The Stolen Dream

the stolen dream short story

To dream, a dream, on this perfect night for things to be wishfully, just right. A mystical awe of desire of which I might aspire. Alas! Out of reach until I sleep, I’ll keep wandering down this street, with hope in my heart for fortune to strike, you never know, it just might—an unconscious request, not in jest, intuition, ambition, a sense— my quest.

“Oh, how divine maybe one day, mine, you’ll see just give it time.” Justanemotion

Introducing one of my favourite short stories, The Stolen Dream by Richard Le Gallienne. An English author and poet, which was first published in 1912. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few changes, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.

the stolen dream short story


The Stolen Dream

The sun was setting and slanting long lanes of golden light through the trees, as an old man, borne down by a heavy pack, came wearily through the wood, and at last, as if worn out with the day’s travel, unshouldered his burden and threw himself down to rest at the foot of a great oak-tree. He was very old, older far he seemed than the tree under whose gnarled boughs he was resting, though that looked as if it had been growing since the beginning of the world.


His back was bent as with the weight of years, though really it had become so from the weight of the pack that he carried; his cheeks were furrowed like the bark of a tree, and far down upon his breast fell a beard as white as snow. But his deep-set eyes were still bright and keen, though sly and cruel, and his long nose was like the beak of a hawk. His hands were like roots strong and knotted, and his fingers ended in talon-like nails. In repose, even they seemed to be clutching something, something they loved to touch, and would never let go. His clothes were in rags and his shoes scarce held to his feet.

He seemed as abjectly poor as he was abjectly old.

Presently, when he had rested a while, he turned to his pack, and, furtively glancing with his keen eyes up and down the wood to make sure that he was alone, he drew from it a sack of leather which was evidently of great weight. Its mouth was fastened by sliding thongs, which he loosened with tremulous, eager hands.

First he took from the bag a square of some purple silk, stuff, which he spread out on the turf beside him, and then, his eyes gleaming with a wild light, he carefully poured out the contents of the bag onto the purple square, a torrent of gold and silver coins and precious stones flashing like rainbows—a king’s treasure. The setting sun flashed on the glittering heap, turning it into a dazzle of many-coloured fire. The treasure seemed to light up the wood far and near, and the gaudy summer flowers that a moment before had seemed so bright and splendid fell into shadow before its radiance.

The old man bathed his claw-like hands in the treasure with a ghoulish ecstasy and let the gold and silver pour through his fingers over and over again, streams of jewelled light gleaming and flashing in the level rays of the sun. As he did so, he murmured inarticulately to himself, gloating and gurgling with a lonely, hideous joy.

Suddenly a look of fear came over his face; he seemed to hear voices coming up the wood, and, huddling his treasure swiftly back again into the leathern bag, and the bag into the folds of his pack, he rose and sought some bushes nearby to hide himself from the sight of whosoever it was that approached. But, as he shouldered his pack, he half staggered, for the pack was of great weight, and he heaved a deep sigh.

“It grows heavier and heavier,” he muttered. “I cannot carry it much longer. I shall never be able to carry it with me to the grave.”

As he disappeared among the bushes, a young man and a young woman, with arms twined around each other, came slowly up the glade and presently sat down at the foot of the tree where the old man had been resting a moment or two before.

“Why, what is this?” presently exclaimed the young girl, picking up something bright out of the grass. It was a gold coin, which, in his haste, the old man had let slip through his fingers.

“Gold!” they both exclaimed together.

“It will buy you a new silk gown,” said the lover. “Whoever heard of such luck!” And then he sighed.

“Ah! Dear heart,” he said, “if only we had more like that! Then we could fulfil our dream.”

As the sun poured its last rays over them there at the foot of the oak, it was to be seen that they were penniless. Their clothes were old and weather-stained, and they had no shoes to their feet, but the white feet of the girl shone like ivory flowers in the grass, and her hair was a sheaf of ruddy gold. Nor was there a jewel in all the old man’s treasure as blue as her eyes. In his manly fashion, the young man was no less brave and fair to look upon.

In a little while, they turned to a poor wallet at the young man’s side. “Let us eat our supper,” they said.

There was little more than a crust or two, a few morsels of cheese, and a mouthful or two, of sour wine. Still, they were accustomed to being hungry, and the thought of the gold coin cheered their hearts. So they grew content, and after a while, they nestled close into each other’s arms and fell asleep, while slowly and softly through the woods came the light of the moon.

Now all this time the old, man had lain hidden, crouched down among the bushes, afraid almost to draw his breath, but from where he was, he could hear and see all and had overheard all that had been said. At length, after the lovers had been silent for a long time, he took courage to peer out from his hiding-place, and he saw that they were asleep. He would wait a little longer, though, till their sleep was sounder, and then he might be able perhaps to creep away unheard. So he waited on, and the moon grew brighter and brighter and flooded the woods with its strange silver. And the lovers fell deeper and deeper asleep.

“It will be safe now,” said the old man, half rising and looking out from his bushes. But this time as he looked out, he saw something, something extraordinary and beautiful.

Hovering over the sleeping lovers was a floating, flickering shape that seemed made of moonbeams, with two great shining stars for its eyes. It was the dream that came nightly to watch over the sleep of the lovers; and, as the miser gazed at it in wonder, a strange change came over his soul, and he saw that all the treasure he had hoarded so long—gathered by the cruel practices of years, and with which his back had grown bent carrying it about the world, was as dross compared with this beautiful dream of two poor lovers, to whom but one of all his gold pieces had seemed like a fortune.

“What, after all, is it to me but a weary burden my shoulders grow too old to carry,” he murmured, “and for the sake of which my life is in danger wherever I go, and to guard which I must hide away from the eyes of men?”

And the longer he gazed on the fair shining vision, the more the longing grew within him to possess it for himself.

“They shall have my treasure in exchange,” he said to himself, approaching nearer to the sleepers, treading softly lest he should awaken them. But they slept on, lost in the profound slumber of innocent youth. As he drew near, the dream shrank from him, with fear in its starry eyes; but it seemed the more beautiful to the old, man the closer he came to it and saw of what divine radiance it was made of; and, with his desire, his confidence grew greater. So, softly placing his leather bag in the flowers by the side of the sleepers, he thrust out his talon-like fingers and snatched the dream by the hand, and hurried away, dragging it after him down the wood, fearfully turning now and again to see that he was not being pursued.

But the sleepers still slept on, and by morning the miser was far away, with the captive dream by his side.

As the earliest birds chimed through the wood and the dawn glittered on the dewy flowers, the lovers awoke and kissed each other and laughed in the light of the new day.

“But what is this?” cried the girl, and her hands fell from the pretty task of coiling up the sunrise of her hair.

With a cry, they both fell upon the leather bag, lying there so mysteriously among the wood-lilies in the grass. With eager little fingers, they pulled apart the leather thongs and went half-mad with wonder and joy as they poured out the glittering treasure in the morning sun.

“What can it all mean?” they cried. “The fairies must have been here in the night.”

The treasure seemed real enough. The jewels were not merely dewdrops turned to diamonds and rubies and amethysts by the sun’s magic beams. And, nor was the gold mere gold of faerie, but coins bearing the image of the king of the land. Here were real jewels, real gold and silver. Like children, they dabbled their hands in the shining heap, tossing them up and pouring them from one hand to the other, flashing and shimmering in the morning light.

Then a fear came upon them.

“But folk will say that we have stolen them,” said the youth; “they will take them from us and cast us into prison.”

“No, I believe some God has heard our prayer,” said the girl, “and sent them down from heaven in the night. He who sent them will see that we come to no harm.”

And again, they fell to pouring them through their fingers and babbling in their delight.

“Do you remember what we said last night when we found the gold piece?” said the girl. “If only we had more of them! Surely our good angel heard us and sent them in answer.”

“It is true,” said the young man. “They were sent to fulfil our dream.”

“Our poor starved and tattered dream!” said the girl. “How splendidly we can clothe and feed it now! What a fine house we can build for it to live in! It shall eat from gold and silver plate, and it shall wear robes of wonderful silks and lawns like rainbows, and glitter with jewels, blue and yellow and ruby, jewels like fire fountains and the depths of the sea.”

As they spoke, a sudden disquietude fell over them, and they looked at each other with a new fear.

“But where is our dream?” said the girl, looking anxiously around. And they realized that their dream was nowhere to be seen.

“I seemed to miss it once in the night,” answered the young man in alarm, “but I was too sleepy to heed. Where can it be?”

“It cannot be far away,” said the girl. “Perhaps it has wandered off among the flowers.”

They were now thoroughly alarmed.

“Where can it have gone?” they both cried. And they rose and ran to and fro through the wood, calling out aloud on their dream. But no voice came back in reply, nor, though they sought high and low in covert and brake, could they find a sign of it anywhere. Their dream; was lost. Seek as they might; it was nowhere to be found.

And then they sat down by the treasure weeping, forgetting it all in this new sorrow.

“What shall we do?” they cried; “we have lost our dream.”

For a while, they sat on, inconsolable. Then a thought came to the girl.

“Someone must have stolen it from us. It would never have left us of its own accord,” said she.

And, as she spoke, her eyes fell on the forgotten treasure.

“What use are these to us now, without our dream?” she said.

“Who knows,” said the young man, “perhaps someone has stolen our dream to sell it into bondage. We must go and seek it, and maybe we can repurchase it with this gold and jewels.”

“Let us start at once,” said the girl, drying her tears at this ray of hope; and so, replacing the treasure in the bag, the young man slung it at the end of his staff, and together they set off down the wood, seeking their lost dream. Meanwhile, the old man had journeyed hastily and far, the dream following in his footsteps, sorrowing; and at length, he came to a fair meadow, and by the edge of a stream, he sat down to rest himself and called the dream to his side.

The dream shone nothing like so brightly as in the moonlit woodland, and its eyes were heavy as with weeping.

“Sing to me,” said the old man, “to cheer my tired heart.”

“I know no songs,” said the dream, sadly.

“You lie,” said the old man, “I saw the songs last night in the depths of your eyes.”

“I cannot sing them to you,” said the dream. “I can only sing them to the simple hearts I made them for, the hearts you stole me from.”

“Stole you?” said the old man, “did I not leave my treasure in exchange?”

“Your treasure will be nothing to them without me,” said the dream.

“You talk folly,” said the old man. “With my treasure, they can buy other dreams just as fair as you are. Do you think that you are the only dream in the world? There is no dream that money cannot buy.”

“But I am their own dream. They will be happy with no other,” said the dream.

“You shall sing to me, all the same,” said the old man angrily. But the dream shrank from him and covered its face.

“If I sang to you, you would not understand. Your heart is old and hard and cruel, and my songs are all of youth and love and joy.”

“Those are the songs I would hear,” said the old man.

“But I cannot sing them to you, and if I sang them, you could not hear.”

“Sing,” again cried the old man, harshly, “sing, I bid you.”

“I can never sing again,” said the dream. “I can only die.”

And for none of the old man’s threats would, the dream sing to him, but sat apart, mourning the loved ones it had lost.

So several days passed by, and every day the dream was growing less bright, a creature of tears and sighs, more and more fading away, like a withering flower. At length, it was nothing but a grey shadow, a weary shape of mist that seemed ready to dissolve and vanish at any breath of wind. No one could have known it for that radiant vision that had hovered shimmering with such a divine light over the sleep of the lovers.

At length, the old man lost patience and began to curse himself for a fool in that he had parted with so great a treasure for this worthless, whimpering thing. And he raved like a madman as he saw infancy all the gold and silver and rainbow-tinted jewels he had so foolishly thrown away.

“Take me back to them,” said the dream, “and they will give you back your treasure.”

“A likely thing,” raged the old man, “to give back a treasure like that for such a sorry phantom.”

“You will see,” said the dream.

As there was nothing else to be done, the old man took up his staff.

“Come along then,” said he, and started in the direction of the wood, and though it was some days’ journey, a glow flushed all through the grey shape of the dream at the news, and its eyes began to shine again.

And so they took their way.

Meanwhile, the two lovers had gone from village to village, and city to city, vainly asking for news of their dream. And to everyone they asked, they showed their treasure and said:

“This is all yours if you can but give us back our dream.”

Nowhere could they learn any tidings but gleaned only mockery and derision.

“You must be mad,” said some, “to seek a dream when you have all that wealth in your pack. Of what use is a dream to anyone? And what more dream do you want than gold and precious stones?”

“Ah! our dream,” said the lovers, “is worth all the gold and jewels in the world.”

Sometimes others would come, bringing their own dreams.

“Take this,” they would say, “and give us your treasure.”

But the lovers would shake their heads sadly.

“No, your dreams are not so beautiful as ours. No other dream can take its place. We can only be happy with our own dream.”

And, indeed, the dreams that were brought, to them seemed poor, pitiful, make-believe things, often ignoble, misbegotten, sordid, and cruel. To the lovers, they seemed not dreams at all but shapes of greed and selfish desire. So the days passed, bringing them neither tidings nor hope, and there came at length an evening when they turned their steps again to the woodland and sat down once more under the great oak-tree in the sunset.

“Perhaps our dream has been waiting for us here all the time,” they said.

The wood was empty and echoing, and they sat and ate their supper as before, but silently and in sorrow, and as the sunset, they fell asleep as before in each other’s arms, but with tears glittering on their eyelids.

And again, the moon came flooding the spaces of the wood, and nothing was heard but their breathing and the song of a distant nightingale.

Presently while they slept, there was a sound of stealthy footsteps coming up the wood.

It was the old man, with the dream shining by his side, and now and again running ahead of him in the eagerness of its hope. Suddenly it stopped, glowing and shimmering like the dancing of the northern lights, and placed a starry finger on its lips for silence.

“See,” it whispered, and there were the lovers, lying lost in sleep.

The old man’s wolfish eyes saw but one thing. There lay the leather bag of his treasure just as he had left it. Without a word, he snatched it up and hastened off with it down the wood, gurgling uncouthly to himself.

“Oh, my beauties!” he cried, as he sat himself down, afar off and poured out the gold and the silver and the gleaming stones into the moonlight. “Oh, my love, my life, and my delight! What other dream could I have but you!”

Meanwhile, the lovers stirred in their sleep and murmured to each other.

“I seemed to hear singing,” each said.

And, half opening their eyes, they saw their dream shining and singing above them in the moonbeams, lovelier than ever before, a shape of heavenly silver, with two stars for its eyes.

“Our dream has come back!” they cried to each other. “Dear dream, we had to lose you to know how beautiful you are!”

And with a happy sigh, they turned to sleep again, while the dream kept watch over them until dawn.

illustration of a little girl to say finish

Next short story




Original short story by Richard Le Gallienne 

Illustrations by

©All rights reserved 2021

The Twilight Guests

Old Man, The Twilight Guests short story book cover

Old man and The Twilight Guests is a wonderful short story of an old, man revisited by familiar fond memories of old friends who have long since past. A wonderful short story by the American author and poet Josephine Dodge Daskam wrote a series of short stories based on her own experiences. 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 story.

The Twilight Guests

When they left him, in the warm, late afternoon, lying listless on his couch in the porch, they thought he would stay alone there till they came again. His little granddaughter, indeed, felt so sad at deserting him that she ran back and kissed him twice. “To leave Grandpapa alone!” she said. But he was not alone; there came to him strange guests and sweet. And this was the manner of their coming.

Old Man, The Twilight Guests short story book cover

As he watched the shadow creeping up the steps, he thought how often he had marked the time by it in the far-away days. He remembered how he had tried to keep in the broad sunbeam that lay along the walk, when he used to run home to supper tired and hungry, shouting to his mother that his school was over and out and that he had come—”So hungry, mother dear!” And as he thought of her, slow tears crept from under his old eyelids, and he raised his hand feebly to wipe them away. When he saw clearly again, he started slightly, for up the path, walking in the sunbeam came a boy. He smiled sweetly, cheerily at the old, man, and sat down confidingly, close to the couch. “It is so warm in the sun!” he said.

The old man turned uneasily and looked at him. “Are you Arthur’s son?” he asked doubtfully. “My eyes are so dim—I cannot always tell you apart, at first. Are you Arthur’s son?”

“No,” said the child.

“Are you—” but then the boy looked full in his face, and the old man could not take his eyes from that searching smile. And as he looked, there grew around his heart the sweet faint breath of lilac trees, though it was early autumn and not at all the spring. And deep in the child’s eyes was so strange a soul—yet so familiar! As he looked yet deeper, the lilac scent grew stronger, and he dared not turn away his eyes, lest he should lose it. So he listened to the child, who spoke brightly yet gravely, with his head resting against the old man’s knee.

“See!” he said, “the lilacs are all out! I took a bunch to school, and the teacher wore them in her dress. Oh, but I grow tired of the school in the mornings, when the birds sing under the window! The brook is all full with the floodwater, do you know?”

“Yes,” said the old man dreamily, “yes, I know.”

“There are pickerel there—I saw one, anyway!” said the boy. “The old one—he lives under the stone all alone. If I could get him, I’d be proud enough! But I never can—I can only catch him on a Friday night when the moon is full, and then I’m not allowed out! The man that weeds the garden told me that. Do you remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” said the old man.

“But if I don’t fish, I don’t care so much,” said the boy happily. “Because I get so wet and dirty, and Rachel doesn’t like me then. I can’t look on her book. She is so dear! She never spots the ink on her apron, like the other girls. And she never eats fish, either. She thinks it hurts them too much to kill them. I don’t think so—do you? But girls are different.”

“Where are you going to-night?” said the old man, quietly, yet his voice trembled.

“I’m going to sing to Rachel’s grandfather. He’s blind, you know.”

“Yes,” said the old man, “and old. His hair is white. He walks with a cane. But he loves the singing.”

“Then to-morrow I must go to church,” said the boy. “The minister talks and prays and I get so sleepy. But mother keeps a peppermint for me, just before the second hymn. Then I have it for the long prayer. And I can sing the hymns. Rachel never looks at me; she sits so still in church. And she won’t play on Sunday. I can have my whip and two of the largest marbles. Do you think that is wrong?”

“No,” said the old man, “I don’t think that is wrong.”

“And we have gingerbread on the porch in the afternoon,” said the boy, “and Rachel comes. Mother says children must not be vexed at the Lord’s Day.”

“Yes,” said the old man, “mother is so good to us—so good—” and when he saw clearly again, the child was gone. Only the shadow lay upon the porch’s upper step, and the sunbeam was shrunken to a narrow path of light.

He stretched out his trembling hands and called sorrowfully to the boy. “Come back! O come back! I had forgotten so much! And the lilacs—” but he was alone. And his hair was almost white. He covered his face with his hands and shivered, for the shadow was creeping up the porch.

And then over his chilled heart, there came the breath of roses—summer roses. The air struck warm and soft upon his cheeks. And when he dropped his hands there stood in the sun-ray a straight, tall youth. His eyes were shining with strength; his smile was happiness itself. In his firm brown hands he held roses—summer roses. The old man forgot to be afraid and raised himself on the cushions.

“Give them to me—give them!” he cried. The young man laughed low and laid the red flowers softly up against the withered cheeks. Then he sat down and took the cold, dry hands in his.

“What do they make you remember?” he said.

The old man sighed for pure joy. “Ah, how sweet—how heavenly sweet! Did they come from the garden behind her father’s house?”

“Yes,” said the youth, “from the old bush near the wall. It was moonlight, and we picked them together. I reached the highest ones, because Rachel is not tall. She wore—”

“She wore the white gown with the big shade hat,” said the old man eagerly. “And I made a wreath for her shoulders. I called her—what did I call her? The queen—the queen.”

“The queen of roses,” said the youth.

“Ah, yes, the queen of roses!” said the old man. “Her mouth was like the pink, young buds. We went up and down the long paths, and I wanted her to take my arm.”

“But she would not,” laughed the young man. “She said that old folks might lean, but she could run as well as any man!”

“So she ran through the garden, and I after!” cried the old man, crushing the roses till they filled the porch with sweetness. “She hid behind the old elm and let me call and call. And I had to find her in the moon shadows. You know she grew afraid and cried out when I caught her? And yet she knew I would. But women are so. Her mother knew I was with her, so she let us stay till it was late. Rachel’s mother was kind to me, you know?”

“Yes,” said the young man. “But she knew that Rachel—”

“Ah!” said the old man quickly, “it seems they all knew! All but Rachel and me! Now that is so strange. We should have known it first. But Rachel laughed so when I tried to tell her, she said—what was it she said?”

“That you were too young to know how you would think of it later,” said the youth.

“And I said, ‘I’m old enough to know I love you, Rachel, now and forever!” said the old man softly, clasping his hands together so that the roses dropped to the ground. “And then she did not laugh at all, but only held her head down so I could not see her eyes, and would not speak.”

“It was so still,” said the youth. “There was no breeze, and everything in the garden listened, listened, for what she would say.”

But nothing in the garden could hear,” said the old man eagerly because she only whispered!”

“Was it then that her mother called?” asked the youth.

“Yes,” said the old man, and he smiled. But we did not come, for Rachel was afraid to go. She thought her mother would not like to have her leave the old home. And she feared to tell her that she wanted to go. So we sat like silly children in the dark. You see, I was afraid, too. Her father and mother were old and old people cannot know how we feel when love first comes to us—and yet they loved, once!”

“Yes, they loved once,” said the youth, “but they forget. They think of lands and money and the most prudent course—they cannot feed their heart’s blood rushing through their veins, surging in their ears, ‘She loves me!’ They cannot feel that one hour with her is dearer than years with the others of the world!”

“And then we went in!” said the old man softly. “Then we went in! And her mother stood waiting for us. Rachel would not look up, and I had to lead her by the hand. She feared that we could not make it plain, that her mother would scold us—”

The youth laughed aloud. “But did she?” he said.

And the old man laughed too.

“No. She came to me and kissed me and then she held Rachel and cried. But not that she was sorry. Older people feel strange when the younger ones start away, you see.”

The young man picked up the roses and laid them again by the side of the couch. “Sleep,” he said softly, “and dream of her!” And the old man’s eyelids drooped and the hands that held the roses relaxed in quiet sleep.

When he awoke, the sun had almost set. The path of rays had faded, and the creeping shadow had covered the highest step and lay along the porch. He felt feebly for the roses, but they were gone. And the sweet, warm scent of them was only in his dim memory. But there sat in the shadow a man.

Threads of grey were in his hair and lines around his firm mouth. But in his eyes shone yet a sweet strength, and he held his head high as he spoke.

“Do you know where I have been?” he said.

The old man shook his head.

“Think!” said the other.

Then while he looked into the stranger’s eyes, there stole across his heart, the wind that blows through the orchard when the fruit is ripe. He drew in great breaths of it, in doubt, and at last he said in a whisper so low that he hardly heard himself, “You have been to his grave—his little grave!”

“Yes,” said the man, “I have. His mother goes there alone—not even I go with her. She goes alone.”

“No,” said the old man solemnly, “no. God goes with her. I thought that she would have died—why did she live?”

“Because,” said the other, “because you would have been alone. And you could not have kept yourself a man, if she had gone, too.”

“Ah, yes!” said the old man softly, “that is it. She is an angel! When he was born, I was almost afraid. I said, “My son! I have a son! If I should die to-night, he would live, and I should live in him!” And when she brought him herself into the orchard—I see her now—I see her now!”

He could not lift his head from the pillow, he was so tired and weak, but he begged the other to come nearer with his eyes. The man came close to the couch and looked down tenderly at the old man. “She wore the white trailing gown,” he said.

“Yes,” whispered the old man, “and the great wide hat. And she held him up under the brim and said that if it should rain, she and he could keep dry together, but I must stay in the rain!”

“Do you remember,” said the other, “how when he could just say words, you played with him under the apple tree?”

“Can I ever forget?” said the old man. “But now the angels teach him a better language, so that he had but one to learn!”

“Do you remember how she left him with her mother and went away with you?” said the other.

The old man smiled a little. “Ah, yes! Well enough!” he said. “We thought we would be young again, and leave him to his grandmother and his sisters. He had enough care! It was not lacking of that—”

“And when you had gone only a few miles she grew anxious—”

“Yes, yes!” said the old man. “She said, ‘Suppose he is sick? Suppose he falls into the brook? He walks about so brave and strong—and he is our only son!’ So we came back.”

“You were good to her,” said the other. “You did always just as she wished.”

“I loved her,” said the old man simply.

The stranger’s eyes grew moist, and his voice shook as he said, “When he grew sick—”

“Ah, when he grew sick!” cried the old man bitterly. “Almost I lost my trust in the Giver of my child, and dared not give him back! How I begged! How I prayed!—you know!”

“Yes,” whispered the stranger, “I know.”

“Then she left me for the first time,” said the old man slowly. “For the first time. She went alone and prayed. Oh, Rachel, my dear, dear wife, I could not go with you to God! I think even we go best alone! I said ‘It cannot be! He cannot let it come! I have done all my life as best I knew how, and is this my reward?’ And I heard her crying, and I wished I had never lived.”

“But not for long?” said the other.

The old man smiled through his tears.

“No, no, not for long!” he said. “When Rachel saw that I was weak, she grew strong. It is strange, but women are the strongest then. And she showed me the folly and wickedness of throwing away my faith because the Most Faithful had taken away my child. And she brought me my little daughters and set them on my knees and put her arms around my neck. So I grew comforted. And there have come other sons—Arthur and John. But he—ah, Rachel! Little we thought when we laid him on the grass under the tree and measured him with goldenrod, that he would so soon lie there for all our lives!”

“And he lies there now,” said the stranger.

“Yes,” said the old man softly, “he lies there now. Under the apple tree where he lay and laughed that day, he lies there now, for Rachel wanted it so. ‘I carried him out there the first time,’ she said, ‘and he always loved it there. I used to walk there before he came, and plan for him, how he should grow so great and famous and good; and now I want him to be there, while he is asleep. And I think that all the fields are God’s—the orchard as well as the graveyard.’ So we laid him there, and she goes there often, and I.”

“You miss her?” said the stranger.

“Miss her?” said the old man, staring at the visitor, “miss her? Why she is here! She is my wife!—” but he was alone, on the couch, with the faint breath of ripening apples dying on the air.

And as he turned wearily, the shadow crept softly and covered the porch and the couch where he lay. The sun dropped behind the hills, and the air struck cold on his uncovered shoulders. He was too tired to cry, too old and weak to question or find fault, but he dimly felt that to be left alone was hard. His memory grew suddenly untrustworthy; had they come or not? It was all so plain to him now. He was not with Rachel; he was neither in the church nor the garden nor the orchard. He was an old man, strangely weak and confused, left alone.

“Ah, Rachel,” he murmured, “only come again, while I go! Come to take me—not that it will be a long to wait before I see you, dear! We have been so happy, you and I! But it was so cold—”

And then while he shivered helplessly and half afraid, there came the scent of spring lilac-bushes, and by his bed stood the bright-eyed child.

“Come! Come and sit by me!” cried the old man. But the boy only smiled. “Take my hands—they are so cold!” he begged. Still, the boy smiled. And as the old man looked, the child’s eyes filled him with half hope, half fear. “Are you—are you—” he tried to speak, but no sound came from his lips.

“If I come and touch you,” said the boy, “it will be the end. Shall I come?” The old man’s face lighted softly.

“Yes,” he said in his heart, for he could not speak aloud, “yes, come now!” The boy laughed and stepped to the couch and lay down beside him, putting his cheek close to the white hair.

Into the heart of the old man rushed a quick, new life. “Ah, Rachel, Rachel,” he said strong and clear, “sit on the step and eat your cake with me? Here is the flag-root I promised you—it’s quite clean. I took off all the mud! And here is the red marble”—but the child kissed him, and he went to sleep, holding to his heart his happy youth.

And when they found him in the evening, they were not too grieved, for on his face was a great content.

Next short story


Original short story by Josephine Dodge Daskam

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

©All rights reserved 2020


I Have A Right

I Have A Right, narrative, short story of enlightenment

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. 

I Have A Right, narrative, short story of enlightenment

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.

illustration of a little girl to say finish

Next short story

Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

©All rights reserved 2020

First photograph by Geralt

The One-eyed Servant

The One-eyed Servant narrative, short story book cover

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.

The One-eyed Servant narrative, short story book cover

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.

illustration of a little girl to say finish

Next short story

Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

©All rights reserved 2020

Cover image by SvetlanaKv. 



Little Rie And The Rosebuds

Little Rie And The Rosebuds short story, narrative of jumping to conclusions

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.

Little Rie And The Rosebuds short story, narrative of jumping to conclusions

‘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?

illustration of a little girl to say finish

Next short story

Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

©All rights reserved 2020

Two Ways Of Telling A Story

Two Ways Of Telling A Story, narrative, short story of wisdom and kindness

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.



Two Ways Of Telling A Story, narrative, short story of wisdom and kindness

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!’

illustration of a little girl to say finish

Next short story

Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

©All rights reserved 2020

The Minnows With Silver Tails

The minnows with silver tails are curious little river fish that offer promise, of an easier life. Small freshwater fish with silver tails? A silver lining perhaps? 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.

The Minnows With Silver Tails

There was a cuckoo-clock hanging in Tom Turner’s cottage. When it struck One, Tom’s wife laid the baby in the cradle, and took a saucepan off the fire, from which came a very savoury smell.

Her two little children, who had been playing in the open doorway, ran to the table, and began softly to drum upon it with their pewter spoons, looking eagerly at their mother as she turned a nice little piece of pork into a dish, and set greens and potatoes, round it. They fetched the salt; then they set a chair for their father; brought their own stools; and pulled their mother’s rocking-chair close to the table.

‘Run to the door, Billy,’ said the mother, ‘and see if father’s, coming.’ Billy ran to the door; and, after the fashion of little children, looked first the right way, and then the wrong way, but no father was to be seen.

Presently the mother followed him, and shaded her eyes with her hand, for the sun was hot. ‘If father, doesn’t come soon,’ she observed, ‘the apple-dumpling will be too much done, by a deal.’

‘There he is!’ cried the little boy, ‘he is coming round by the wood; and now he’s going over the bridge. O, father! make haste, and have some apple-dumpling.’

‘Tom,’ said his wife, as he came near, ‘art tired today?’

‘Uncommon tired,’ said Tom, and he threw himself on the bench, in the shadow of the thatch.

‘Has anything gone wrong?’ asked his wife: ‘what’s the matter?’

‘Matter?’ repeated Tom, ‘is anything the matter? The matter is this, mother that I’m a miserable hard-worked slave;’ and he clapped his hands upon his knees, and muttered in a deep voice, which frightened the children—’a miserable slave!’

‘Bless us!’ said the wife, and could not make out what he meant.

‘A miserable ill-used slave,’ continued Tom, ‘and always have been.’

‘Always have been?’ said his wife; ‘why, father, I thought thou used to say, at the election time, that thou wast a free-born Briton?’

‘Women have no business with politics,’ said Tom, getting up rather sulkily. And whether it was the force of habit, or the smell of the dinner, that made him do it, has not been ascertained; but it is certain that he walked into the house, ate plenty of pork and greens, and then took a tolerable share in demolishing the apple-dumpling.

When the little children were gone out to play, his wife said to him, ‘Tom, I hope thou and master haven’t had words to-day?’

Master,’ said Tom, ‘yes, a pretty master he has been; and a pretty slave I’ve been. Don’t talk to me of masters.’

‘O Tom, Tom,’ cried his wife, ‘but he’s been a good master to you; fourteen shillings a week, regular wages,—that’s not a thing to make a sneer at; and think how warm the children are lapped up o’ winter nights, and you with as good shoes to your feet as ever keep him out of the mud.’

‘What of that?’ said Tom; ‘isn’t my labour worth the money? I’m not beholden to my employer. He gets as good from me as he gives.’

‘Very like Tom. There’s not a man for miles round that can match you at a graft; and as to early peas—but if master can’t do without you, I’m sure you can’t do without him. O, dear, to think that you and he should have had words!’

‘We’ve had no words,’ said Tom, impatiently; ‘but I’m sick of being at another man’s beck and call. It’s “Tom do this,” and “Tom, do that,” and nothing but work, work, work, from Monday morning till Saturday night; and I was thinking, as I walked over to Squire Morton’s to ask for the turnip seed for master—I was thinking, Sally, that I am nothing but a poor working man after all. In short, I’m a slave, and my spirit won’t stand it.’

So saying, Tom flung himself out at the cottage door, and his wife thought he was going back to his work as usual. But she was mistaken; he walked to the wood, and there, when he came to the border of a little tinkling stream, he sat down, and began to brood over his grievances. It was a very hot day.

‘Now, I’ll tell you what,’ said Tom to himself, ‘it’s a great deal pleasanter sitting here in the shade than broiling over celery trenches; and then thinning of wall fruit, with a baking sun at one’s back, and a hot wall before one’s eyes. But I’m a miserable slave. I must either work or see ’em starve; a very hard lot it is to be a workingman. But it is not only the work that I complain of, but being obliged to work just as he pleases. It’s enough to spoil any man’s temper to be told to dig up those asparagus beds just when they were getting to be the very pride of the parish. And what for? Why, to make room for Madam’s new gravel walk, that she mayn’t wet her feet going over the grass. Now, I ask you,’ continued Tom, still talking-to himself, ‘ whether that isn’t enough to spoil any man’s temper?’

‘Ahem!’ said a voice close to him.

The minnows with silver tails a short narrative of experience short story

Tom started, and to his great surprise, saw a small man, about the size of his own babysitting composedly at his elbow. He was dressed in green—green hat, green coat, and green shoes. He had very bright black eyes, and they twinkled very much as he looked at Tom and smiled.

‘Servant, sir!’ said Tom, edging himself a little farther off.

‘Miserable slave,’ said the small man, ‘art thou so far lost to the noble sense of freedom that thy very salutation acknowledges a mere stranger as thy master!’

‘Who are you,’ said Tom, ‘and how dare you call me a slave?’

‘Tom,’ said the small man, with a knowing look, ‘don’t speak roughly. Keep your rough words for your wife, my man; she is bound to bear them—what else is she for, in fact?’

‘I’ll thank you to let my affairs alone,’ interrupted Tom shortly.

‘Tom, I’m your friend; I think I can help you out of your difficulty. I admire your spirit. Would I demean myself to work for a master, and attend to all his whims?’ As he said this, the small man stooped and looked very earnestly into the stream. Drip, drip, drip, went the water over a little fall in the stones, and wetted the watercresses till they shone in the light, while the leaves fluttered overhead and checkered the moss with glittering spots of sunshine. Tom watched the small man with earnest attention as he turned over the leaves of the cresses. At last, he saw him snatch something, which looked like a little fish, out of the water, and put it in his pocket.

‘It’s my belief, Tom,’ he said, resuming the conversation, ‘that you have been puzzling your head with what people call Political Economy.’

‘Never heard of such a thing,’ said Tom. ‘ But I’ve been thinking that I don’t see why I’m to work any more than those that employ me.’

‘Why, you see, Tom, you must have money. Now it seems to me that there are but four ways of getting money: there’s Stealing’—

‘Which won’t suit me.’ interrupted Tom.

‘Very good. Then there’s Borrowing’—

‘Which I don’t want to do.’

‘And there’s Begging’—

‘No, thank you,’ said Tom stoutly.

‘And there’s giving money’s worth for the money; that is to say, Work, Labour.’

‘Your words are as fine as a sermon,’ said Tom.

‘But look here, Tom,’ proceeded the man in green, drawing his hand out of his pocket, and showing a little dripping fish in his palm, ‘what do you call this?’

‘I call it a very small minnow,’ said Tom.

‘And do you see anything particular about its tail?’

‘It looks uncommon bright,’ answered Tom, stooping, to look at it.

‘It does,’ said the man in green, ‘and now I’ll tell you a secret, for I’m resolved to be your friend. Every minnow in this stream—they are very scarce, mind you—but every one of them has a silver tail.’

‘You don’t say so,’ exclaimed Tom, opening his eyes very wide; ‘fishing for minnows, and being one’s own master, would be a great deal pleasanter than the sort of life I’ve been leading this many a day.’

‘Well, keep the secret as to where you get them; and much good may it do you,’ said the man in green.

‘Farewell, I wish you joy of your freedom.’ So saying, he walked away, leaving Tom on the brink of the stream, full of joy and pride.

He went to his master, and told him that he had an opportunity for bettering himself, and should not work for him any longer. The next day he arose with the dawn, and went to work to search for minnows. But of all the minnows in the world never were any so nimble as those with silver tails. They were very shy, too, and had as many turns and doubles as a hare; what a life they led him! They made him troll up the stream for miles; then, just as he thought his chase was at an end, and he was sure of them, they would leap quite out of the water, and dart down the stream again like little silver arrows. Miles and miles he went, tired, and wet, and hungry. He came home late in the evening, completely wearied and footsore, with only three minnows in his pocket, each with a silver tail.

‘But at any rate,’ he said to himself, as he lay down in his bed, ‘though they lead me a pretty life, and I have to work harder than ever, yet I certainly am free; no man can order me about now.’

This went on for a whole week; he worked very hard, but on Saturday afternoon, he had only caught fourteen minnows.

‘If it wasn’t for the pride of the thing,’ he said to himself, ‘I’d have no more to do with fishing for minnows. This is the hardest work I ever did. I am quite a slave to them. I rush up and down, I dodge in and out, I splash myself, and fret myself, and broil myself in the sun, and all for the sake of a dumb thing, that gets the better of me with a wag of its fins. But it’s no use standing here talking; I must set off to the town and sell them, or Sally will wonder why I don’t bring her the week’s money.’ So he walked to the town, and offered his fish for sale as great curiosities.

‘Very pretty,’ said the first people he showed them to; but ‘they never bought anything that was not useful.’

‘Were they good to eat?’ asked the woman at the next house. ‘No! Then they would not have them.’

‘Much too, dear,’ said a third.

‘And not so very curious,’ said a fourth; ‘but they hoped he had come by them honestly.’

At the fifth house, they said, ‘O! pooh!’ when he exhibited them. ‘No, no, they were not quite so silly as to believe there were fish in the world with silver tails; if there had been, they should often have heard of them before.’

At the sixth house, they were such a very long time turning over his fish, pinching their tails, bargaining, and discussing them, that he ventured to remonstrate, and request that they would make more haste. Thereupon they said if he did not choose to wait, their pleasure, they would not purchase at all. So they shut the door upon him; and as this soured his temper, he spoke rather roughly at the next two houses, and was dismissed at once as a very rude, uncivil person.

But after all, his fish were really great curiosities; and when he had exhibited them all over the town, set them out in all lights, praised their perfections, and taken immense pains to conceal his impatience and ill-temper, he at length contrived to sell them all, and got exactly fourteen shillings for them, and no more. ‘Now, I’ll tell you what, Tom Turner,’ he said to himself, ‘in my opinion you’ve been making a great fool of yourself, and I only hope Sally will not find it out. You was, tired of being a working man, and that man in green has cheated you into doing the hardest week’s work you ever did in your life, by making you believe it was more free-like and easier. Well, you said you didn’t mind it, because you had no master; but I’ve found out this afternoon, Tom, and I don’t mind your knowing it, that every one of those customers of yours was your master just the same. Why! you were at the beck of every man, woman, and child that came near you—obliged to be in a good temper, too, which was very aggravating.’

‘True, Tom,’ said the man in green, starting up in his path, ‘I knew you were a man of sense; look you, you’re all workingmen, and you must all please your customers. Your master was your customer; what he bought of you was your work. Well, you must let the work be such as will please the customer.’

All workingmen; how do you make that out? said Tom, chinking the fourteen shillings in his hand. ‘Is my master a workingman; and has he got a master of his own? Nonsense!’

‘No nonsense at all;—he works with his head, keeps his books, and manages his great works. He has many masters, else why was he nearly ruined last year?’

‘He was nearly ruined because he made some newfangled kind of patterns at his works, and people would not buy them,’ said Tom. ‘Well, in a way of speaking, then, he works to please his masters, poor fellow! He is, as one may say, a fellow-servant, and plagued with very awkward masters! So I should not mind his being my master, and I think I’ll go and tell him so.’

‘I would, Tom,’ said the man in green. ‘Tell him you have not been able to better yourself, and you have no objection now to dig up the asparagus bed.’

So Tom trudged home to his wife, gave her the money he had earned, got his old master to take him back, and kept a profound secret his adventures with the man in green, and the fish with the silver tails.

illustration of a little girl to say finish

Next short story

Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

©All rights reserved 2020

The Suspicious Jackdaw

The Suspicious Jackdaw is a delightful, educational short story, not just for children. A unique tale which teaches us a valuable lesson. It is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet and was originally 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.


There never was a more suspicious mortal in this world than old Madam Mortimer, unless it was Madam Mortimer’s Jackdaw. To see him peep about, and turn his head on one side as if to listen, and go and stand on the edge of her desk with his bright eye fixed on her letters, and then flutter to her wardrobe, and peer behind her cabinets, as if he suspected that in cracks and crevices, under tables and behind screens, there must be other daws hidden, who would interfere with his particular interests, or listen to the remarks made to him when he and his mistress were alone, or find the bits of crust that he had stowed away for his own eating; to see all this. I say, was quite as good amusement as to see old Madam Mortimer occupying herself in the same way, indeed quite in the same way, considering the different natures of women and jackdaws.


The Suspicious Jackdaw a short narrative of experience in a short story

Sometimes Madame Mortimer would steal up softly to her door, and turn the handle very softly in her hand; then she would open it just by a little crack and listen till she must have had the ear-ache; but generally, after this exercise, she would return to her seat, saying aloud, as she took up her knitting, ‘Well, I declare, I thought that was the butcher’s boy talking to cook; an idle young fellow, that he is; brings all the gossip of the village here, I’m certain. However, this once I’m wrong; it’s only gardener sitting outside the scullery, helping her to shell peas. He had better be doing that than doing nothing—which is what most of his time is passed in, I suspect.’

Here the jackdaw would give a little croak, to express his approval of the sentiment; whenever his mistress finished a speech, he made a point of either croaking or coughing, just like a human being. The foot-boy had taught him this accomplishment, and his mistress could never help laughing when she heard him cough. No more could little Patience Grey, who was Madam Mortimer’s maid. She was very young, only fourteen, but then Madam Mortimer suspected that if she had an older maid she should have more trouble in keeping her in order; so she took Patience from school to wait on her, and Patience was very happy in the great old silent house, with its long oaken galleries; and as there really seemed to be nothing about her for either Madam Mortimer’s or the jackdaw’s suspicion to rest upon, she was very seldom scolded, though sometimes when she came into the parlour, looking rather hot and breathing quickly, her mistress would alarm her by saying, ‘Patience, you’ve been skipping in the yard. You need not deny it, for I know you have.’

Here Patience would answer, blushing,—’I just skipped for a few minutes, ma’am, after I had done plaiting your frills.’ ‘Ah, you’ll never be a woman,’ Mrs Mortimer would answer, ‘never! if you live to be a hundred.’ And it did not enter into the head of little Patience that her mistress could see everything that was done in the yard, and how she sometimes ran and played with the house dog under the walnut-trees, the two old walnut-trees that grew there; and how she played a ball in the coach-house, when she had finished all her needlework, while the little dog, and the big dog, and the big dog’s two puppies, sat watching at the open door, ready to rush in and seize the ball if she let it drop. It never entered into her giddy head that her mistress could see all this, for her mistress sat in a large upper parlour, and through one of its windows overlooked the yard; the blind was always drawn down, and how could Patience suppose that her mistress could peep through a tiny hole in it and that she did this continually, so that not a postman could politely offer an orange to the housemaid, nor she in return reward him with a mug of beer, without being seen by the keen eyes of Madame Mortimer!

Patience, on the whole, however, fared none the worse for being watched—quite the contrary; the more the jackdaw and his mistress watched her, the fonder they grew. She was such a guileless little maid, that they liked to have her in the large old parlour with them, helping Madam Mortimer with her needlework, and letting the jackdaw peep into her work-box. One day, when Patience was sent for to attend her mistress, she found her with the contents of an old cabinet spread open before her; there were corals with silver bells, there were old silver brooches, and there were many rings and necklaces, arid old-fashioned ornaments that Patience thought extremely handsome; in particular, there was a cornelian necklace, made of cut cornelians, which she considered to be particularly beautiful; so did the jackdaw, for when Madam Mortimer allowed Patience to wash this necklace in some warm water, he stood on the edge of the basin pecking at it playfully, as if he wanted to get it from her. Patience would not let him have it, and when she had carefully dried it she laid it on some clean cotton wool, and said to the jackdaw, ‘You are not going to have it, Jack. It’s the most beautiful thing that mistress has got, so I reckon she’ll never let you touch it.’

When Madam Mortimer heard this, she smiled covertly at the ignorance of Patience, and presently said to her, ‘Child, you may go down and ask for a piece of leather and some rouge powder, and I will show you how to clean this set of emeralds.’

So Patience ran clown to the footboy, and got what she required, and very happy she was under her mistress’s directions in polishing and cleaning the jewels— quite as happy as she could have felt if they had been her own; yet, when Madam Mortimer said to her, ‘Which do you think the handsomest now, Patience; the green stones or the red ones?’ she replied, ‘O, the red ones are the handsomest, ma’am, by a deal.’

Just at this moment, visitors were announced, and Madam Mortimer retired to her own room previous to seeing them, taking Patience with her to attend on her, and see to the set of her lace shawl, and of a new cap that she donned for the occasion. She turned the key of the parlour where all her jewellery lay about, and the jackdaw, as he hopped with her out of the room, coughed approvingly of the deed, in a manner as expressive as if he had said, ‘Who knows whether all the people about us are honest?’

The old lady put the key into her basket, but, strange to say, she forgot her basket, and left that in her bedroom with Patience, while she went down to receive her visitors; and all that evening, suspicious as she generally was, she never once remembered that anyone could unlock the parlour-door by means of this basket; on the contrary, she was in very good spirits, and she and her elder visitor talked nearly all the evening about their servants, and about what a trouble servants were, while the younger ladies walked in the garden, gathered a few flowers, and partook of some strawberries.

Now Madam Mortimer, suspicious though she was, had an exceedingly kind heart, and she very often allowed the housemaid to attend on her at night, that Patience might go to bed early, as befitted her age. The visitors staid late, but at nine the drawing-room bell was rung, and orders were sent out that Patience was to go to bed; so as it was the full of the midsummer moon, she stole upstairs without a candle, and when alone in her little garret it was quite light enough for her to examine various little treasures that she kept in her box. She was busy so doing, when Jack flew in at the open window, and lighted on her feet as she knelt, then fluttered on to her shoulder, and peeped down at her treasures, and began to make a great croaking and chattering. Patience thought he was more than usually inquisitive that night, and I am afraid he somewhat interfered with her attention while she was reading her chapter, for he would not let her pincushion alone, but would persist in pulling out the pins, and dropping them on to the floor, listening with his head on one side to the slight noise they made when they fell. At last, he flew out at the window. And what did he do next?

Why, he did not go to roost, as he would have done if he had not been for so many years accustomed to civilized society, but he flew once or twice around the house to see that other birds were asleep, and not likely to watch his movements, and then he peeped down the chimneys, where the swallows, now rearing their second broods, sat fast asleep on the nest; he next alighted on the roof and walked cautiously to a certain crevice, where he kept a few dozens of nails, that he had picked with his beak out of the carpet, and a good many odds and ends of ribbon, bits of worsted, farthings, and broken morsels of crockery, that he valued highly; these he pulled out of the crevice, and then he poked his property with his beak, chattered to it in a very senseless way, walked over it, and finally deposited it again in the crevice, flew down to the side of the house, and entered the parlour where his mistress’s jewellery lay.

Here lay the necklace—it looked very pretty—the jackdaw alighted on the table, pecked it as thinking that it might be good to eat, then lifted it up and shook it. At last, he flew with it out of the window.

It was still quite light out of doors, and as the necklace dangled from his beak, he admired it very much. ‘But what did he want with it?’ you will naturally ask. Nobody knows, but this is ascertained—that, finding it heavy, he took it, not to the roof, but to the edge of a deep well in the garden, wherein he had deposited the cook’s brass thimble, and several of her skewers; having reached this well, and lighted on the stone brink, he peered down into it, and saw his own image, and the red necklace in his beak; he also saw four or five little stars reflected there, and as it was his bedtime, he dozed a little on the edge of the well, while the evening air waved slightly the long leaves of the ferns that hung over it, and grew in the joints of the stone many feet down.

At last, it is supposed that some such thought as this crossed his brain: ‘These berries are heavy, and not good to eat; I had better lay them on the water till to-morrow morning.’

So he let them drop, and down they fell to the bottom. He had dropped a good many articles before this into the well; some, such as nuts, feathers, and bits of stick and straw, floated; others, like this necklace, had sunk. It was all chance which happened, but he liked to hear the splash of the red necklace, and he stood awhile chattering to himself, with great serenity of mind, on the occasion of its disappearing; then he went and pecked at the kitchen window, demanding his supper.

This is what the jackdaw did; and now what did the mistress do, when she walked to the parlour door the next morning, unlocked it, and found that the red necklace was gone?

She was quite amazed—nobody but Patience could have taken it—little Patience, her good little maid, who had seemed so guileless, so conscientious, and so honest. O, what a sad thing it was that there was nobody in the world that she could trust! Patience, must have taken the key, and after using it for this bad purpose, must have placed it again in the basket.

But Madam Mortimer was so sorry to think of this, that she decided to let Patience have a little time to reflect upon her great fault and confess it. So she said nothing to her all the morning, and in the afternoon, peeping through her little hole in the blind, she saw Patience chasing the ducks into the pond, and laughing heartily to see them plunge. ‘Hardened child,’ said her mistress, ‘how can she laugh?—I’ll give her warning;’ and thereupon she sat down in her easy chair and began to cry. Now, she felt, almost for the first time, what a sad thing it is to suspect a person whom one really loves. She had not supposed how much she cared for this little village girl till she was obliged to suspect her. She had not perceived how sad her constant habit of suspicion was, and how it had now obtained such a dominion over her, till everything done by a suspected person appeared to her mind in a distorted light. Now the childish simplicity of Patience seemed to her to be hardened guilt. Now, when she saw her at play, she made up her mind that the little girl knew she was overlooked and was playing about in order to make her mistress think she was at ease and had nothing weighing on her spirits; and when she came into the parlour, if she was awkward, her mistress attributed it to guilty fears; and if she made any mistake about a message, it was because her thoughts were pre-occupied with her ill-gotten trinket.

This unhappy state of things went on for several days. At last, one evening, Madam Mortimer happening to look out at her hole in the blind, saw Patience slowly walking across the yard, and cautiously looking down into her apron, which she had gathered up into her hands. Madam Mortimer felt convinced that the poor child had got the necklace concealed there. One of the housemaids came up, but Patience ran away, and would not let her see what she had got, and seemed so anxious to conceal it, that her mistress drew up the blind, opened the window, and said, in an awful voice, ‘Patience, come here!’

The little girl approached—there was a veranda outside the window, and some wooden steps led up to it. ‘Come up to me,’ said her mistress.

The little girl said, ‘Yes, ma’am;’ and still holding her apron, turned to enter the door.

‘No,’ exclaimed her mistress; ‘come up these steps; I do not want to lose sight of you.’

Patience obeyed. Her mistress sat down, and the little maid stood opposite to her. ‘Patience,’ said her mistress, ‘I have lost my red necklace.’

The little girl glanced under the table, as if she thought the necklace might have dropped there.

‘Do you know where it is, Patience?’ was the next question, asked with great solemnity.

Patience tightened the folds of her apron, looked earnestly at her mistress, and said, ‘No, ma’am.’

‘Poor child,’ replied Madame Mortimer shaking her head; and Patience, not appearing to know what she meant, coloured exceedingly, and looked as if she was going to cry. But at last, as her mistress sat in her chair, and did not say another word, she began to steal away till she was arrested by her mistress’s voice.

‘Come back again, you poor misguided child—come back, and show me what you have got in your apron.’

As Madame Mortimer spoke she started, for the evening was growing dusk, and when Patience turned, a light, a decided light, gleamed through her white apron.

‘Please, ma’am,’ she said, now holding it open, ‘it’s some glow-worms that old gardener gave me—three glow-worms, and some leaves that I got for them.’

‘Bless me!’ exclaimed Madame Mortimer, when she saw the shining insects slowly moving about on her little maid’s apron; but she looked so much less angry than before, that Patience, by way of peace-offering, took up one of her treasures, and placed it, with some leaves, upon the open page of her mistress’s great Bible, which lay on a little table by her side. ‘You may go, now, Patience,’ said her mistress, quite calmly, and the little girl left the room.

While her mistress sat so long, lost in thought, that it grew quite dusk. ‘After all,’ she thought, ‘that poor child must have been the thief; nobody else could have stolen the necklace, but I will still give her time to confess and restore it.’ As she said this she turned towards the Bible, and the glow-worm on the page was slowly moving along it; the darkness hid every other word, but she read by the light of her little maid’s gift, as it went on, this verse: ‘We—do—all—fade—as doth—a—leaf.’ ‘Too true,’ said the poor old lady, sighing, ‘I feel the coming on of old age very fast, and I could have wished to have somebody about me, however young, that I could trust. Ah, we are frail creatures we come up and die down like the summer grass; and we are as sinful as we are frail. My poor little Patience! I will try her a little longer.’ So saying, the mistress began to doze, and the jackdaw hopped down from the perch where he had been watching her, and when he saw that she was fast asleep, and that the yellow moonlight vas soft upon her aged features, he alighted on the page of the Bible which the shining glow-worm was then illuminating, and pounced upon him and ate him up.

Little Patience carried her glow-worms upstairs, and amused herself with them a long time; for she had nothing to do but to enjoy herself when her daily task of needlework was done; and as her mistress never set her more to accomplish than she could finish before dusk, she often had a good game at play with a clear conscience. That night, however, she was not in such good spirits as usual, because her mistress had been angry with her, and if it had not been for the glow-worms she would have felt very dull indeed.

However, she hung them up in a gauze bag that she had made for them, and long after she was in bed she lay looking at them, but thought they grew brighter and brighter. She fell fast asleep at last, and fast asleep she was when her mistress came into the room with a candle in her hand, and softly stole up to her bedside.

Patience looked very happy and peaceful in her sleep, and the suspicious old lady could find nothing lying about to excite her doubts. The child had left her box open, and Madam Mortimer, though she did not choose to touch or move anything in it, used her eyes very sharply, and scrutinized its contents with astonishing deliberation. At length, Patience moved, and Madam Mortimer, shading her candle, stole away again, feeling that she had done something to be ashamed of.

The next morning she sent for Patience, and said to her, ‘Patience, I told you that I had lost my red necklace; I must have you to help me to search for it, but first tell me whether you know where it is?’

‘I know where I think it is, ma’am,’ Patience answered quite simply.

‘Where?’ asked her mistress.

She had spoke and looked so severely, that Patience hung her head and faltered, and at last said, ‘She didn’t know, she only thought it might be;’ and when pressed for an answer, she said, ‘She thought it might be in the empty side of the tea-caddy, for Jack often took things and put them into it.’

While the little girl spoke she looked so bashful and confused, that her mistress was confirmed in her bad opinion of her; but she allowed her to help all the morning in searching for the lost necklace; ‘for, after all,’ she thought, ‘I may be mistaken.’

However, the necklace was not to be found; and though the jackdaw chattered and bustled about a great deal, and told over and over again, in the jackdaw’s language, what he had done with it, nobody took the slightest notice of him; and the longer she searched, the more unhappy Madam Mortimer became. ‘It is not the value of the necklace,’ she often said to herself; ‘but it is the being obliged to suspect this child, that I am so sorry for; for she was the only person in the wide world that I felt I could trust, excepting my own children.’

But if people trust only one person, and can make up their minds to be distrustful of everyone else, their suspicions are almost sure at last to reach the one remaining; and so Madam Mortimer had now found.

She sent for the little maid’s mother, and without finding fault with the child, said to her that she did not require her services any longer; and when the mother said, ‘I hope it is for no fault that you part with her, ma’am?’ she replied, evasively, ‘Patience has her faults like other people;’ and with that answer, the mother was obliged to be satisfied.

When Patience was gone her mistress felt very unhappy. She had felt a pleasure in her company, because she was such a child, and so guileless. She had meant to keep her with her, and teach her so long as she lived, and trust her, but now all this was over, and she had nobody whom she chose to trust. The jackdaw, too, appeared to feel dull; there was nobody to play with him and carry him on her shoulder. He was dull, too, because he had lost that pretty necklace, for he often thought he should like to have it again to put among his treasures on the roof; therefore, he was fond of flying to the edge of the well, and gabbling there with great volubility; but I need not say that his chatter and his regret did not make the necklace float.

After a time, however, he found something else to amuse him, for one of Madam Mortimer’s sons and his little boy came to visit her, and the jackdaw delighted in teasing the little fellow, and pecking his heels, and stealing his bits of string, and hiding his pencils; while the boy, on the other hand, was constantly teasing the bird, stroking his feathers the wrong way, snatching away his crusts, and otherwise plaguing him.

‘I wish Patience was here to play with that child, and keep him from teasing my Jack,’ said the old lady, fretfully. ‘I get so infirm’ that children are a trouble to me.’

‘Who is Patience?’ asked her son.

So then Madam Mortimer told him the whole story; the boy and the jackdaw having previously gone out of the room together the boy tantalizing him, and the bird gabbling and pecking at his ankles. When she had finished, her son said, ‘Mother, I believe this will end in your suspecting me next! Why did you not ascertain whether the girl was innocent or guilty before you parted with her?’

‘I feel certain she is guilty,’ answered the mother, ‘and I never mean to trust any servant again.’

‘But if you could be certain she was innocent?’ asked the son.

‘Why, then I would never suspect a servant again, I think,’ she replied. ‘Certainly I should never suspect—her she seemed as open as the day—and you do not know, son, what a painful thing it is to have nobody about me that I can trust.’

‘Excuse me, mother,’ replied the son, ‘you mean nobody that you do trust; for all your servants have been with you for years, and deserve to be trusted, as far as we can see.’

‘Well, well,’ said the mother, ‘it makes me unhappy enough, I assure you, to be obliged to suspect everybody; and if I could have that child back I should be truly glad; but I cannot harbour a thief.’

At this point of the discourse, the boy and the jackdaw were heard in the yard making such a noise, and quarrelling, that the son, went down, at his mother’s request, to see what was the matter.

‘He is a thief,’ said the boy; ‘I saw him fly to the roof with a long bit of blue ribbon that belongs to cook.’

The jackdaw gabbled angrily in reply, and it is highly probable that he understood part of the accusation, for he ruffled his feathers, and hopped about in a very exciting way; and as the boy kept pointing at him, jeering him, the bird, at last, flew at him angrily, and gave him a very severe peck with a loud croak, that might have been meant to express, ‘Take that.’

Having it on his hands to make up this quarrel, the little boy’s father could not go on with the discourse he had begun with his mother at that time; but when he found another opportunity he said a great deal to her; and if it had not been that the jackdaw’s suspicions being aroused, that troublesome bird would insist on listening to all he said, with his head on one side, and his twinkling eye fixed on his face,—and if he would have been quiet, instead of incessantly changing his place, as if he thought he could hear better on the right arm of the chair than the left, it is possible that the gentleman’s discourse might have had a great effect on the old lady’s mind; as it was, he interrupted his mistress’s attention so much, that it is doubtful whether she remembered what her son had been talking of. And there was no sooner a pause in what the jackdaw probably regarded as a disagreeable subject, than he hopped to a private little cupboard that he kept under the turned-up edge of the carpet, and bringing out five or six mouldy bits of bread, laid them in a row on the rug before his mistress and her son, and walking about before them with an air of reflection, seemed as if he would have said, ‘I must attend to my business, whether people talk or not.’

‘I never saw such a queer fellow in my life as that bird is!’ exclaimed the son.

‘Why, Jack, you miser!’ said his mistress; ‘one would think you were starved.’

The jackdaw gabbled something which was no doubt meant for impertinence, till hearing footsteps outside the door, he hastily snatched up some of his mouldy property and flew with it to the top of the cabinet; then he stood staring at the remainder, fluttering his wings, and making a great outcry, for he did not dare to fly down for it, because his little tormentor had just rushed into the room.

‘Papa, papa!’ exclaimed the boy.

‘Hold your tongue, Jack,’ cried the grandmother; ‘one at a time is enough.’

‘Come, I will take you on my knee,’ said his father, ‘and then the daw will fly down for his bread.’

The daw no sooner saw his little enemy in a place of safety than he descended, snatched up his bread, and having secured it all, came again to give the boy a malicious little peck.

‘Now what do you want to say?’ asked his father.

‘Papa,’ repeated the boy, ‘do currants ever grow underwater?’

‘No,’ said his father.

‘But,’ replied the boy, ‘there is something growing in the well, just underwater, that looks like currants; and, papa, will you get it for me, please, for I should like to have it if it is good to eat.’

‘Pooh!’ said his grandmother; ‘the boy is dreaming.’ But the boy made such a fuss about the bunch of currants, and was so positive as to their growing down in the well, that though it was now autumn, and the leaves were falling, and all the currants were either eaten up or stowed away in jam pots long before, his father and grandmother allowed him to take them to the well; but first the latter put on her black silk bonnet and her cloak, and fetched her stick from its place, lamenting all the while that Patience was not there to do all her little errands for her.

Now the weather all that summer and autumn had been remarkably dry, and the consequence was, that this old well, which had long been disused because it contained so little water, had now less than ever; but that little was clear; though when the old lady and her son looked over the edge they could not at first see down into it, because a few drops of rain had fallen, and had wetted the fern leaves which were still dripping a little and covering its surface with dimples.

‘There are no red currants here, nor plums either, my child,’ said the grandmother; and as she spoke she put down her gold-headed stick and shook the tuft of ferns that had been dripping, till she had shaken down all the water they contained.

The surface was now covered with little eddies and dimples. But when the water grew smooth again, ‘There they are!’ exclaimed the boy; ‘there are the currants. Look, grandmother, they lie just under the shadow of those long leaves.’

‘I see something,’ replied his grandmother, shading her eyes; ‘but it is six times as long as a bunch of currants, and the berries are three times as large. I shouldn’t wonder, son, if that was my cornelian necklace.’

‘I will see if we can ascertain,’ said her son; there are several ladders about the premises, and the well is not at all deep.’ So off he went, leaving the old lady and her grandson to look at the necklace; but the jackdaw, having by this time missed his mistress from her accustomed haunts, and being suspicious lest she might be inspecting some of his hoards, had set a search on foot for her, and now flew up screaming and making a great outcry, as if he thought he was going to be robbed. However, having lighted on the edge of the well, and observed that the necklace was there all safe, he felt more at his ease; and, if his mistress could have understood the tongue of a daw, she would have now heard him relate how he threw it there; as it was, she only heard him gabble, and saw him now and then peck at the boy’s pinafore. When the jackdaw saw a ladder brought, however, his mind misgave him that his mistress meant to get the necklace out again; and his thievish spirit sank very low. However, being a politic bird, he was quite silent while the ladder was lowered, and while the gardener’s boy descended to the bottom of the well and groped about with his hands, for there was not a foot of water.

‘There is my necklace, sure enough,’ exclaimed the old lady as the boy lifted up the long row of shining beads; ‘bring it out, James.’

‘Please, ma’am, here’s the great silver skewer that was lost a year ago,’ exclaimed the boy; ‘and, dear me, here’s the nozzle of a candlestick.’

The old lady held up her hands; she had parted with a good cook, in consequence of the loss of this skewer. But the sight of the necklace dangling from the youth’s hand as he prepared to mount the ladder was too much for the jackdaw—he suddenly flew down, gave the hand a tremendous peck with his hard bill, and while the boy cried out and dropped the necklace, the bird made a sudden dart at it, snatched it before it touched the water, and flew up with it into a tree. There he rested a few minutes playing with the wet necklace, and shaking it in the sunlight; but not all his mistress’s entreaties and coaxing could bring him down, and in a few minutes he flew off again and settled on the roof of the house.

There, in less than ten minutes, he was found by his mistress and her son, with all his ill-gotten gains spread out before him; everything was taken from him, and when his mistress saw the articles whose loss had caused her to suspect almost everyone about her of theft, she was so vexed that she actually shed tears. ‘Mother,’ said her son, ‘it appears to me that you have trusted the only creature about you that was utterly unworthy of trust!’

The old lady was so much disheartened that she could not say a word; but such is the audacity of a jackdaw’s nature, that not half an hour after this, when the foot-boy brought in the tea things, Jack walked in after him with a grave expression of countenance and hopped on to the tea table as if nothing had happened.

‘Patience shall come back again,’ thought the old lady; ‘I’ll send for her and her mother, and I’ll never suspect her any more. It is plain enough now that Jack must have thrown my property down there.’

So the mother of Patience was sent for; but, alas, what disappointments people are doomed to! The mother expressed herself much obliged to Madam Mortimer, but said, that her cousin, in London, hearing that she was out of place, had sent for her to serve in her shop. ‘And that I look on as a great rise in life for her,’ said the mother, with an air of satisfaction: ‘and I am going to send a box of clothes to her next week,’ she continued, ‘and I shall tell her, ma’am, that you have not forgotten her.’

Madam Mortimer was very much vexed, but the necklace was in her hand, and a sudden thought struck her that she would give it to Patience. So she said, with a sigh, ‘Well, Mrs Grey, when you send the box, you may put this in it.’

Her mother at first looked pleased, but she presently drew back, and said, ‘Thank you, kindly, ma’am, but that necklace is by far too fine for my Patience, and it might do her harm to have it, and I never encourage her to wish for fine clothes.’

‘Good evening, then,’ said Madam Mortimer; and as the woman went away, she walked softly to the hole in the blind, and watched her talking and laughing with the cook, rather, as it seemed, in a triumphant way, as if she was exulting in the good fortune of her child, and the evident discomfiture of her former mistress. ‘It is entirely the fault of that thieving jackdaw,’ said the old lady, as she returned to her chair; and as she spoke she saw the suspicious bird, sitting listening to her with his head on one side. ‘It is enough to make anybody suspicious to lose things as I have lost them,’ she thought. ‘However, I shall soon leave off the habit, as I find it a bad one. I wonder whether that woman is gone yet; I’ll just take a peep, and see what they are about, gossiping, down there. Ah, there she is! I wish I hadn’t sent Patience away; but, perhaps, if I had been kinder to her than I was, she would have given me cause to suspect her before long.’

Madam Mortimer then settled herself in her chair and began to doze. When she awoke, the necklace was gone again; and perhaps it is a proof that she really was somewhat improved, that though she said, ‘I suspect, Jack, you know where that necklace is,’ she never took any steps in the matter, but left her glittering stones in the bird’s greedy keeping; and after taking a little time for consideration, put a patch upon the hole in the blind, so that she could never look through it any more. Whether she was cured of her suspicious turn of mind is more than I can tell, but it is certain that she henceforth looked on suspicions as undesirable, and seldom thought of little Patience without a sigh.

illustration of a little girl to say finish

Next short story

Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

©All rights reserved 2020


Can And Could

Can and Could meaningful short narrative for children, short story

Can and Could use with examples within a short narrative. A short story of Can and Could to help children to understand the different meanings of the words, including examples and use. This short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet and was originally 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.


Onc 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. ‘O, if I could,’ and ‘O 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 and Could meaningful short narrative for children, short story

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 around about the streets 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 do 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, 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 seemed to be 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 humankind 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 sickbed, 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 moralizing 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 realizing 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 paletôt, 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 am 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 am 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 upon 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 civilization, 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.

illustration of a little girl to say finish

Next short story

Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

©All rights reserved 2020

Special thanks to Buntysmum for image of oranges

The Maid Of The Mill

The Maid Of The Mill short mystery story, horror book cover

The maid of the mill is a mystery, for no one really knows if it actually happened, but on a dark still night apparently you can still hear the screams. The sky it’s said reddens from the reflection of the river, flowing like a severed artery between the gorse banks. The maid of the mill is a short story that is told among men who relive the harrowing tale by Josephine Dodge Daskam, an American author and poet who wrote a series of short mystery stories based on her own experiences. 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 story.



The only objection I have to ghost stories,” said young Sanford, “is from a literary point of view. They’re so badly done, you know.”

“In what way?” said the clerk of the hotel, settling back in his office chair, and smiling at young Sanford and the circle of men who had come down for their keys from the billiard-room.

“Well, in this way. I’m not considering the little harmless stories where the heroes are only frightened, or even those where their heads are grey in the morning. I’m thinking of those where they never live to tell the awful tale, you know; the ones in which they tell their friends to come if they call, and then they never call; the ones in which, although they scream and scream, nobody hears them.

“And yet the old trembling man who points them to the haunted room knows perfectly well that five men have entered that room on five-nineteenths of October, and never come out alive. Yet he only warns them, or at most only beseeches them not to go in. He has no police force—not that police could seriously harm the ghosts, but somehow they never appear to the police; he does not arrange with the victim’s friend to burst in the door at twelve-thirty, anyhow, whether they are summoned or not; he doesn’t—but then, what do any of them do that they might be expected to? And all this forced condition of things so that the ghost may have all the evening to work quietly in. Do you mean to tell me that if I were frightened to the extent of grey hair in the morning, I couldn’t scream loud enough to be heard any distance?”


This speech drew nods of approval from several of the men. “I’ve thought of that, too,” said the clerk. In a dark corner behind the stove sat a man, hunched over his knees, silent, and apparently unknown to any of the others. At this point, he looked up, cleared his throat, and said in a strange, husky voice:

“Do you really suppose that that is anything else than nonsense?” Young Sanford flushed. “Sir”—he began. The other continued in his rough, thick voice:

“Do you suppose they don’t try to scream? Do you suppose they don’t think they’re screaming?”

A little silence of discomfort fell on the circle. There was something disagreeably suggestive in the question. Suddenly the man spoke again.

“I had a friend,” he said, “in fact, I had two friends. One was young—about your age,” nodding to Sanford. “The other was older. He was not so clever nor so attractive nor so brilliant nor so jolly as the younger, but he had a characteristic—perhaps his only one—for he was a very ordinary man. He had an iron will. His determination was as unbreakable as anything human could be. And he was devoted to his friend, who, somehow, loved him. I don’t know why, because he had so many other admirers—but he stuck to his friend—Joan. They called the two Darby and Joan. Their real names were not unlike those, and it was rather funny. Darby used to talk as you were talking, sir,” he nodded again to Sanford, “and he was sure, cocksure, that what he said was right. He would tell what things were possible and what were not, and prove what he said very nicely. Joan wasn’t clever, but he knew that it does no good to call a thing impossible. He knew, in fact, that nothing is more possible than the most impossible things.”

The man coughed and cleared his throat and waited a moment as if to see whether he were intruding. No one spoke, so he went on.

The Maid Of The Mill short mystery story, horror book cover


“One day Darby rushed into Joan’s study and told him of a haunted mill he’d discovered. It was one of the old mills where the farmers used to bring their sacks before the big concerns in the West swallowed all the little trades. It was dusty and cobwebbed and broken down and unused and haunted. And there was a farmhouse directly across the road and a house on either side of it not a hundred feet away.

“‘Was it always haunted?’ asked Joan. ‘No,’ said Darby, ‘only once a year.’ On Christmas eve every year for nineteen years there had appeared, late at night, a little light in one of the windows; and that side of the house had an odd look, somehow it seemed to look fresher and newer, and at one o’clock or so a horrible piercing shriek would ring out from the mill, and then a kind of crashing fall, and then all was still, and the light would disappear.

“‘Had nobody investigated?’ Oh, yes. The first year it was noticed was when houses were built up around it. It used to stand away from everything else, and the miller and his family lived there. Then, long after they were dead, people moved out there and heard the noises and saw the light. They thought of tramps and escaped criminals and everything one suggests till it had occurred too repeatedly for that, and then a young farmer went over one Christmas eve, not telling anyone, and they found him roaming about the mill, a hopeless wreck the next day; he had gone quite mad.

“And the next year a man came up from the city, and his friends were in the next room to help him if he called, and he didn’t call, and they were afraid to startle him by knocking, so they got a ladder and peeped into the window at ten minutes to one, and he lay peacefully on the bed with his eyes closed and his hands stretched loosely out, and they thought it was a great joke that he should sleep through it, so they went home, and in the morning they found him in horrible convulsions, and he never recovered.

“And there were two young divinity students that went once together, and they had a crowd along with instructions to break in the door at one exactly. And at the stroke of one, the crowd beat in the great door and burst into an empty room! They had gone up a flight too far, somehow, and as they stood staring at each other, from the room beneath them came a dreadful shriek and a crash, and when they rushed down, they found the boys in a dead faint. They brought them to and got them home, and they muttered nonsense about a dog and a sash and would say no more. And they escaped with severe nervous prostration. But later they lost what little nerve they had and couldn’t sleep at night, and joined the Catholic Church, because they said that there were things they found it difficult to reconcile.…

“‘And what was the story of it all?’ asked Joan. Oh, the story was disagreeable enough. The miller’s daughter wanted to marry a poor young man, but her father would not let her. And she refused to accept his rich nephew. So he locked her in her room till she should consent. And she stayed there a week. And one night the nephew came home late and saw a tiny light in her window, and presently he saw someone place a ladder and go softly up, and the miller’s daughter leaned out and helped him in. So he told her father, who came into her room the next night with a bloodhound, and bound her to the bed and hushed her cries with her sash, then lit the little light. And when her lover had climbed the ladder—the dog was there. And that was Christmas eve.

“‘Do the people suffer this without complaint—these deaths and convulsions and apostasies?’ asked Joan. Well, no. But if they destroyed the mill, a liquor saloon would go up immediately. The proprietor was simply waiting. And they didn’t want that. So they kept it quiet. And nobody need go there. Nobody had been alarmed or hurt except the meddlers. And in villages, the people have less scientific curiosity. But Darby was going immediately. It was December twenty-third now. Joan must come, too; it would be most exciting. Joan argued against it, but he too was curious, so they agreed to go. And the next day they went.”


By this time the circle was absolutely silent, concentrated to ears and eyes. They stared and leaned towards the shadowy corner behind the stove where the dimly defined figure crouched. The clerk got up and turned down the gas, which flared in his face, and the room was almost wholly dark. The man spoke in a dull, mechanical way, as one speaks who clears his mind, once for all. At intervals, he waited fully ten seconds to rest his voice, strangely impressive, with its strained, choked tones.

“The next day they went,” he repeated. “Darby was not only clever—he was extremely sensitive. Ridicule was unbearable to him. And though he was a literary fellow, and artistic and all that, he was practical, too, for all he was so brilliant and winning. It actually troubled him that people should believe anything but what he called ‘the strictly logical,’ and he thought Joan’s ideas far too flexible and credulous. It was really for Joan’s sake, he said in-joke, whom he rather suspected of spiritualistic leanings, that he intended to make the excursion into the country. And he would tell nobody. He would make no inquiries. He would conduct the search along somewhat unusual lines, he declared. One of them should sleep in the room. At one o’clock precisely the other should quietly mount a ladder fixed just where the mythical ladder had been and enter the room in that way, thus preventing any mischievous practical jokes from without, and insuring help to the man within, should he need it.

“And Joan agreed to this. He was interested himself, and he’d have been as eager and scornful as Darby if it hadn’t occurred to him—for he was a terribly literal fellow—that four tragedies, sad as these had been, and all unexplained, couldn’t be accounted for by chance nor made less sad even by a good logician like Darby. So he suggested one or two friends to fall back upon in case of foul play of any kind. And Darby looked at him and laughed a little sneering laugh and called him—” The man choked and bent lower. He seemed to be unable to speak for some seconds. Then he hurried on, speaking from this point very rapidly and using a kind of clumsy gesture that brought the scenes he spoke of strangely clear to the men around him.

“He called him a coward. So Joan agreed to go. And on the afternoon of the day before Christmas, they took a long ladder and a lantern and some sandwiches and two revolvers and drove in a butcher’s cart to the little village. And Joan was as eager as Darby that no one should know. You see, Darby called him a coward.

“They slipped into the old, dingy mill at dusk, and went over it with the greatest thoroughness. Everything was open and empty. Only the corner bedroom and one of the living rooms were furnished at all. The dust lay thick in the mill proper, but the living rooms were singularly free from it. Darby noticed this and remarked it to Joan. ‘It doesn’t smell half so musty, either,’ he said. ‘I’m glad of that. I hate old, musty smells.’

“Then a queer, crawly feeling came over Joan, and he said: ‘Darby, let’s go home. Life’s short enough, heaven knows. If anything—’ And then Darby told him once for all that if he wanted to go home he might, and otherwise he might shut up.

“‘Do you want it dusty and smelly?’ said he.

“‘Yes,’ said Joan, ‘I do. I don’t see why it isn’t, either. It’s just as old and just as deserted as the other part.’

“‘You might get a little dust from the other side and scatter it about,’ said Darby, and before Joan could reply he had scooped a handful of dry, brown dust from the bag room of the mill and laid it about on the bureau and chairs of the bedroom. ‘Now come out for our last patrol,’ he said. They went out and studied the mill carefully. As they came around to the house side, keeping carefully in the shadow, Joan looked surprised and pointed to the door by which they had entered.

“‘That door’s shut,’ he said.

“‘Well?’ asked Darby.

“‘We left it ajar.’

“‘Oh, the wind!’ said Darby, and went up to the door softly, listening for any escaping joker. He rattled the knob and pushed it inward, but the door did not yield. ‘Why, you couldn’t have left it ajar,’ he said, ‘it’s locked!’

“Joan stared at the house, wondering if it was possible that the window-panes really shone so brightly. And the cobwebs about the blinds, where were they? He could have sworn that the porch was full of dead leaves and sticks when they went in—it was as clean as his hand now.

“‘We’ll go in by the window, the broken one, at the back,’ he said quietly. They went around the house and hunted for the broken window, but did not find it. The window was not only whole but locked. Then Joan set his teeth.

“‘The broken window must have been at the mill side,’ he said, we’ll go there.’ So they went around and clambered in by a paneless window and went to the bedroom. The room was dim, but they could distinguish objects fairly well. Darby looked queerly at Joan.

“‘So you cleared away the dust,’ he asked.

“‘What dust?’ asked Joan. Then he followed Darby’s eyes, and where the little piles of brown dust had lain were only clean, bare boards.

“Outside, the teams of the home-coming farmers rolled by. A dog barked, and now a child called. But they seemed far away—in another country. Where the two young fellows stood, there was a strange, lonely belt of silence.

“‘Perhaps I brushed the chair as we went out,’ said Darby slowly. But he looked at Joan queerly.

“They took their supper, and then Joan announced his intention of staying in the room while Darby patrolled the house, and climbed the ladder at once. At first Darby demurred. He had planned to stay. But Joan was inflexible. It was utterly useless to argue with him, so Darby agreed. If Joan wanted help, he was to call. At eleven and twelve Darby was to climb the ladder and look in, and at once, he was to come in, whatever the situation. At the slightest intimation of the danger of any kind Joan was to fire his revolver and Darby was to call for help and rush up the ladder. For all that the people were so quiet roundabout, they were probably uneasy—they knew that things might happen on the night before Christmas.

“Joan sat for some time after Darby had left him, staring about the room. It was simply furnished with a large bed, a table, and two deal chairs. Thrown over the bed was a moth-eaten blanket, checked white and red. Joan swept it off from the bed and shook it, closing his eyes instinctively to avoid the dust. But no dust came. He shook it again. It was as fresh and clean as his handkerchief. He threw it back on the bed and looked out at Darby, walking quietly around in the shadow.

“He was glad Darby was out there. He got to thinking of ghosts and strange preparations for their coming. The boards of the window creaked, and he gasped and stared, only to see Darby’s face at the window. ‘Anything happened?’ he signalled. Joan shook his head. It must be eleven o’clock. How was it possible? The time had seemed so short. He stared at a big star till his eyes swam. He felt dull and drowsy. He had sat up late the night before, and he needed sleep.

“A thought came to him, and it seemed somehow very original and striking. He tapped on the pane to Darby.

“‘I’ll lie down and take a little nap,’ he whispered, opening the window softly. ‘You can call me at twelve.’ Darby nodded.

“‘How do you feel, old fellow? All right?’ he asked.”

The man choked again and was silent for a time. The strain was growing. The men waited for something to happen as one awaits the falling of the red, snapping embers.

“Joan lay down in that bed,” said the stranger hoarsely, and from this point he hurried on almost too quickly for clearness, “on that hideous checked blanket, and fell asleep. He fell asleep thinking of Darby’s words and how thoughtful they were: ‘How do you feel, old fellow? All right?’

He had bad dreams. He dreamed a woman stood at the foot of the bed and stared at him and motioned him to go. And she was an unnatural woman. She kept changing colour, from red to yellow, from yellow to cream colour, from cream colour to white, from white too—ah! she was a dead woman!

“She motioned him to go, but he refused. She came to the side of the bed and took off her long red sash and bound him down. Then he was willing to go indeed, and strained his muscles in useless efforts to break away, but she laughed at him and then breathed in his face till her damp, icy breath chilled his very soul—and he woke, covered with the sweat of terror—to see her standing at the foot of the bed, looking, looking into his staring eyes!

“So, it was true. There were such things. But at least his limbs were free, and to his joy, he discovered that he was not afraid. No; he had a dull feeling of coming disaster, but no fear. She was a young woman, with big shadowy eyes and a strange mouth. She had on a long, loose white night-gown, open at the throat, and she carried a little lamp. ‘Go!’ he saw in her eyes as plainly as if she said it. He looked about the room—he could have sworn it was changed. It had the air of a woman’s room that she is living in and keeps her things in. He had no right there—none. He should have gone. But he was proud because he wasn’t afraid, and he answered her with his eyes that he would not go. A tired, puzzled look came into her face, a kind of frown, and she leaned over the footboard and begged him with those big dark eyes, begged him hard to go. He had his chance—oh, yes, the fool had his chance!

But he was so proud that he could master her, master a returned soul—for lovely as she was, he knew she wasn’t human—that he only set his teeth and started up to come nearer her. But she raised her hand, and he fell back, feeling queer and drowsy. Then she came to the edge of the bed and sat down and took from behind her a soft red silk sash and drew it across his face. A sweet, languid feeling stole over him; the bed seemed like a cloud of down, her sash smelled like spice and sandalwood in a warm wind. He felt he was being drugged and weakened, and he tried to stumble up, but the soft silk smothered him, and he became almost unconscious.

“He only wanted one thing—to feel her fingers touch his face and to hold her long brown hair. And while she drew the sash across his mouth, he stretched out his hands on either side to catch it and reach her fingers. There was nothing ghostly about her—she was only a lovely dream-woman. Maybe he was asleep.…

“And then she pulled the sash away, and he caught her eye and awoke with a start—her look was full of triumph. She didn’t beg him any longer. This was no helpless, gentle spirit of a woman; this was a weird elemental creature; she hadn’t any soul or any pity; something made her act out all this dreadful tragedy, without any regard for human life or reason. He knew somehow that she couldn’t help his weakness; that though in some fiendish way she had bound him hand and foot, she did it not of herself, but in obedience to some awful law that she couldn’t help any more than he. And then he began to be afraid. Slowly great waves of horror rose and grew and broke over him. He tried to move his feet and hands, but he could not so much as will the muscles to contract. He strained till the drops stood on his forehead, but still, his arms lay stretched motionless across the bed.

“Just then he met her eyes again, and his heart sank, they were so mocking and bitter. ‘Fool! Fool!’ they said. They were so malignant, and yet so impersonal—he could have sworn that she was afraid too. What was to happen? Would she kill him?’ His tongue was helpless. He worked his lips weakly, but they made no words. And she turned down her mouth scornfully and played with the sash. Why did she wait? For she was waiting for a time to come—her eyes told that. What was that time? A great joy that Darby was safe outdoors came to him, and he remembered that Darby would come at twelve! He would break the spell. And just then she left the bed and bent down over the little lamp, and when she took it up, it was lighted. She moved across to the window and set it in the sill. Then she glided to the door and locked it. Joan heard the bolt slip.

“Steps sounded on the ladder outside. Into Joan’s half-dulled thought came a kind of comfort. Darby was coming. Someone knocked on the pane, and the window was raised from the outside.

“‘Joan! Joan!’ whispered Darby, ‘are you all right? Why did you light the lamp? Where are you?’ And then Joan, the fool, forgot that if he had not answered. Darby would surely have come in. It seemed to him that if he did not speak now, he was lost. He strained his throat to say four words—only four: ‘All right. Come in.’ Just that. The first two to reassure Darby, the second to bring him. He made a mighty effort. ‘A11—all right!’ he shouted, ‘c—c—,’ and then her eyes were on him and he faded into unconsciousness. He saw in them a terror and surprise. He understood that she wondered at his speaking. There was a stinging pain in his throat, and he heard Darby whisper angrily,

“‘Keep still, can’t you? Don’t howl so! It’s quarter to one. I looked in at twelve, and didn’t want to wake you. You’d better get up now—who’s that down there?’ and with a sickening despair, he heard Darby hurry down the ladder.

“The leaves rustled a little, and then all was still. He didn’t struggle any longer. It was clear to him now. He was to play the lover in this ill-fated tragedy, whose actors offered themselves, fools that they were, unasked, each time. And what happened to the lover? Why, he was killed. Well, rather that he should die than Darby. It seemed to him so reasonable, now. No one had asked him to suffer. He had had his chance to go and refused it. No one could help him now. Not even she. They must play it out, puppets of an inexorable drama.

“And then the girl dashed to the bed, and sank beside it as if to pray. And he felt her hair on his face, as he had hoped, but it brought no joy to him, for something was coming up from the floor below. Something that sent a thrill before it, that advanced, slowly, slowly, surely. The girl shuddered and grasped the bed and tried to pull herself up, but she sank helplessly back. And slowly, the bolt of the door pushed back. No one pushed it, but it slipped back. Then slowly, inch by inch, the door opened. Joan grew stiff and cold, and would not have looked but that his eyes were fixed. Wider, wider, till it stood flat against the wall.

“Then up the stairs came steps. And with the others, quick and pattering. What was that? Who walked so quickly, with padding, thudding feet? He longed for them to come in—but he dreaded their coming. The door was ready for them. The room was swept and clean.

“Up, up, they came, the heavy steps and the scratching, pattering feet. Nearer, nearer—they came in. The man, large, dark, heavy-jawed; the stone-grey, snarling hound, licking its frothing jaws, straining at its chain. The girl writhed against the bed in terror—she opened her lips, but with a stride, the man was upon her, his heavy hand was over her mouth. He dragged her up, shaking and sinking, he snatched the sash and bound her mouth, he held her at arm’s length and stared once in her eyes. Scorn and rage and murder were in his.

“Joan forgot his own danger in terrified pity. He struggled a moment, but it was useless. His dreadful bonds still held. The man came to the bed, dragging the hound, and Joan shut his eyes, not to see the dark evil face. He would die in the dark, alone, unaided. Oh! to call once! To hear a human voice! But there was no sound but the panting of the great, eager dog.

“The man seemed not to see him. He seized the girl, and turning her toward the light that burned at the pane; he bound her to the bed-post with the silken sash. She writhed and bent and tried to grasp his feet; she pleaded with her eyes till their agony cut Joan like a knife, but the man tied her straight and fast. Then he walked to the pane and crouched down by it and held the dog’s muzzle, and became like a stone image.

“And suddenly it flashed across Joan’s mind, with a passion of fear to which all that had gone before was as nothing, that Darby was coming up that ladder to that light! Darby, whom he had thought so safe, was to come unknowing, unwarned, to that straining, panting beast. He turned faint for a moment. And then, with all the power of his soul, he tried to scream. He felt his throat strain and bend and all but burst with the tremendous effort. He tried again, and the pain blinded him. At his feet there the girl strained and twisted, great tears rolling down her cheeks. And yet there was a ghastly silence. The stifled panting of that hound echoed in a deadly quiet. It was horrible, pitiful! The girl’s white gown was torn and mussed; her soft naked shoulder quivered when she strained against the cruel sash. He could see that her arm was red where it was tied.

“She trembled and bent and bit her lip till the blood-stained her chin. He cursed and prayed and shrieked till the sound, had it come, would have deafened him—but it was all a ghastly mockery! It was as still as a quiet summer afternoon—and the dog and the man waited at the window.

“There was a sound of scraping. Someone was coming up the ladder—someone who whistled softly under his breath, and came nearer every moment. Up, up—the ladder rattled against the window-frame. The man at the window slipped his hand slowly, slowly from the dog’s muzzle. The dog stiffened and drew back his black, dripping jaws from his yellow teeth. The man’s fingers sunk in the beast’s wrinkled neck and he held him back, while he threw one look of hate and triumph at the tortured woman behind him.

“The man bound to the bed couldn’t bear it any longer. As a hand grasped the window-sill from outside, he summoned all his iron will, and with a rasping, rending effort that brought a sickly, warm taste to his mouth, he gave a hoarse cry.

“Then the woman leaned over till the sash sunk into her soft flesh, and shrieked with a high, shrill note that cut the air like a knife. But even as she shrieked, a form rose over the sill, there was a rush from inside, and their voices were drowned in a cry of terror, a scream so broken and despairing that Joan could not recognise the voice. And then there was a horrid crashing fall, and the light went out, and something snapped in the brain of the man chained to the bed, and he dropped for miles into a deep, black gulf.”

There was a dead silence in the room. No one dared to speak. The stranger’s voice had quivered and broken, and in a hoarse whisper, he said, rising and stumbling to the door while they made way for him silently:

“And when he knew his friends again, Darby had been buried a long time. Joan did not know whether a broken neck is so much worse than anything else in the world. He hadn’t any curiosity about the mill—he didn’t care to hear the details of how they burned it to the ground. Perhaps after a while, he will be too tired to contradict ignorant people. But he thinks—he has said, that when a man has not slept five hours in a week, nor spoken for days together without agony, much may be forgiven him in the line of intolerance of other people’s ignorance—a blessed ignorance gentlemen, a blessed ignorance.”

The door closed behind him, and the men drew a long breath. No-one turned out the gas, and it burned till morning, for they took their keys in silence and went upstairs, for the most part, arm in arm, haunted by the hoarse, rough voice of the stranger, whom they never saw again.

And indeed they did not care to see him. “For what could one say?” as young Sanford demanded, the next day. “It either happened, or it didn’t. If it didn’t, he could say no more; if it did, then he is right, and we are in blessed ignorance.” And no one of the circle but nodded and looked for a moment at the chair behind the stove.

Next short story



Original short story by Josephine Dodge Daskam

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

Book cover illustration by Kordi

©All rights reserved 2020