they were surrounded by parrots, and monkeys, and jaguars, and
alligators, and anacondas, and all the wonderful birds, beasts, reptiles,
and fishes, that inhabit the woods and waters of Brazil.


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