Two Ways of telling a Story.
WHO is this?
A careless little midshipman, idling about in a great city, with his
pockets full of money.
He is waiting for the coach: it comes up presently, and he
gets on the top of it, and begins to look about him.
They soon leave the chimney-pots behind them his eyes wander
with delight over the harvest fields, he smells the honeysuckle in
the hedge-row, and he wishes he was down among the hazel bushes,
that he might strip them of the milky nuts; then he sees a great
wain piled up with barley, and he wishes he was seated on the top of
it; then they go through a little wood, and he likes to see the
chequered shadows of the trees lying across the white road; and then
a squirrel runs up a bough, and he cannot forbear to whoop and
halloo, though he cannot chase it to its nest.
The other passengers are delighted with his simplicity and
childlike glee; and they encourage him to talk to them about the sea
and ships, especially Her Majesty's ship The Asp, wherein he
has the honour to sail. In the jargon of the sea, he describes
her many perfections, and enlarges on her peculiar advantages; he
then confides to them how a certain middy, having been ordered to
the mast-head as a punishment, had seen, while sitting on the
top-mast cross-trees, something uncommonly like the sea-serpent—but,
finding this hint received with incredulous smiles, he begins to
tell them how he hopes that, some day, he shall be promoted to have
charge of the poop. The passengers hope he will have that
honour; they have no doubt he deserves it. His cheeks flush
with pleasure to hear them say so, and he little thinks that they
have no notion in what "that honour" may happen to consist.
The coach stops: the little midshipman, with his hands in his
pockets, sits rattling his money, and singing. There is a poor
woman standing by the door of the village inn; she looks careworn,
and well she may, for, in the spring, her husband went up to London
to seek for work. He got work, and she was expecting soon to
join him there, when, alas! a fellow-workman wrote her word how he
had met with an accident, how he was very ill, and wanted his wife
to come and nurse him. But she has two young children, and is
destitute; she must walk up all the way, and she is sick at heart
when she thinks that perhaps he may die among strangers before she
can reach him.
She does not think of begging, but seeing the boy's eyes
attracted to her, she makes him a curtsy, and he withdraws his hand
and throws her down a sovereign. She looks at it with
incredulous joy, and then she looks at him.
"It's all right," he says, and the coach starts again, while,
full of gratitude, she hires a cart to again her across the country
to the railway, that the next night she may sit by the bedside of
her sick husband.
The midshipman knows nothing about that; and he never will
The passengers go on talking—the little midshipman has told
them who he is, and where he is going; but there is one man who has
never joined in the conversation; he is dark-looking and restless;
he sits apart; he has seen the glitter of the falling coin, and now
he watches the boy more narrowly than before.
He is a strong man, resolute and determined the boy with the
pockets full of money will be no match for him. He has told
the other passengers that his father's house is the parsonage of Y―,
the coach goes within five miles of it, and he means to get down at
the nearest point, and walk, or rather run over to his home, through
the great wood.
The man decides to get down too, and go through the wood; he
will rob the little midshipman perhaps, if he cries out or
struggles, he will do worse. The boy, he thinks, will have no
chance against him; it is quite impossible that he can escape; the
way is lonely, and the sun will be down.
No. There seems indeed little chance of escape; the
half-fledged bird just fluttering down from its nest has no more
chance against the keen-eyed hawk than the little light-hearted
sailor boy will have against him.
And now they reach the village where the boy is to alight.
He wishes the other passengers "good evening," and runs lightly down
between the scattered houses. The man has got down also, and
The path lies through the village churchyard; there is
evening service, and the door is wide open, for it is warm.
The little midshipman steals up the porch, looks in, and listens.
The clergyman has just risen from his knees in the pulpit, and is
giving out his text. Thirteen months have passed since the boy
was within a house off prayer; and a feeling of pleasure and awe
induces him to stand still and listen.
"Are not two sparrows (he hears) sold for a farthing? and one
of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But
the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not,
therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows."
He hears the opening sentences of the sermon and then he
remembers his home, and comes softly out of the porch, full of a
calm and serious pleasure. The clergyman has reminded him of his
father, and his careless heart is now filled with the echoes of his
voice and of his prayers. He thinks on what the clergyman
said, of the care of our heavenly Father for us; he remembers how,
when he left home, his father prayed that he might be preserved
through every danger; he does not remember any particular danger
that he has been exposed to, excepting in the great storm; but he is
grateful that he has come home in safety, and he hopes whenever he
shall be in danger—which he supposes he shall be some day—he hopes
that then the providence of God will watch over him and protect him.
And so he presses onward to the entrance of the wood.
The man is there before him. He has pushed himself into the
thicket, and cut a heavy stake; he suffers the boy to go on before,
and then he comes out, falls into the path and follows him.
It is too light at present for his deed of darkness, and too
near the entrance of the wood, but he knows that shortly the path
will branch off into two, and the right one for the boy to take will
be dark and lonely.
But what prompts the little midshipman, when not fifty yards
from the branching of the path, to break into a sudden run? It
is not fear, he never dreams of danger. Some sudden impulse,
or some wild wish for home, makes him dash off suddenly after his
saunter, with a whoop and a bound. On he goes, as if running a
race; the path bends, and the man loses sight of him. "But I
shall have him yet," he thinks; "he cannot keep this pace up long."
The boy has nearly reached the place where the path divides,
when he puts up a young white owl that can scarcely fly, and it goes
whirring along, close to the ground, before him. He gains upon
it; another moment, and it will be his. Now it gets the start
again; they come to the branching of the paths, and the bird goes
down the wrong one. The temptation to follow is too strong to
be resisted; he knows that somewhere, deep in the wood, there is a
cross track by which he can get into the path he has left; it is
only to run a little faster and he shall be at home nearly as soon.
On he rushes; the path takes a bend, and he is just out of
sight when his pursuer comes where the paths divide. The boy
has turned to the right; the man takes the left, and the faster they
both run the farther they are asunder.
The white owl still leads him on; the path gets darker and
narrower; at last he finds that he has missed it altogether, and his
feet are on the soft ground. He flounders about among the
trees and stumps, vexed with himself, and panting after his race.
At last he hits upon another track, and pushes on as fast as he can.
The ground begins sensibly to descend—he has lost his way—but he
keeps bearing to the left; and, though it is now dark, he thinks
that he must reach the main path sooner or later.
He does not know this part of the wood, but he runs on.
O little midshipman! why did you chase that owl? If you had
kept in the path with the dark man behind you, there was a chance
that you might have outrun him; or, if he had overtaken some passing
wayfarer might have heard your cries, and come to save you.
Now you are running on straight to your death, for the forest water
is deep and black at the bottom of this hill. O that the moon
might come out and show it to you!
The moon is under a thick canopy of heavy black clouds; and
there is not a star to glitter on the water and make it visible.
The fern is soft under his feet as he runs and slips down the
sloping hill. At last he strikes his foot against a stone,
stumbles and falls. Two minutes more and he will roll into the
"Heyday!" cries the boy, "what's this? Oh, how it tears
my hands! Oh, this thorn-bush! Oh! my arms! I
can't get free!" He struggles and pants. "All this comes
of leaving the path," he says; "I shouldn't have cared for rolling
down if it hadn't been for this bush. The fern was soft
enough. I'll never stray in a wood at night again.
There, free at last! And my jacket nearly torn off my back!"
With a good deal of patience, and a great many scratches, he
gets free of the thorn which had arrested his progress, when his
feet were within a yard of the water, manages to scramble up the
bank, and makes the best of his way through the wood.
And now, as the clouds move slowly onward, the moon shows her
face on the black surface of the water; and the little white owl
comes and hoots, and flutters over it like a wandering snowdrift.
But the boy is deep in the wood again, and knows nothing of the
danger from which he has escaped.
All this time the dark passenger follows the main track, and
believes that his prey is before him. At last he hears a
crashing of dead boughs, and presently the little midshipman's voice
not fifty yards before him. Yes, it is too true; the boy is in
the cross track. He will pass the cottage in the wood
directly, and after that his pursuer will come upon him.
The boy bounds into the path; but, as he passes the cottage,
he is so thirsty, and so hot, that he thinks he must ask the
inhabitants if they can sell him a glass of ale.
He enters without ceremony. "Ale?" says the woodman,
who is sitting at his supper. "No, we have no ale; but perhaps
my wife can give thee a drink of milk. Come in." So he
comes in, and shuts the door; and, while he sits waiting for the
milk, footsteps pass. They are the footsteps of his pursuer,
who goes on with the stake in his hand, and is angry and impatient
that he has not yet come up with him.
The woman goes to her little dairy for the milk, and the boy
thinks she is a long time. He drinks it, thanks her, and takes
Fast and fast the man runs on, and, as fast as he can, the
boy runs after him. It is very dark, but there is a yellow
streak in the sky, where the moon is ploughing up a furrowed mass of
grey cloud, and one or two stars are blinking through the branches
of the trees.
Fast the boy follows, and fast the man runs on, with his
weapon in his hand. Suddenly he hears the joyous whoop—not
before, but behind him. He stops and listens breathlessly.
Yes, it is so. He pushes himself into the thicket, and raises
his stake to strike when the boy shall pass.
On he comes, running lightly, with his hands in his pockets.
A sound strikes at the same instant on the ears of both; and the boy
turns back from the very jaws of death to listen. It is the
sound of wheels, and it draws rapidly nearer. A man comes up,
driving a little gig.
"Hallo!" he says, in a loud, cheerful voice. "What!
"Oh, is it you, Mr. Davis?" says the boy; "no, I am not
benighted; or, at any rate, I know my way out of the wood."
The man draws farther back among the shrubs. "Why,
bless the boy," he hears the farmer say, "to think of our meeting in
this way. The parson told me he was in hopes of seeing thee
some day this week. I'll give thee a lift. This is a
lone place to be in this time o' night."
"Lone!" says the boy, laughing. "I don't mind that;
and, if you know the way, it's as safe as the quarter-deck."
So he gets into the farmer's gig, and is once more out of
reach of the pursuer. But the man knows that the farmer's
house is a quarter of a mile nearer than the parsonage, and in that
quarter of a mile there is still a chance of committing the robbery.
He determines still to make the attempt, and cuts across the wood
with such rapid strides that he reaches the farmer's gate just as
the gig drives up to it.
"Well, thank you, farmer," says the midshipman, as he
prepares to get down.
"I wish you good-night, gentlemen," says the man, when he
"Good-night, friend," the farmer replies. "I say, my
boy, it's a dark night enough; but I have a mind to drive you on to
the parsonage, and hear the rest of this long tale of yours about
The little wheels go on again. They pass the man; and
he stands still in the road to listen till the sound dies away.
Then he flings his stake into the hedge, and goes back again.
His evil purposes have all been frustrated—the thoughtless boy has
baffled him at every turn.
And now the little midshipman is at home—the joyful meeting
has taken place; and when they have all admired his growth, and
decided whom he is like, and measured his height on the
window-frame, and seen him eat his supper, they begin to question
him about his adventures, more for the pleasure of hearing him talk
than any curiosity.
"Adventures!" says the boy, seated between his father and
mother on a sofa. "Why, ma, I did write you an account of the
voyage, and there's nothing else to tell. Nothing happened
to-day at least nothing particular."
"You came by the coach we told you of?" asks his father.
"Oh yes, papa; and when we had got about twenty miles there
came up a beggar, while we changed horses, and I threw down (as I
thought) a shilling, but, as it fell, I saw it was a sovereign.
She was very honest, and showed me what it was, but I didn't take it
back, for you know, mamma, it's a long time since I gave anything to
"Very true, my boy," his mother answers; "but you should not
be careless with your money and few beggars are worthy objects of
"I suppose you got down at the cross-roads? says his elder
"Yes, and went through the wood. I should have been
here sooner if I hadn't lost my way there."
"Lost your way!" says his mother, alarmed.
"My dear boy, you should not have left the path at dusk."
"Oh, ma," says the little midshipman, with a smile, "you're
always thinking we're in danger. If you could see me sometimes
sitting at the jib-boom end, or across the main-top-mast
cross-trees, you would be frightened. But what danger
can there be in a wood?"
"Well, my boy," she answers, "I don't wish to be
over-anxious, and to make my children uncomfortable by my fears.
What did you stray from the path for?"
"Only to chase a little owl, mamma: but I didn't catch her
after all. I got a roll down a bank, and caught my jacket
against a thorn bush, which was rather unlucky. Ah! three
large holes I see in my sleeve. And so I scrambled up again,
and got into the path, and asked at the cottage for some beer.
What a time the woman kept me, to be sure! I thought it would
never come. But very soon after, Mr. Davis drove up in his
gig, and he brought me on to the gate."
"And so this account of your adventures being brought to a
close," his father says, "we discover that there were no adventures
"No, papa, nothing happened; nothing particular, I mean."
Nothing particular! If they could have known, they
would have thought lightly in comparison of the dangers of "the
jib-boom end and the maintop-mast cross-trees." But they did
not know, any more than we do, of the dangers that hourly beset us.
Some few dangers we are aware of, and we do what we can to provide
against them; but for the greater portion, "our eyes are held that
we cannot see." We walk securely under His guidance, without
whom "not a sparrow falleth to the ground!" and when we have had
escapes that the angels have admired at, we come home and say,
perhaps, that "nothing has happened; at least nothing particular."
It is not well that our minds should be much exercised about
these hidden dangers, since they are so many and so great that no
human art or foresight can prevent them. But it is very well
that we should reflect constantly on that loving Providence which
watches every footstep of a track always balancing between time and
eternity; and that such reflections should make us both happy and
afraid—afraid of trusting our souls and bodies too much to any
earthly guide, or earthly security—happy from the knowledge that
there is One with whom we may trust them wholly, and with whom the
very hairs of our head are all numbered. Without such trust,
how can we rest or be at peace? but with it we may say with the
Psalmist, "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep, for thou,
Lord, only makest me dwell in safety!"
The One-Eyed Servant.
Do you see those two pretty cottages on opposite sides of the
Common? How bright their windows are, and how prettily the
vines trail over them! A year ago one of them was the dirtiest
and most forlorn-looking place you can imagine, and its mistress the
most untidy woman.
She was once sitting at her cottage door with her arms
folded, as if she were deep in thought, though, to look at her face,
one would not have supposed she was doing more than idly watching
the swallows as they floated about in the hot, clear air. Her
gown was torn and shabby, her shoes down at heel; the little curtain
in her casement, which had once been fresh and white, had a great
rent in it; and altogether she looked poor and forlorn.
She sat some time, gazing across the common, when all on a
sudden she heard a little noise, like stitching, near the ground.
She looked down, and sitting on the border, under a wall-flower
bush, she saw the funniest little man possible, with a blue coat, a
yellow waistcoat, and red boots; he had got a small shoe on his lap,
and he was stitching away at it with all his might.
"Good-morning, mistress!" said the little man. "A very
fine day. Why may you be looking so earnestly across the
"I was looking at my neighbour's cottage," said the young
"What! Tom, the gardener's wife?—little Polly, she used
to be called; and a very pretty cottage it is too! Looks
thriving, doesn't it?"
"She was always lucky," said Bella (for that was the young
wife's name); "and her husband is always good to her."
"They were both good husbands at first," interrupted the
little cobbler, without stopping." Reach me my awl, mistress,
will you, for you seem to have nothing to do: it lies close by your
"Well, I can't say but they were both very good husbands at
first," replied Bella, reaching the awl with a sigh; "but mine has
changed for the worse, and hers for the better; and then, look how
she thrives. Only to think of our both being married on the
same day; and now I've nothing, and she has two pigs, and a—"
"And a lot of flax that she spun in the winter," interrupted
the cobbler; "and a Sunday gown, as good green stuff as ever was
seen, and, to my knowledge, a handsome silk handkerchief for an
apron; and a red waistcoat for her good man, with three rows of blue
glass buttons, and a flitch of bacon in the chimney, and a rope of
"Oh, she's a lucky woman!" exclaimed Bella.
"Ay, and a tea-tray, with Daniel in the lion's den upon it,"
continued the cobbler: "and a fat baby in the cradle."
"Oh, I'm sure I don't envy her that last," said Bella,
pettishly. "I've little enough for myself and my husband,
letting alone children."
"Why, mistress, isn't your husband in work?" asked the
"No; he's at the alehouse."
"Why, how's that? he used to be very sober. Can't he
"His last master wouldn't keep him, because he was so
"Humph!" said the little man. "He's a groom, is he not?
Well, as I was saying, your neighbour opposite thrives; but no
wonder! Well, I've nothing to do with other people's secrets;
but I could tell you, only I'm busy, and must go."
"Could tell me what?" cried the young wife. "Oh,
good cobbler, don't go, for I've nothing to do. Pray tell me
why it's no wonder that she should thrive?"
"Well," said he, "it's no business of mine, you know, but, as
I said before, it's no wonder people thrive who have a servant—a
hard-working one, too—who is always helping them."
"A servant!" repeated Bella—"my neighbour has a servant!
No wonder, then, everything looks so neat about her; but I
never saw this servant. I think you must be mistaken; besides,
how could she afford to pay her wages?"
"She has a servant, I say," repeated the cobbler; "a one-eyed
servant—but she pays her no wages, to my certain knowledge.
Well, good-morning, mistress, I must go."
"Do stop one minute," cried Bella, urgently—"where did she
get this servant?"
"Oh, I don't know," said the cobbler, "servants are plentiful
enough; and Polly uses hers well, I can tell you."
"And what does she do for her?"
"Do for her? Why, all sorts of things—I think she's the
cause of her prosperity. To my knowledge she never refuses to
do anything—keeps Tom's and Polly's clothes in beautiful order, and
"Dear me!" said Bella, in an envious tone, and holding up
both her hands; "well, she is a lucky woman, and I always said so.
She takes good care I shall never see her servant. What sort
of a servant is she, and how came she to have only one eye?"
"It runs in her family," replied the cobbler, stitching
busily; "they are all so—one eye apiece; yet they make a very good
use of it, and Polly's servant has four cousins who are blind—stone
blind; no eyes at all; and they sometimes come and help her.
I've seen them in the cottage myself, and that's how Polly gets a
good deal of her money. They work for her, and she takes what
they make to market, and buys all those handsome things."
"Only think," said Bella, almost ready to cry with vexation,
"and I've not got a soul to do anything for me; how hard it
is!" and she took up her apron to wipe away her tears.
The cobbler looked attentively at her. "Well, you are
to be pitied, certainly," he said, "and if I were not in such a
"Oh, do go on, pray—were you going to say you could help me?
I've heard that your people are fond of curds and whey, and fresh
gooseberry syllabub. Now, if you would help me, trust me that
there should be the most beautiful curds and whey set every night
for you on the hearth; and nobody should ever look when you went and
"Why, you see," said the cobbler, hesitating, "my people are
extremely particular about—in short, about—cleanliness, mistress;
and your house is not what one would call very clean. No
offence, I hope?"
Bella blushed deeply—"Well, but it should be always clean if
you would—every day of my life I would wash the floor, and sand it,
and the hearth should be whitewashed as white as snow, and the
"Well," said the cobbler, seeming to consider, "well, then, I
should not wonder if I could meet with a one-eyed servant for you,
like your neighbour's; but it may be several days before I can and
mind, mistress, I'm to have a dish of curds."
"Yes, and some whipped cream, too," replied Bella, full of
The cobbler then took up his tools, wrapped them in his
leather apron, walked behind the wallflower, and disappeared.
Bella was so delighted, she could not sleep that night for
joy. Her husband scarcely knew the house, she had made it so
bright and clean; and by night she had washed the curtain, cleaned
the window, rubbed the fire-irons, sanded the floor, and set a great
jug of hawthorn in blossom on the hearth.
The next morning Bella kept a sharp look-out both for the
tiny cobbler and on her neighbour's house, to see whether she could
possibly catch a glimpse of the one-eyed servant. But,
no—nothing could she see but her neighbour sitting on her
rocking-chair, with her baby on her knee, working.
At last, when she was quite tired, she heard the voice of the
cobbler outside. She ran to the door, and cried out―
"Oh do, pray, come in, sir, only look at my house!"
"Really," said the cobbler, looking round, "I declare I
should hardly have known it—the sun can shine brightly now through
the clear glass and what a sweet smell of hawthorn!"
"Well, and my one-eyed servant?" asked Bella—"you remember, I
hope, that I can't pay her any wages—have you met with one that will
"All's right," replied the little man, nodding. "I've
got her with me."
"Got her with you?" repeated Bella, looking round, "I see
"Look, here she is!" said the cobbler, holding up something
in his hand.
Would you believe it? the one-eyed servant was nothing but a
The Lonely Rock.
THREE summers ago
I had a severe illness, and on recovering from it, my father took me
for change of air, not to one of our pretty townish watering-places,
but up to the very North of Scotland, to a place which he had
himself delighted in when a boy, a lonely farmhouse, standing on the
shore of a rocky bay in one of the Orkneys.
My father is a Highlander, and though he has lived in England
from his early youth, he retains, not only a strong love for his own
country, but a belief in its healthfulness; he is fond of indulging
the fancy that scenery which the fathers have delighted in, will not
strike on the senses of the children as something new and strange,
but they will enter the hereditary region with a half-formed notion
that they must have seen it before, and it will possess a soothing
power over them which is better than familiarity itself.
I had often heard my father express this idea, but had
neither understood nor believed in it. The listlessness of
illness made me indifferent as to what became of me, and during our
steam voyage I cared neither to move nor to look about me. But
the result proved that my father was right. It was dark when
we reached our destination, but I no sooner opened my eyes the next
morning than a delightful home-feeling came over me; I could not
look about me enough, and yet nothing was sufficiently unexpected to
cause me the least surprise.
It was August, the finest part of the northern summer; and as
I lay on pillows, looking out across the bay, I enjoyed that perfect
quietude and peace so grateful to those who have lately suffered
from the turmoil and restlessness of fever. I had imagined
myself always surrounded by shifting, hurrying crowds, always
oppressed by the gaze of unbidden guests; how complete and welcome
was this change, this seclusion! No one but my father and the
young servant whom we had brought with us could speak a word that I
understood, and I could fall asleep and wake again, quite secure
from the slightest interruption.
By the first blush of dawn I used to wake up, and lie
watching that quiet bay; there would be the shady crags, dark and
rocky, lifting and stretching themselves as if to protect and
embrace the water, which, perhaps, would be lying utterly still, or
just lapping against them, and softly swaying to and fro the long
banners of sea-weed which floated out from them.
Or, perhaps, a thin mist would be hanging across the entrance
of the bay, like a curtain drawn from cliff to cliff; presently this
snowy curtain would turn of an amber colour, and glow towards the
centre; once I wondered if that sudden glow could be a ship on fire,
and watched it in fear, but I soon saw the gigantic sun thrust
himself up, so near, as it seemed, that the farthest cliffs as they
melted into the mist appeared farther off than he—so near, that it
was surprising to count the number of little fishing-boats that
crossed between me and his great disc; still more surprising to
watch how fast he receded, growing so refulgent that he dazzled my
eyes, while the mist began to waver up and down, curl itself, and
roll away to sea, till on a sudden up sprang a little breeze, and
the water, which had been white, streaked here and there with a line
of yellow, was blue almost before I could mark the change, and
covered with brisk little ripples, and the mist had melted back into
some half-dozen caverns, within which it soon receded and was lost.
I used to lie and learn that beautiful bay by heart. In
the afternoon the water was often of a pale sea-green, and the
precipitous cliffs were speckled with multitudes of sea-birds, and
bright in the sunshine I loved to watch at a distance the small
mountain goats climbing from point to point; wherever there was a
strip of grass I was sure to see their white breasts; but above all
things, I love to watch the long wavy reflection of a tall black
rock which was perfectly isolated, and stood out to sea in the very
centre of the bay. I was the more occupied in fancy with this
rock, because, unlike the other features of the landscape, it never
The sea was white, it was yellow, it was green, it was blue;
the sea was gone a long way off, and the sands were bare; the sea
was come back again, was rushing up between every little rock, and
powdering the tops of them with spray; the sea was clear as a
mirror, and white gulls were swimming on it by thousands; the sea
was restless, and the rocking boats were tossing up and down on it.
And the cliffs? In moonlight they were castles and they were
ships; in sunshine they were black, brown, blue, green, and ruddy,
according to the clouds and the height of the sun. Their
shadows, too, now a narrow strip at their bases, now an
overshadowing mass, gave endless variety to the scene.
But this one black rock out at sea never seemed to change. In
appearance at that distance it was a massive column, square and
bending inward at the centre, so as to make it lean towards the
northern shore. Considering this changeless character, it was
rather strange that in my dreams, still vivid from recent illness,
this column always assumed the likeness of a man. A stern man
it seemed to be, with head sunk on his breast, and arms gathered
under the folds of a dark heavy mantle; yet when I awoke and looked
out over the bay, the blue moonbeams would not drop on my rock, or
its reflection, in such a way as to make it any other than the bare,
bleak, bending thing that I always saw it.
In a week I was able to come out of doors, and wander by the
help of my father's arm along the strip of yellow sand by the sea.
How delightful was the feeling of leaf, pebble, sand, or sea-weed to
my hand, which so long had been used to nothing but the soft linen
of my pillow! How beautiful and fresh everything looked out of
doors; how delicious was the sound of the little inch-deep waves as
they ran and spread briskly out over the flat green floors of the
caverns; how still more delicious the crisp rustling of the
displaced pebbles, when these capricious waves receded!
And the caverns! How I stood looking into them, sunny
and warm as they were at the entrance, and gloomily grand within.
What a pleasure it was to think that the world should be so full of
beautiful places, even where few had cared to look at them; how
wonderful to think that the self-same echo, which answered my voice
when I sang to it, was always dying there, ready to be spoken with,
though rarely invoked but by the winds and the waves; that ever
since the Deluge, perhaps, it had possessed this power to mock human
utterance, but unless it had caught up and repeated the cries of
some drowning fisher-boy, or shipwrecked mariner, and sent them back
again more wild than before, its mocking syllables and marvellous
cadences had never been tested but by me
And the first sail in a boat was a pleasure which can never
It was a still afternoon when we stepped into that boat, so
still that we had oars as well as the flapping sail; I had wished to
row out to sea as far as the rock, and now I was to have my wish.
On and on we went, looking by turns into the various clefts and
caverns; at last we stood out into the middle of the bay, and very
soon we had left the cliffs altogether behind. We were out in
the open sea, but still the rock was far before us; it became
taller, larger, and more important, but yet it presented the same
outline, and precisely the same aspect, when, after another
half-hour's rowing, we drew near it, and I could hear the water
lapping against its inhospitable sides.
The men rested on their oars, and allowed the boat to drift
down towards it. There it stood, high, lonely, inaccessible.
I looked up; there was scarcely a crevice where a sea-fowl could
have built, not a level slip large enough for human foot to stand
upon, nor projection for hand or drowning man to seize on.
Shipwreck and death it had often caused, it was the dread and
scourge of the bay, but it yielded no shelter nor food for beast or
bird, not a blade of grass waved there—nothing stood there.
We rowed several times round it, and every moment I became
more impressed with its peculiar character and situation, so
completely aloof from everything else—even another rock as hard and
black as itself, standing near it, would have been apparent
companionship. If one goat had fed there, if one sea-bird had
nestled there, if one rope of tangled sea-weed had rooted there, and
floated out on the surging water to meet the swimmer's hand—but no;
I looked, and there was not one. The water washed up against
it, and it flung back the water; the wind blew against it, and it
would not echo the wind; its very shadow was useless, for it dropped
upon nothing that wanted shade. By day the fisherman looked at
it only to steer clear of it, and by night, if he struck against it,
he went down. Hard, dreary, bleak! I looked at it as we
floated slowly towards home; there it stood rearing up its desolate
head, a forcible image, and a true one, of a thoroughly selfish, a
thoroughly unfeeling and isolated human heart.
Now let us go back a long time, and talk about things which
happened before we were born. I do not mean centuries ago,
when the sea-kings, in their voyages plundering that coast, drove by
night upon the rock and went down. That is not the long time
ago of which I want to speak; nor of that other long time ago, when
two whaling vessels, large and deeply laden, bounded against it in a
storm, and beat up against it till the raging waves tore them to
pieces, and splitting and grinding every beam and spar, scarcely
threw one piece of wreck on the shore which was as long as the
bodies of the mariners. I am not going to tell of the many
fishing-boats which went out and were seen no more—of the many brave
men that hard by that fatal place went under the surging water—of
the many toiling rowers that made, as they thought, straight for
home, and struck, and had only time for one cry—"The Rock! the
Rock!" The long time ago of which I mean to tell was a wild
night in March, during which, in a fisherman's hut ashore, sat a
young girl at her spinning-wheel, and looked out on the dark driving
clouds, and listened, trembling, to the wind and the sea.
The morning light dawned at last. One boat that should
have been riding on the troubled waves was missing—her father's
boat! and half a mile from his cottage, her father's body was washed
up on the shore.
This happened fifty years ago, and fifty years is a long time
in the life of a human being; fifty years is a long time to go on in
such a course, as the woman did of whom I am speaking. She
watched her father's body, according to the custom of her people,
till he was laid in the grave. Then she lay down on her bed
and slept, and by night got up and set a candle in her casement, as
a beacon to the fishermen and a guide. She sat by the candle
all night, and trimmed it, and span; then when day dawned she went
to bed and slept in the sunshine.
So many hanks as she had spun before for her daily bread, she
span still, and one over, to buy her nightly candle; and from that
time to this, for fifty years, through youth, maturity, and old age,
she has turned night into day, and in the snowstorms of winter,
through driving mists, deceptive moonlight, and solemn darkness,
that northern harbour has never once been without the light of her
How many lives she saved by this candle, or how many a meal
she won by it for the starving families of the boatmen, it is
impossible to say; how many a dark night the fisherman, depending on
it, went fearlessly forth, cannot now be told. There it stood,
regular as a lighthouse, steady as constant care could make it.
Always brighter when daylight waned, they had only to keep it
constantly in view and they were safe; there was but one thing that
could intercept it, and that was the rock. However far they
might have stretched out to sea, they had only to bear down straight
for that lighted window, and they were sure of a safe entrance into
Fifty years of life and labour—fifty years of sleeping in the
sunshine—fifty years of watching and self-denial, and all to feed
the flame and trim the wick of that one candle! But if we look
upon the recorded lives of great men, and just men, and wise men,
few of them can show fifty years of worthier, certainly not of more
successful labour. Little, indeed, of the "midnight oil"
consumed during the last half century so worthily deserved the
trimming. Happy woman—and but for the dreaded rock her great
charity might never have been called into exercise!
But what do the boatmen and the boatmen's wives think of
this? Do they pay the woman?
No, they are very poor; but poor or rich, they know better
Do they thank her?
No. Perhaps they feel that thanks of theirs would be
inadequate to express their obligations, or, perhaps, long years
have made the lighted casement so familiar, that they look on it as
a matter of course.
Sometimes the fishermen lay fish on her threshold, and set a
child to watch it for her till she wakes; sometimes their wives
steal into her cottage, now she is getting old, and spin a hank or
two of thread for her while she slumbers; and they teach their
children to pass her hut quietly, and not to sing and shout before
her door, lest they should disturb her. That is all.
Their thanks are not looked for—scarcely supposed to be due.
Their grateful deeds are more than she expects, and as much as she
How often in the far distance of my English home I have awoke
in a wild winter night, and, while the wind and storm were rising,
have thought of that northern bay, with the waves dashing against
the rock, and have pictured to myself the casement, and the candle
nursed by that bending, aged figure! How delightful to know
that through her untiring charity the rock had long lost more than
half its terrors, and to consider that, curse though it may be to
all besides, it has most surely proved a blessing to her!
You, too, may perhaps think with advantage on the character
of this woman, and contrast it with the mission of the rock.
There are many degrees between them. Few, like the rock, stand
up wholly to work ruin and destruction; few, like the woman, "let
their light shine" so brightly for good. But to one of the
many degrees between them we must all most certainly belong—we all
lean towards the woman or the rock. On such characters you do
well to speculate with me, for you have not been cheated into
sympathy with ideal shipwreck or imaginary kindness. There is
many a rock elsewhere as perilous as the one I have told you
of—perhaps there are many such women; but for this one, whose story
is before you, pray that her candle may burn a little longer, since
this record of her charity is true.
The Minnows with Silver Tails.
THERE was a
cuckoo-clock hanging in Tom Turner's cottage. When it struck
One, Tom's wife laid the baby in the cradle, and took a saucepan off
the fire, from which came a very savoury smell.
Her two little children, who had been playing in the open
doorway, ran to the table, and began softly to drum upon it with
their pewter spoons, looking eagerly at their mother as she turned a
nice little piece of pork into a dish, and set greens and potatoes
round it. They fetched the salt; then they set a chair for
their father; brought their own stools; and pulled their mother's
rocking-chair close to the table.
"Run to the door, Billy," said the mother, "and see if
father's coming." Billy ran to the door; and, after the
fashion of little children, looked first the right way, and then the
wrong way, but no father was to be seen.
Presently the mother followed him, and shaded her eyes with
her hand, for the sun was hot. "If father doesn't come soon,"
she observed, "the apple-dumpling will be too much done, by a deal."
"There he is!" cried the little boy, "he is coming round by
the wood; and now he's going over the bridge. O father! make
haste, and have some apple-dumpling."
"Tom," said his wife, as he came near, "art tired to-day?"
"Uncommon tired," said Tom, and he threw himself on the
bench, in the shadow of the thatch.
"Has anything gone wrong?" asked his wife "what's the
"Matter?" repeated Tom, "is anything the matter? The
matter is this, mother, that I'm a miserable hard-worked slave; and
he clapped his hands upon his knees, and muttered in a deep voice,
which frightened the children—"a miserable slave!"
"Bless us!" said his wife, and could not make out what he
"A miserable, ill-used slave," continued Tom, "and always
"Always have been?" said his wife, "why, father, I thought
thou used to say, at the election time, that thou wast a free-born
"Women have no business with politics," said Tom, getting up
rather sulkily. And whether it was the force of habit, or the
smell of the dinner, that made him do it, has not been ascertained,
but it is certain that he walked into the house, ate plenty of pork
and greens, and then took a tolerable share in demolishing the
When the little children were gone out to play, his wife said
to him, "Tom, I hope thou and master haven't had words to-day?"
"Master," said Tom, "yes, a pretty master he has been;
and a pretty slave I've been. Don't talk to me of masters."
"O Tom, Tom," cried his wife, "but he's been a good master to
you; fourteen shillings a week, regular wages—that's not a thing to
make a sneer at; and think how warm the children are lapped up o'
winter nights, and you with as good shoes to your feet as ever keep
him out of the mud."
"What of that?" said Tom, "isn't my labour worth the money?
I'm not beholden to my employer. He gets as good from me as he
"Very like, Tom. There's not a man for miles round that
can match you at a graft; and as to early peas—but if master can't
do without you, I'm sure you can't do without him. Oh dear, to
think that you and he should have had words!"
"We've had no words," said Tom, impatiently; "but I'm sick of
being at another man's beck and call. It's Tom do this,' and
'Tom do that,' and nothing but work, work, work, from Monday morning
till Saturday night; and I was thinking, as I walked over to Squire
Morton's to ask for the turnip seed for master— I was thinking,
Sally, that I am nothing but a poor working man after all. In
short, I'm a slave, and my spirit won't stand it."
So saying, Tom flung himself out at the cottage door, and his
wife thought he was going back to his work as usual. But she
was mistaken; he walked to the wood, and there, when he came to the
border of a little tinkling stream, he sat down, and began to brood
over his grievances. It was a very hot day.
"Now, I'll tell you what," said Tom to himself, "it's a great
deal pleasanter sitting here in the shade than broiling over celery
trenches; and then thinning of wall fruit, with a baking sun at
one's back, and a hot wall before one's eyes. But I'm a
miserable slave. I must either work or see 'em starve; a very
hard lot it is to be a working-man. But it is not only the
work that I complain of, but being obliged to work just as he
pleases. It's enough to spoil any man's temper to be told to
dig up those asparagus beds just when they were getting to be the
very pride of the parish. And what for? Why, to make
room for Madam's new gravel walk, that she mayn't wet her feet going
over the grass. Now, I ask you," continued Tom, still talking
to himself, "whether that isn't enough to spoil any man's temper?"
"Ahem!" said a voice close to him.
Tom started, and to his great surprise, saw a small man,
about the size of his own baby, sitting composedly at his elbow.
He was dressed in green—green hat, green coat, and green shoes.
He had very bright black eyes, and they twinkled very much as he
looked at Tom and smiled.
"Servant, sir!" said Tom, edging himself a little further
"Miserable slave," said the small man, "art thou so far lost
to the noble sense of freedom that thy very salutation acknowledges
a mere stranger as thy master?"
"Who are you," said Tom, "and how dare you call me a slave?"
"Tom," said the small man, with a knowing look, "don't speak
roughly. Keep your rough words for your wife, my man, she is
bound to bear them—what else is she for, in fact?"
"I'll thank you to let my affairs alone," interrupted Tom,
"Tom, I'm your friend; I think I can help you out of your
difficulty. I admire your spirit. Would I demean
myself to work for a master, and attend to all his whims?" As
he said this the small man stooped and looked very earnestly into
the stream. Drip, drip, drip, went the water over a little
fall in the stones, and wetted the watercresses till they shone in
the light, while the leaves fluttered overhead and chequered the
moss with glittering spots of sunshine. Tom watched the small
man with earnest attention as he turned over the leaves of the
tresses. At last he saw him snatch something, which looked
like a little fish, out of the water, and put it in his pocket.
"It's my belief, Tom," he said, resuming the conversation,
"that you have been puzzling your head with what people call
"Never heard of such a thing," said Tom. "But I've been
thinking that I don't see why I'm to work any more than those that
"Why, you see, Tom, you must have money. Now it seems
to me that there are but four ways of getting money: there's
"Which won't suit me," interrupted Tom.
"Very good. Then there's Borrowing—"
"Which I don't want to do."
"And there's Begging—"
"No, thank you," said Tom, stoutly.
"And there's giving money's worth for the money; that is to
say, Work, Labour."
"Your words are as fine as a sermon," said Tom.
"But look here, Tom," proceeded the man in green, drawing his
hand out of his pocket, and showing a little dripping fish in his
palm, "what do you call this?"
"I call it a very small minnow," said Tom.
"And do you see anything special about its tail?"
"It looks uncommon bright," answered Tom, stooping to look at
"It does," said the man in green, "and now I'll tell you a
secret, for I'm resolved to be your friend. Every minnow in
this stream—they are very scarce, mind you—but every one of them has
a silver tail."
"You don't say so," exclaimed Tom, opening his eyes very
wide; "fishing for minnows, and being one's own master, would be a
great deal pleasanter than the sort of life I have been leading this
many a day."
"Well, keep the secret as to where you get them; and much
good may it do you," said the man in green. "Farewell, I wish
you joy of your freedom." So saying he walked away, leaving
Tom on the brink of the stream, full of joy and pride.
He went to his master, and told him that he had an
opportunity for bettering himself, and should not work for
him any longer. The next day he rose with the dawn, and went
to work to search for minnows. But of all the minnows in the
world never were any so nimble as those with silver tails.
They were very shy too, and had as many turns and doubles as a hare;
what a life they led him! They made him troll up the stream
for miles; then, just as he thought his chase was at an end, and he
was sure of them, they would leap quite out of the water, and dart
down the stream again like little silver arrows. Miles and
miles he went, tired, and wet, and hungry. He came home late
in the evening completely wearied and footsore, with only three
minnows in his pocket, each with a silver tail.
"But at any rate," he said to himself, as he lay down in his
bed, "though they lead me a pretty life, and I have to work harder
than ever, yet I certainly am free; no man can order me about now."
This went on for a whole week; he worked very hard; but on
Saturday afternoon he had only caught fourteen minnows.
"If it wasn't for the pride of the thing," he said to
himself, "I'd have no more to do with fishing for minnows.
This is the hardest work I ever did. I am quite a slave to
them. I rush up and down, I dodge in and out, I splash myself,
and fret myself, and broil myself in the sun, and all for the sake
of a dumb thing, that gets the better of me with a wag of its fins.
But it's no use standing here talking; I must set off to the town
and sell them, or Sally will wonder why I don't bring her the week's
money." So he walked to the town, and offered his fish for
sale as great curiosities.
"Very pretty," said the first people he showed them to; but
"they never bought anything that was not useful."
"Were they good to eat?" asked the woman at the next house.
"No! Then they would not have them."
"Much too dear," said a third.
"And not so very curious," said a fourth; "but they hoped he
had come by them honestly." At the fifth house they said, "O!
pooh!" when he exhibited them. "No, no, they were not quite so
silly as to believe there were fish in the world with silver tails;
if there had been, they should often have heard of them before."
At the sixth house they were such a very long time turning
over his fish, pinching their tails, bargaining and discussing them,
that he ventured to remonstrate, and request that they would make
more haste. Thereupon they said that if he did not choose to
wait their pleasure, they would not purchase at all. So they
shut the door upon him, and as this soured his temper, he spoke
rather roughly at the next two houses, and was dismissed at once as
a very rude, uncivil person.
But, after all, his fish were really great curiosities; and
when he had exhibited them all over the town, set them out in all
lights, praised their perfections, and taken immense pains to
conceal his impatience and ill temper, he at length contrived to
sell them all, and got exactly fourteen shillings for them, and no
"Now, I'll tell you what, Tom Turner," he said to himself,
"in my opinion you've been making a great fool of yourself, and I
only hope Sally will not find it out. You was tired of being a
workingman, and that man in green has cheated you into doing the
hardest week's work you ever did in your life by making you believe
it was more free-like and easier. Well, you said you didn't
mind it, because you had no master; but I've found out this
afternoon, Tom, and I don't mind your knowing it, that every one of
those customers of yours was your master just the same. Why!
you were at the beck of every man, woman, and child that came near
you—obliged to be in a good temper, too, which was very
"True, Tom," said the man in green, starting up in his path,
"I knew you were a man of sense; look you, you're all
working-men, and you must all please your customers. Your
master was your customer; what he bought of you was your work.
Well, you must let the work be such as will please the customer."
"All working-men; how do you make that out?" said Tom,
chinking the fourteen shillings in his hand. "Is my master a
working-man? and has he got a master of his own? Nonsense!"
"No nonsense at all;—he works with his head, keeps his books,
and manages his great works. He has many masters, else why was
he nearly ruined last year?"
"He was nearly ruined because he made some new-fangled kind
of patterns at his works, and people would not buy them," said Tom.
"Well, in a way of speaking, then, he works to please his masters,
poor fellow! He is, as one may say, a fellow-servant, and
plagued with very awkward masters! So I should not mind his
being my master, and I think I'll go and tell him so."
"I would, Tom," said the man in green. "Tell him you
have not been able to better yourself, and you have no
objection now to dig up the asparagus bed."
So Tom trudged home to his wife, gave her the money he had
earned, got his old master to take him back, and kept secret his
adventures with the man in green, and the fish with the silver
The Golden Opportunity.
NOT many things
have happened to me in the course of my life which can be called
events. One great event, as I then thought it, happened when I
was eight years old. On that birthday I first possessed a
piece of gold.
How well I remember the occasion! I had a holiday, and
was reading aloud to my mother. The book was the "Life of
Howard, the philanthropist." I was interested in it, though
the style was considerably above my comprehension; at last I came to
the following sentence, which I could make nothing of: "He could not
let slip such a golden opportunity for doing good."
"What is a golden opportunity?" I inquired.
"It means a very good opportunity."
"But, mamma, why do they call it golden?"
My mamma smiled, and said it was a figurative expression;
"Gold is very valuable and very uncommon; this opportunity was a
very valuable and uncommon one; we can express that in one word, by
calling it a golden opportunity."
I pondered upon the information for some time, and then made
a reply to the effect, that all the golden opportunities seemed to
happen to very rich people, or people who lived a long time ago, or
else to great men, whose lives we can read in books—very great men,
such as Wilberforce and Howard; but they never happened to real
people, whom we could see every day, nor to children.
"To children like you, Orris?" said my mother; "why, what
kind of a golden opportunity are you wishing for just now?"
My reply was childish enough.
"If I were a great man I should like to sail after the slave
ships, fight them, and take back the poor slaves to their own
country. Or I should like to do something like what Quintus
Curtius did. Not exactly like that; because you know, mamma,
if I were to jump into a gulf, that would not really make it close."
"No," said my mother, "it would not."
"And, besides," I reasoned, "if it had closed, I
should never have known of the good I had done, because I should
have been killed."
"Certainly," said my mother; I saw her smile, and thinking it
was at the folly of my last wish, hastened to bring forward a wiser
"I think I should like to be a great lady, and then if there
had been a bad harvest, and all the poor people on my lord's land
were nearly starving, I should like to come down to them with a
purse full of money, and divide it among them. But you see,
mamma, I have no golden opportunities."
"My dear, we all have some opportunities for doing good, and
they are golden, or not, according to the use we make of them."
"But, mamma, we cannot get people released out of prison, as
"No, but sometimes, by instructing them in their duty, by
providing them with work, so that they shall earn bread enough, and
not be tempted, and driven by hunger to steal, we can prevent some
people from being ever put in prison."
My mother continued to explain that those who really desired
to do good never wanted opportunities, and that the difference
between Howard and other people was more in perseverance and
earnestness than in circumstances. But I do not profess to
remember much of what she said; I only know that, very shortly, she
took me into my grandfather's study, and sitting down, began busily
to mend a heap of pens which lay beside him on the table.
He was correcting proof-sheets, and, knowing that I must not
talk, I stood awhile very quietly watching him.
Presently I saw him mark out a letter in the page, make a
long stroke in the margin, and write a letter d beside it.
Curiosity was too much for my prudence; I could not help
"Grandpapa, what did you write that letter d for?"
"There was a letter too much in the word, child," he replied;
I spell 'potatoes' with only one p, and I want the
printer to put out the second."
"Then d stands for don't, I suppose," was my
next observation; "it means don't put it in."
"Yes, child, yes; something like that."
If it had not been my birthday I should not have had courage
to interrupt him again. "But, grandpapa, 'do' begins
with d, so how is the printer to know whether you mean 'do'
My grandfather said "Pshaw!" turned short round upon my
mother, and asked her if she had heard what I said?
My mother admitted that it was a childish observation.
"Childish!" repeated my grandfather, "childish! she'll never
be anything but a child—never; she has no reasoning faculties at
all." When my grandfather was displeased with me, he never
scolded me for the fault of the moment, but inveighed against me
in the peice, as a draper would say.
"Did you ever talk nonsense at her age—ever play with
a penny doll, and sing to a kitten? I should think not."
"I was of a different disposition," said my mother, gently.
"Ay," said the old man, "that you were. Why, I wouldn't
trust this child, as I trusted you, for the world; you were quite a
little woman, could pay bills, or take charge of keys; but this
child has no discretion—no head-piece. She says things that
are wide of the mark. She's—well, my dear, I didn't mean to
vex you—she's a nice child enough, but, bless me, she never
thinks, and never reasons about anything."
He was mistaken. I was thinking and reasoning at that
moment. I was thinking how delightful it would be if I might
have the cellar keys, and all the other keys hanging to my side, so
that everyone might see that I was trusted with them; and I was
reasoning, that perhaps my mother had behaved like a little woman,
because she was treated like one.
"My dear, I did not mean that she was worse than many other
children," repeated my grandfather; "come here, child, and I'll kiss
My mother pleaded, by way of apology for me, "She has a very
"Memory! ay, there's another disadvantage. She
remembers everything; she's a mere parrot. Why, when you, at
her age, wanted a punishment, if I set you twenty lines of poetry,
they'd keep you quiet for an hour. Set this child eighty—knows
'em directly, and there's time wasted in hearing her say 'em into
"I hope she will become more thoughtful as she grows older,"
said my mother gently.
"I hope she will; there's room for improvement. Come
and sit on my knee, child. So this is your birthday.
Well, I suppose I must give you some present or other. Leave
the child with me, my dear. I'll take care of her. But I
won't detain you, for the proofs are all ready. Open the door
for your mother, Orris. Ah! you'll never be anything like
I did as he desired, and then my grandfather, looking at me
with comical gravity, took out a leathern purse, and dived with his
fingers among the contents. "When I was a little boy, as old
as you are, nobody gave me any money."
Encouraged by his returning good-humour, I drew closer and
peeped into the purse. There were as many as six or eight
sovereigns in it. I thought what a rich man my grandfather
was, and when he took out a small coin and laid it on my palm, I
could scarcely believe it was for me.
"Do you know what that is, child?"
"A half-sovereign, grandpapa."
"Well, do you think you could spend it?"
"Oh yes, grandpapa."
"'Oh yes!' and she opens her eyes! Ah, child, child!
that money was worth ten shillings when it was in my purse, and I
wouldn't give sixpence for anything it will buy, now it has once
touched your little fingers."
"Did you give it me to spend exactly as I like, grandpapa?"
"To be sure, child—there, take it—it's worth nothing to you,
"Nothing to me! The half-sovereign worth nothing to me!
"Nothing worth mentioning; you have no real wants; you have
clothes, food, and shelter, without this half-sovereign."
"Oh yes; but, grandpapa, I think it must be worth ten times
as much to me as to you; I have only this one, and you have
quantities; I shouldn't wonder if you have thirty or forty
half-sovereigns, and a great many shillings and half-crowns besides,
to spend every year."
"I shouldn't wonder!"
"And I have only one. I can't think, grand-papa, what
you do with all your money; if I had it I would buy so many
delightful things with it."
"No doubt! kaleidoscopes and magic lanterns, and all sorts of
trash. But, unfortunately, you have not got it; you have only
one half-sovereign to throw away."
"But perhaps I shall not throw it away; perhaps I shall try
and do some good with it."
"Do some good with it! Bless you, my dear, if you do
but try to do some good with it, I shall not call it thrown away."
I then related what I had been reading, and had nearly
concluded when the housemaid came in. She laid a crumbled
piece of paper by his desk, and with it a shilling and a penny,
saying, "There's the change, sir, out of your shoemaker's bill."
My grandfather took it up, looked at it, and remarked that
the shilling was a new one. Then, with a generosity which I
really am at a loss to account for, he actually, and on the spot,
gave me both the shilling and the penny.
There they lay in the palm of my hand, gold, silver, and
copper. He then gave me another kiss and abruptly dismissed
me, saying that he had more writing to do; and I walked along the
little passage with an exultation of heart that a queen might have
envied, to show this unheard-of wealth to my mother.
I remember laying the three coins upon a little table, and
dancing round it, singing, "There's a golden opportunity! and
there's a silver opportunity! and there's a copper opportunity!" and
having continued this exercise till I was quite tired, I spent the
rest of the morning in making three little silk bags, one for each
of them, previously rubbing the penny with sand-paper, to make it
bright and clean.
Visions and dreams floated through my brain as to the good I
was to do with this property. They were vain-glorious, but not
selfish; but they were none of them fulfilled, and need not be
recorded. The next day, just as my lessons were finished, papa
came in with his hat and stick in his hand; he was going to walk to
the town, and offered to take me with him.
It was always a treat to walk out with my father, especially
when he went to the town. I liked to look in at the
shop-windows and admire their various contents.
To the town therefore we went. My father was going to
the Mechanics' Institute, and could not take me in with him, but
there was a certain basket maker, with whose wife I was often left
on these occasions. To this good woman he brought me, and went
away, promising not to be long.
And now, dear reader, whoever you may be, I beseech you judge
not too harshly of me; remember I was but a child, and it is certain
that if you are not a child yourself, there was a time when you were
one. Next door to the basket-maker's there was a toy-shop, and
in its window I espied several new and very handsome toys.
"Mr. Miller's window looks uncommon gay," said the old
basket-maker, observing the direction of my eyes.
"Uncommon," repeated his wife those new gimcracks from London
is handsome surely."
"Wife," said the old man, "there's no harm in missy's just
taking a look at 'em—eh?"
"Not a bit in the world, bless her," said the old woman; "I
know she'll go no further, and come back here when she's looked 'em
"Oh yes, indeed I will. Mrs. Stebbs, may I go?"
The old woman nodded assent, and I was soon before the window.
Splendid visions! Oh, the enviable position of Mr.
Miller! How wonderful that he was not always playing with his
toys, showing himself his magic lanterns, setting out his puzzles,
and winding up his musical boxes. Still more wonderful, that
he could bear to part with them for mere money!
I was lost in admiration when Mr. Miller's voice made me
start—"Wouldn't you like to step inside, miss?"
He said this so affably that I felt myself quite welcome, and
was beguiled into entering. In an instant he was behind the
counter. "What is the little article I can have the pleasure,
"Oh!" I replied, blushing deeply, "I do not want to buy
anything this morning, Mr. Miller."
"Indeed, miss, that's rather a pity. I'm sorry,
miss, I confess, on your account. I should like to have
served you, while I have goods about me that I'm proud of. In
a week or two," and he looked pompously about him, "I should say in
less time than that, they'll all be cleared out."
"What! will they all be gone—all sold?" I exclaimed in
"Just so, miss, such is the appreciation of the public;" and
he carelessly took up a little cedar stick and played "The Blue
Bells of Scotland" on the glass keys of a plaything piano.
"This," he observed, coolly throwing down the stick and
taking up an accordion, "this delightful little instrument is
half-a-guinea—equal to the finest notes of the hautboy." He
drew it out, and in his skilful hands it "discoursed" music, which I
thought the most excellent I had ever heard.
But what is the use of minutely describing my temptation?
In ten minutes the accordion was folded up in silver paper, and I
had parted with my cherished half-sovereign.
As we walked home, I enlarged on the delight I should have in
playing on my accordion. "It is so easy, papa; you have only
to draw it in and out; I can even play it at dinner-time, if you
like, between the meat and the puddings. You know the queen
has a band, papa, to play while she dines, and so can you."
My father abruptly declined this liberal offer so did my
grandfather, when I repeated it to him, but I was relieved to find
that he was not in the least surprised at the way in which I had
spent his present. This, however, did not prevent my feeling
sundry twinges of regret when I remembered all my good intentions.
But, alas! my accordion soon cost me tears of bitter disappointment.
Whether from its faults, or my own, I could not tell, but draw it
out, and twist it about as I might, it would not play "The Blue
Bells of Scotland," or any other of my favourite tunes. It was
just like the piano, every tune must be learned; there was no music
inside which only wanted winding out of it, as you wind the tunes
out of barrel organs.
My mother coming in some time during that melancholy
afternoon, found me sitting at the foot of my little bed holding my
accordion, and shedding over it some of the most bitter tears that
shame and repentance had yet wrung from me.
She looked astonished, and asked, "What is the matter, my
"Oh, mamma," I replied, as well as my sobs would let me, "I
have bought this thing which won't play, and I have given Mr. Miller
my golden opportunity."
"What, have you spent your half-sovereign? I thought
you were going to put poor little Patty Morgan to school with it,
and give her a new frock and tippet."
My tears fell afresh at this, and I thought how pretty little
Patty would have looked in the new frock, and that I should have put
it on for her myself. My mother sat down by me, took away the
toy, and dried my eyes. "Now, you see, my child," she
observed, "one great difference between those who are earnestly
desirous to do good, and those who only wish it lightly. You
had what you were wishing for—a good opportunity; for a child like
you, an unusual opportunity for doing good. You had the means
of putting a poor little orphan to school for one whole year—think
of that, Orris! In one whole year she might have learned a
great deal about the God who made her, and who gave His Son to die
for her, and His Spirit to make her holy. One whole year would
have gone a great way towards teaching her to read the Bible; in one
year she might have learned a great many hymns, and a great many
useful things, which would have been of service to her when she was
old enough to get her own living. And for what have you thrown
all this good from you and from her?"
"I am very, very sorry. I did not mean to buy the
accordion; I forgot, when I heard Mr. Miller playing upon it, that I
had better not listen; and I never remembered what I had done till
it was mine, and folded up in paper."
"You forgot till it was too late?"
"Yes, mamma; but, oh, I am so sorry. I am sure I shall
never do so any more."
"Do not say so, my child; I fear it will happen again, many,
"Many times? Oh, mamma! I will never go into Mr.
Miller's shop again."
"My dear child, do you think there is nothing in the world
that can tempt you but Mr. Miller's shop?"
"Even if I go there," I sobbed, in the bitterness of my
sorrow, "it will not matter now, for I have now no half-sovereign
left to spend; but if I had another, and he were to show me the most
beautiful toys in the world, I would not buy them after this, not if
they would play of themselves."
"My dear, that may be true; you, perhaps, would not be
tempted again when you were on your guard; but you know, Orris, you
do not wish for another toy of that kind. Are there no
temptations against which you are not on your guard?"
I thought my mother spoke in a tone of sorrow. I knew
she lamented my volatile disposition; and crying afresh, I said to
her, "Oh, mamma, do you think that all my life I shall never do any
good at all?"
"If you try in your own strength I scarcely think you will.
Certainly you will do no good which will be acceptable to God."
"Did I try in my own strength to-day?"
"What do you think, Orris? I leave it to you to
"I am afraid I did."
"I am afraid so too: but you must not cry and sob in this
way. Let this morning's experience show you how open you are
to temptation. To let it make you think you shall never yield
to such temptation again is the worst thing you can do you need help
from above; seek it, my dear child, otherwise all your good
resolutions will come to nothing."
"And if I do seek it, mamma?"
"Then, weak as you are, you will certainly be able to
accomplish something. It is impossible for me to take away
your volatile disposition, and make you thoughtful and steady, but
'width God all things are possible.'"
"It is a great pity that at the very moment when I want to
think about right things, and good things, all sorts of nonsense
comes into my head. Grandpa says I am just like a whirlgig;
and, besides, that I can never help laughing when I ought not, and I
am always having lessons set me for running about and making such a
noise when baby is asleep."
"My dear child, you must not be discontented, these are
certainly disadvantages; they will give you a great deal of trouble,
and myself too; but you have one advantage that all children are not
"What is that, mamma?"
"There are times when you sincerely wish to do good."
"Yes, I think I really do, mamma; I had better fold up this
thing, and put it away, for it only vexes me to see it. I am
sorry I have lost my golden opportunity."
And so, not without tears, the toy was put away. The
silver and the copper remained, but there was an end of my golden
My birthday had been gone by a week, and still the shilling
and the penny lay folded in their silken shrines.
I had quite recovered my spirits, and was beginning to think
how I should spend them, particularly the shilling, for I scarcely
thought any good could be done with such a small sum as a penny.
Now there was a poor Irish boy in our neighbourhood, who had come
with the reapers, and been left behind with a hurt in his leg.
My mother had often been to see him. While he was
confined to his bed, she went regularly to read with him, and
sometimes she sent me with our nursemaid to take him a dinner.
He was now much better, and could get about a little.
To my mother's surprise she found that he could read perfectly well.
One day, when she met him, he "thanked her honour for all favours,"
and said he should soon be well enough to return to old Ireland.
As we walked home one day my mother said to me, "Orris, if
you like, I will tell you of a good way to spend your shilling.
You may buy poor Tim a Testament."
I was delighted, and gave my immediate assent.
"Well, then," said my mother, "that is settled. I
should have given one myself to Tim, if you had wished to spend your
shilling in something else. And now, remember, you must not
change your mind; papa is going to the town to-morrow, you may go
with him and get one then."
To-morrow came, and with it a note to me from my two cousins,
saying that they were coming over to spend the afternoon with me,
and see my Indian corn, and my tobacco plants, which I had planted
I was very proud of my corn, and still more proud that my
cousins should think it worth while to come and see it, for they
were three or four years older than myself, and did not often take
part in my amusements.
By dint of great industry I finished my lessons an hour
earlier than usual, and ran into the garden to see how my corn
looked. Old Gardener himself admitted that it was beautiful;
the glossy, green leaves fell back like silken streamers, and
displayed the grain with its many shades of green, gold, and brown.
I thought how delightful it would be if I could build a kind
of bower over against it, in which my cousins could sit and admire
it at their leisure. There were some hop plants growing just
in the right place, I had only to untwist them; and there was a
clematis that could easily be pressed into the service.
I set to work, and, with a little help from Gardener, soon
made two or three low arches, over which I carefully trained the
flowering hops, and mingled them with the festoons of clematis.
The bower seemed to be worthy of a queen at the least; and no doubt
it was really pretty.
I was just carrying some pots of balsams in flower to set at
the entrance, when my father came up. "Well, Orris," he said,
"mamma tells me you want to go to the town. Be quick if you
do, for I am just ready to start."
"Just ready! Oh, papa, surely it is not one o'clock?
If I go this bower will never be finished by three."
"Certainly not, we shall scarcely be home by three; but why
need it be finished?"
"Don't you remember, papa, that Elsy and Anne are coming?"
"Oh, I had forgotten that important fact. Well, then,
if they are to sit in this bower, I think you must stay at home and
finish it; you can go with me some other day."
Now my father knew nothing about the Testament, or he would
doubtless have given different advice. While I hesitated,
anxious to stay, and yet afraid not to go, my mother drew near, and
I thought I would leave it to her to decide.
"The child wants to finish her bower, my dear," said my
father, "therefore, as it is not particularly convenient to me to
have her to-day, she may stay at home if she likes, for, I presume,
her errand is of no great consequence."
My mother made no answer; in another moment he was gone, and
I was left with a long hop tendril in my hand, and a face flushed
with heat and agitation.
I thought my mother would speak, and advise me to run after
my father, but she did not; and I went on with my work, conscious
that her eyes were upon me.
Presently, to my great relief, Gardener came up, and asked
her some questions about the flower-beds. She went away with
him, and I breathed more freely, comforting myself with the thought
that I could easily buy the Testament another day.
I worked faster than ever, partly to drive away reproachful
thoughts. The little bower was lovely; it was scarcely high
enough for me to stand upright in, but it would be delightful, I
knew, for us to sit under. Gardener had been mowing, and when
I had brought a quantity of sun-dried grass, and spread it thickly
over the floor, I thought my bower an eighth wonder of the world.
My cousins came shortly, and confirmed me in this opinion; they
spent a very happy afternoon, seated under it, and, but for
remembering the Irish boy, I might have been happy also. We
were very quiet till after tea, and then I am sorry to say that our
high spirits quite carried us away; we got into mischief, and my
share of it was throwing an apple into the greenhouse, and breaking
two panes of glass. This was on a Saturday.
On Sunday no one mentioned either this or the Irish boy; but
on Monday, just as I had finished my lessons, I saw my father pass
the window, and ventured to ask mamma if he was going to the town,
and whether I might walk with him.
"Why do you wish to go, Orris?" she inquired.
"To buy the Testament, mamma, for poor Tim."
"He is gone," said my mother; "he went away early this
I put on my garden bonnet, and went out, with a curious
sensation, as if, when I did wrong, all circumstances conspired to
punish me. I turned the corner of the greenhouse, and there
stood my father, looking at the broken panes.
"Orris," he said, "did you do this mischief?"
"This is the third time it has happened. I have
repeatedly forbidden you to play in this part of the garden."
"I am very sorry, papa."
"Your sorrow will not mend the glass, and I am afraid it will
not make you more obedient another time."
He spoke so gravely that I knew he really was displeased.
After a pause, he said―
"Have you got any money?"
"I have a shilling, papa, and a penny."
"It will cost me more than that to repair this damage; I
shall be obliged to claim forfeit of the shilling."
I wiped away two or three tears, and produced my little silk
bag; he turned it over, and bit his lips; perhaps its elaborate
workmanship made him understand that a shilling was much more for me
to give up than for him to receive.
"Is this all you have got?" he inquired.
"Excepting the penny, papa," I replied; and, child as I was,
I perfectly understood his vexation at having to take it from me.
He remained so long looking at it as it lay in his palm, that I even
hoped he would return it, and say he would excuse me that once.
But no, he was too wise; he put it at last into his waistcoat
pocket, and walked away, saying, "I hope this will make you more
careful another time."
He went towards the house, and I watched him till he entered.
Then I ran to my bower, sat down upon the dried grass, and began to
cry as if my heart would break.
Repentance and regret, though they may be keenly felt by a
child, are not reasoned on very distinctly. I had often been
very sorry before, but whether from the fault, as distinct from the
punishment, I had scarcely inquired. I was heartily sorry now,
not only for my disobedience, and because my father had forfeited
the shilling, but because I saw it had vexed and hurt him to do
it—not only because I had preferred pleasure to duty, neglected the
opportunity for doing good, and lost it —but because the feeling, if
not the words, of St. Paul pressed heavily upon my heart: "When I
would do good, evil is present with me."
I was still crying, when on a sudden, looking up, I saw my
father standing before me, and watching me with evident regret.
My first impulse was to say, "Oh, papa, I was not crying about the
He beckoned to me to rise out of my bower, and said, "Then
what were you crying about, my little darling?"
I tried not to sob; he led me to a garden seat and took me on
his knee; then, with a great many tears, I told him all that I have
now been telling you, and ended with a passion of crying. "Oh,
papa, do teach me to be different, and to wish the same thing when I
am tempted, that I do when no pleasure tempts me. Pray teach
me to do good."
"My dear child, God is teaching you now."
"What, papa? when my golden opportunity is gone, and my
silver opportunity has come to nothing?"
"Quite true; but then you are doubly sure now, you know by
ample experience, do you not—that of yourself you can do nothing."
I was so convinced of it, that I was verging on an opposite
fault of self-confidence. I was almost doubting whether any
assistance that I could hope to have would make me proof against
But now was my father's "golden opportunity," and he availed
himself of it. Although I cannot remember his words, their
influence remains to this day. Certain sensations and
impressions connected with that wise and fatherly conversation
return upon me often, even now. It conveyed to my mind the
idea that this weakness itself was to be my strength, if it made me
depend upon a stronger than myself; that this changeable disposition
would make more precious to me the knowledge that "with God is no
variableness, neither shadow of changing."
When he ceased to speak, I said, with a sorrowful sigh, "And
now, papa, there is only one penny left of all my opportunities!"
"Well, my darling," he replied, "it is possible that you may
do acceptable good even with that. Remember what our Saviour
said about the cup of cold water."
"Yes," I said, "but the person who gave the cold water had
nothing better to give; he had not a cup of milk, or a cup of wine,
which he first wasted and threw away."
"My dear, you need not inquire into that; you might have done
better; but as there is still something to be done, 'do it with thy
When I was quite calm again, and almost happy, he sent me
into the house to play at ball. As I passed the kitchen door,
a poor old woman whom my mother used sometimes to help, turned from
it, and I heard the housemaid say, "Mistress has just walked out,
and I cannot say when she will be at home."
She was hobbling away when I bethought me of my penny, took
it out of its bag, and pulling her by the cloak, offered it to her.
At first she did not seem to understand me, but when she saw
my copper opportunity, which was as bright as sand-paper could
render it, she gave me just the shadow of a smile, and taking it in
her skinny hand, said, "I thank you kindly, my pretty."
"Poor old creature," said the housemaid that will buy her a
trifle, mayhap; she and her husband are going into the workhouse
I passed into the house penniless, but in a subdued and
humble state of mind. The lessons I had had were not without
good effect; but it cannot be expected that I can remember much of
the working of my mind. I only know that time did pass; that I
went to bed, got up, said my lessons, and had my play for a long
time, perhaps a fortnight. At the end of about that time my
little sister Sophy and I went out one day for a long walk with
Matilda, our nurse, and took a basket with us to put flowers in, and
blackberries, if we should be so fortunate as to find any.
We walked a long way till Sophy was tired, and became
clamorous to sit down; so Matilda led us to the entrance of a wood,
and there we sat and rested on the steps of a stile. There was
a cottage near at hand; presently an old woman came out with a
kettle in her hand, and I recognised her as the woman to whom I had
given my penny. She hobbled to the edge of a little stream
which flowed close to our seat, and dipped her kettle in, but did
not notice us till Matilda called to her.
"How are you, Mrs. Grattan, and how's your old gentleman?"
"Thank you kindly, girl, we be pretty moderate," was the
reply. "He," and she pointed with her stick to a field
opposite, where several men were at work; "he be among them
picking up stones—ha! ha! He be as blithe as a boy."
"We was all very glad up at the Grange to hear of your good
luck," said Matilda, in the loudest tones of her cheerful voice, for
the old woman was rather deaf. "Our mistress was main glad,
I'll assure you."
"Ah! very kind on you all. How be the old gentleman?"
By this time she had reached us, set down her kettle, and
taken her place beside Matilda. I was busily plaiting straw,
but I listened carelessly to their conversation.
"And so you got your rent paid and all," said Matilda,
turning her eager black eyes on the old woman, "What a good son Joe
is to you!"
"Ah, that he be, dear," was the reply; "that he be; wrote he
did, so pretty, 'My dear mother,' he says, 'don't you go for to
think I shall ever forget how good you was to me always, for I shall
not,' he says—"
Matilda's eyes flashed and glistened; she took a particular
interest in this young man, though I did not know that till long
"Tell us how it all was?" she said, quickly.
"Why, you see, dear, he was not my own, but I did as well as
I could by him; and he be as fond of me like, ay, fonder, than he be
of his father."
"Yes, I know," said Matilda.
"Well, dear, I went to Mr. T.'s house" (my father's), "and I
was very down at heart—very, I was; for Mr. Ball, he'd been that
morning, and says he, 'It signifies nothing that you've lived here
so long,' he says, 'if you can't pay the rent.' I says, 'Mr.
Ball, will you please to consider these weeks and weeks that my poor
old man has been laid up wi' rheumatize.' 'But,' he says, 'I
can put in younger and stronger than him; and besides that,' he
says, 'I know you owe money at the shop, over all you owe to my
"He was always a hard man," said Matilda.
"Well, dear, he says, 'It ain't no use my deceiving of you,
Mrs. Grattan, but I must sell you up, for,' says he, 'the money I
must have, and you must go into the workhouse; it's the best place
by half for such as you.' And, dear, it seemed hard, for, I'll
assure you, we hadn't a half-ounce of tea, nor a lump of coal in the
house, for we was willing, my old man and me, to strive to the last
to pay our owings, and we was living very hard."
"How much did you owe?" asked Matilda.
"Over three pounds, dear; and then the rent was four. I
hadn't one halfpenny in the house; I paid the baker Thursday was a
week; t'other four was for the doctor, and we was hungry and cold,
we was; but the Lord be praised, we ain't now."
"Ah! Joe's a good son."
"As good as ever breathed, dear; but we hadn't heard from him
of a long while, by reason his regiment was up the country, but
you'll understand I didn't know that till I got his letter.
And so we was to be sold up, and go into the house. I fretted
a deal, and then I thought I'd go and tell your missis—she be a good
friend. But decry me! I owed such a world o' money;
only, thinks I, she'll be main sorry to hear we must go, and a body
likes somebody to be sorry."
"Ah! to be sure they do," said Matilda.
"But she was out, and so I got nothing, only this child,
bless her! she runs up and gives me a penny; but, deary me, thinks
I, what's a penny to them as owes £7 2s. But, thinks I,
my old man and me, we won't cry together in the dark this last
night; so I walked on to the town with it to buy a halfpenny candle
of Mr. Sims, at the post-office. I was half way there from my
place, and when I got into the shop, 'Sit you down, Mrs. Grattan,'
he, for he saw I was main tired; 'I haven't seen you of a long
"'And that's true, Mr. Sims,' says I, 'for it's little enough
I have to lay out, and the shop t'other side of the turnpike be
"Well, I sat me down; maybe a quarter of an hour after I'd
bought my candle, and just as I was agoing, in comes Mrs. Sims, and,
says she, 'Is that Grattan's wife?'
"'Ay,' says he."
"'Well,' says she, 'I reckon you remembered to give her that
"'A good thing you spoke, my dear,' says he, 'I should have
forgot it—that I should.'
"If you'll believe me, I trembled like a leaf, to think I
should so near have missed it. 'Be it a letter from the
Indies?' says I.
"'Ay,' says he, that it is, and nothing to pay on it; and
it's marked,' "To be left at the post-office till called for.'
"Well, dear, I took it home, and waited for my old man to
come home, by reason I can't read, and about dusk he comes in, and
we lights the candle, and my old man he read it right out, for he's
a fine scholar. And there was two five-pound notes inside,
bless him; and he says, 'Mother, I've got made sergeant, and now I
shall send to you regular."'
"Well, I've heard no better news this many a day!" said
"It was good, dear. Well, I paid the doctor, and
when Mr. Ball came next day, says I, 'There's the money, sir,' and
he stared. 'Indeed,' he says; 'I am surprised, but them that
pay can stay.' So, you see, there's money to spend, more
money, dear, when we be laid up with the rheumatic." Upon this
she laughed with genuine joy, and, taking up her kettle, wished
Matilda good afternoon, and hobbled away.
And I knew, though it had never occurred to the old woman,
that all this happiness was owing to my penny! If she had not
had it to spend, she would not have walked to the post-office, she
would not have got her son's letter, that precious letter which had
saved her from misery and the workhouse.
How happy I was as we walked home; I seemed to tread on air,
and yet I knew of how little value the penny really was; it was only
my having been permitted to give it under such peculiar
circumstances that had made it such a worthy and important coin.
The lesson taught me by these little events I did not easily
forget, and I think their moral is too obvious to need elaborate
enforcing. It may, however, be summed up in a few words.
First,—Do not expect that in your own
strength you can make use of even the best opportunity for doing
Second,—Do not put off till another day
any good which it is in the power of your hand to do at once.
And thirdly,—Do not despond because your
means of doing good appear trifling and insignificant, for though
one soweth and another reapeth, yet it is God that giveth the
increase; and who can tell whether He will not cause that which is
sown to bear fruit an hundredfold; who can tell whether to have even
a penny to give under certain circumstances may not be to have no
Copper—but a Golden Opportunity.