Stories Told to a Child (3)

Home Up Poems Story of Doom Monitions Old Days Poetical Works Allerton and Dreux Allerton and Dreux Off the Skelligs Fated to be Free Sarah De Berenger Don John John Jerome A Moto Changed Studies for Stories A Sister's Bye-Hours Mopsa the Fairy Wonder Box Tales Sheet Music Sheet Music Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]

 
The Wild-Duck Shooter.


THE charity of the rich is much to be commended, but how beautiful is the charity of the poor!

    Call to mind the coldest day you ever experienced.  Think of the bitter wind and driving snow; think how you shook and shivered—how the sharp white particles were driven up against your face—how, within doors, the carpets were lifted like billows along the floors, the wind howled and moaned in the chimneys, windows creaked, doors rattled, and every now and then heavy lumps of snow came thundering down with a dull weight from the roof.

    Now, hear my story.

    In one of the broad, open plains of Lincolnshire, there is a long, reedy sheet of water, a favourite resort of wild ducks.  At its northern extremity stand two mud cottages, old, and out of repair.

    One bitter, bitter night, when the snow lay three feet deep on the ground, and a cutting east wind was driving it about, and whistling in the dry frozen reeds by the water's edge, and swinging the bare willow trees till their branches swept the ice, an old woman sat spinning in one of these cottages before a moderately cheerful fire.  Her kettle was singing on the coals; she had a reed-candle, or home-made rushlight on her table, but the full moon shone in, and was the brighter light of the two.  These two cottages were far from any road, or any other habitation; the old woman was, therefore, surprised, as she sat drawing out her thread, and crooning an old north-country song, to hear a sudden knock at the door.

    It was loud and impatient, not like the knock of her neighbours in the other cottage; but the door was bolted, and the old woman rose, and shuffling to the window, looked out, and saw a shivering figure, apparently that of a youth.

    "Trampers!" said the old woman, sententiously, "tramping folk be not wanted here;" so saying, she went back to the fire without deigning to answer the door.

    The youth, upon this, tried the door and called to her to beg admittance.  She heard him rap the snow from his shoes against her lintel, and again knock as if he thought she was deaf, and he should gain admittance if he could only make her hear.

    The old woman, surprised at his audacity, went to the casement, and, with all pride of possession, opened it and inquired his business.

    "Good woman," the stranger began, "I only want a seat at your fire."

    "Nay," said the old woman, giving effect to her words by her uncouth dialogue, "thoul't get no shelter here; I've nought to give to beggars—a dirty, wet critter," she continued, wrathfully, slamming to the window, "it's a wonder where he found any water, too, seeing it freezes so hard, a body can get none for the kettle, saving what's broken up with a hatchet."

    On this the beggar turned hastily away.

    And at this point in his narrative, the person who told it me stopped and said, "Do you think the old woman was very much to blame?"

    "She might have acted more kindly," I replied; "but why do you ask?"

    "Because," said he, "I have heard her conduct so much reflected on by some who would have thought nothing of it if it had not been for the consequences."

    "She might have turned him away less roughly," I observed.

    "That is true," he answered; "but, in any case, I think, though we might give them food or money, we should hardly invite beggars in to sit by the fire."

    "Certainly not," I replied; "and this woman could not tell that the beggar was honest."

    "No," said he, "but I must go on with my narrative.—The stranger turned very hastily from her door, and waded through the deep snow towards the other cottage.  The bitter wind helped to drive him towards it.  It looked no less poor than the first; and, when he had tried the door, found it bolted, and knocked twice without attracting attention, his heart sank within him.  His hand was so numbed with cold, that he had made scarcely any noise; he tried again.

    A rush candle was burning within, and a matronly-looking woman sat before the fire.  She held an infant in her arms, and had dropped asleep; but his third knock roused her, and, wrapping her apron round the child, she opened the door a very little way and demanded what he wanted.

    "Good woman," the youth began, "I have had the misfortune to fall in the water this bitter night, and I am so numbed that I can scarcely walk."

    The woman gave him a sudden, earnest look, and then sighed.

    "Come in," she said; "thou art so nigh the size of my Jem, I thought at first it was him come home from sea."

    The youth stepped across the threshold, trembling with cold and wet; and no wonder, for his clothes were completely encased in wet mud, and the water dripped from them with every step he took on the sanded floor.

    "Thou art in a sorry plight," said the woman, "and it be two miles to the nighest housen; come and kneel down afore the fire; thy teeth chatter so pitifully, I can scarce bear to hear them."

    She looked at him more attentively, and saw that he was a mere boy, not more than sixteen years of age.  Her motherly heart was touched for him.  "Art hungry?" she asked, turning to the table; "thou art wet to the skin.  What hast been doing?"

    "Shooting wild ducks," said the boy.

    "Oh!" said his hostess, "thou art one of the keepers' boys, then, I reckon?"

    He followed the direction of her eyes, and saw two portions of bread set upon the table, with a small piece of bacon upon each.

    "My master be very late," she observed, for charity did not make her use elegant language, and by her master she meant her husband; "but thou art welcome to my bit and sup, for I was waiting for him; maybe it will put a little warmth in thee to eat and drink;" so saying, she took up a mug of beer from the hearth, and pushed it towards him, with her share of the supper.

    "Thank you," said the boy, "but I am so wet I am making quite a pool before your fire with the drippings from my clothes."

    "Ay, thou art wet, indeed," said the woman, and, rising again, she went to an old box in which she began to search, and presently came to the fire with a perfectly clean checked shirt in her hand, and a tolerably good suit of clothes.

    "There," said she, showing them with no small pride, "these be my master's Sunday clothes, and if thou wilt be very careful of them, I'll let thee wear them till thine be dry."  She then explained that she was going to put her "bairn" to bed, and proceeded up a ladder into the room above, leaving the boy to array himself in these respectable and desirable garments.

    When she came down her guest had dressed himself in the labourer's clothes; he had had time to warm himself, and he was eating and drinking with hungry relish.  He had thrown his muddy clothes in a heap upon the floor, and, as she proceeded to lift them up, she said, "Ah! lad, lad, I doubt thy head has been under water; thy poor mother would have been sorely frightened if she could have seen thee awhile ago."

    "Yes," said the boy; and, in imagination, the cottage dame saw this said mother, a care-worn, hard-working creature like herself; while the youthful guest saw, in imagination, a beautiful and courtly lady; and both saw the same love, the same anxiety, the same terror at sight of a lonely boy struggling in the moonlight through breaking ice, with no one to help him, catching at the frozen reeds, and then creeping up, shivering and benumbed, to a cottage door.

    But even as she stooped the woman forgot her imagination, for she had taken a waistcoat into her hands, such as had never passed between them before; a gold pencil-case dropped from the pocket, and, on the floor, among a heap of mud that covered the outer garments, lay a white shirt sleeve, so white, indeed, and fine, that she thought it could hardly be worn but by a squire!

    She glanced from the clothes to the owner.  He had thrown down his cap, and his fair, curly hair, and broad forehead, convinced her that he was of gentle birth; but while she hesitated to sit down, he set a chair for her, and said, with boyish frankness, "I say, what a lonely place this is; if you had not let me in, the water would have all frozen on me before I reached home.  Catch me duck-shooting again by myself!"

    "It's very cold sport that, sir," said the woman.  The young gentleman assented most readily, and asked if he might stir the fire.

    "And welcome, sir," said the woman.  She felt a curiosity to know who he was, and he partly satisfied her by remarking that he was staying at Deen Hall, a house about five miles off, adding that, in the morning, he had broken a hole in the ice very near the decoy, but it had iced over so fast, that in the dusk he had missed it and fallen in, for it would not bear him.  He had made some landmarks, and taken every proper precaution, but he supposed the sport had excited him so much that, in the moonlight, he had passed them by.

    He then told her of his attempt to get shelter in the other cottage.

    "Sir," said the woman, "if you had said you were a gentleman—"

    The boy laughed.  "I don't think I knew it, my good woman," he replied, "my senses were so benumbed; for I was some time struggling at the water's edge among the broken ice, and then I believe I was nearly an hour creeping up to your cottage door.  I remember it all rather indistinctly, but as soon as I had felt the fire, and drank the warm beer, I was a different creature."

    While they still talked the husband came in, and, while he was eating his supper, they agreed that he should walk to Deen Hall, and let its inmates know of the gentleman's safety; and when he was gone they made up the fire with all the coal that remained to that poor household, and the woman crept up to bed and left her guest to lie down and rest before it.

    In the grey of dawn the labourer returned, with a servant leading a horse, and bringing a fresh suit of clothes.

    The young gentleman took his leave with many thanks, slipping three half-crowns into the woman's hand, probably all the money he had about him.  And I must not forget to mention that he kissed the baby, for when she tells the story, the mother always adverts to that circumstance with great pride, adding, that her child being as "clean as wax, was quite fit to be kissed by anybody!"

    "Missis," said her husband, as they stood together in the doorway, looking after their guest, "who dost think that be?"

    "I don't know," answered the missis.

    "Then I'll just tell thee, that be young Lord W—; so thou mayest be a proud woman, thou sits and talks with lords, and asks them in to supper—ha, ha!  So saying, her master shouldered his spade and went his way, leaving her clinking the three half-crowns in her hand, and considering what she should do with them.  Her neighbour from the other cottage presently stepped in, and when she heard the tale and saw the money, her heart was ready to break with envy and jealousy.  "Oh! to think that good luck should have come to her door, and she should have been so foolish as to turn it away.  Seven shillings and sixpence for a morsel of food and a night's shelter; why, it was nearly a week's wages!"

    So there, as they both supposed, the matter ended, and the next week the frost was sharper than ever.  Sheep were frozen in the fenny fields, and poultry on their perches, but the good woman had walked to the nearest town and bought a blanket.  It was a welcome addition to their bed-covering, and it was many a long year since they had been so comfortable.

    But it chanced, one day at noon, that, looking out at her casement, she spied three young gentlemen skating along the ice towards her cottage.  They sprang on to the bank, took off their skates, and made for her door.  The young nobleman informed her that he had had such a severe cold he could not come and see her before.  "He spoke as free and pleasantly," she observed, in telling the story, "as if I had been a lady, and no less! and then he brought a parcel out of his pocket, and 'I've been over to B—,' he says, 'and bought you a book for a keepsake, and I hope you will accept it.'  And then they all talked as pretty as could be for a matter of ten minutes, and went away.  So I waited till my master came home, and we opened the parcel, and there was a fine Bible inside, all over gold and red morocco, and my name and his name written inside; and, bless him! a ten-pound note doubled down over the names.  I'm sure, when I thought he was a poor forlorn creature, he was kindly welcome.  So my master laid out part of the money in tools, and we rented a garden, and he goes over on market days to sell what we grow; so now, thank God, we want for nothing."

    This is how she generally concludes the little history, never failing to add that the young lord kissed her baby.

    "But," said my friend, "I have not told you what I thought the best part of the anecdote.  When this poor Christian woman was asked what had induced her to take in a perfect stranger, and trust him with the best clothing her house afforded, she answered simply, "Well, I saw him shivering and shaking, so I thought 'thou shalt come in here for the sake of Him that had not where to lay His head.'"

    Now I think we must all have read many times of such rewards following upon little acts of kindness.  Hundreds of tales are founded on such incidents, but, in real life, they are not common.  Poetical justice is not the kind of justice that generally comes about in the order of God's providence.  We ought not to expect such; and woeful, indeed, must be the disappointment of those who do kind actions in the hope of receiving it.

    The old woman in the other cottage may open cottage door every night of her future life to some forlorn beggar, but it is all but certain that she will never open it to a nobleman in disguise!  Therefore, let neither man, woman, nor child found false hopes upon this story; for, let them entertain as many beggars as they will, they need not expect that they have gold pencil-cases in their pockets—Unless they stole them.

    These stories are, as I said, very common, and their moral is sufficiently obvious; it is, "Do good, and you shall have your reward."  I would not quarrel with the maxim, but I should like to see it differently applied.  I think it arises from a feeling which has done harm rather than good.  We are, indeed, quite at liberty to use the Scriptural maxim: "He that watereth shall be watered also himself," but then, we should give the term "watereth" "its Scriptural sense—an extended and beautiful sense.

    The act of charity is often highly valued, while the motive, which alone can make it acceptable, is overlooked and forgotten; it is not hope that should prompt it, but gratitude.  Not many, even of the Lord's people, can always say in simplicity, "I did it for the sake of, Him that had not where to lay His head."

    We have strangely reversed the order of things.  We sometimes act as if our feeling was, "Let us do good and give, that God, who loveth a cheerful giver, may be good to us;" but our feeling should be, "Christ has died, let us do good, for His sake, to His poor brethren, as an evidence that we are grateful for His inestimable gift."

    Let us do good, not to receive more good in return, but as an evidence of gratitude for what has been already bestowed.  In few words, let it be "all for love, and nothing for reward."

――――♦――――
 


 
I Have a Right.


WE, as a nation, are remarkably fond of talking about our rights.  The expression, "I have a right," is constantly in our mouths.  This is one reason, among some others, why it is fortunate for us that we speak English, since this favourite phrase in more than one continental tongue has no precise equivalent.

    Whether the nation's phrase grew out of the nation's character, or whether the happy possession of such a phrase has helped to mould that character, it is scarcely now worth while to inquire.  Certain it is that those generations which make proverbs, make thereby laws which govern their children's children, and thus, perhaps, it comes to pass that this neat, independent, Anglo-Saxon phrase helps to get and keep for us the very rights it tells of.  For, as under some governments it is true that the dearest and most inalienable rights of the race go by the name of privilege, indulgence, or immunity, a concession, and not an inheritance; a gift, and not a birthright; while ancient rights, in our sense of this word, merge into mere privileges held at the ruler's will, and having been once called privileges, may be exchanged by him for other privileges, which may amount to no more than the sight of a glittering show; so in our case it is true that privileges have a constant tendency to merge into rights.  Let any man grant his neighbours the privilege of walking through his fields, his park, or his grounds, and then see how soon it will be said that they have a right to traverse them; and in fact very soon they will have a right by the law of the land; for, to prove the right, they need only show that they have enjoyed the privilege "time out of mind."  And then, again, Right is very unfair to his cousin Privilege, for, by the laws of England, sixty years constitute "time out of mind."

    By taking the trouble to investigate, any person may find many parallel cases, and so we keep the path of liberty.  First we got that path as a sort of privilege which was winked at; then we made out that we had a right to it! next we proved that it wanted widening, and then we paved it handsomely, made a king's highway of it, and took pains to have it constantly in repair.

    Now, it being an acknowledged thing, my dear friends, that we have rights, and that we like to have these facts well known to all whom it may concern—how glad you will be if I can point out to you certain rights which some of you have scarcely considered at all.  I have met with numbers of worshipful old gentlemen, industrious young workmen, and women of all degrees, who knew well how to use our favourite phrase in its common vulgar sense; but I knew a worshipful old baker, in an old country town, who used it oftener than any of them.  To hear him hold forth about his rights did one's heart good, and made one proud of one's country.  Everybody else's rights appeared flat and tame compared with his, and the best of it was, that no one was ever heard to dispute them.

    Dear old man, he is dead now, but some of his rights survive him.  I was on my way home to the neighbourhood of that little country town wherein, for so many years, he might have been seen on a summer evening, standing in his shop door, and exercising the rights he loved, when it so happened that I heard some of my countrymen also discoursing about their rights, and the more they talked, the more petty and insignificant seemed their rights compared with those of Mr. Bryce, the baker.

    We took our tickets at the London terminus of the Great Northern Railway, and entered an empty carriage; in a corner seat, however, a gentleman's great-coat was lying; presently a lady got in, and now the two vacant seats were, it so happened, as far as possible, asunder.

    The next arrivals were another lady with a little girl about four years old.  Without any hesitation she took up the coat, and placing it in another corner seat, set her child in the division near herself.

    Had she a right to do this? you inquire.  Certainly not; and she was soon reminded of that fact, for just at the last minute a calm and rather supercilious-looking young man entered, glanced coldly at her and said, "I must trouble you, madam, for that seat; I laid my coat on it some time ago, and also turned the cushion; I really must request you to leave it, as I have a right to it."

    He laid as strong an emphasis on the must as if to turn her out was a stringent duty.  Perhaps she thought so, for as she glanced, in rising, at the child, she said, with a smile at the youth, who was quite young enough to be her son, "Certainly, you have an undoubted right to this seat;" but then added, "but I suppose no one would have disputed your right to give it up to me if you had chosen."

    Her easy self-possession, and perhaps her remark, made him look a little awkward, but, as the lady rose, my brother changed places with the child, and thus they still sat together; and while the youth settled himself in the place he had a right to, our train set off with one of those thrice horrible wavering and querulous screeches of which the Great Northern has a monopoly.

    While we went through the first tunnel, rending the air all the time with terrific shrieks, the little girl held tightly by her mother's hand, and two large tears rolled down her rosy face.  "We shall soon be at Hornsey," said her mother, and accordingly in a few minutes we stopped, and while the lady and child disappeared from our view, the owner of the seat ejaculated, "Cool!" and then looking round the carriage, he continued, as appealing to those who were sure to agree with him—When a man has a right to a thing, why, he has a right; but to have a right to waive a right, is a dodge that a man wouldn't expect to be told of."

    This most lucid speech he closed with a general smile, and we set off again with another shriek, longer and shriller than the former one.

    After an hour's travelling we were deserted by all our fellow-passengers, and seemed to be waiting a very long time at a little country station.  At length two old gentlemen entered, and, as the railway man opened the door for them, I said to him, "Can you tell me why we are detained here so long?"

    "Yes, ma'am," he replied, "there's an excursion train due directly, and we're shunted off the line to let it pass."

    "Horrid bore!" said one old gentleman.

    "Disgraceful shame!" said the other; "but don't let that make you uneasy, young lady," he added, politely addressing me, "'shunted' means nothing dangerous."

    I was about to ask what it did mean, when, with a whiz, and a great noise of cheering, the excursion train shot past us, displaying a long, long succession of second and third-class carriages, every window garnished with pale faces of men and women, besides numbers of delicate-looking children.

    "Disgraceful shame!" repeated the stoutest of the old gentlemen, "here's our train twenty minutes late, twenty minutes, sir, by the clock."

    "I should think," said my brother, "that this is not a grievance of very frequent occurrence—mail trains are not often obliged to give way to the convenience of the excursionists; but we were behind time when we got up to this station, and as we must stop a quarter of an hour shortly, we should have very much detained that train if it had been on the same line, and behind us."

    "Well, I can't make it out," was the reply; "and what does their being detained matter to me; I paid for my ticket, and I've a right to be taken on."

    "Certainly," said the other; "no man has a right to interfere with my business for the sake of his pleasure—such new-fangled notions!—What's the good of a day's pleasure to the working classes?"

    "They have it so seldom," my brother suggested, "that they have plenty of time to consider that question between one day's pleasure and the next."

    "Horrid bore, these excursion trains!" repeated the first speaker, "filling the country with holiday folk; what do they want with holidays—much better stop at home, and work, and earn a little more.  What's the good of sending out a swarm of pale-faced, knock-knee'd London artisans, and gaping children, that don't know a kite from a jackdaw?  If you must give 'em a treat, let it be a good dinner.  Country air, indeed!  I don't find London unhealthy; and I spend three or four months in it every year."

    "To be sure," echoed his companion, "these London clergy and ministers ought to know better than to spread such sentimental nonsense among the people—duty comes before pleasure, doesn't it?  Why, a man had the assurance to write to me—a perfect stranger—to know whether I'd open my park for a shoal of his Cockney parishioners to dine and drink tea in!  He knew it was closed, forsooth, but he hoped for once, and in the cause of philanthropy, I'd open it.  I should like to know where my young coveys would be when every inch in my wood had been overrun, and all the bracken trod down in the cause of philanthropy?  No, I wrote him a piece of my mindI said, 'Rev. Sir, I do not fence and guard my grounds that paupers may make a playground of them; and, though your request makes me question your good taste a little, I trust to your good sense not to render your people liable to be taken up as trespassers.  I have a right to prosecute all trespassers in my grounds, and, therefore, I advise you to keep your people clear of them.'"

    "And very proper, too," replied the other; there are plenty of people that will receive them; there's your neighbour, Sir Edward, who's happy and proud to entertain as many as they like to pour into his domain."

    Upon this they both laughed, as it appeared, in pity of the said Sir Edward.  "Well, well, every man has a right to his own opinion." (N.B., is that a fact?)  "Sir Edward wanted me, the other day, to subscribe to some new baths and wash-houses.  'My good fellow,' I said, 'when all the paupers in London can earn their own living, it will be time enough to talk of washing their faces: but for goodness' sake let 'em earn dinners before you offer 'em Windsor soap, and hats before you find 'em pomatum.'"

    "And may I know what Sir Edward said in reply?" I enquired, addressing the old gentleman.

    He seemed to consider.  "Well," he said, after a puzzled pause, "it was something of this sort—something about the decencies of life being striven for with better heart, if a few of its amenities were within reach."

    This reminded me of a poor woman who lived in a particularly dirty cottage, near my father's house, in the country.  I one day tapped at her door, and she opened it in a gown all spotted with white-wash.  "What! cleaning, Mrs. Matts?" I exclaimed in surprise.  "Why yes, miss," she replied, "for my husband's brother has just been up from London, where he works, to see us, and brought us a beautiful pictur of the Queen, all in a gilt frame, miss; and when he'd hung it up, it made the walls look so shocking dirty, that I couldn't abear the sight of 'em, so I'm cleaning, you see."

    But enough has been said about the rights of other people; let us now turn to Mr. Bryce, the baker.

    Bryce was working for a baker in the village near which my grandfather lived.  His master died suddenly, leaving a widow and nine children.  Bryce was an enterprising young man, and had been thinking of setting up for himself.  My grandfather, however, heard that after his master's death he gave up this wish, and continued to work at his former wages, trying to keep the business together for the widow.  Happening to meet him, he asked him if this report were true?

    "Why, yes, sir," said Bryce; "you see nobody else would manage everything for her without a share of the profits; and nine children—what a tug they are! so as I have nobody belonging to me—nobody that has any claim on me—"

    "But I thought you wanted to set up for yourself?"

    "And so I did, sir; and if I'd a wife and family, I'd make a push to get on for their sakes,—but I've none; and so, as I can live on what I get, and hurt nobody by it, 'I have a right' to help her, poor soul, as I've a mind to."

    Soon after this the widow took to dressmaking, and did so well that she wanted no help from Bryce, who now set up for himself, and borrowed a sum of money from my grandfather to begin with.  At first he was so poor, and the weekly profits were so small, that he requested my grandfather to receive the trifle of interest monthly, and for the first two months he said it "completely cleared him out" to pay it.  My grandfather was, therefore, rather surprised one Saturday evening, as he sauntered down the village street, to see four decrepit old people hobbling down the steps of his shop, each carrying a good-sized loaf, and loudly praising, the generosity of Mr. Bryce.  The sun was just setting, and cast a ruddy glow on the young bakers face as he stood leaning against the post of his door, but he started with some confusion when he saw my grandfather, and hastily asked him to enter his shop.  "I reckon you are surprised, sir," he said, "to see me giving away bread before I've paid my debt; but just look round, sir.  Those four loaves were all I had left, except what I can eat myself, and they were stale; so think what they'd have been by Monday morning."

    "I don't wish to interfere with your charities," said my grandfather.

    "But, sir," said Bryce, "I want you to see that I'm as eager to pay off that money as I can be but people won't buy stale bread—they won't, indeed; and so I thought I had a right to give away those four loaves, being they were left upon my hands."

    "I think so too," said my grandfather, who was then quite a young man, "and I shall think so next Saturday and the Saturday after."

    "Thank you, sir, I'm sure," said the baker.

    In course of time the debt was paid, though almost every Saturday those old people hobbled from the door.  And now Mr. Bryce's rights were found to increase with his business and enlarge with his family.

    First he had only a right to give away the stale loaves, "being he was in debt;" then, he had a right to give away all that was left, "being he was out of debt."  While he was single, he had a right to bake dinners for nothing, "being he had no family to save for."  When he was married he had a right to consider the poor, "being, as he was, so prosperous as to have enough for his own, and something over."  When he had ten children, business still increasing, he found out that he had a right to adopt his wife's little niece, "for, bless you, sir," he observed, "I've such a lot of my own, that a pudding that serves for ten shares serves for eleven just as well.  And, as for schooling, I wouldn't think of it, if my boys and girls were not as good scholars as I'd wish to see; for I spare nothing for their learning—but being they are, and money still in the till, why, I've a right to let this little one share.  In fact, when a man has earned a jolly hot dinner for his family every day, and seen 'em say their grace over it, he had a right to give what they leave on't to the needy, especially if his wife's agreeable."

    And so Mr. Bryce, the baker, went on prospering, and finding out new rights to keep pace with his prosperity.  In due time his many sons and daughters grew up; the latter married, and the former were placed out in life.  Finally, after a long and happy life, Mr. Bryce, the baker, died, and in his will, after leaving £500 apiece to all his sons and daughters, he concluded his bequests with this characteristic sentence:—

    "And, my dear children, by the blessing of God, having put you out well in life, and left you all handsome, I feel (especially as I have the hearty consent of you all) that I have a right to leave the rest of my property, namely £700, for the use of those that want it.  First, the village of D—being very much in want of good water, I leave £400, the estimated cost, for digging a well, and making a pump over it, the same to be free to all; and the interest of the remainder I leave to be spent in blankets every winter, and given away to the most destitute widows and orphans in the parish."

    So the well was dug, and the pump was made; and as long as the village lasts, opposite his own shop door, the sparkling water will gush out; the village mothers will gossip as they fill their buckets there; the village fathers will cool their sunburnt foreheads there, and the village children will put their ears to it and listen to its purling down below; a witness to the rights, and a proof of how his rights were used by Bryce the baker.


――――♦――――

 
Can and Could.


ONCE upon a time, Could went out to take a walk on a winterly morning; he was very much out of spirits, and he was made more so by the necessity under which he found himself to be frequently repeating his own name.  "Oh, if I could," and "Oh that I were rich and great, for then I could do so and so."

    About the tenth time that he said this, Can opened the door of her small house, and set out on an errand.  She went down a back street and through a poor neighbourhood; she was not at all a grand personage, not nearly so well dressed, or lodged, or educated, as Could; and, in fact, was altogether more humble, both in her own esteem and that of others.  She opened her door and went down the street, neither sauntering nor looking about her, for she was in a hurry.

    All on a sudden, however, this busy little Can stopped and picked up a piece of orange peel.  "A dangerous trick," she observed, "to throw orange peel about, particularly in frosty weather, and in such a crowded thoroughfare;" and she bustled on till she overtook a tribe of little children who were scattering it very freely; they had been bargaining for oranges at an open fruit-stall, and were eating them as they went along.  "Well, it's little enough that I have in my power," thought Can, "but certainly I can speak to these children, and try to persuade them to leave off strewing orange peel."

    Can stopped: "That's a pretty baby that you have in your arms," she said to one of them, "how old is he?"

    "He's fourteen months old," answered the small nurse, "and he begins to walk; I teach him, he's my brother."

    "Poor little fellow," said Can, "I hope you are kind to him; you know if you were to let him fall he might never be able to walk any more."

    "I never let him drop," replied the child, "I always take care of my baby."

    "And so do I;" "And so do I;" repeated other shrill voices, and two more babies were thrust up for Can's inspection.

    "But if you were to slip down yourselves on this hard pavement you would be hurt, and the baby would be hurt in your arms.  Look! how can you be so careless as to throw all this peel about; don't you know how slippery it is?"

    "We always fling it down," said one.

    "And I never slipped down but once on a piece," remarked another.

    "But was not that once too often?"

    "Yes; I grazed my arm very badly, and broke a cup that I was carrying."

    "Well now, suppose you pick up all the peel you can find; and then go down the streets round about and see how much you can get; and to the one who finds most, when I come back, I shall give a penny."

    So after making the children promise that they would never commit this fault again, Can went on; and it is a remarkable circumstance, that just at that very moment, as Could was walking in quite a different part of London, he also came to a piece of orange peel which was lying across his path.

    "What a shame!" he said, as he passed on; "what a disgrace it is to the city authorities, that this practice of sowing seed, which springs up into broken bones, cannot be made a punishable offence; there is never a winter that one or more accidents does not arise from it.  If I could only put it down, how glad I should be!  If, for instance, I could offer a bribe to people to abstain from it; or if I could warn or punish; or if I could be placed in a position to legislate for the suppression of this and similar bad habits.  But, alas my wishes rise far above my powers; my philanthropic aspirations can find no—"

    "By your leave," said a tall strong man, with a heavy coal sack on his shoulders.

    Could, stepping aside, permitted the coal porter to pass him.  "Yes," he continued, taking up his soliloquy where it had been interrupted, "it is strange that so many anxious wishes for the welfare of his species should be implanted in the breast of a man, who has no means of gratifying them."  The noise of a thundering fall, and the rushing down as of a great shower of stones, made Could turn hastily round.  Several people were running together, they stooped over something on the ground, it was the porter; he had fallen on the pavement, and the coals lay in heaps about his head; some people were clearing them away, others were trying to raise him.  Could advanced and saw that the man was stunned, for he looked about him with a bewildered expression, and talked incoherently.  Could also observed, that a piece of orange peel was adhering to the sole of his shoe.

    "How sad!" said Could now, here is the bitter result of this abuse.  If I had been in authority I could have prevented this; how it chafes the spirit to perceive, and be powerless.  Poor fellow! he is evidently stunned, and has a broken limb—he is lamed, perhaps, for life.  People are certainly very active and kind on these occasions: they seem preparing to take him to the hospital.  Such an accident as this is enough to make a man wish he could be a king or a lawgiver; what the poet says may be true enough:


"'Of all the ills that human kind endure,
 Small is that part which laws can cause or cure.'


And yet I think I could have framed such a law, that this poor fellow might now have been going about his work, instead of being carried to languish for weeks on a sick-bed, while his poor family are half starved, and must perhaps receive him at last a peevish, broken-spirited cripple, a burden for life, instead of a support; and all because of a pitiful piece of scattered orange peel!"

    While Could was still moralising thus, he got into an omnibus, and soon found himself drawing near one of the suburbs of London, turning and winding among rows of new houses with heaps of bricks before them, and the smell of mortar in their neighbourhood; then among railway excavations and embankments, and at last among neat villas and cottages standing in gardens, with here and there a field behind them.  Presently they passed a large building, and Could read upon its front, "Temporary Home for Consumptive Patients."  "An excellent institution," he thought to himself; "here a poor man or woman can have a few weeks of good air, good food, and good nursing, the best things possible for setting them up, at least for a time.  I have often thought that these remedial institutions do more good, on the whole, than mere hospitals; and, if I could afford it, I would rather be the founder of one of them than of places with more ambitious aims and names.  It is sad to think how much consumption is on the increase among the poor; bad air, and the heated places where so many of them work, give these winterly blasts a terrible power over them.  But it is my lot to sigh over their troubles without being able to soften them.  A small competence, a fixed income, which does no more than provide for my own wants, and procure those simple comforts and relaxations which are necessary to me, is of all things least favourable for the realising of my aspirations.  I cannot gratify my benevolent wishes, though their constant presence shows how willingly I would if I could."

    The omnibus stopped, and a man, in clean working clothes, inquired whether there was an inside place.

    "No, there is not one," said the conductor, and he looked in; most of the passengers were women.

    "Would any gentleman like to go outside?"

    "Like!" thought Could, with a laugh; "who would like in such a wind as this, so searching and wild?  Thank Heaven, I never take cold; but I don't want a blast like this to air the lining of my paletot, make itself acquainted with the pattern of my handkerchief, and chill the very shillings in my waistcoat pocket."

    "Because," continued the conductor, "if any gentleman would like to go outside, here is a person who has been ill, and would be very glad of a place within."

    He looked down, as he spoke, upon the man, whose clothes were not well calculated to defend him against the weather, and who looked sickly, and had a hollow cough.  No answer came from within.

    "I must get outside, then," said the man, "for I have not much time for waiting," so he mounted, and the driver spread part of his own wrapper over his legs, another passenger having lent a hand to help him up.

    "Thank you, sir," said the man; "I am but weak; but I'm sorry to give you the trouble."

    "No trouble, no trouble," answered the outside passenger; and he muttered to himself, "You are not likely to trouble anyone long."

    "That's where you come from, I suppose," said the driver, pointing with his whip towards the house for consumptive patients.

    "Yes," said the man, "I have been very ill indeed; but I'm better now, wonderfully better.  They say I may last for years with proper attention, and they tell me to be very careful of weather; but what can I do?"

    "It's very cold and windy for you up here," said the driver.

    The man shivered, but did not complain; he looked about him with a bright glitter in his eyes, and every time he coughed he declared that he was much better than he had been.

    After telling you so much about Could, his kind wishes, projects, and aspirations, I am almost ashamed to mention Can to you again; however, I think I will venture, though her aspirations, poor little thing, are very humble ones, and she scarcely knows what a project means.

    So, you must know that having concluded most of her business, she entered a shop to purchase something for her dinner; and, while she waited to be served, a child entered, carrying a basket much too heavy for her strength, and having a shawl folded up on her arm.

    "What have you in your basket?" asked Can.

    "Potatoes for dinner," said the child.

    "It's very heavy for you," remarked Can, observing how she bent under the weight of it.

    "Mother's ill, and there's nobody to go to the shop but me," replied the child, setting it down, and blowing her numbed fingers.

    "No wonder you are cold," said Can; "why don't you put your shawl on instead of carrying it so?"

    "It's so big," said the child, in a piteous voice.  "Mother put a pin in it, and told me to hold it up; but I can't, the basket's so heavy, and I trod on it and fell down."

    "It's enough to give the child her death of cold," said the mistress of the shop, "to go crawling home in this bitter wind, with nothing on but that thin frock."

    "Come," said Can, "I'm not very clever, but, at least, I know how to tie a child's shawl so as not to throw her down."  So she made the little girl hold out her arms, and drawing the garment closely round her, knotted it securely at her back.  "Now, then," she said, having inquired where she lived, "I am going your way, so I can help you to carry your basket."

    Can and the child then went out together, while Could, having reached his comfortable home, sat down before the fire and made a great many reflections; he made reflections on baths and wash-houses, and wished he could advance their interests; he made reflections on model prisons and penitentiaries, and wished he could improve them; he made reflections on the progress of civilisation, on the necessity for some better mode of educating the masses; he thought of the progress of the human mind, and made grand projects in his benevolent head whereby all the true interests of the race might be advanced, and he wished he could carry them into practice; he reflected on poverty, and made castles in the air as to how he might mitigate its severity, and then having in imagination made many people happy, he felt that a benevolent disposition was a great blessing, and fell asleep over the fire.

    Can only made two things.  When she had helped to carry the child's basket, she kindly made her sick mother's bed, and then she went home and made a pudding.


――――♦――――



[Next Page]

 


[Home] [Up] [Poems] [Story of Doom] [Monitions] [Old Days] [Poetical Works] [Allerton and Dreux] [Allerton and Dreux] [Off the Skelligs] [Fated to be Free] [Sarah De Berenger] [Don John] [John Jerome] [A Moto Changed] [Studies for Stories] [A Sister's Bye-Hours] [Mopsa the Fairy] [Wonder Box Tales] [Sheet Music] [Sheet Music] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

 

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk