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.
Original short story by Jean Ingelow
Retold by A Moffat
Illustrations by justanemotion.com
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Cover image by SvetlanaKv.