The Life Of Mr John Smith, an ordinary man who lived a normal life. A short story of a man called John Smith has the ability to inspire a moment of reflection. It is an enjoyable, pleasant tale.
There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant story, soon unfolds. An excellent tale for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences—a good reminder— to be sure.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet. It was first published in 1865. We have added some illustrations, and made only a few – slight – changes. We hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
The Life Of Mr John Smith
This great and good man, of whose life is well worth preserving, was born in the parish of Cripplegate. At half-past ten on Friday, the 1st of April, 1780. He was the only child of his parents, who, perceiving from the first his uncommon sweetness of disposition, and acuteness of intellect, felt a natural pride in watching his progress through infancy.
At seven months he cut his first tooth; at fourteen months he could run alone, and such was his precocity, that, at two years and a half, he could speak his mother tongue sufficiently well to be able to ask for what he wanted.
He began to learn his letters as early as three years old, and soon mastered the whole alphabet, which he would repeat with beautiful precision upon the offer of an apple or a ginger-bread nut.
His father was a brazier, and had a very good business. Jack, as he was then called, was allowed the range of the shop, and possession of all the nails that he could find lying about; thus he soon learned to distinguish between tin tacks, ten-pennies, and brass heads, and having a small hammer of his own, used to amuse himself with knocking them by dozens into a door in the yard, which was soon so thickly studded with them, that you could not see the wood between.
He also had a tin saucepan, which was given him on his seventh birthday by his indulgent father. In this he often made toffee and hard-bake for his own eating, and thus, while still a mere babe, his mind was turned to philosophical and scientific pursuits; for by means of his nails and hammer he learned the difference between wood and metal, and also the degree of force required to drive the one into the other, whilst with the aid of his saucepan he taught himself many a lesson in the science of eating, for that it is a science, Soyer has lately demonstrated to the philosophical world.
At seven years old, he— being already able to read almost any English book that was placed before him, his father and mother consulted together and resolved to send him to a school at Clapham. There he made such progress as exceeded their most sanguine hopes, and from this school, he wrote his first letter, which has been preserved, and runs as follows:
‘Dear Father,—I like school a great deal better than I did at first. My jacket has got two great holes in it, so I am forced to wear my Sunday one. We always have roast beef and Yorkshire puddin’ for dinner on Sunday. The boys are very glad of all the nails and screws and nuts I brought with me. If I might have some more when mother sends my cake and the three pots of jam. The glue, and the cobbler’s wax, and the cabbage-nets, and the packthread, and the fishing-hooks, and the knife, and the new fishing-rod that I asked for when she came to see me, we should all be very glad.
‘We have dug a hole in the playground nearly fifteen feet deep. We mean to dig till we get to the water. On half-holidays, we fish in the water on the common, where there is an island. The boys want to make a bridge to reach it, but we haven’t got anything to make it of. We have not got any fish yet, only newts out of that water, but we saw a good large one on Saturday. Cooper says he is determined he’ll have him. Cooper can fish beautifully.
‘ Dear father, the thieves have stolen all the apples out of the garden, which is a great pity. I send my love to my mother.
’ I remain, dear father, your dutiful son,
His parents read this interesting letter with tears of joy. Indeed, from this time till their son was fifteen years old, he gave them neither trouble nor anxiety, excepting twice—namely, when he took the measles, and when he fought with another boy, and came home with a black eye.
At fifteen, he was apprenticed to his father. And during his apprenticeship, his career was as brilliant as could have been desired. Of course, he liked to be well dressed, which his mother felt to be the natural consequence of his good looks. He also liked now and then to spend an afternoon in the parks, looking about him, which his father was glad of with such powers of observation as he was endowed with. It was highly desirable that he should not be without opportunity for exercising them.
At the age of eighteen he had done growing, and measured five feet eight in his shoes; hair brown, with a slight twist in it, scarcely amounting to a curl; complexion moderately fair, and eyes between grey and green. When his apprenticeship was over, he paid his addresses to the second daughter of a bookseller in Cheapside, and married her after a three years’ courtship. During the next eleven years, Mr Smith was blessed with seven children—John, his eldest son; Mary, named after her grandmother; Fanny, Thomas, Elizabeth, James, and Sarah.
A few days after the birth of this last, his father died, leaving him the braziery business, and four thousand pounds in the funds. Mr Smith was a kind son. His mother lived with him, and her old age was cheered by the sight of his honours, worth, and talents. About this time he took out a patent for a new kind of poker, and in the same year, his fellow-citizens showed their sense of his deserts by making him an alderman of London.
Happy in the esteem of all, and possession of a good business, he lived very quietly till he reached the age of fifty, when his mother died, and was respectably buried by her son in the parish church of Cripplegate.
His eldest son now able to take charge of the shop and business, Mr Smith resolved to travel for a month or two. Accordingly, he went to Ramsgate, where he enjoyed much intellectual pleasure in the prospect of the glorious ocean, and the fine vessels which continually appeared in the offing.
He was a true patriot, and, as he wandered on the beach, in his buff slippers and straw hat, with an umbrella over his head to shield him from the sun. He might often have been heard to sing, with laudable pride, ‘Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!’
After sojourning for three weeks at Ramsgate, he went northward; nor did he stop till he had reached that city so renowned for its beauty as often to be called the modern Athens—we mean Edinburgh. Mr Smith wrote home frequently from thence to his family, and made many valuable remarks on the dialect and manners of the inhabitants. Still, it would appear that he did not altogether approve of what he saw, for in a letter to his son, after praising the goodness of the houses. The excellence of the gas-fittings, and, indeed, of everything in the iron and brass departments, he observed that the poultry was tough and badly fed, and that the inhabitants had a most unwarrantably high opinion of their city, ‘which I can tell you, is as dull compared to London,’ he continued, ‘as the British Museum is compared with the Pantheon in Oxford Street.’
He also, in the same letter, made some new and valuable remarks on the lateness of the season in the North. In proof of the difference between London and Edinburgh, he told his son that strawberries were then in full perfection in the latter city, though it was past the middle of August.
Some years after Mr Smith’s return he was elected churchwarden for the parish of Cripplegate. He performed the duties of that situation with great satisfaction to the inhabitants, heading the subscription to the starving Irish with a donation of £5. In the same year he gave £10 to the Middlesex Hospital.
‘It was not till he reached his sixty-eighth year. That Mr Smith retired from the premises and the sphere he had so long adorned. He then gave up the business to his sons. Then retired with his wife to a pleasant residence on Stamford Hill.
He retained his superior faculties to the last; for, at the time when there was so much stir about the Nineveh Marbles, he went, though very infirm, to see them, and, with his usual sound sense, remarked that they did not answer his expectations: as there was so much marble in the country, and also Derbyshire spar, he wondered that Government had not new articles manufactured, instead of sending abroad for old things which were cracked already.
At the age of seventy, Mr Smith died, universally respected, and was buried in the cemetery at Kensal Green.
‘And is this all?’ cries the indignant reader.
All? I am amazed at your asking such a question! I should have thought you had had enough of it! Yes, it is all. And to tell you a secret, which, of course, I would not proclaim to the world. I should not be in the least surprised if your biography, up to the present date. Is not one bit better worth writing?
What have you done? I should like to know? What are you, and what have you been, that is better worth recording than the sayings and doings recorded here? Do you think yourself superior? Well, you may be, certainly; and to reflect that you are, is a comfortable thing for yourself. And notwithstanding that, I say this. I have a true regard for you, and am far from forgetting that though the events of your life may never be striking, or worth recording. The tenor of your life may be useful and happy, and the record may be written on high. In conclusion, however, I cannot forbear telling you that whether you are destined to be great or little. The honour of writing your biography is not desired by your obedient servant, the biographer of the life of Mr John Smith.
I have a right, of course, we all have a right yet we seem to misinterpret them sometimes. A short story within in its own rights offers some enlightenment. Having a right is something earned, a responsibility in conducting yourself in a manner that constitutes having that right.
There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant story, soon unfolds. An excellent tale for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences, a good reminder— to be sure.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet and was first published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
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 worthwhile 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. 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. Still, 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. 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 greatcoat 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;’ and 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. While the lady and child disappeared from our view, the owner of the seat ejaculated, ‘Cool!’ and then looking around 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 off.’
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 very much have 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-kneed 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 mind—I 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 you’re 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 inquired, 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 picture 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 bear 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; if — I’d a wife and family, I’d make a push to get on for their sakes,—but I’ve none. 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 dress-making, 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 baker’s 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.
Over 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 got 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 has 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. The interest of the remainder I leave to be spent in blankets every winter, and given away to the 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 Bryce, the baker used his rights.
The One-eyed Servant is not precisely what she was expecting, but an inspiring degree of hope changes her mood with excitement. When the one-eyed servant is introduced, a point is clearly made. A tale with a twist yet teaches us a valuable lesson.
There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant tale soon unfolds. An excellent story for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences, a good reminder— to be sure.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet, which was first published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
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 of 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 common?’
‘I was looking at my neighbour’s cottage,’ said the young woman.
‘What! Tom, the gardener’s wife? She used to be called — little Polly 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 foot.’
‘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; now I’ve nothing, and she has two pigs, and a’—
‘It was 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 goodman, with three rows of blue glass buttons, and a flitch of bacon in the chimney, and a rope of onions.’
‘O, 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.’
‘O, 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 cobbler.
‘No; he’s at the ale-house.’
‘Why, how’s that? He used to be very sober. Can’t he get work?’
‘His last master wouldn’t keep him because he was so shabby.’
‘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. ‘O 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 knowledge. Well, good morning, mistress, I must go.’
“Do stop one minute, cried Bella, urgently—’where did she get this servant?’
‘O, 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 the baby’s.’
‘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 lovely 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 hurry’—
‘O, 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 came.’
‘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 always be clean if you would like 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 windows cleaned.’
‘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 joy.
The cobbler then took up all 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 catch a glimpse of the one-eyed servant. But, no—nothing she could 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—
‘O, 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 come?’ ‘All’s right,’ replied the little man, nodding. ‘I’ve got her with me.’
‘Got her, with you?’ repeated Bella, looking round; ‘I see nobody.’
‘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 Needle.
Little Rie And The Rosebuds, a small blessing of joy, is plucked from harm on a cold and blustery evening. Soon she begins to flourish with a warm flush of contentment and love. Although a wild rosebud in need of nurturing must be handled with care, for there are many thorny spikes. Which can catch you unaware—a twist of a tale born from an act of kindness. There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant storey soon unfolds. An excellent tale for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow. An English author and poet and was first published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few changes, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
Little Rie And The Rosebuds
Before you come to the open heath, the last house is a grey, cheerless looking place in winter. Though in summer it looks pleasant and gay, for it is nearly covered with china roses.
There are a good many trees in the front garden and some thick laurustinus shrubs. On one side of the porch is the kitchen casement; on the other side, the parlour windows. All through the summer, rose leaves drift in whenever these are open and, even as late as November, rosebuds tap against the glass whenever the blustering gale comes round from the heath as if appealing to the inmates to take them in and shelter them from the wind and the rain.
The inmates are a mistress and a maid. The former is a widow, but her late husband saved money in his trade and has left her a comfortable annuity. The latter is not very fair nor very wise, but, as her mistress says, her honesty makes up for want of wit, and she has a kind heart, though it is a foolish one.
One dreary November afternoon, when the sky was piled up with cold, white clouds, and the gusty wind shook every pool in the gravel walk into ripples, the mistress came into the kitchen. She sat at a table, stoning raisins for a cake, while the maid kneaded the dough for the said cake in a pan on the window seat.
Suddenly a shadow darkened the window, and the mistress and maid raising their eyes, saw a dark, determined-looking woman standing outside offering matches for sale; she held a tiny child about five years of age by the hand. The little creature peered with childish interest into the kitchen, and she also pushed forward her bundle of matches; but they were perfectly wet, and so was the dimpled hand that held them, for rain was streaming from every portion of her tattered garments.
‘No; go away; we don’t want any matches,’ said the mistress, but the woman still stood before the window with a forbidding, not to say menacing, aspect.
‘The woman’s boots and clothes are very good,’ said Sally, the maid, ‘but it’s pitiful to see the poor child’s bare feet and rags; she looks hungry, too.’
‘Well, Sally, you may give her something to eat, then,’ said the mistress.
Sally rose with alacrity, and rubbing the flour from her arms, ran hastily to a little pantry, from which she presently returned with a piece of cold pudding. She opened the casement and held it out to the child, who took it with evident delight and began to eat it at once. Then the dripping pair moved away, and the mistress and maid thought no more of them, but went on with their occupation, while the short day began to close in the sooner, for the driving clouds and pouring rain, and the windows in the little stone house began to glow with the cheerful light of the fires.
In the pauses of the wind and rain, Sally once thought she heard a light footfall, but she did not see anyone in the garden. However, if anyone did come in then and wander round the laurustinus bushes and sit down in the little porch, that person must have seen all that went on that rainy night in the cheerful little parlour and kitchen.
They must have seen the white-washed walls of the kitchen glowing with a more and more ruddy reflection from the flames, and the little door open in the face of the cuckoo clock, and the cuckoo stall briskly out and sing, and dart in again; and must have seen Sally bustling about, cutting bread and butter, setting out tea-things, and putting on her clean apron; then the person by simply turning could have seen the mistress, in her afternoon gown and cap, sitting in her pretty parlour, the walls all covered with roses, and the carpet gay with bright flowers.
It grew quite dark. Sally sat, making a round of toast at the fire. Just as she turned the toast upon the fork, a little child stole as silently as a shadow from the porch, pressed her cheek against the glass, wondered whether there was any more of that nice cold pudding in the cupboard, and looked at the lazy cat as she came and rubbed herself against Sally’s gown. But presently the wind came round again and dashed the rosebuds so hard against the casement, that she was frightened. It seemed as if they rapped on purpose to let people know she was there, and she crept back to the porch and once more cowered down in its most sheltered corner.
She was very wet, but she did not mind that so much as might have been expected; she did not mind being out in the dark either, for she was well accustomed to it; but she was very tired, they had walked so far that day; and every minute she looked out into the garden and listened, and wondered why her mammy did not come, for she was alone.
After they had left that house in the afternoon, they had walked far out on to the great heath and had sat down, and then her mammy had said to her, ‘Now, child, you may go back, do you hear?’ and she had risen and said, ‘Yes, mammy, where am I to go back to?’ ‘It don’t much signify,’ her mammy had answered; ‘you may go back to that little house where they gave us the pudding, and I shall be sure to come soon; I’m a-coming directly.’ ‘And shall you be sure to find me, mammy?’ she had asked, and then her mammy was angry and said, ‘Set off directly when I bid you; I shall find you fast enough when I want you.’
So she had set off as fast as she could, but it was a long way, and a long while before she reached the porch, and then she was so tired she thought she should have cried if there had not been a little bench to sit down on.
She called this woman her mammy, but she had a birth mother a long way off, of whom this one had hired her, because when they went out begging, her little appealing face made people charitable. What wonder, since the birth mother could so give her up, that the pretended one should desert her if she no longer needed her!
But she did not know her desolate condition. She only thought what a long, long time her mammy was in, coming, and she crept out of the porch again to see the mistress sitting at work, now and then stooping to pat a dog that lay basking on the rug at her feet. What a soft rug it was!
The beggar child wished she was a pet dog, that she might lie there in the light and warmth, but once more, the wind swung a branch or rosebud against the glass, and she withdrew to her comfortless shelter, longing for the time when her mammy was to fetch her.
And then two more dreary hours passed over her head; sometimes she cried a little, and sometimes she dozed and woke up chilled and trembling; sometimes she took courage, and wandered about among the laurustinus bushes, so fearful was she lest her mammy should miss her; then she went back again and cried, and was so tired she did not know what she should do if she had to wait much longer. At last, her little head sunk quietly down upon her knees, and the wind, and the rain, and the darkness were forgotten.
She was sound asleep, but after a long time, she dreamed that someone shook her and spoke to her, but she could not open her eyes, and then that little dog began to bark at her, and she was so frightened that she cried bitterly in her sleep. Someone (not her mammy) was lifting her and carrying her away, and giving her something so hot and so nice to drink that she was amazed and could open her eyes and sit up; there was the cuckoo clock, and the little dog; he really was barking at her, but the warm fire was shining on her, and Sally the maid was pulling off her wet clothes, and telling her not to be frightened, and she should have some supper.
Poor little outcast! They dried her trembling limbs and wrapped her in a blanket, but she was so faint and sleepy that she could hardly hold up her head, even while they gave her some supper, but presently fell asleep on Sally’s knee over the comfortable fire.
‘Well, Sally,’ said the mistress, ‘I can only say that this is the strangest thing I ever heard talk on.’
‘And so it is, ma’am. Please, what am I to do now with the little dear?’ said Sally, simpering.
‘I suppose we must keep her for the night; make up a little bed on three chairs, and I must go upstairs and look out some clothes for her out of the bundle I made up to give away at Christmas.’
So the mistress went upstairs, and then Sally made the little bed and prepared a warm bath to refresh the aching limbs of the poor little wanderer; and then she combed her pretty hair, and carried her, already asleep, to the little bed on three chairs.
The next morning, when the mistress came down into the kitchen, she saw her baby-guest sitting on a low wooden stool, nursing the cat. Her dark hair was neatly brushed, and her face was as clean as Sally’s care could make it. She watched with an inquisitive interest the various preparations for a comfortable breakfast. Her features expressed a kind of innocent shrewdness, but she was evidently in great awe both of mistress and maid, though, when unobserved, she was never tired of admiring her new checked pinafore and smoothing out her spotted print frock with her hands. ‘Shall I give her some bread and milk, ma’am?’ asked Sally.
‘Certainly,’ said the mistress, ‘and after breakfast, I shall consider what is to be done with her.’
So the little thing had a good breakfast: and all the morning the mistress sat considering; but at dinnertime, it appeared that she had not considered to much purpose, for when Sally came into the parlour to lay the cloth, and asked, ‘Am I to give the little dear some dinner, ma’am?’ she answered again, ‘Certainly, Sally, and I must consider what is to be done; I’ve not been able to make up my mind. How has she behaved?’
‘Been as good as gold,’ answered Sally, with a somewhat silly smile; ‘she saw me dusting about, and I gave her a duster, and she dusted too, and then stood on the stool and see me making the pie, and never touched a thing. O, she’s a toward little thing.’
After dinner, it began to rain, and then the wind got up, and the rosebuds rattled and knocked again at the casement. A little before tea-time, the mistress felt so lonely that she came into the kitchen for company, and there she saw Sally sitting before the fire, making toast, and the child on a chair beside her, with a small piece of bread on a fork.
‘She’s toasting herself a bit of bread for her tea,’ said Sally, ‘leastways, if you mean to give her her tea, ma’am.’
‘Certainly,’ said the mistress once more. ‘Dear me, how cheerful it looks!—doesn’t it, Sally? A child seems always to make a place cheerful. Yes, I shall give her her tea if she is good.’
If to be quiet is to be good, never was a better child; and certainly never was a happier one.
‘Have you considered anything yet, ma’am?’ Sally asked.
‘Why, no, I can’t, Sally, just yet; it’s so wet, she must sleep here tonight,’ replied the mistress. ‘I’ll think of it tomorrow.’
But tomorrow, the mistress still said, ‘I’ll think of it tomorrow,’ and so it came to pass that at the end of a month, the child was still there. She had grown plump and rosy, though still extremely shy and quiet, which was in her favour; for mistress and maid finding so little trouble, and such a constant source of amusement and occupation, had gradually dropped all consideration as to what they were to do with her, and thought of nothing less than letting her go away at all.
She called herself little Rie and said she come from a big place, but that was all that questioning could draw from her, excepting the repeated declaration that she did not want to go back to her mammy.
How happy she was in the pretty kitchen, with Sally, nursing the cat, listening to the tapping rosebuds, sitting on the little stool to eat her simple fare, going to the shop with Sally, and creeping softly into the parlour to peep at the dog, or carry a message or a plate of biscuits to the mistress!
She was very happy, indeed, at first, but soon there began to mingle a great deal of fear with her reverence for the mistress. She had been brought up with no habits of order, with no schooling, and now she was to be taught and trained; and every day, when she was sent into the parlour, with a nicely washed face and smooth hair, to say her lesson, and hem a duster, she became shyer and shyer.
‘The poor child’s been used to such a roving life,’ said Sally, ‘that she don’t take as kindly as might be to her books. She doesn’t learn as easily as other children.’
‘And that’s the very reason why I’m so particular,’ replied the mistress. ‘I wonder, Sally, to hear you talk as if you wished her to be excused.’
‘I don’t know as I do wish that,’ said Sally humbly, for she had a great idea of her mistress’s good sense, ‘but, ma’am, she’s such a little one, and you see, we often want to excuse ourselves.’
The mistress was a severe person, and though she heartily loved little Rie and did not mind what trouble she took with her, she could not bear that the child should see any fondness in her manner, lest, as she said, ‘she should take advantage.’ What she had told her once she expected her to remember; and, above all, she could not bear deception; for she was very upright herself, and expected others to be so too.
But poor little Rie had been used to hard usage, and it was some time before she could be taught that she must speak the truth and confess her faults, whatever might be the consequences. Deceit, once taught to a young child by fear, is not easily eradicated, and Sally thought nothing but kindness could do it; but then Sally had such a foolish way with her, and was all for kindness and making excuses for people, not sufficiently considering what was just, and not being willing to condemn anybody without such a deal of consideration, that the mistress felt she could not take her opinion at all.
‘Please, ma’am, she will speak out if she’s not afraid,’ Sally would say when little Rie had cried herself to sleep after being punished for some childish deceit.
‘Not afraid!’ the mistress would repeat. ‘How you talk, Sally! I punish her for making her afraid of doing anything else but speak out.’
‘But, ma’am, consider her bringing up,’ said Sally, ‘and don’t look for too much at first.’
‘Too much!’ repeated the mistress; ‘don’t I give her everything, and haven’t I a right to look for obedience and truth in return?’
‘Surely,’ said Sally, ‘and I hope you’ll have them, ma’am.’
‘I hope so,’ replied the mistress; but the very next day, little Rie got into trouble again, for she was told to hold out her pinafore while the mistress counted apples into it for a pudding; the pinafore was not half full when the mistress was called away, and then little Rie, left alone, looking at all the bright, rosy apples, lying in rows on the low shelf, found the temptation too great for her, and bit one of them, which she hastily returned to its place. When the mistress came back and found the little culprit, with cheeks suffused with crimson and head hanging down, she easily discovered what had happened; and then, despite her promises that she would be good, she was summarily punished and put to bed.
‘She is but a child,’ said Sally.
‘She’s a naughty child,’ said the mistress, ‘and it is just she should be punished.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ Sally ventured to say, ‘only somehow, if you’re angry when you do it, won’t she think you don’t love her?’
‘Dear me, Sally, how foolish you are! I don’t want her to think I love her when she’s naughty, but only when she’s good.’
‘O, don’t you, ma’am?’ replied Sally doubtfully. ‘Well, ma’am, no doubt, but you know best.’
‘I must be just,’ continued the mistress; ‘she shall be indulged when she’s good, but I shall never overlook it when she’s naughty.’
The mistress was as good as her word; and as little Rie was often naughty in her childish way, it followed that she was often punished; till once seeing her dear Sally crying, after the mistress had been more than usually angry, she climbed up her knee, and made many protestations that she would never be naughty any more and make Sally cry.
Poor little Rie, she had her troubles; but she loved Sally dearly; and perhaps, child as she was, she had sometimes, when the rain was pouring down, and the wind howling outside, a dim perception that she had been saved from a dreary, toilsome, and evil life. It was strangely better to sit with Sally in the cheerful kitchen, and hear the rosebuds tapping, than to wander down and down those ever-lengthening roads, cold, hungry, and neglected.
But discipline, though it may be harsh, does not fail to produce a certain good result. Little Rie understood very soon that she was never to be punished unless she was naughty; that was, at least, something learned, as it had been by no means the experience of her infantine life. It was a great thing to know that she was never to be punished excepting when she had done wrong, and this, once learned, she did wrong much seldomer and, as they hoped, had also learned to speak the truth.
And now she had been very good for a long time; and, by consequence, she was very happy, and the time passed rapidly, till all the snow had melted away and the garden was full of crocuses and snow-drops; it seemed only a few days, and they were over, and she could watch the rosebuds coming out; and then it seemed a very little time longer before Sally was constantly telling her to pick the rose-leaves up and throw them out, when they drifted in at the window.
At last, one day, one sorrowful day, the mistress came into the kitchen to make a raisin pudding, while she sent Sally and little Rie to the shop, and during their absence, she twisted up some few raisins in a paper and laid them on the dresser, intending to give them to the child when she came in.
But Sally came in very late; and when she laid a rabbit, and a plate of butter, and papers of sugar, rice, and tea on the table, and then proceeded to count out eggs and produce apples and other good things, the mistress forgot the raisins, and pushed back her flour, and all her apparatus, to make room for the groceries. Sally was not a good accountant, and she had scarcely made out the price of each article and produced the change when some friends came to see the mistress, and she washed her hands and went into the parlour.
When they were gone, she remembered her intended present and came back into the kitchen. She moved every parcel and every dish, searched the dresser, and looked on the floor. The paper of raisins was not to be found—it was gone.
‘Come here, little Rie,’ she said gravely; ‘did you see a paper of raisins on the table when you came home?’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ said the child, whose two small hands were tightly clasped behind her.
‘And do you know what has become of them?’
‘No, I don’t, I sure I don’t,’ replied the child, and her delicate neck and face became suffused with crimson.
‘O, my dear!’ exclaimed Sally, ‘if she’ll speak the truth, I know missis won’t be so angry with her. O, she will speak the truth, I know.’
‘I did, I did,’ cried the child, with an outbreak of passionate tears.
Sally, upon this, searched the floor and tables, and nothing could be more clear than that the raisins were not there. Alas! They could not doubt that she had eaten them. She had been left alone in the kitchen for a few minutes. Sally herself admitted that they could not have gone without hands.
‘Now, if you will speak the truth,’ said the mistress, gravely, ‘and confess that you took those raisins’—
‘I didn’t,’ repeated the child, now too much in a passion for caring what she said; ‘I don’t want the nasty raisins, and I won’t have them.’
‘O, this will never do,’ said the mistress; ‘Sally, I really must correct her!’ ‘Will she tell it all?’ said Sally, once more stooping over the child, for she had flung herself on the floor and was sobbing and screaming. But no, little Rie would only struggle and fight her away, till, at another bidding, she went with a sorrowful heart to fetch the rod. When she came back, she found the child in such a passion that she ventured no remonstrance, though she still hurriedly looked about with the vague hope that she might have spoken the truth after all.
Poor little Rie! she was very naughty. Sally was the more grieved because lately, she had always spoken the truth. Still, now, when an hour after her punishment, the mistress came in again and offered to forgive her on condition of her speaking the truth, she sullenly walked into the corner and sobbed and would not say a word.
‘Then, Sally, you must go these errands by yourself,’ said the mistress. ‘I meant to have let her go with you, but now she must stay here, by herself.’ Little Rie looked up as she went away and saw that she was very stern and angry. O, how little either of them thought that they should never look one another in the face again!
Sally went away. It was a lovely afternoon, and the kitchen door leading into the back garden was open. Little Rie at first was very disconsolate, but soon the light spirits of childhood began to assert themselves, and she began to play, though very quietly, and with an occasional sob.
Till at last, O, woeful mischance, she knocked down a cheese plate! It fell clattering upon the floor and broke into fifty pieces; one moment, she stood aghast! Then her terrified fancy feigned a step upon the stairs; she darted through the open door and rushed down the garden. Where she should go to escape the anger of the mistress, she scarcely knew; but she came to the garden wicket, it led into a lane; she opened it, shut it behind her, and with it shut the door upon home and hope. Shut upon all that had kept her from beggary and wretchedness. From a vagrant life, from contact with everything evil and vicious, and ignorance of everything good.
She ran away, and no one knew what became of her. There was a man who said, some time afterwards, that he had met her that night about sundown, wandering over the moor. He had not asked her many questions because he thought some of her friends might be near at hand. Over time, many rumours got about respecting her, but nothing was ever known. Little Rie ‘was not;’ she had vanished from her place like a dream.
O, weary nights, when Sally was alone by the fire, and thought of her pretty companion, and cried. Then she started up and opened the door, to find for the fiftieth time. That it was only the tapping rosebud that she had heard against the casement! O, weary nights, when the mistress lamented over her and forgave all her childish faults. She wondered to find how much she had loved her and could not rest in the wind for thinking of her shelterless head. Thinking of the rain when on the night when she first took her in, and could not rest in her bed. Dreaming of a desolate child wandering up and down, with no one to take her by the hand or lead her towards heaven!
And yet, the mistress did not reproach herself. She had done well to take the child; few would have done as much, and she had done well to punish her; it was just and right that she should suffer for her faults.
But weeks after, when poor Sally’s simple heart was getting used to miss the child, the mistress came into the kitchen and took down a little covered jar full of caraway seeds, from a shelf over the dresser; she looked in, and a mist seemed to rise and shut out the sunshine without and within, for there lay the paper of raisins; in an instant she knew it again, and knew that in her hurry and confusion, she herself must have thrown it in. Yes, that little jar had been standing beside her. Then into it, she must have pushed or dropped the raisins, and afterwards, with her own hand, she must have set the jar upon the shelf above to be out of her way.
Miserable, aching pain! How hard it was to have it so often in her heart, and by slow degrees to grow into the knowledge, that even a just punishment may become unjust. Unless it is administered in the spirit of love! But hers had not been a just punishment. Alas! she had not possessed herself of any certain knowledge of the fault; she, herself, had outraged that sense of truth and justice which she had been in so much—pain to implant; and now there was no means of making restitution.
But let us not judge her, for in this world of uncertain knowledge and concealed motives, how few of us there are not equally at fault! It is not the effect of one particular act of injustice that should impress us with so much regret as the habit of too great a suddenness or harshness in judging. How difficult it is for us to estimate the many ways in which we may be mistaken! When shall we learn to keep the knowledge always present with us, that often kindness is our best uprightness, and our truest justice is mercy?
Two ways of telling a story, one might say his close encounter with fate was perhaps another side to the story, a twist of a tale born from an act of kindness. There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant story, soon unfolds. An excellent tale for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences, a good reminder— to be sure.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet and was first published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
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 checkered shadows of the trees lying across the white road, and then a squirrel runs up a bough. 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, someday, 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. A poor woman is 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 courtesy, and he withdraws his hand and throws her down a sovereign. With incredulous joy, she looks at it 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 take 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 know.
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 at 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 is following.
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 of 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 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 someday, 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 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 he 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 a 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 you, 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 black. Water.
‘Heyday!’ cries the boy, ‘what’s this? O, how it tears my hands! Oh, this thorn-bush! O-h, 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 his leave.
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 joyish 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.
‘Halloa?’ he says, in a loud, cheerful voice. ‘What! benighted, youngster?’
‘O, 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 someday this week. I’ll give thee a lift. This is alone 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 an 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 passes.
‘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 sea-serpent.’
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. 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.
‘O 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 anybody.’
‘Very true, my boy,’ his mother answers; ‘but you should not be careless with your money; and few beggars are worthy objects of charity.’
‘I suppose you got down at the cross-roads?’ says his elder brother.
‘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.’
‘O, ma,’ says the little midshipman, with a smile, ‘you always think 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 to tell!’
‘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 main-top-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 constantly reflect 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!’