This etext was produced by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.
THE PARENT’S ASSISTANT OR STORIES FOR CHILDREN
by Maria Edgeworth
Preface Addressed to Parents.
Our great lexicographer, in his celebrated eulogium on Dr. Watts, thus speaks in commendation of those productions which he so successfully penned for the pleasure and instruction of the juvenile portion of the community.
“For children,” says Dr. Johnson, “he condescended to lay aside the philosopher, the scholar, and the wit, to write little poems of devotion, and systems of instruction adapted to their wants and capacities, from the dawn of reason to its gradation of advance in the morning of life. Every man acquainted with the common principles of human action, will look with veneration on the writer, who is at one time combating Locke, and at another time making a catechism for CHILDREN IN THEIR FOURTH YEAR. A voluntary descent from the dignity of science is perhaps the hardest lesson which humility can teach.”
It seems, however, no very easy task to write for children. Those only who have been interested in the education of a family, who have patiently followed children through the first processes of reasoning, who have daily watched over their thoughts and feelings–those only who know with what ease and rapidity the early association of ideas are formed, on which the future taste, character and happiness depend, can feel the dangers and difficulties of such an undertaking.
Indeed, in all sciences the grand difficulty has been to ascertain facts- -a difficulty which, in the science of education, peculiar circumstances conspire to increase. Here the objects of every experiment are so interesting that we cannot hold our minds indifferent to the result. Nor is it to be expected that many registers of experiments, successful and unsuccessful, should be kept, much less should be published, when we consider that the combined powers of affection and vanity, of partiality to his child and to his theory, will act upon the mind of a parent, in opposition to the abstract love of justice, and the general desire to increase the wisdom and happiness of mankind. Notwithstanding these difficulties, an attempt to keep such a register has actually been made. The design has from time to time been pursued. Though much has not been collected, every circumstance and conversation that have been preserved are faithfully and accurately related, and these notes have been of great advantage to the writer of the following stories.
The question, whether society could exist without the distinction of ranks, is a question involving a variety of complicated discussions, which we leave to the politician and the legislator. At present it is necessary that the education of different ranks should, in some respects, be different. They have few ideas, few habits in common; their peculiar vices and virtues do not arise from the same causes, and their ambition is to be directed to different objects. But justice, truth, and humanity are confined to no particular rank, and should be enforced with equal care and energy upon the minds of young people of every station; and it is hoped that these principles have never been forgotten in the following pages.
As the ideas of children multiply, the language of their books should become less simple; else their taste will quickly be disgusted, or will remain stationary. Children that live with people who converse with elegance will not be contented with a style inferior to what they hear from everybody near them.
All poetical allusions, however, have been avoided in this book; such situations only are described as children can easily imagine, and which may consequently interest their feelings. Such examples of virtue are painted as are not above their conception of excellence, or their powers of sympathy and emulation.
It is not easy to give REWARDS to children which shall not indirectly do them harm by fostering some hurtful taste or passion. In the story of “Lazy Lawrence,” where the object was to excite a spirit of industry, care has been taken to proportion the reward to the exertion, and to demonstrate that people feel cheerful and happy whilst they are employed. The reward of our industrious boy, though it be money, is only money considered as the means of gratifying a benevolent wish. In a commercial nation it is especially necessary to separate, as much as possible, the spirit of industry and avarice; and to beware lest we introduce Vice under the form of Virtue.
In the story of “Tarlton and Loveit” are represented the danger and the folly of that weakness of mind, and that easiness to be led, which too often pass for good nature; and in the tale of the “False Key” are pointed out some of the evils to which a well educated boy, on first going to service, is exposed from the profligacy of his fellow servants.
In the “Birthday Present,” and in the character of Mrs. Theresa Tattle, the “Parent’s Assistant” has pointed out the dangers which may arise in education from a bad servant, or a common acquaintance.
In the “Barring Out” the errors to which a high spirit and the love of party are apt to lead have been made the subject of correction, and it is hoped that the common fault of making the most mischievous characters appear the most ACTIVE and the most ingenious, has been as much as possible avoided. UNSUCCESSFUL cunning will not be admired, and cannot induce imitation.
It has been attempted, in these stories, to provide antidotes against ill-humour, the epidemic rage for dissipation, and the fatal propensity to admire and imitate whatever the fashion of the moment may distinguish. Were young people, either in public schools, or in private families, absolutely free from bad examples, it would not be advisable to introduce despicable and vicious characters in books intended for their improvement. But in real life they MUST see vice, and it is best that they should be early shocked with the representation of what they are to avoid. There is a great deal of difference between innocence and ignorance.
To prevent the precepts of morality from tiring the ear and the mind, it was necessary to make the stories in which they are introduced in some measure dramatic; to keep alive hope and fear and curiosity, by some degree of intricacy. At the same time, care has been taken to avoid inflaming the imagination, or exciting a restless spirit of adventure, by exhibiting false views of life, and creating hopes which, in the ordinary course of things, cannot be realized.
THE FALSE KEY
THE WHITE PIGEON
THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT
FORGIVE AND FORGET
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT; OR, TWO STRINGS TO YOUR BOW OLD POZ
THE BARRING OUT; OR, PARTY SPIRIT
THE LITTLE MERCHANTS
THE BASKET WOMAN
Near the ruins of the castle of Rossmore, in Ireland, is a small cabin, in which there once lived a widow and her four children. As long as she was able to work, she was very industrious, and was accounted the best spinner in the parish; but she overworked herself at last, and fell ill, so that she could not sit to her wheel as she used to do, and was obliged to give it up to her eldest daughter, Mary.
Mary was at this time about twelve years old. One evening she was sitting at the foot of her mother’s bed spinning, and her little brothers and sisters were gathered round the fire eating their potatoes and milk for supper. “Bless them, the poor young creatures!” said the widow, who, as she lay on her bed, which she knew must be her deathbed, was thinking of what would become of her children after she was gone. Mary stopped her wheel, for she was afraid that the noise of it had wakened her mother, and would hinder her from going to sleep again.
“No need to stop the wheel, Mary, dear, for me,” said her mother, “I was not asleep; nor is it THAT which keeps me from sleep. But don’t overwork yourself, Mary.”
“Oh, no fear of that,” replied Mary; “I’m strong and hearty.”
“So was I once,” said her mother.
“And so you will be again, I hope,” said Mary, “when the fine weather comes again.”
“The fine weather will never come again to me,” said her mother. “‘Tis a folly, Mary, to hope for that; but what I hope is, that you’ll find some friend–some help–orphans as you’ll soon all of you be. And one thing comforts my heart, even as I AM lying here, that not a soul in the wide world I am leaving has to complain of me. Though poor I have lived honest, and I have brought you up to be the same, Mary; and I am sure the little ones will take after you; for you’ll be good to them–as good to them as you can.”
Here the children, who had finished eating their suppers, came round the bed, to listen to what their mother was saying. She was tired of speaking, for she was very weak; but she took their little hands, as they laid them on the bed and joining them all together, she said, “Bless you, dears; bless you; love and help one another all you can. Good night!– good-bye!”
Mary took the children away to their bed, for she saw that their mother was too ill to say more; but Mary did not herself know how ill she was. Her mother never spoke rightly afterwards, but talked in a confused way about some debts, and one in particular, which she owed to a schoolmistress for Mary’s schooling; and then she charged Mary to go and pay it, because she was not able to GO IN with it. At the end of the week she was dead and buried, and the orphans were left alone in their cabin.
The two youngest girls, Peggy and Nancy, were six and seven years old. Edmund was not yet nine, but he was a stout-grown, healthy boy, and well disposed to work. He had been used to bring home turf from the bog on his back, to lead cart-horses, and often to go on errands for gentlemen’s families, who paid him a sixpence or a shilling, according to the distance which he went, so that Edmund, by some or other of these little employments, was, as he said, likely enough to earn his bread; and he told Mary to have a good heart, for that he should every year grow able to do more and more, and that he should never forget his mother’s words when she last gave him her blessing, and joined their hands all together.
As for Peggy and Nancy, it was little that they could do; but they were good children, and Mary, when she considered that so much depended upon her, was resolved to exert herself to the utmost. Her first care was to pay those debts which her mother had mentioned to her, for which she left money done up carefully in separate papers. When all these were paid away, there was not enough left to pay both the rent of the cabin and a year’s schooling for herself and sisters which was due to the schoolmistress in a neighbouring village.
Mary was in hopes that the rent would not be called for immediately, but in this she was disappointed. Mr. Harvey, the gentleman on whose estate she lived, was in England, and, in his absence, all was managed by a Mr. Hopkins, an agent, who was a HARD MAN.* The driver came to Mary about a week after her mother’s death, and told her that the rent must be brought in the next day, and that she must leave the cabin, for a new tenant was coming into it; that she was too young to have a house to herself, and that the only thing she had to do was to get some neighbour to take her and her brother and her sisters in for charity’s sake.
*A hard-hearted man.
The driver finished by hinting that she would not be so hardly used if she had not brought upon herself the ill-will of Miss Alice, the agent’s daughter. Mary, it is true, had refused to give Miss Alice a goat upon which she had set her fancy; but this was the only offence of which she had been guilty, and at the time she refused it her mother wanted the goat’s milk, which was the only thing she then liked to drink.
Mary went immediately to Mr. Hopkins, the agent, to pay her rent; and she begged of him to let her stay another year in her cabin; but this he refused. It was now September 25th, and he said that the new tenant must come in on the 29th, so that she must quit it directly. Mary could not bear the thoughts of begging any of the neighbours to take her and her brother and sisters in FOR CHARITY’S SAKE; for the neighbours were all poor enough themselves. So she bethought herself that she might find shelter in the ruins of the old castle of Rossmore where she and her brother, in better times, had often played at hide and seek. The kitchen and two other rooms near it were yet covered in tolerably well; and a little thatch, she thought, would make them comfortable through the winter. The agent consented to let her and her brother and sisters go in there, upon her paying him half a guinea in hand, and promising to pay the same yearly.
Into these lodgings the orphans now removed, taking with them two bedsteads, a stool, chair and a table, a sort of press, which contained what little clothes they had, and a chest in which they had two hundred of meal. The chest was carried for them by some of the charitable neighbours, who likewise added to their scanty stock of potatoes and turf what would make it last through the winter.
These children were well thought of and pitied, because their mother was known to have been all her life honest and industrious. “Sure,” says one of the neighbours, “we can do no less than give a helping hand to the poor orphans, that are so ready to help themselves.” So one helped to thatch the room in which they were to sleep, and another took their cow to graze upon his bit of land on condition of having half the milk; and one and all said they should be welcome to take share of their potatoes and buttermilk if they should find their own ever fall short.
The half-guinea which Mr. Hopkins, the agent, required for letting Mary into the castle, was part of what she had to pay to the schoolmistress, to whom above a guinea was due. Mary went to her, and took her goat along with her, and offered it in part of payment of the debt, but the schoolmistress would not receive the goat. She said that she could afford to wait for her money till Mary was able to pay it; that she knew her to be an honest, industrious little girl, and she would trust her with more than a guinea. Mary thanked her; and she was glad to take the goat home again, as she was very fond of it.
Being now settled in their house, they went every day regularly to work; Maud spun nine cuts a day, besides doing all that was to be done in the house; Edmund got fourpence a day by his work; and Peggy and Annie earned twopence apiece at the paper-mills near Navan, where they were employed to sort rags, and to cut them into small pieces.
When they had done work one day, Annie went to the master of the paper- mill and asked him if she might have two sheets of large white paper which were lying on the press. She offered a penny for the paper; but the master would not take anything from her, but gave her the paper when he found that she wanted it to make a garland for her mother’s grave. Annie and Peggy cut out the garland, and Mary, when it was finished, went along with them and Edmund to put it up. It was just a month after their mother’s death.
It happened, at the time the orphans were putting up this garland, that two young ladies, who were returning home after their evening walk, stopped at the gate of the churchyard to look at the red light which the setting sun cast upon the window of the church. As the ladies were standing at the gate, they heard a voice near them crying, “O, mother! mother! are you gone for ever?” They could not see anyone, so they walked softly round to the other side of the church, and there they saw Mary kneeling beside a grave, on which her brothers and sisters were hanging their white garlands.
The children all stood still when they saw the two ladies passing near them; but Mary did not know anybody was passing, for her face was hid in her hands.
Isabella and Caroline (so these ladies were called) would not disturb the poor children; but they stopped in the village to inquire about them. It was at the house of the schoolmistress that they stopped, and she gave them a good account of these orphans. She particularly commended Mary’s honesty, in having immediately paid all her mother’s debts to the utmost farthing, as far as her money would go. She told the ladies how Mary had been turned out of her house, and how she had offered her goat, of which she was very fond, to discharge a debt due for her schooling; and, in short, the schoolmistress, who had known Mary for several years, spoke so well of her that these ladies resolved that they would go to the old castle of Rossmore to see her the next day.
When they went there, they found the room in which the children lived as clean and neat as such a ruined place could be made. Edmund was out working with a farmer, Mary was spinning, and her little sisters were measuring out some bogberries, of which they had gathered a basketful, for sale. Isabella, after telling Mary what an excellent character she had heard of her, inquired what it was she most wanted; and Mary said that she had just worked up all her flax, and she was most in want of more flax for her wheel.
Isabella promised that she would send her a fresh supply of flax, and Caroline bought the bogberries from the little girls, and gave them money enough to buy a pound of coarse cotton for knitting, as Mary said that she could teach them how to knit.
The supply of flax, which Isabella sent the next day, was of great service to Mary, as it kept her in employment for above a month; and when she sold the yarn which she had spun with it, she had money enough to buy some warm flannel for winter wear. Besides spinning well, she had learned at school to do plain work tolerably neatly, and Isabella and Caroline employed her to work for them; by which she earned a great deal more than she could by spinning. At her leisure hours she taught her sisters to read and write; and Edmund, with part of the money which he earned by his work out of doors, paid a schoolmaster for teaching him a little arithmetic. When the winter nights came on, he used to light his rush candles for Mary to work by. He had gathered and stripped a good provision of rushes in the month of August, and a neighbour gave him grease to dip them in.
One evening, just as he had lighted his candles, a footman came in, who was sent by Isabella with some plain work to Mary. This servant was an Englishman, and he was but newly come over to Ireland. The rush candles caught his attention; for he had never seen any of them before, as he came from a part of England where they were not used. Edmund, who was ready to oblige, and proud that his candles were noticed showed the Englishman how they were made, and gave him a bundle of rushes.*
[*”The proper species of rush,” says White, in his ‘Natural History of Selborne,’ “seems to be the Juncus effusus, or common soft rush, which is to be found in moist pastures, by the sides of streams, and under hedges. These rushes are in best condition in the height of summer, but may be gathered so as to serve the purpose well quite on to autumn. The largest and longest are the best. Decayed labourers, women, and children make it their business to procure and prepare them. As soon as they are cut, they must be flung into water, and kept there; for otherwise they will dry and shrink, and the peel will not run. When these junci are thus far prepared, they must lie out on the grass to be bleached and take the dew for some nights, and afterwards be dried in the sun. Some address is required in dipping these rushes in the scalding fat or grease; but this knack is also to be attained by practice. A pound of common grease may be procured for fourpence, and about six pounds of grease will dip a pound of rushes and one pound of rushes may be bought for one shilling; so that a pound of rushes, medicated and ready for use, will cost three shillings.”]
The servant was pleased with his good nature in this trifling instance, and remembered it long after it was forgotten by Edmund. Whenever his master wanted to send a messenger anywhere, Gilbert (for that was the servant’s name) always employed his little friend Edmund, whom, upon further acquaintance, he liked better and better. He found that Edmund was both quick and exact in executing commissions.
One day, after he had waited a great while at a gentleman’s house for an answer to a letter, he was so impatient to get home that he ran off without it. When he was questioned by Gilbert why he did not bring an answer, he did not attempt to make any excuse; he did not say, “There was no answer, please your honour,” or, “They bid me not to wait,” etc.; but he told exactly the truth; and though Gilbert scolded him for being so impatient as not to wait, yet his telling the truth was more to the boy’s advantage than any excuse he could have made. After this he was always believed when he said, “There was no answer,” or, “They bid me not wait”; for Gilbert knew that he would not tell a lie to save himself from being scolded.
The orphans continued to assist one another in their work according to their strength and abilities; and they went on in this manner for three years. With what Mary got by her spinning and plain work, and Edmund by leading of cart-horses, going on errands, etc., and with little Peggy and Anne’s earnings, the family contrived to live comfortably. Isabella and Caroline often visited them, and sometimes gave them clothes, and sometimes flax or cotton for their spinning and knitting; and these children did not EXPECT, that because the ladies did something for them, they should do everything. They did not grow idle or wasteful.
When Edmund was about twelve years old, his friend Gilbert sent for him one day, and told him that his master had given him leave to have a boy in the house to assist him, and that his master told him he might choose one in the neighbourhood. Several were anxious to get into such a good place: but Gilbert said that he preferred Edmund before them all, because he knew him to be an industrious, honest, good natured lad, who always told the truth. So Edmund went into service at the vicarage; and his master was the father of Isabella and Caroline. He found his new way of life very pleasant; for he was well fed, well clothed, and well treated; and he every day learned more of his business, in which at first he was rather awkward. He was mindful to do all that Mr. Gilbert required of him; and he was so obliging to all his fellow-servants that they could not help liking him. But there was one thing which was at first rather disagreeable to him: he was obliged to wear shoes and stockings, and they hurt his feet. Besides this, when he waited at dinner he made such a noise in walking that his fellow-servants laughed at him. He told his sister Mary of his distress, and she made for him, after many trials, a pair of cloth shoes, with soles of platted hemp.* In these he could walk without making the least noise; and as these shoes could not be worn out of doors, he was always sure to change them before he went out; and consequently he had always clean shoes to wear in the house.
[*The author has seen a pair of shoes, such as here described, made in a few hours.]
It was soon remarked by the men-servants that he had left off clumping so heavily, and it was observed by the maids that he never dirtied the stairs or passages with his shoes. When he was praised for these things, he said it was his sister Mary who should be thanked, and not he; and he showed the shoes which she had made for him.
Isabella’s maid bespoke a pair immediately, and sent Mary a piece of pretty calico for the outside. The last-maker made a last for her, and over this Mary sewed the calico vamps tight. Her brother advised her to try platted packthread instead of hemp for the soles; and she found that this looked more neat than the hemp soles, and was likely to last longer. She platted the packthread together in strands of about half an inch thick, and these were served firmly together at the bottom of the shoe. When they were finished they fitted well, and the maid showed them to her mistress.
Isabella and Caroline were so well pleased with Mary’s ingenuity and kindness to her brother, that they bespoke from her two dozen of these shoes, and gave her three yards of coloured fustian to make them of, and galloon for the binding. When the shoes were completed, Isabella and Caroline disposed of them for her amongst their acquaintance, and got three shillings a pair for them. The young ladies, as soon as they had collected the money, walked to the old castle, where they found everything neat and clean as usual. They had great pleasure in giving to this industrious girl the reward of her ingenuity, which she received with some surprise and more gratitude. They advised her to continue the shoemaking trade, as they found the shoes were liked, and they knew that they could have a sale for them at the Repository in Dublin.
Mary, encouraged by these kind friends, went on with her little manufacture with increased activity. Peggy and Anne platted the packthread, and basted the vamps and linings together ready for her. Edmund was allowed to come home for an hour every morning, provided he was back again before eight o’clock. It was summer time, and he got up early, because he liked to go home to see his sisters, and he took his share in the manufactory. It was his business to hammer the soles flat: and as soon as he came home every morning he performed his task with so much cheerfulness and sang so merrily at his work, that the hour of his arrival was always an hour of joy to the family.
Mary had presently employment enough upon her hands. Orders came to her for shoes from many families in the neighbourhood, and she could not get them finished fast enough. She, however, in the midst of her hurry, found time to make a very pretty pair, with neat roses, as a present for her schoolmistress, who, now that she saw her pupil in a good way of business, consented to receive the amount of her old debt. Several of the children who went to her school were delighted with the sight of Mary’s present, and went to the little manufactory at Rossmore Castle, to find out how these shoes were made. Some went from curiosity, others from idleness; but when they saw how happy the little shoemakers seemed whilst busy at work, they longed to take some share in what was going forward. One begged Mary to let her plat some packthread for the soles; another helped Peggy and Anne to baste in the linings; and all who could get employment were pleased, for the idle ones were shoved out of the way. It became a custom with the children of the village to resort to the old castle at their play hours; and it was surprising to see how much was done by ten or twelve of them, each doing but a little at a time.
One morning Edmund and the little manufacturers were assembled very early, and they were busy at their work, all sitting round the meal chest, which served them for a table.
“My hands must be washed,” said George, a little boy who came running in; “I ran so fast that I might be in time, to go to work along with you all, that I tumbled down, and look how I have dirtied my hands. Most haste worst speed. My hands must be washed before I can do anything.”
Whilst George was washing his hands, two other little children, who had just finished their morning’s work, came to him to beg that he would blow some soap bubbles for them, and they were all three eagerly blowing bubbles, and watching them mount into the air, when suddenly they were startled by a noise as loud as thunder. They were in a sort of outer court of the castle, next to the room in which all their companions were at work, and they ran precipitately into the room, exclaiming, “Did you hear that noise?”
“I thought I heard a clap of thunder,” said Mary, “but why do you look so frightened?”
As she finished speaking, another and a louder noise, and the walls round about them shook. The children turned pale and stood motionless; but Edmund threw down his hammer, and ran out to see what was the matter. Mary followed him, and they saw that a great chimney of the old ruins at the farthest side of the castle had fallen down, and this was the cause of the prodigious noise.
The part of the castle in which they lived seemed, as Edmund said, to be perfectly safe; but the children of the village were terrified, and thinking that the whole would come tumbling down directly, they ran to their homes as fast as they could. Edmund, who was a courageous lad, and proud of showing his courage, laughed at their cowardice; but Mary, who was very prudent, persuaded her brother to ask an experienced mason, who was building at his master’s, to come and give his opinion, whether their part of the castle was safe to live in or not. The mason came, and gave it as his opinion that the rooms they inhabited might last through the winter but that no part of the ruins could stand another year. Mary was sorry to leave a place of which she had grown fond, poor as it was, having lived in it in peace and contentment ever since her mother’s death, which was now nearly four years; but she determined to look out for some other place to live in; and she had now money enough to pay the rent of a comfortable cabin. Without losing any time, she went to the village that was at the end of the avenue leading to the vicarage, for she wished to get a lodging in this village because it was so near to her brother, and to the ladies who had been so kind to her. She found that there was one newly built house in this village unoccupied; it belonged to Mr. Harvey, her landlord, who was still in England; it was slated, and neatly fitted up inside; but the rent of it was six guineas a year, and this was far above what Mary could afford to pay. Three guineas a year she thought was the highest rent for which she could venture to engage. Besides, she heard that several proposals had been made to Mr. Harvey for this house, and she knew that Mr. Hopkins, the agent, was not her friend; therefore she despaired of getting it. There was no other to be had in this village. Her brother was still more vexed than she was, that she could not find a place near him. He offered to give a guinea yearly towards the rent out of his wages; and Mr. Gilbert spoke about it for him to the steward, and inquired whether, amongst any of those who had given in proposals, there might not be one who would be content with a part of the house, and who would join with Mary in paying the rent. None could be found but a woman, who was a great scold, and a man who was famous for going to law about every trifle with his neighbours. Mary did not choose to have anything to do with these people. She did not like to speak either to Miss Isabella or Caroline about it, because she was not of an encroaching temper; and when they had done so much for her, she would have been ashamed to beg for more. She returned home to the old castle, mortified that she had no good news to tell Anne and Peggy, who she knew expected to hear that she had found a nice house for them in the village near their brother.
“Bad news for you, Peggy,” cried she, as soon as she got home. “And bad news for you, Mary,” replied her sisters, who looked very sorrowful.
“What’s the matter?”
“Your poor goat is dead,” replied Peggy. “There she is, yonder, lying under the great corner stone; you can just see her leg. We cannot lift the stone from off her, it is so heavy. Betsy [one of the neighbour’s girls] says she remembers, when she came to us to work early this morning, she saw the goat rubbing itself, and butting with its horns against that old tottering chimney.”
“Many’s the time,” said Mary, “that I have driven the poor thing away from that place; I was always afraid she would shake that great ugly stone down upon her at last.”
The goat, who had long been the favourite of Mary and her sisters, was lamented by them all. When Edmund came, he helped them to move the great stone from off the poor animal, who was crushed so as to be a terrible sight. As they were moving away this stone in order to bury the goat, Anne found an odd-looking piece of money, which seemed neither like a halfpenny, nor a shilling, nor a guinea.
“Here are more, a great many more of them,” cried Peggy; and upon searching amongst the rubbish, they discovered a small iron pot, which seemed as if it had been filled with these coins, as a vast number of them were found about the spot where it fell. On examining these coins, Edmund thought that several of them looked like gold, and the girls exclaimed with great joy–“Oh, Mary! Mary! this is come to us just in right time–now you can pay for the slated house. Never was anything so lucky!”
But Mary, though nothing could have pleased her better than to have been able to pay for the house, observed that they could not honestly touch any of this treasure, as it belonged to the owner of the castle. Edmund agreed with her, that they ought to carry it all immediately to Mr. Hopkins, the agent. Peggy and Anne were convinced by what Mary said, and they begged to go along with her and their brother, to take the coins to Mr. Hopkins. On their way they stopped at the vicarage, to show the treasure to Mr. Gilbert, who took it to the young ladies, Isabella and Caroline, and told them how it had been found.
It is not only by their superior riches, but it is yet more by their superior knowledge, that persons in the higher rank of life may assist those in a lower condition.
Isabella, who had some knowledge of chemistry, discovered, by touching the coins with nitric acid, that several of them were of gold, and consequently of great value. Caroline also found out that many of the coins were very valuable as curiosities. She recollected her father’s having shown to her the prints of the coins at the end of each king’s reign, in “Rapin’s History of England;” and upon comparing these impressions with the coins found by the orphans, she perceived that many of them were of the reign of Henry the Seventh, which, from their scarcity, were highly appreciated by numismatic collectors.
Isabella and Caroline, knowing something of the character of Mr. Hopkins, the agent, had the precaution to count the coins, and to mark each of them with a cross, so small that it was scarcely visible to the naked eye, though it was easily to be seen through a magnifying glass. They also begged that their father, who was well acquainted with Mr. Harvey, the gentleman to whom Rossmore Castle belonged, to write to him, and tell him how well these orphans had behaved about the treasure which they had found. The value of the coins was estimated at about thirty or forty guineas.
A few days after the fall of the chimney at Rossmore Castle, as Mary and her sisters were sitting at their work, there came hobbling in an old woman, leaning on a crab stick, that seemed to have been newly cut. She had a broken tobacco-pipe in her mouth; her head was wrapped up in two large red and blue handkerchiefs, with their crooked corners hanging far down over the back of her neck, no shoes on her broad feet, nor stockings on her many-coloured legs. Her petticoat was jagged at the bottom, and the skirt of her gown turned up over her shoulders, to serve instead of a cloak, which she had sold for whisky. This old woman was well known amongst the country people by the name of Goody Grope:* because she had, for many years, been in the habit of groping in old castles, and in moats,** and at the bottom of a round tower*** in the neighbourhood, in search of treasure. In her youth she had heard someone talking, in a whisper, of an old prophecy, found in a bog, which said that before many
“St. Patrick’s days should come about, There would be found
A treasure under ground,
By one within twenty miles round.”
This prophecy made a deep impression upon her. She also dreamed of it three times: and as the dream, she thought, was a sure token that the prophecy was to come true, she, from that time forwards, gave up her spinning-wheel and her knitting, and could think of nothing but hunting for the treasure, that was to be found by one “within twenty miles round.”
[*Goody is not a word used in Ireland. Collyogh is the Irish appellation of an old woman: but as Collyogh might sound strangely to English ears, we have translated it by the word Goody. **What are in Ireland called moats, are, in England, called Danish mounds, or barrows.
***Near Kells, in Ireland, there is a round tower, which was in imminent danger of being pulled down by an old woman’s rooting at its foundation, in hopes of finding treasure.]
Year after year St. Patrick’s day came about, without her ever finding a farthing by all her groping; and as she was always idle, she grew poorer and poorer. Besides, to comfort herself for her disappointments, and to give her spirits for fresh searches, she took to drinking. She sold all she had by degrees; but still she fancied that the lucky day would come sooner or later, THAT WOULD PAY FOR ALL.
Goody Grope, however, reached her sixtieth year, without ever seeing this lucky day; and now, in her old age, she was a beggar, without a house to shelter her, a bed to lie on, or food to put into her mouth, but what she begged from the charity of those who had trusted more than she had to industry and less to LUCK.
“Ah, Mary, honey! give me a potato and a sup of something, for the love o’ mercy; for not a bit have I had all day, except half a glass of whisky and a halfpenny worth of tobacco!”
Mary immediately set before her some milk, and picked a good potato out of the bowl for her. She was sorry to see such an old woman in such a wretched condition. Goody Grope said she would rather have spirits of some kind or other than milk; but Mary had no spirits to give her; so she sat herself down close to the fire, and after she had sighed and groaned and smoked for some time, she said to Mary, “Well, and what have you done with the treasure you had the luck to find?” Mary told her that she had carried it to Mr. Hopkins, the agent.
“That’s not what I would have done in your place,” replied the old woman. “When good luck came to you, what a shame to turn your back upon it! But it is idle talking of what’s done–that’s past; but I’ll try my luck in this here castle before next St. Patrick’s day comes about. I was told it was more than twenty miles from our bog or I would have been here long ago; but better late than never.”
Mary was much alarmed, and not without reason, at this speech; for she knew that if Goody Grope once set to work at the foundation of the old castle of Rossmore, she would soon bring it all down. It was in vain to talk to Goody Grope of the danger of burying herself under the ruins, or of the improbability of her meeting with another pot of gold coins. She set her elbow upon her knees, and stopping her ears with her hands bid Mary and her sisters not to waste their breath advising their elders; for that, let them say what they would, she would fall to work the next morning, “BARRING you’ll make it worth my while to let it alone.”
“And what will make it worth your while to let it alone?” said Mary; for she saw that she must either get into a quarrel or give up her habitation, or comply with the conditions of this provoking old woman.
Half a crown, Goody Grope said, was the least she could be content to take. Mary paid the half-crown, and was in hopes that she had got rid for ever of her tormentor, but she was mistaken, for scarcely was the week at an end before the old woman appeared before her again, and repeated her threats of falling to work the next morning, unless she had something given to her to buy tobacco.
The next day and the next, and the next, Goody Grope came on the same errand, and poor Mary, who could ill-afford to supply her constantly with halfpence, at last exclaimed, “I am sure the finding of this treasure has not been any good luck to us, but quite the contrary; and I wish we never had found it.”
Mary did not yet know how much she was to suffer on account of this unfortunate pot of gold coins. Mr. Hopkins, the agent, imagined that no one knew of the discovery of this treasure but himself and these poor children; so, not being as honest as they were, he resolved to keep it for his own use. He was surprised some weeks afterwards to receive a letter from his employer, Mr. Harvey, demanding from him the coins which had been discovered at Rossmore Castle. Hopkins had sold the gold coins, and some of the others; and he flattered himself that the children, and the young ladies, to whom he now found they had been shown, could not tell whether what they had seen were gold or not, and he was not in the least apprehensive that those of Henry the Seventh’s reign should be reclaimed from him as he thought they had escaped attention. So he sent over the silver coins and others of little value, and apologized for his not having mentioned them before, by saying that he considered them as mere rubbish.
Mr. Harvey, in reply, observed that he could not consider as rubbish the gold coins which were amongst them when they were discovered; and he inquired why these gold coins, and those of the reign of Henry the Seventh, were not now sent to him.
Mr. Hopkins denied that he had ever received any such; but he was thunderstruck when Mr. Harvey, in reply to this falsehood, sent him a list of the coins which the orphans had deposited with him, and exact drawings of those that were missing. He informed him that this list and these drawings came from two ladies who had seen the coins in question.
Mr. Hopkins thought that he had no means of escape but by boldly persisting in falsehood. He replied, that it was very likely such coins had been found at Rossmore Castle, and that the ladies alluded to had probably seen them; but he positively declared that they never came to his hands; that he had restored all that were deposited with him; and that, as to the others, he supposed they must have been taken out of the pot by the children, or by Edmund or Mary on their way from the ladies’ house to his.
The orphans were shocked and astonished when they heard, from Isabella and Caroline, the charge that was made against them. They looked at one another in silence for some moments. Then Peggy exclaimed–“Sure! Mr. Hopkins has forgotten himself strangely. Does not he remember Edmund’s counting the things to him upon the great table in his hall, and we all standing by! I remember it as well as if it was this instant.”
“And so do I,” cried Anne. “And don’t you recollect, Mary, your picking out the gold ones, and telling Mr. Hopkins that they were gold; and he said you knew nothing of the matter; and I was going to tell him that Miss Isabella had tried them, and knew that they were gold? but just then there came in some tenants to pay their rent, and he pushed us out, and twitched from my hand the piece of gold which I had taken up to show him the bright spot which Miss Isabella had cleaned by the stuff that she had poured on it? I believe he was afraid I should steal it; he twitched it from my hand in such a hurry. Do, Edmund; do, Mary–let us go to him, and put him in mind of all this.”
“I’ll go to him no more,” said Edmund, sturdily. “He is a bad man–I’ll never go to him again. Mary, don’t be cast down–we have no need to be cast down–we are honest.”
“True,” said Mary; “but is not it a hard case that we, who have lived, as my mother did all her life before us, in peace and honesty with all the world, should now have our good name taken from us, when–” Mary’s voice faltered and stopped.
“It can’t be taken from us,” cried Edmund, “poor orphans though we are, and he a rich gentleman, as he calls himself. Let him say and do what he will, he can’t hurt our good name.”
Edmund was mistaken, alas! and Mary had but too much reason for her fears. The affair was a great deal talked of; and the agent spared no pains to have the story told his own way. The orphans, conscious of their own innocence, took no pains about the matter; and the consequence was, that all who knew them well had no doubt of their honesty; but many, who knew nothing of them, concluded that the agent must be in the right and the children in the wrong. The buzz of scandal went on for some time without reaching their ears, because they lived very retiredly. But one day, when Mary went to sell some stockings of Peggy’s knitting at the neighbouring fair, the man to whom she sold them bid her write her name on the back of a note, and exclaimed, on seeing it–“Ho! ho! mistress; I’d not have had any dealings with you, had I known your name sooner. Where’s the gold that you found at Rossmore Castle?”
It was in vain that Mary related the fact. She saw that she gained no belief, as her character was not known to this man, or to any of those who were present. She left the fair as soon as she could; and though she struggled against it, she felt very melancholy. Still she exerted herself every day at her little manufacture; and she endeavoured to console herself by reflecting that she had two friends left who would not give up her character, and who continued steadily to protect her and her sisters.
Isabella and Caroline everywhere asserted their belief in the integrity of the orphans, but to prove it was in this instance out of their power. Mr. Hopkins, the agent, and his friends, constantly repeated that the gold coins were taken away in coming from their house to his; and these ladies were blamed by many people for continuing to countenance those that were, with great reason, suspected to be thieves. The orphans were in a worse condition than ever when the winter came on, and their benefactresses left the country to spend some months in Dublin. The old castle, it was true, was likely to last through the winter, as the mason said; but though the want of a comfortable house to live in was, a little while ago, the uppermost thing in Mary’s thoughts, now it was not so.
One night as Mary was going to bed, she heard someone knocking hard at the door. “Mary, are you up? let us in,” cried a voice, which she knew to be the voice of Betsy Green, the postmaster’s daughter, who lived in the village near them.
She let Betsy in, and asked what she could want at such a time of night.
“Give me sixpence, and I’ll tell you,” said Betsy; “but waken Anne and Peggy. Here’s a letter just come by post for you, and I stepped over to you with it; because I guessed you’d be glad to have it, seeing it is your brother’s handwriting.”
Peggy and Anne were soon roused, when they heard that there was a letter from Edmund. It was by one of his rush candles that Mary read it; and the letter was as follows:–
“DEAR MARY, NANCY, AND LITTLE PEG,–
“Joy! joy!–I always said the truth would come out at last; and that he could not take our good name from us. But I will not tell you how it all came about till we meet, which will be next week, as we are (I mean, master and mistress, and the young ladies–bless them!–and Mr. Gilbert and I) coming down to the vicarage to keep Christmas; and a happy Christmas ’tis likely to be for honest folks. As for they that are not honest, it is not for them to expect to be happy, at Christmas, or any other time. You shall know all when we meet. So, till then, fare ye well, dear Mary, Nancy, and little Peg.
“Your joyful and affectionate brother, EDMUND.”
To comprehend why Edmund is joyful, our readers must be informed of certain things which happened after Isabella and Caroline went to Dublin. One morning they went with their father and mother to see the magnificent library of a nobleman, who took generous and polite pleasure in thus sharing the advantages of his wealth and station with all who had any pretensions to science or literature. Knowing that the gentleman who was now come to see his library was skilled in antiquities, the nobleman opened a drawer of medals, to ask his opinion concerning the age of some coins, which he had lately purchased at a high price. They were the very same which the orphans had found at Rossmore Castle. Isabella and Caroline knew them again instantly; and as the cross which Isabella had made on each of them was still visible through a magnifying glass, there could be no possibility of doubt.
The nobleman, who was much interested both by the story of these orphans, and the manner in which it was told to him, sent immediately for the person from whom he had purchased the coins. He was a Jew broker. At first he refused to tell them from whom he got them, because he had bought them, he said, under a promise of secrecy. Being further pressed, he acknowledged that it was made a condition in his bargain that he should not sell them to anyone in Ireland, but that he had been tempted by the high price the present noble possessor had offered.
At last, when the Jew was informed that the coins were stolen, and that he would be proceeded against as a receiver of stolen goods, if he did not confess the whole truth, he declared that he had purchased them from a gentleman, whom he had never seen before or since; but he added, that he could swear to his person, if he saw him again.
Now, Mr. Hopkins, the agent, was at this time in Dublin, and Caroline’s father posted the Jew, the next day, in the back-parlour of a banker’s house, with whom Mr. Hopkins had, on this day, appointed to settle some accounts. Mr. Hopkins came–the Jew knew him–swore that he was the man who had sold the coins to him; and thus the guilt of the agent and the innocence of the orphans were completely proved.
A full account of all that happened was sent to England to Mr. Harvey, their landlord, and a few posts afterwards there came a letter from him, containing a dismissal of the dishonest agent, and a reward for the honest and industrious orphans. Mr. Harvey desired that Mary and her sisters might have the slated house, rent free, from this time forward, under the care of ladies Isabella and Caroline, as long as Mary or her sisters should carry on in it any useful business. This was the joyful news which Edmund had to tell his sisters.
All the neighbours shared in their joy, and the day of their removal from the ruins of Rossmore Castle to their new house was the happiest of the Christmas holidays. They were not envied for their prosperity; because everybody saw that it was the reward of their good conduct; everybody except Goody Grope. She exclaimed, as she wrung her hands with violent expressions of sorrow–“Bad luck to me! bad luck to me!–Why didn’t I go sooner to that there castle? It is all luck, all luck in this world; but I never had no luck. Think of the luck of these childer, that have found a pot of gold, and such great, grand friends, and a slated house, and all: and here am I, with scarce a rag to cover me, and not a potato to put into my mouth!–I, that have been looking under ground all my days for treasure, not to have a halfpenny at the last, to buy me tobacco!”
“That is the very reason that you have not a halfpenny,” said Betsy. “Here Mary has been working hard, and so have her two little sisters and her brother, for these five years past; and they have made money for themselves by their own industry–and friends too–not by luck, but by–“
“Phoo! phoo!” interrupted Goody Grope; “don’t be prating; don’t I know as well as you do, that they found a pot of gold, BY GOOD LUCK? and is not that the cause why they are going to live in a slated house now?”
“No,” replied the postmaster’s daughter; “this house is given to them AS A REWARD–that was the word in the letter; for I saw it. Edmund showed it to me, and will show it to anyone that wants to see. This house was given to them ‘AS A REWARD FOR THEIR HONESTY.'”
In the pleasant valley of Ashton there lived an elderly woman of the name of Preston. She had a small neat cottage, and there was not a weed to be seen in her garden. It was upon her garden that she chiefly depended for support; it consisted of strawberry beds, and one small border for flowers. The pinks and roses she tied up in nice nosegays, and sent either to Clifton or Bristol to be sold. As to her strawberries, she did not send them to market, because it was the custom for numbers of people to come from Clifton, in the summer time, to eat strawberries and cream at the gardens in Ashton.
Now, the widow Preston was so obliging, active and good-humoured, that everyone who came to see her was pleased. She lived happily in this manner for several years; but, alas! one autumn she fell sick, and, during her illness, everything went wrong; her garden was neglected, her cow died, and all the money which she had saved was spent in paying for medicines. The winter passed away, while she was so weak that she could earn but little by her work; and when the summer came, her rent was called for, and the rent was not ready in her little purse as usual. She begged a few months’ delay, and they were granted to her; but at the end of that time there was no resource but to sell her horse Lightfoot. Now Lightfoot, though perhaps he had seen his best days, was a very great favourite. In his youth he had always carried the dame to the market behind her husband; and it was now her little son Jem’s turn to ride him. It was Jem’s business to feed Lightfoot, and to take care of him–a charge which he never neglected, for, besides being a very good natured, he was a very industrious boy.
“It will go near to break my Jem’s heart,” said Dame Preston to herself, as she sat one evening beside the fire stirring the embers, and considering how she had best open the matter to her son, who stood opposite to her, eating a dry crust of bread very heartily for supper.
“Jem,” said the old woman, “what, ar’t hungry?”
“That I am, brave and hungry!”
“Ay! no wonder, you’ve been brave hard at work–Eh?”
“Brave hard! I wish it was not so dark, mother, that you might just step out and see the great bed I’ve dug; I know you’d say it was no bad day’s work–and oh, mother! I’ve good news: Farmer Truck will give us the giant strawberries, and I’m to go for ’em tomorrow morning, and I’ll be back afore breakfast.”
“God bless the boy! how he talks!–Four mile there, and four mile back again, afore breakfast.”
“Ay, upon Lightfoot, you know, mother, very easily; mayn’t I?”
“Why do you sigh, mother?”
“Finish thy supper, child.”
“I’ve done!” cried Jem, swallowing the last mouthful hastily, as if he thought he had been too long at supper–“and now for the great needle; I must see and mend Lightfoot’s bridle afore I go to bed.”
To work he set, by the light of the fire, and the dame having once more stirred it, began again with “Jem, dear, does he go lame at all now?”
“What, Lightfoot! Oh, la, no, not he–never was so well of his lameness in all his life. He’s grown quite young again, I think, and then he’s so fat he can hardly wag.”
“God bless him–that’s right. We must see, Jem, and keep him fat.”
“For what, mother?”
“For Monday fortnight at the fair. He’s to be–sold!”
“Lightfoot!” cried Jem, and let the bridle fall from his hand; “and WILL mother sell Lightfoot?”
“WILL? no: but I MUST, Jem.”
“MUST! who says you MUST? why MUST you, mother?”
“I must, I say, child. Why, must not I pay my debts honestly; and must not I pay my rent, and was not it called for long and long ago; and have not I had time; and did not I promise to pay it for certain Monday fortnight, and am not I two guineas short; and where am I to get two guineas? So what signifies talking, child?” said the widow, leaning her head upon her arm. “Lightfoot MUST go.”
Jem was silent for a few minutes–“Two guineas, that’s a great, great deal. If I worked, and worked, and worked ever so hard, I could no ways earn two guineas AFORE Monday fortnight–could I, mother?”
“Lord help thee, no; not an’ work thyself to death.”
“But I could earn something, though, I say,” cried Jem, proudly; “and I WILL earn SOMETHING–if it be ever so little, it will be SOMETHING–and I shall do my very best; so I will.”
“That I’m sure of, my child,” said his mother, drawing him towards her and kissing him; “you were always a good, industrious lad, THAT I will say afore your face or behind your back;–but it won’t do now–Lightfoot MUST go.”
Jem turned away struggling to hide his tears, and went to bed without saying a word more. But he knew that crying would do no good; so he presently wiped his eyes, and lay awake, considering what he could possibly do to save the horse. “If I get ever so little,” he still said to himself, “it will be SOMETHING; and who knows but landlord might then wait a bit longer? and we might make it all up in time; for a penny a day might come to two guineas in time.”
But how to get the first penny was the question. Then he recollected that one day, when he had been sent to Clifton to sell some flowers, he had seen an old woman with a board beside her covered with various sparkling stones, which people stopped to look at as they passed, and he remembered that some people bought the stones; one paid twopence, another threepence, and another sixpence for them; and Jem heard her say that she got them amongst the neighbouring rocks: so he thought that if he tried he might find some too, and sell them as she had done.
Early in the morning he wakened full of this scheme, jumped up, dressed himself, and, having given one look at poor Lightfoot in his stable, set off to Clifton in search of the old woman, to inquire where she found her sparkling stones. But it was too early in the morning, the old woman was not at her seat; so he turned back again, disappointed. He did not waste his time waiting for her, but saddled and bridled Lightfoot, and went to Farmer Truck’s for the giant strawberries.
A great part of the morning was spent in putting them into the ground; and, as soon as that was finished, he set out again in quest of the old woman, whom, to his great joy, he spied sitting at her corner of the street with her board before her. But this old woman was deaf and cross; and when at last Jem made her hear his questions, he could get no answer from her, but that she found the fossils where he would never find any more. “But can’t I look where you looked?”
“Look away, nobody hinders you,” replied the old woman; and these were the only words she would say.
Jem was not, however, a boy to be easily discouraged; he went to the rocks, and walked slowly along, looking at all the stones as he passed. Presently he came to a place where a number of men were at work loosening some large rocks, and one amongst the workmen was stooping down looking for something very eagerly; Jem ran up, and asked if he could help him.
“Yes,” said the man, “you can; I’ve just dropped, amongst this heap of rubbish, a fine piece of crystal that I got to-day.”
“What kind of a looking thing is it?” said Jem.
“White, and like glass,” said the man, and went on working whilst Jem looked very carefully over the heap of rubbish for a great while.
“Come,” said the man, “it’s gone for ever; don’t trouble yourself any more, my boy.”
“It’s no trouble; I’ll look a little longer; we’ll not give it up so soon,” said Jem; and after he had looked a little longer, he found the piece of crystal.
“Thank’e,” said the man, “you are a fine little industrious fellow.”
Jem, encouraged by the tone of voice in which the man spoke this, ventured to ask him the same questions which he had asked the old woman.
“One good turn deserves another,” said the man; “we are going to dinner just now, and shall leave off work–wait for me here, and I’ll make it worth your while.”
Jem waited; and, as he was very attentively observing how the workmen went on with their work, he heard somebody near him give a great yawn, and, turning round, he saw stretched upon the grass, beside the river, a boy about his own age, who, in the village of Ashton, as he knew, went by the name of Lazy Lawrence–a name which he most justly deserved, for he never did anything from morning to night. He neither worked nor played, but sauntered or lounged about restless and yawning. His father was an ale-house keeper, and being generally drunk, could take no care of his son; so that Lazy Lawrence grew every day worse and worse. However, some of the neighbours said that he was a good natured, poor fellow enough, and would never do anyone harm but himself; whilst others, who were wiser, often shook their heads, and told him that idleness was the root of all evil.
“What, Lawrence!” cried Jem to him, when he saw him lying upon the grass; “what, are you asleep?”
“Are you awake?”
“What are you doing there?”
“What are you thinking of?”
“What makes you lie there?”
“I don’t know–because I can’t find anybody to play with me to-day. Will you come and play?”
“No, I can’t; I’m busy.”
“Busy,” cried Lawrence, stretching himself, “you are always busy. I would not be you for the world, to have so much to do always.”
“And I,” said Jem, laughing, “would not be you for the world, to have nothing to do.”
They then parted, for the workman just then called Jem to follow him. He took him home to his own house, and showed him a parcel of fossils, which he had gathered, he said, on purpose to sell, but had never had time enough to sell them. Now, however, he set about the task; and having picked out those which he judged to be the best, he put them in a small basket, and gave them to Jem to sell, upon condition that he should bring him half of what he got. Jem, pleased to be employed, was ready to agree to what the man proposed, provided his mother had no objection. When he went home to dinner, he told his mother his scheme, and she smiled, and said he might do as he pleased; for she was not afraid of his being from home. “You are not an idle boy,” said she; “so there is little danger of your getting into any mischief.”
Accordingly Jem that evening took his stand, with his little basket, upon the bank of the river, just at the place where people land from a ferry- boat, and the walk turns to the wells, and numbers of people perpetually pass to drink the waters. He chose his place well, and waited nearly all the evening, offering his fossils with great assiduity to every passenger; but not one person bought any.
“Hallo!” cried some sailors, who had just rowed a boat to land, “bear a hand here, will you, my little fellow, and carry these parcels for us into yonder house?”
Jem ran down immediately for the parcels, and did what he was asked to do so quickly, and with so much good-will, that the master of the boat took notice of him, and, when he was going away, stopped to ask him what he had got in his little basket; and when he saw that they were fossils, he immediately told Jem to follow him, for that he was going to carry some shells he had brought from abroad to a lady in the neighbourhood who was making a grotto. “She will very likely buy your stones into the bargain. Come along, my lad; we can but try.”
The lady lived but a very little way off, so that they were soon at her house. She was alone in her parlour, and was sorting a bundle of feathers of different colours; they lay on a sheet of pasteboard upon a window seat, and it happened that as the sailor was bustling round the table to show off his shells, he knocked down the sheet of pasteboard, and scattered all the feathers. The lady looked very sorry, which Jem observing, he took the opportunity, whilst she was busy looking over the sailor’s bag of shells, to gather together all the feathers, and sort them according to their different colours, as he had seen them sorted when he first came into the room.
“Where is the little boy you brought with you? I thought I saw him here just now.”
“And here I am, ma’am,” cried Jem, creeping from under the table, with some few remaining feathers which he had picked from the carpet; “I thought,” added he, pointing to the others, “I had better be doing something than standing idle, ma’am.” She smiled, and, pleased with his activity and simplicity, began to ask him several questions; such as who he was, where he lived, what employment he had, and how much a day he earned by gathering fossils.
“This is the first day I ever tried,” said Jem; “I never sold any yet, and if you don’t buy ’em now, ma’am, I’m afraid nobody else will; for I’ve asked everybody else.”
“Come, then,” said the lady, laughing, “if that is the case, I think I had better buy them all.” So, emptying all the fossils out of his basket, she put half a crown into it.
Jem’s eyes sparkled with joy. “Oh, thank you, ma’am,” said he, “I will be sure and bring you as many more, to-morrow.”
“Yes, but I don’t promise you,” said she, “to give you half a crown, to- morrow.”
“But, perhaps, though you don’t promise it, you will.”
“No,” said the lady, “do not deceive yourself; I assure you that I will not. THAT, instead of encouraging you to be industrious, would teach you to be idle.”
Jem did not quite understand what she meant by this, but answered, “I’m sure I don’t wish to be idle; what I want is to earn something every day, if I know how; I’m sure I don’t wish to be idle. If you knew all, you’d know I did not.”
“How do you mean, IF I KNEW ALL?”
“Why, I mean, if you knew about Lightfoot.”
“Why, mammy’s horse,” added Jem, looking out of the window; “I must make haste home, and feed him afore it gets dark; he’ll wonder what’s gone with me.”
“Let him wonder a few minutes longer,” said the lady, “and tell me the rest of your story.”
“I’ve no story, ma’am, to tell, but as how mammy says he must go to the fair Monday fortnight, to be sold, if she can’t get the two guineas for her rent; and I should be main sorry to part with him, for I love him, and he loves me; so I’ll work for him, I will, all I can. To be sure, as mammy says, I have no chance, such a little fellow as I am, of earning two guineas afore Monday fortnight.”
“But are you willing earnestly to work?” said the lady; “you know there is a great deal of difference between picking up a few stones, and working steadily every day, and all day long.”
“But,” said Jem, “I would work every day, and all day long.”
“Then,” said the lady, “I will give you work. Come here, to-morrow morning, and my gardener will set you to weed the shrubberies, and I will pay you sixpence a day. Remember, you must be at the gates by six o’clock.” Jem bowed, thanked her, and went away.
It was late in the evening, and Jem was impatient to get home to feed Lightfoot; yet he recollected that he had promised the man who had trusted him to sell the fossils, that he would bring him half of what he got for them; so he thought that he had better go to him directly; and away he went, running along by the waterside about a quarter of a mile, till he came to the man’s house. He was just come home from work, and was surprised when Jem showed him the half-crown, saying, “Look what I got for the stones; you are to have half, you know.”
“No,” said the man, when he had heard his story, “I shall not take half of that; it was given to you. I expected but a shilling at the most, and the half of that is but sixpence, and that I’ll take. Wife, give the lad two shillings, and take this half-crown.” So the wife opened an old glove, and took out two shillings; and the man, as she opened the glove, put in his fingers, and took out a little silver penny. “There, he shall have that into the bargain for his honesty–honesty is the best policy– there’s a lucky penny for you, that I’ve kept ever since I can remember.”
“Don’t you ever go to part with it, do ye hear!” cried the woman.
“Let him do what he will with it, wife,” said the man.
“But,” argued the wife, “another penny would do just as well to buy gingerbread; and that’s what it will go for.”
“No, that it shall not, I promise you,” said Jem; and so he ran away home, fed Lightfoot, stroked him, went to bed, jumped up at five o’clock in the morning, and went singing to work as gay as a lark.
Four days he worked “every day and all day long”; and every evening the lady, when she came out to walk in her gardens, looked at his work. At last she said to her gardener, “This little boy works very hard.”
“Never had so good a little boy about the grounds,” said the gardener; “he’s always at his work, let me come by when I will, and he has got twice as much done as another would do; yes, twice as much, ma’am; for look here–he began at this ‘ere rose-bush, and now he’s got to where you stand, ma’am; and here is the day’s work that t’other boy, and he’s three years older too, did to-day–I say, measure Jem’s fairly, and it’s twice as much, I’m sure.”
“Well,” said the lady to her gardener, “show me how much is a fair day’s work for a boy of his age.”
“Come at six o’clock and go at six? why, about this much, ma’am,” said the gardener, marking off a piece of the border with his spade.
“Then, little boy,” said the lady, “so much shall be your task every day. The gardener will mark it off for you; and when you’ve done, the rest of the day you may do what you please.”
Jem was extremely glad of this; and the next day he had finished his task by four o’clock; so that he had all the rest of the evening to himself. He was as fond of play as any little boy could be; and when he was at it he played with all the eagerness and gaiety imaginable; so as soon as he had finished his task, fed Lightfoot, and put by the sixpence he had earned that day, he ran to the playground in the village, where he found a party of boys playing, and amongst them Lazy Lawrence, who indeed was not playing, but lounging upon a gate, with his thumb in his mouth. The rest were playing at cricket. Jem joined them, and was the merriest and most active amongst them; till, at last, when quite out of breath with running, he was obliged to give up to rest himself, and sat down upon the stile, close to the gate on which Lazy Lawrence was swinging.
“And why don’t you play, Lawrence?” said he.
“I’m tired,” said Lawrence.
“Tired of what?”
“I don’t know well what tires me; grandmother says I’m ill, and I must take something–I don’t know what ails me.”
“Oh, pugh! take a good race–one, two, three, and away–and you’ll find yourself as well as ever. Come, run–one, two, three, and away.”
“Ah, no, I can’t run, indeed,” said he, hanging back heavily; “you know I can play all day long if I like it, so I don’t mind play as you do, who have only one hour for it.”
“So much the worse for you. Come, now, I’m quite fresh again, will you have one game at ball? do.”
“No, I tell you I can’t; I’m as tired as if I had been working all day long as hard as a horse.”
“Ten times more,” said Jem, “for I have been working all day long, as hard as a horse, and yet you see I’m not a bit tired, only a little out of breath just now.”
“That’s very odd,” said Lawrence, and yawned, for want of some better answer; then taking out a handful of halfpence,–“See what I got from father today, because I asked him just at the right time, when he had drunk a glass or two; then I can get anything I want out of him–see! a penny, twopence, threepence, fourpence–there’s eightpence in all; would not you be happy if you had EIGHTPENCE?”
“Why, I don’t know,” said Jem, laughing, “for you don’t seem happy, and you HAVE EIGHTPENCE.”
“That does not signify, though. I’m sure you only say that because you envy me. You don’t know what it is to have eightpence. You never had more than twopence or threepence at a time in all your life.”
Jem smiled. “Oh, as to that,” said he, “you are mistaken, for I have at this very time more than twopence, threepence, or eightpence either. I have–let me–see–stones, two shillings; then five days’ work–that’s five sixpences, that’s two shillings and sixpence; in all, makes four shillings and sixpence; and my silver penny, is four and sevenpence–four and sevenpence!”
“You have not!” said Lawrence, roused so as absolutely to stand upright, “four and sevenpence, have you? Show it me, and then I’ll believe you.”
“Follow me, then,” cried Jem, “and I’ll soon make you believe me; come.”
“Is it far?” said Lawrence, following half-running, half-hobbling, till he came to the stable, where Jem showed him his treasure. “And how did you come by it–honestly?”
“Honestly! to be sure I did; I earned it all.”
“Lord bless me, earned it! well, I’ve a great mind to work; but then it’s such hot weather, besides, grandmother says I’m not strong enough yet for hard work; and besides, I know how to coax daddy out of money when I want it, so I need not work. But four and sevenpence; let’s see, what will you do with it all?”
“That’s a secret,” said Jem, looking great.
“I can guess; I know what I’d do with it if it was mine. First, I’d buy pocketfuls of gingerbread; then I’d buy ever so many apples and nuts. Don’t you love nuts? I’d buy nuts enough to last me from this time to Christmas, and I’d make little Newton crack ’em for me, for that’s the worst of nuts; there’s the trouble of cracking ’em.”
“Well, you never deserve to have a nut.”
“But you’ll give me some of yours,” said Lawrence, in a fawning tone; for he thought it easier to coax than to work–“you’ll give me some of your good things, won’t you?”
“I shall not have any of those good things,” said Jem.
“Then, what will you do with all your money?”
“Oh, I know very well what to do with it; but, as I told you, that’s a secret, and I sha’n’t tell it anybody. Come now, let’s go back and play- -their game’s up, I daresay.”
Lawrence went back with him, full of curiosity, and out of humour with himself and his eightpence. “If I had four and sevenpence,” said he to himself, “I certainly should be happy!”
The next day, as usual, Jem jumped up before six o’clock and went to his work, whilst Lazy Lawrence sauntered about without knowing what to do with himself. In the course of two days he laid out sixpence of his money in apples and gingerbread; and as long as these lasted, he found himself well received by his companions; but, at length the third day he spent his last halfpenny, and when it was gone, unfortunately some nuts tempted him very much, but he had no money to pay for them; so he ran home to coax his father, as he called it.
When he got home he heard his father talking very loud, and at first he thought he was drunk; but when he opened the kitchen door, he saw that he was not drunk, but angry.
“You lazy dog!” cried he, turning suddenly upon Lawrence, and gave him such a violent box on the ear as made the light flash from his eyes; “you lazy dog! See what you’ve done for me–look!–look, look, I say!”
Lawrence looked as soon as he came to the use of his senses, and with fear, amazement and remorse, beheld at least a dozen bottles burst, and the fine Worcestershire cider streaming over the floor.
“Now, did not I order you three days ago to carry these bottles to the cellar, and did not I charge you to wire the corks? answer me, you lazy rascal; did not I?”
“Yes,” said Lawrence, scratching his head.
“And why was not it done, I ask you?” cried his father, with renewed anger, as another bottle burst at the moment. “What do you stand there for, you lazy brat? why don’t you move, I say? No, no,” catching hold of him, “I believe you can’t move; but I’ll make you.” And he shook him till Lawrence was so giddy he could not stand. “What had you to think of? What had you to do all day long that you could not carry my cider, my Worcestershire cider, to the cellar when I bid you? But go, you’ll never be good for anything; you are such a lazy rascal–get out of my sight!” So saying, he pushed him out of the house door, and Lawrence sneaked off, seeing that this was no time to make his petition for halfpence.
The next day he saw the nuts again, and wishing for them more than ever, he went home, in hopes that his father, as he said to himself, would be in a better humour. But the cider was still fresh in his recollection; and the moment Lawrence began to whisper the word “halfpenny” in his ear, his father swore, with a loud oath, “I will not give you a halfpenny, no, not a farthing, for a month to come. If you want money, go work for it; I’ve had enough of your laziness–go work!”
At these terrible words Lawrence burst into tears, and, going to the side of a ditch, sat down and cried for an hour; and when he had cried till he could cry no more, he exerted himself so far as to empty his pockets, to see whether there might not happen to be one halfpenny left; and, to his great joy, in the farthest corner of his pocket one halfpenny was found. With this he proceeded to the fruit woman’s stall. She was busy weighing out some plums, so he was obliged to wait; and whilst he was waiting he heard some people near him talking and laughing very loud.
The fruit woman’s stall was at the gate of an inn yard; and peeping through the gate in this yard, Lawrence saw a postilion and a stable boy, about his own size, playing at pitch farthing. He stood by watching them for a few minutes. “I began but with one halfpenny,” cried the stable boy, with an oath, “and now I’ve got twopence!” added he, jingling the halfpence in his waistcoat pocket. Lawrence was moved at the sound, and said to himself, “If _I_ begin with one halfpenny I may end, like him, with having twopence; and it is easier to play at pitch farthing than to work.”
So he stepped forward, presenting his halfpenny, offering to toss up with the stable boy, who, after looking him full in the face, accepted the proposal, and threw his halfpenny into the air. “Head or tail?” cried he. “Head,” replied Lawrence, and it came up head. He seized the penny, surprised at his own success, and would have gone instantly to have laid it out in nuts; but the stable boy stopped him, and tempted him to throw again. This time Lawrence lost; he threw again and won; and so he went on, sometimes losing, but most frequently winning, till half the morning was lost. At last, however, finding himself the master of three halfpence, said he would play no more.
The stable boy, grumbling, swore he would have his revenge another time, and Lawrence went and bought his nuts. “It is a good thing,” said he to himself, “to play at pitch farthing; the next time I want a halfpenny I’ll not ask my father for it, nor go to work neither.” Satisfied with this resolution, he sat down to crack his nuts at his leisure, upon the horse block in the inn yard. Here, whilst he ate, he overheard the conversation of the stable boys and postilions. At first their shocking oaths and loud wrangling frightened and shocked him; for Lawrence, though lazy, had not yet learned to be a wicked boy. But, by degrees, he was accustomed to the swearing and quarrelling, and took a delight and interest in their disputes and battles. As this was an amusement which he could enjoy without any sort of exertion, he soon grew so fond of it, that every day he returned to the stable yard, and the horse block became his constant seat. Here he found some relief from the insupportable fatigue of doing nothing, and here, hour after hour, with his elbows on his knees, and his head on his hands, he sat, the spectator of wickedness. Gaming, cheating and lying soon became familiar to him; and, to complete his ruin, he formed a sudden and close intimacy with the stable boy (a very bad boy) with whom he had first begun to game.
The consequences of this intimacy we shall presently see. But it is now time to inquire what little Jem had been doing all this while.
One day, after Jem had finished his task, the gardener asked him to stay a little while, to help him to carry some geranium pots into the hall. Jem, always active and obliging, readily stayed from play, and was carrying in a heavy flower pot, when his mistress crossed the hall. “What a terrible litter!” said she, “you are making here–why don’t you wipe your shoes upon the mat?” Jem turned to look for the mat, but he saw none. “Oh,” said the lady recollecting herself, “I can’t blame you, for there is no mat.”
“No, ma’am,” said the gardener, “nor I don’t know when, if ever, the man will bring home those mats you bespoke, ma’am.”
“I am very sorry to hear that,” said the lady; “I wish we could find somebody who would do them, if he can’t. I should not care what sort of mats they were, so that one could wipe one’s feet on them.”
Jem, as he was sweeping away the litter, when he heard these last words, said to himself, “Perhaps I could make a mat.” And all the way home, as he trudged along whistling, he was thinking over a scheme for making mats, which, however bold it may appear, he did not despair of executing, with patience and industry. Many were the difficulties which his “prophetic eye” foresaw; but he felt within himself that spirit which spurs men on to great enterprises, and makes them “trample on impossibilities.” In the first place, he recollected that he had seen Lazy Lawrence, whilst he lounged upon the gate, twist a bit of heath into different shapes; and he thought, that if he could find some way of plaiting heath firmly together, it would make a very pretty green soft mat, which would do very well for one to wipe one’s shoes on. About a mile from his mother’s house, on the common which Jem rode over when he went to Farmer Truck’s for the giant strawberries, he remembered to have seen a great quantity of this heath; and, as it was now only six o’clock in the evening, he knew that he should have time to feed Lightfoot, stroke him, go to the common, return, and make one trial of his skill before he went to bed.
Lightfoot carried him swiftly to the common, and there Jem gathered as much of the heath as he thought he should want. But what toil! what time! what pains did it cost him, before he could make anything like a mat! Twenty times he was ready to throw aside the heath, and give up his project, from impatience of repeated disappointments. But still he persevered. Nothing TRULY GREAT can be accomplished without toil and time. Two hours he worked before he went to bed. All his play hours the next day he spent at his mat; which, in all, made five hours of fruitless attempts. The sixth, however, repaid him for the labours of the other five. He conquered his grand difficulty of fastening the heath substantially together, and at length completely finished a mat, which far surpassed his most sanguine expectations. He was extremely happy– sang, danced round it–whistled–looked at it again and again, and could hardly leave off looking at it when it was time to go to bed. He laid it by his bedside, that he might see it the moment he awoke in the morning.
And now came the grand pleasure of carrying it to his mistress. She looked fully as much surprised as he expected, when she saw it, and when she heard who made it. After having duly admired it, she asked how much he expected for his mat. “Expect!–Nothing, ma’am,” said Jem; “I meant to give it you, if you’d have it; I did not mean to sell it. I made it in my play hours, I was very happy in making it; and I’m very glad, too, that you like it; and if you please to keep it, ma’am, that’s all.”
“But that’s not all,” said the lady. “Spend your time no more in weeding in my garden, you can employ yourself much better; you shall have the reward of your ingenuity as well as of your industry. Make as many more such mats as you can, and I will take care and dispose of them for you.”
“Thank’e, ma’am,” said Jem, making his best bow, for he thought by the lady’s looks that she meant to do him a favour, though he repeated to himself, “Dispose of them, what does that mean?”
The next day he went to work to make more mats, and he soon learned to make them so well and quickly, that he was surprised at his own success. In every one he made he found less difficulty, so that, instead of making two, he could soon make four in a day. In a fortnight he made eighteen.
It was Saturday night when he finished, and he carried, at three journeys, his eighteen mats to his mistress’ house; piled them all up in the hall, and stood with his hat off, with a look of proud humility, beside the pile, waiting for his mistress’ appearance. Presently a folding-door, at one end of the hall, opened, and he saw his mistress, with a great many gentlemen and ladies, rising from several tables.
“Oh! there is my little boy and his mats,” cried the lady; and, followed by all the rest of the company, she came into the hall. Jem modestly retired whilst they looked at his mats; but in a minute or two his mistress beckoned to him, and when he came into the middle of the circle, he saw that his pile of mats had disappeared.
“Well,” said the lady, smiling, “what do you see that makes you look so surprised?”
“That all my mats are gone,” said Jem; “but you are very welcome.”
“Are we?” said the lady, “well, take up your hat and go home then, for you see that it is getting late, and you know Lightfoot will wonder what’s become of you.” Jem turned round to take up his hat, which he had left on the floor.
But how his countenance changed! the hat was heavy with shillings. Everyone who had taken a mat had put in two shillings; so that for the eighteen mats he had got thirty-six shillings. “Thirty-six shillings,” said the lady; “five and sevenpence I think you told me you had earned already–how much does that make? I must add, I believe, one other sixpence to make out your two guineas.”
“Two guineas!” exclaimed Jem, now quite conquering his bashfulness, for at the moment he forgot where he was, and saw nobody that was by. “Two guineas!” cried he, clapping his hands together,–“O, Lightfoot! O, mother!” Then, recollecting himself, he saw his mistress, whom he now looked up to quite as a friend. “Will YOU thank them all?” said he, scarcely daring to glance his eyes round upon the company; “will YOU thank ’em, for you know I don’t know how to thank ’em RIGHTLY.” Everybody thought, however, that they had been thanked RIGHTLY.
“Now we won’t keep you any longer, only,” said his mistress, “I have one thing to ask you, that I may be by when you show your treasure to your mother.”
“Come, then,” said Jem, “come with me now.”
“Not now,” said the lady, laughing; “but I will come to Ashton to-morrow evening; perhaps your mother can find me a few strawberries.”
“That she will,” said Jem: “I’ll search the garden myself.”
He now went home, but felt it a great restraint to wait till to-morrow evening before he told his mother. To console himself he flew to the stable:–“Lightfoot, you’re not to be sold on Monday, poor fellow!” said he, patting him, and then could not refrain from counting out his money. Whilst he was intent upon this, Jem was startled by a noise at the door: somebody was trying to pull up the latch. It opened, and there came in Lazy Lawrence, with a boy in a red jacket, who had a cock under his arm. They started when they got into the middle of the stable, and when they saw Jem, who had been at first hidden by the horse.
“We–we–we came,” stammered Lazy Lawrence–“I mean, I came to–to–to–“
“To ask you,” continued the stable-boy, in a bold tone, “whether you will go with us to the cock-fight on Monday? See, I’ve a fine cock here, and Lawrence told me you were a great friend of his; so I came.”
Lawrence now attempted to say something in praise of the pleasures of cock-fighting and in recommendation of his new companion. But Jem looked at the stable-boy with dislike, and a sort of dread. Then turning his eyes upon the cock with a look of compassion, said, in a low voice, to Lawrence, “Shall you like to stand by and see its eyes pecked out?”
“I don’t know,” said Lawrence, “as to that; but they say a cockfight’s a fine sight, and it’s no more cruel in me to go than another; and a great many go, and I’ve nothing else to do, so I shall go.”
“But I have something else to do,” said Jem, laughing, “so I shall not go.”
“But,” continued Lawrence, “you know Monday is the great Bristol fair, and one must be merry then, of all the days in the year.”
“One day in the year, sure, there’s no harm in being merry,” said the stable boy.
“I hope not,” said Jem; “for I know for my part, I am merry every day in the year.”
“That’s very odd,” said Lawrence; “but I know for my part, I would not for all the world miss going to the fair, for at least it will be something to talk of for half a year after. Come, you’ll go, won’t you?”
“No,” said Jem, still looking as if he did not like to talk before the ill-looking stranger.
“Then what will you do with all your money?”
“I’ll tell you about that another time,” whispered Jem; “and don’t you go to see that cock’s eyes pecked out; it won’t make you merry, I’m sure.”
“If I had anything else to divert me,” said Lawrence, hesitating and yawning.
“Come,” cried the stable boy, seizing his stretching arm, “come along,” cried he; and, pulling him away from Jem, upon whom he cast a look of extreme contempt; “leave him alone, he’s not the sort.
“What a fool you are,” said he to Lawrence, the moment he got him out of the stable; “you might have known he would not go, else we should soon have trimmed him out of his four and sevenpence. But how came you to talk of four and sevenpence. I saw in the manger a hat full of silver.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Lawrence.
“Yes, indeed; but why did you stammer so when we first got in? You had liked to have blown us all up.”
“I was so ashamed,” said Lawrence, hanging down his head.
“Ashamed! but you must not talk of shame now you are in for it, and I sha’n’t let you off; you owe us half a crown, recollect, and I must be paid to-night, so see and get the money somehow or other.” After a considerable pause he added, “I answer for it he’d never miss half a crown out of all that silver.”
“But to steal,” said Lawrence, drawing back with horror, “I never thought I should come to that–and from poor Jem, too–the money that he has worked so hard for, too.”
“But it is not stealing; we don’t mean to steal; only to borrow it; and if we win, which we certainly shall, at the cock-fight, pay it back again, and he’ll never know anything about the matter, and what harm will it do him? Besides, what signifies talking, you can’t go to the cock- fight, or the fair either, if you don’t; and I tell ye we don’t mean to steal it; we’ll pay it by Monday night.”
Lawrence made no reply, and they parted without his coming to any determination.
Here let us pause in our story. We are almost afraid to go on. The rest is very shocking. Our little readers will shudder as they read. But it is better that they should know the truth, and see what the idle boy came to at last.
In the dead of the night, Lawrence heard somebody tap at his window. He knew well who it was, for this was the signal agreed upon between him and his wicked companion. He trembled at the thoughts of what he was about to do, and lay quite still, with his head under the bedclothes, till he heard the second tap. Then he got up, dressed himself, and opened his window. It was almost even with the ground. His companion said to him, in a hollow voice, “Are you ready?” He made no answer, but got out of the window and followed.
When he got to the stable a black cloud was just passing over the moon, and it was quite dark. “Where are you?” whispered Lawrence, groping about, “where are you? Speak to me.”
“I am here; give me your hand.” Lawrence stretched out his hand. “Is that your hand?” said the wicked boy, as Lawrence laid hold of him; “how cold it feels.”
“Let us go back,” said Lawrence; “it is time yet.”
“It is no time to go back,” replied the other, opening the door; “you’ve gone too far now to go back,” and he pushed Lawrence into the stable. “Have you found it? Take care of the horse. Have you done? What are you about? Make haste, I hear a noise,” said the stable boy, who watched at the door.
“I am feeling for the half-crown, but I can’t find it.”
“Bring all together.” He brought Jem’s broken flower pot, with all the money in it, to the door. The black cloud had now passed over the moon, and the light shone full upon them. “What do we stand here for?” said the stable boy, snatching the flower-pot out of Lawrence’s trembling hands, and pulled him away from the door.
“Good God!” cried Lawrence, “you won’t take all. You said you’d only take half a crown, and pay it back on Monday. You said you’d only take half a crown!”
“Hold your tongue,” replied the other, walking on, deaf to all remonstrances–“if ever I am to be hanged, it sha’n’t be for half a crown.”
Lawrence’s blood ran cold in his veins, and he felt as if all his hair stood on end. Not another word passed. His accomplice carried off the money, and Lawrence crept, with all the horrors of guilt upon him, to his restless bed. All night he was starting from frightful dreams; or else, broad awake, he lay listening to every small noise, unable to stir, and scarcely daring to breathe–tormented by that most dreadful of all kinds of fear, that fear which is the constant companion of an evil conscience.
He thought the morning would never come; but when it was day, when he heard the birds sing, and saw everything look cheerful as usual, he felt still more miserable. It was Sunday morning, and the bell rang for church. All the children of the village, dressed in their Sunday clothes, innocent and gay, and little Jem, the best and gayest amongst them, went flocking by his door to church.
“Well, Lawrence,” said Jem, pulling his coat as he passed and saw Lawrence leaning against his father’s door, “what makes you look so black?”
“I?” said Lawrence, starting; “why do you say that I look black?”
“Nay, then,” said Jem, “you look white enough now, if that will please you, for you’re turned as pale as death.”
“Pale?” replied Lawrence, not knowing what he said, and turned abruptly away, for he dared not stand another look of Jem’s; conscious that guilt was written in his face, he shunned every eye. He would now have given the world to have thrown off the load of guilt which lay upon his mind. He longed to follow Jem, to fall upon his knees and confess all.
Dreading the moment when Jem should discover his loss, Lawrence dared not stay at home, and not knowing what to do, or where to go, he mechanically went to his old haunt at the stable yard, and lurked thereabouts all day with his accomplice, who tried in vain to quiet his fears and raise his spirits by talking of the next day’s cock-fight. It was agreed that as soon as the dusk of the evening came on, they should go together into a certain lonely field, and there divide their booty.
In the meantime, Jem, when he returned from church, was very full of business, preparing for the reception of his mistress, of whose intended visit he had informed his mother; and whilst she was arranging the kitchen and their little parlour, he ran to search the strawberry beds.
“Why, my Jem, how merry you are to-day!” said his mother, when he came in with the strawberries, and was jumping about the room playfully. “Now, keep those spirits of yours, Jem, till you want ’em, and don’t let it come upon you all at once. Have it in mind that to-morrow’s fair day, and Lightfoot must go. I bid Farmer Truck call for him to-night. He said he’d take him along with his own, and he’ll be here just now–and then I know how it will be with you, Jem!”
“So do I!” cried Jem, swallowing his secret with great difficulty, and then tumbling head over heels four times running.
A carriage passed the window, and stopped at the door. Jem ran out; it was his mistress. She came in smiling, and soon made the old woman smile, too, by praising the neatness of everything in the house.
We shall pass over, however important as they were deemed at the time, the praises of the strawberries, and of “my grandmother’s china plate.”
Another knock was heard at the door. “Run, Jem,” said his mother. “I hope it’s our milk-woman with cream for the lady.” No; it was Farmer Truck come for Lightfoot. The old woman’s countenance fell. “Fetch him out, dear,” said she, turning to her son; but Jem was gone; he flew out to the stable the moment he saw the flap of Farmer Truck’s great-coat.
“Sit ye down, farmer,” said the old woman, after they had waited about five minutes in expectation of Jem’s return. “You’d best sit down, if the lady will give you leave; for he’ll not hurry himself back again. My boy’s a fool, madam, about that there horse.” Trying to laugh, she added, “I knew how Lightfoot and he would be loath enough to part. He won’t bring him out till the last minute; so do sit ye down, neighbour.”
The farmer had scarcely sat down when Jem, with a pale, wild countenance came back. “What’s the matter?” said his mistress. “God bless the boy!” said his mother, looking at him quite frightened, whilst he tried to speak, but could not.
She went up to him, and then leaning his head against her, he cried, “It’s gone!–it’s all gone!” and, bursting into tears, he sobbed as if his little heart would break.
“What’s gone, love?” said his mother.
“My two guineas–Lightfoot’s two guineas. I went to fetch ’em to give you, mammy; but the broken flower-pot that I put them in, and all’s gone!–quite gone!” repeated he, checking his sobs. “I saw them safe last night, and was showing ’em to Lightfoot; and I was so glad to think I had earned them all myself; and I thought how surprised you’d look, and how glad you’d be, and how you’d kiss me, and all!”
His mother listened to him with the greatest surprise, whilst his mistress stood in silence, looking first at the old woman, and then at Jem with a penetrating eye, as if she suspected the truth of his story, and was afraid of becoming the dupe of her own compassion.
“This is a very strange thing!” said she, gravely. “How came you to leave all your money in a broken flower-pot in the stable? How came you not to give it to your mother to take care of?”
“Why, don’t you remember?” said Jem, looking up, in the midst of his tears–“why, don’t you remember you, your own self, bid me not tell her about it till you were by?”
“And did you not tell her?”
“Nay, ask mammy,” said Jem, a little offended; and when afterwards the lady went on questioning him in a severe manner, as if she did not believe him, he at last made no answer.
“Oh, Jem! Jem! why don’t you speak to the lady?” said his mother.
“I have spoke, and spoke the truth,” said Jem, proudly; “and she did not believe me.”
Still the lady, who had lived too long in the world to be without suspicion, maintained a cold manner, and determined to wait the event without interfering, saying only, that she hoped the money would be found, and advised Jem to have done crying.
“I have done,” said Jem; “I shall cry no more.” And as he had the greatest command over himself, he actually did not shed another tear, not even when the farmer got up to go, saying, he could wait no longer.
Jem silently went to bring out Lightfoot. The lady now took her seat, where she could see all that passed at the open parlour-window. The old woman stood at the door, and several idle people of the village, who had gathered round the lady’s carriage examining it, turned about to listen. In a minute or two Jem appeared, with a steady countenance, leading Lightfoot and, when he came up, without saying a word, put the bridle into Farmer Truck’s hand.
“He HAS BEEN a good horse,” said the farmer.
“He IS a good horse!” cried Jem, and threw his arm over Lightfoot’s neck, hiding his own face as he leaned upon him.
At this instant a party of milk-women went by; and one of them, having set down her pail, came behind Jem, and gave him a pretty smart blow upon the back. He looked up. “And don’t you know me?” said she.
“I forget,” said Jem; “I think I have seen your face before, but I forget.”
“Do you so? and you’ll tell me just now,” said she, half opening her hand, “that you forget who gave you this, and who charged you not to part with it, too.” Here she quite opened her large hand, and on the palm of it appeared Jem’s silver penny.
“Where?” exclaimed Jem, seizing it, “oh, where did you find it? and have you–oh, tell me, have you got the rest of my money?”
“I know nothing of your money–I don’t know what you would be at,” said the milk-woman.
“But where–pray tell me where–did you find this?”
“With them that you gave it to, I suppose,” said the milk-woman, turning away suddenly to take up her milk-pail. But now Jem’s mistress called to her through the window, begging her to stop, and joining in his entreaties to know how she came by the silver penny.
“Why, madam,” said she, taking up the corner of her apron, “I came by it in an odd way, too. You must know my Betty is sick, so I came with the milk myself, though it’s not what I’m used to; for my Betty–you know my Betty?” said she, turning round to the old woman, “my Betty serves you, and she’s a tight and stirring lassy, ma’am, I can assure–“
“Yes, I don’t doubt it,” said the lady, impatiently; “but about the silver penny?”
“Why, that’s true; as I was coming along all alone, for the rest came round, and I came a short cut across yon field–no, you can’t see it, madam, where you stand–but if you were here–“
“I see it–I know it,” said Jem, out of breath with anxiety.
“Well–well–I rested my pail upon the stile, and sets me down awhile, and there comes out of the hedge–I don’t know well how, for they startled me so I’d liked to have thrown down my milk–two boys, one about the size of he,” said she pointing to Jem, “and one a matter taller, but ill-looking like; so I did not think to stir to make way for them, and they were like in a desperate hurry: so, without waiting for the stile, one of ’em pulled at the gate, and when it would not open (for it was tied with a pretty stout cord) one of ’em whips out with his knife and cuts it– Now, have you a knife about you, sir?” continued the milk woman to the farmer. He gave her his knife. “Here, now, ma’am, just sticking, as it were here, between the blade and the haft, was the silver penny. The lad took no notice; but when he opened it, out it falls. Still he takes no heed, but cuts the cord, as I said before, and through the gate they went, and out of sight in half a minute. I picks up the penny, for my heart misgave me that it was the very one husband had had a long time, and had given against my voice to he,” pointing to Jem; “and I charged him not to part with it; and, ma’am, when I looked I knew it by the mark, so I thought I would show it to HE,” again pointing to Jem, “and let him give it back to those it belongs to.”
“It belongs to me,” said Jem, “I never gave it to anybody–but–“
“But,” cried the farmer, “those boys have robbed him; it is they who have all his money.”
“Oh, which way did they go?” cried Jem, “I’ll run after them.”
“No, no,” said the lady, calling to her servant; and she desired him to take his horse and ride after them. “Ay,” added Farmer Truck, “do you take the road, and I’ll take the field way, and I’ll be bound we’ll have ’em presently.”
Whilst they were gone in pursuit of the thieves, the lady, who was now thoroughly convinced of Jem’s truth, desired her coachman would produce what she had ordered him to bring with him that evening. Out of the boot of the carriage the coachman immediately produced a new saddle and bridle.
How Jem’s eyes sparkled when the saddle was thrown upon Lightfoot’s back! “Put it on your horse yourself, Jem,” said the lady; “it is yours.”
Confused reports of Lightfoot’s splendid accoutrements, of the pursuit of thieves, and of the fine and generous lady who was standing at Dame Preston’s window, quickly spread through the village, and drew everybody from their houses. They crowded round Jem to hear the story. The children especially, who were fond of him, expressed the strongest indignation against the thieves. Every eye was on the stretch; and now some, who had run down the lane, came back shouting, “Here they are! they’ve got the thieves!”
The footman on horseback carried one boy before him; and the farmer, striding along, dragged another. The latter had on a red jacket, which