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The Parent's Assistant by Maria Edgeworth

Part 10 out of 10

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sure to be ready for early travellers. Paul kept his scotcher poised
upon his shoulder, and watched eagerly at his station at the bottom of
the hill. He did not wait long before a carriage came. He followed it
up the hill; and the instant the postillion called to him, and bid him
stop the wheels, he put his scotcher behind them, and found that it
answered the purpose perfectly well.

Many carriages went by this day, and Paul and Anne received a great many
halfpence from the travellers.

When it grew dusk in the evening, Anne said to her brother--"I don't
think any more carriages will come by to-day. Let us count the
halfpence, and carry them home now to grandmother."

"No, not yet," answered Paul, "let them alone--let them lie still in the
hole where I have put them. I daresay more carriages will come by before
it is quite dark, and then we shall have more halfpence."

Paul had taken the halfpence out of his hat, and he had put them into a
hole in the high bank by the roadside; and Anne said she would not meddle
with them, and that she would wait till her brother liked to count them;
and Paul said--"If you will stay and watch here, I will go and gather
some blackberries for you in the hedge in yonder field. Stand you
hereabouts, half-way up the hill, and the moment you see any carriage
coming along the road, run as fast as you can and call me."

Anne waited a long time, or what she thought a long time; and she saw no
carriage, and she trailed her brother's scotcher up and down till she was
tired. Then she stood still, and looked again, and she saw no carriage;
so she went sorrowfully into the field, and to the hedge where her
brother was gathering blackberries, and she said, "Paul, I'm sadly tired,
SADLY TIRED!" said she, "and my eyes are quite strained with looking for
chaises; no more chaises will come to-night; and your scotcher is lying
there, of no use, upon the ground. Have not I waited long enough for to-
day, Paul?"

"Oh, no," said Paul; "here are some blackberries for you; you had better
wait a little bit longer. Perhaps a carriage might go by whilst you are
standing here talking to me."

Anne, who was of a very obliging temper, and who liked to do what she was
asked to do, went back to the place where the scotcher lay; and scarcely
had she reached the spot, when she heard the noise of a carriage. She
ran to call her brother, and to their great joy, they now saw four
chaises coming towards them. Paul, as soon as they went up the hill,
followed with his scotcher; first he scotched the wheels of one carriage,
then of another; and Anne was so much delighted with observing how well
the scotcher stopped the wheels, and how much better it was than stones,
that she forgot to go and hold her brother's hat to the travellers for
halfpence, till she was roused by the voice of a little rosy girl, who
was looking out of the window of one of the chaises. "Come close to the
chaise-door," said the little girl; "here are some halfpence for you."

Anne held the hat; and she afterwards went on to the other carriages.
Money was thrown to her from each of them; and when they had all gotten
safely to the top of the hill, she and her brother sat down upon a large
stone by the roadside, to count their treasure. First they began by
counting what was in the hat--"One, two, three, four halfpence."

"But, oh, brother, look at this!" exclaimed Anne; "this is not the same
as the other halfpence."

"No, indeed, it is not," cried Paul, "it is no halfpenny; it is a guinea,
a bright golden guinea!"

"Is it?" said Anne, who had never seen a guinea in her life before, and
who did not know its value; "and will it do as well as a halfpenny to buy
gingerbread? I'll run to the fruit-stall, and ask the woman; shall I?"

"No, no," said Paul, "you need not ask any woman, or anybody but me; I
can tell you all about it, as well as anybody in the whole world."

"The whole world! Oh, Paul, you forgot. Not so well as my grandmother."

"Why, not so well as my grandmother, perhaps, but, Anne, I can tell you
that you must not talk yourself, Anne, but you must listen to me quietly,
or else you won't understand what I am going to tell you, for I can
assure you that I don't think I quite understood it myself, Anne, the
first time my grandmother told it to me, though I stood stock still
listening my best."

Prepared by this speech to hear something very difficult to be
understood, Anne looked very grave, and her brother explained to her,
that, with a guinea, she might buy two hundred and fifty-two times as
many plums as she could get for a penny.

"Why, Paul, you know the fruit-woman said she would give us a dozen plums
for a penny. Now, for this little guinea, would she give us two hundred
and fifty-two dozen?"

"If she has so many, and if we like to have so many, to be sure she
will," said Paul, "but I think we should not like to have two hundred and
fifty-two dozen of plums; we could not eat such a number."

"But we could give some of them to my grandmother," said Anne.

"But still there would be too many for her, and for us, too," said Paul,
"and when we had eaten the plums, there would be an end to all the
pleasure. But now I'll tell you what I am thinking of, Anne, that we
might buy something for my grandmother, that would be very useful to her
indeed, with the guinea--something that would last a great while."

"What, brother? What sort of thing?"

"Something that she said she wanted very much last winter, when she was
so ill with the rheumatism--something that she said yesterday, when you
were making her bed, she wished she might be able to buy before next

"I know, I know what you mean!" said Anne--"a blanket. Oh, yes, Paul,
that will be much better than plums; do let us buy a blanket for her; how
glad she will be to see it! I will make her bed with the new blanket,
and then bring her to see it. But, Paul, how shall we buy a blanket?
Where are blankets to be got?"

"Leave that to me, I'll manage that. I know where blankets can be got.
I saw one hanging out of a shop the day I went last to Dunstable."

"You have seen a great many things at Dunstable, brother."

"Yes, a great many; but I never saw anything there or anywhere else, that
I wished for half so much as I did for the blanket for my grandmother.
Do you remember how she used to shiver with the cold last winter? I'll
buy the blanket to-morrow. I'm going to Dunstable with her spinning."

"And you'll bring the blanket to me, and I shall make the bed very
neatly, that will be all right--all happy!" said Anne, clapping her

"But stay! Hush! don't clap your hands so, Anne; it will not be all
happy, I'm afraid," said Paul, and his countenance changed, and he looked
very grave. "It will not be all right, I'm afraid, for there is one
thing we have neither of us thought of, but that we ought to think about.
We cannot buy the blanket, I'm afraid."

"Why, Paul, why?"

"Because I don't think this guinea is honestly ours."

"Nay, brother, but I'm sure it is honestly ours. It was given to us, and
grandmother said all that was given to us to-day was to be our own."

"But who gave it to you, Anne?"

"Some of the people in those chaises, Paul. I don't know which of them,
but I daresay it was the little rosy girl."

"No," said Paul, "for when she called you to the chaise door, she said,
'Here's some halfpence for you.' Now, if she gave you the guinea, she
must have given it to you by mistake."

"Well, but perhaps some of the people in the other chaises gave it to me,
and did not give it to me by mistake, Paul. There was a gentleman
reading in one of the chaises and a lady, who looked very good-naturedly
at me, and then the gentleman put down his book and put his head out of
the window, and looked at your scotcher, brother, and he asked me if that
was your own making; and when I said yes, and that I was your sister he
smiled at me, and put his hand into his waistcoat pocket, and threw a
handful of halfpence into the hat, and I daresay he gave us the guinea
along with them because he liked your scotcher so much."

"Why," said Paul, "that might be, to be sure, but I wish I was quite
certain of it."

"Then, as we are not quite certain, had not we best go and ask my
grandmother what she thinks about it?"

Paul thought this was excellent advice; and he was not a silly boy, who
did not like to follow good advice. He went with his sister directly to
his grandmother, showed her the guinea, and told her how they came by it.

"My dear, honest children," said she, "I am very glad you told me all
this. I am very glad that you did not buy either the plums or the
blanket with this guinea. I'm sure it is not honestly ours. Those who
threw it you gave it you by mistake, I warrant; and what I would have you
do is, to go to Dunstable, and try if you can, at either of the inns find
out the person who gave it to you. It is now so late in the evening that
perhaps the travellers will sleep at Dunstable, instead of going on the
next stage; and it is likely that whosoever gave you a guinea instead of
a halfpenny has found out their mistake by this time. All you can do is
to go and inquire for the gentleman who was reading in the chaise."

"Oh!" interrupted Paul, "I know a good way of finding him out. I
remember it was a dark green chaise with red wheels: and I remember I
read the innkeeper's name upon the chaise, 'John Nelson.' (I am much
obliged to you for teaching me to read, grandmother.) You told me
yesterday, grandmother, that the names written upon chaises are the
innkeepers to whom they belong. I read the name of the innkeeper upon
that chaise. It was John Nelson. So Anne and I will go to both the inns
in Dunstable, and try to find out this chaise--John Nelson's. Come,
Anne; let us set out before it gets quite dark."

Anne and her brother passed with great courage the tempting stall that
was covered with gingerbread and ripe plums, and pursued their way
steadily through the streets of Dunstable; but Paul, when he came to the
shop where he had seen the blanket, stopped for a moment, and said, "It
is a great pity, Anne, that the guinea is not ours. However, we are
doing what is honest, and that is a comfort. Here, we must go through
this gateway, into the inn-yard; we are come to the 'Dun Cow.'"

"Cow!" said Anne, "I see no cow."

"Look up, and you'll see the cow over your head," said Paul--"the sign--
the picture. Come, never mind looking at it now; I want to find out the
green chaise that has John Nelson's name upon it."

Paul pushed forward, through a crowded passage, till he got into the inn-
yard. There was a great noise and bustle. The hostlers were carrying in
luggage. The postillions were rubbing down the horses, or rolling the
chaises into the coach-house.

"What now! What business have you here, pray?" said a waiter, who almost
ran over Paul, as he was crossing the yard in a great hurry to get some
empty bottles from the bottle-rack. "You've no business here, crowding
up the yard. Walk off, young gentleman, if you please."

"Pray give me leave, sir," said Paul, "to stay a few minutes, to look
amongst these chaises for one dark green chaise with red wheels, that has
Mr. John Nelson's name written upon it."

"What's that he says about a dark green chaise?" said one of the

"What should such a one as he is know about chaises?" interrupted the
hasty waiter, and he vas going to turn Paul out of the yard; but the
hostler caught hold of his arm and said, "Maybe the child has some
business here; let's know what he has to say for himself."

The waiter was at this instant luckily obliged to leave them to attend
the bell; and Paul told his business to the hostler, who as soon as he
saw the guinea and heard the story, shook Paul by the hand, and said,
"Stand steady, my honest lad; I'll find the chaise for you, if it is to
be found here; but John Nelson's chaises almost always drive to the
'Black Bull.'"

After some difficulty, the green chaise, with John Nelson's name upon it,
and the postillion who drove that chaise, were found; and the postillion
told Paul that he was just going into the parlour to the gentleman he had
driven, to be paid, and that he would carry the guinea with him.

"No," said Paul, "we should like to give it back ourselves."

"Yes," said the hostler; "that they have a right to do."

The postillion made no reply, but looked vexed, and went towards the
house, desiring the children would wait in the passage till his return.
In the passage there was standing a decent, clean, good natured looking
woman, with two huge straw baskets on each side of her. One of the
baskets stood a little in the way of the entrance. A man who was pushing
his way in, and carried in his hand a string of dead larks hung to a
pole, impatient at being stopped, kicked down the straw basket, and all
its contents were thrown out. Bright straw hats, and boxes, and
slippers, were all thrown in disorder upon the dirty ground.

"Oh, they will be trampled upon! They will be all spoiled!" exclaimed
the woman to whom they belonged.

"We'll help you to pick them up if you will let us," cried Paul and Anne;
and they immediately ran to her assistance.

When the things were all safe in the basket again, the children expressed
a desire to know how such beautiful things could be made of straw; but
the woman had not time to answer before the postillion came out of the
parlour, and with him a gentleman's servant, who came to Paul, and
clapping him upon the back, said, "So, my little chap, I gave you a
guinea for a halfpenny, I hear; and I understand you've brought it back
again; that's right, give me hold of it."

"No, brother," said Anne, "this is not the gentleman that was reading."

"Pooh, child, I came in Mr. Nelson's green chaise. Here's the postillion
can tell you so. I and my master came in that chaise. I and my master
that was reading, as you say, and it was he that threw the money out to
you. He is going to bed; he is tired and can't see you himself. He
desires that you'll give me the guinea."

He pushed them towards the door; but the basket-woman whispered to them
as they went out, "Wait in the street till I come to you."

"Pray, Mrs. Landlady," cried this gentleman's servant, addressing himself
to the landlady, who just then came out of a room where some company were
at supper, "Pray, Mrs. Landlady, please to let me have roasted larks for
my supper. You are famous for larks at Dunstable; and I make it a rule
to taste the best of everything wherever I go; and, waiter, let me have a
bottle of claret. Do you hear?"

"Larks and claret for his supper," said the basket-woman to herself, as
she looked at him from head to foot. The postillion was still waiting,
as if to speak to him; and she observed them afterwards whispering and
laughing together. "NO BAD HIT," was a sentence which the servant
pronounced several times.

Now it occurred to the basket-woman that this man had cheated the
children out of the guinea to pay for the larks and claret; and she
thought that perhaps she could discover the truth. She waited quietly in
the passage.

"Waiter! Joe! Joe!" cried the landlady, "why don't you carry in the
sweetmeat-puffs and the tarts here to the company in the best parlour?"

"Coming, ma'am," answered the waiter; and with a large dish of tarts and
puffs, the waiter came from the bar; the landlady threw open the door of
the best parlour, to let him in; and the basket-woman had now a full view
of a large cheerful company, and amongst them several children, sitting
round a supper-table.

"Ay," whispered the landlady, as the door closed after the waiter and the
tarts, "there are customers enough, I warrant, for you in that room, if
you had but the luck to be called in. Pray, what would you have the
conscience, I wonder now, to charge me for these here half-dozen little
mats to put under my dishes?"

"A trifle, ma'am," said the basket-woman. She let the landlady have the
mats cheap, and the landlady then declared she would step in and see if
the company in the best parlour had done supper. "When they come to
their wine," added she, "I'll speak a good word for you, and get you
called in afore the children are sent to bed."

The landlady, after the usual speech of, "I hope the supper and
everything is to your liking, ladies and gentlemen," began with, "If any
of the young gentlemen or ladies would have a CUR'OSITY to see any of our
famous Dunstable straw-work, there's a decent body without would, I
daresay, be proud to show them her pincushion-boxes, and her baskets and
slippers, and her other CUR'OSITIES."

The eyes of the children all turned towards their mother; their mother
smiled, and immediately their father called in the basket-woman, and
desired her to produce her CURIOSITIES. The children gathered round her
large pannier as it opened, but they did not touch any of her things.

"Ah, papa!" cried a little rosy girl, "here are a pair of straw slippers
that would just fit you, I think; but would not straw shoes wear out very
soon? and would not they let in the wet?"

"Yes, my dear," said her father, "but these slippers are meant--"

"For powdering-slippers, miss," interrupted the basket-woman.

"To wear when people are powdering their hair," continued the gentleman,
"that they may not spoil their other shoes."

"And will you buy them, papa?"

"No, I cannot indulge myself," said her father, "in buying them now. I
must make amends," said he, laughing, "for my carelessness; and as I
threw away a guinea to-day, I must endeavour to save sixpence at least?"

"Ah, the guinea that you threw by mistake into the little girl's hat as
we were coming up Chalk Hill. Mamma, I wonder that the little girl did
not take notice of its being a guinea, and that she did not run after the
chaise to give it back again. I should think, if she had been an honest
girl, she would have returned it."

"Miss!--ma'am!--sir!" said the basket-woman, "if it would not be
impertinent, may I speak a word? A little boy and girl have just been
here inquiring for a gentleman who gave them a guinea instead of a
halfpenny by mistake; and not five minutes ago I saw the boy give the
guinea to a gentleman's servant, who is there without, and who said his
master desired it should be returned to him."

"There must be some mistake, or some trick in this," said the gentleman.
"Are the children gone? I must see them--send after them."

"I'll go for them myself," said the good natured basket-woman; "I bid
them wait in the street yonder, for my mind misgave me that the man who
spoke so short to them was a cheat, with his larks and his claret."

Paul and Anne were speedily summoned, and brought back by their friend
the basket-woman; and Anne, the moment she saw the gentleman, knew that
he was the very person who smiled upon her, who admired her brother's
scotcher, and who threw a handful of halfpence into the hat; but she
could not be certain, she said, that she received the guinea from him;
she only thought it most likely that she did.

"But I can be certain whether the guinea you returned be mine or no,"
said the gentleman. "I marked the guinea; it was a light one; the only
guinea I had, which I put into my waistcoat pocket this morning." He
rang the bell, and desired the waiter to let the gentleman who was in the
room opposite to him know that he wished to see him.

"The gentleman in the white parlour, sir, do you mean?"

"I mean the master of the servant who received a guinea from this child."

"He is a Mr. Pembroke, sir," said the waiter.

Mr. Pembroke came; and as soon as he heard what had happened, he desired
the waiter to show him to the room where his servant was at supper. The
dishonest servant, who was supping upon larks and claret, knew nothing of
what was going on; but his knife and fork dropped from his hand, and he
overturned a bumper of claret as he started up from the table, in great
surprise and terror, when his master came in with a face of indignation,
and demanded "THE GUINEA--the GUINEA, sir! that you got from this child;
that guinea which you said I ordered you to ask for from this child."

The servant, confounded and half intoxicated, could only stammer out that
he had more guineas than one about him, and that he really did not know
which it was. He pulled his money out, and spread it upon the table with
trembling hands. The marked guinea appeared. His master instantly
turned him out of his service with strong expressions of contempt.

"And now, my little honest girl," said the gentleman who had admired her
brother's scotcher, turning to Anne, "and now tell me who you are, and
what you and your brother want or wish for most in the world."

In the same moment Anne and Paul exclaimed, "The thing we wish for the
most in the world is a blanket for our grandmother."

"She is not our grandmother in reality, I believe, sir," said Paul; "but
she is just as good to us, and taught me to read, and taught Anne to
knit, and taught us both that we should be honest--so she has; and I wish
she had a new blanket before next winter, to keep her from the cold and
the rheumatism. She had the rheumatism sadly last winter, sir; and there
is a blanket in this street that would be just the thing for her."

"She shall have it, then; and," continued the gentleman, "I will do
something more for you. Do you like to be employed or to be idle best?"

"We like to have something to do always, if we could, sir," said Paul;
"but we are forced to be idle sometimes, because grandmother has not
always things for us to do that we CAN do well."

"Should you like to learn how to make such baskets as these?" said the
gentleman, pointing to one of the Dunstable straw-baskets. "Oh, very
much!" said Paul. "Very much!" said Anne.

"Then I should like to teach you how to make them," said the basket-
woman; "for I'm sure of one thing, that you'd behave honestly to me."

The gentleman put a guinea into the good natured basket-woman's hand, and
told her that he knew she could not afford to teach them her trade for
nothing. "I shall come through Dunstable again in a few months," added
he; "and I hope to see that you and your scholars are going on well. If
I find that they are, I will do something more for you."

"But," said Anne, "we must tell all this to grandmother, and ask her
about it; and I'm afraid--though I'm very happy--that it is getting very
late, and that we should not stay here any longer."

"It is a fine moonlight night," said the basket-woman; "and is not far.
I'll walk with you, and see you safe home myself."

The gentleman detained them a few minutes longer, till a messenger whom
he had dispatched to purchase the much wished for blanket returned.

"Your grandmother will sleep well upon this good blanket, I hope," said
the gentleman, as he gave it into Paul's opened arms. "It has been
obtained for her by the honesty of her adopted children."

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