The Life Of Mr John Smith

The Life Of Mr John Smith short story book cover

The Life Of Mr John Smith, an ordinary man who lived a normal life. A short story of a man called John Smith has the ability to inspire a moment of reflection. It is an enjoyable, pleasant tale.

There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant story, soon unfolds. An excellent tale for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences—a good reminder— to be sure.

The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet. It was first published in 1865. We have added some illustrations, and made only a few – slight – changes. We hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.

The Life Of Mr John Smith

This great and good man, of whose life is well worth preserving, was born in the parish of Cripplegate. At half-past ten on Friday, the 1st of April, 1780. He was the only child of his parents, who, perceiving from the first his uncommon sweetness of disposition, and acuteness of intellect, felt a natural pride in watching his progress through infancy.

At seven months he cut his first tooth; at fourteen months he could run alone, and such was his precocity, that, at two years and a half, he could speak his mother tongue sufficiently well to be able to ask for what he wanted.

He began to learn his letters as early as three years old, and soon mastered the whole alphabet, which he would repeat with beautiful precision upon the offer of an apple or a ginger-bread nut.

His father was a brazier, and had a very good business. Jack, as he was then called, was allowed the range of the shop, and possession of all the nails that he could find lying about; thus he soon learned to distinguish between tin tacks, ten-pennies, and brass heads, and having a small hammer of his own, used to amuse himself with knocking them by dozens into a door in the yard, which was soon so thickly studded with them, that you could not see the wood between.

The Life Of Mr John Smith short story book cover

He also had a tin saucepan, which was given him on his seventh birthday by his indulgent father. In this he often made toffee and hard-bake for his own eating, and thus, while still a mere babe, his mind was turned to philosophical and scientific pursuits; for by means of his nails and hammer he learned the difference between wood and metal, and also the degree of force required to drive the one into the other, whilst with the aid of his saucepan he taught himself many a lesson in the science of eating, for that it is a science, Soyer has lately demonstrated to the philosophical world.

At seven years old, he— being already able to read almost any English book that was placed before him, his father and mother consulted together and resolved to send him to a school at Clapham. There he made such progress as exceeded their most sanguine hopes, and from this school, he wrote his first letter, which has been preserved, and runs as follows:

‘Dear Father,—I like school a great deal better than I did at first. My jacket has got two great holes in it, so I am forced to wear my Sunday one. We always have roast beef and Yorkshire puddin’ for dinner on Sunday. The boys are very glad of all the nails and screws and nuts I brought with me. If I might have some more when mother sends my cake and the three pots of jam. The glue, and the cobbler’s wax, and the cabbage-nets, and the packthread, and the fishing-hooks, and the knife, and the new fishing-rod that I asked for when she came to see me, we should all be very glad.

‘We have dug a hole in the playground nearly fifteen feet deep. We mean to dig till we get to the water. On half-holidays, we fish in the water on the common, where there is an island. The boys want to make a bridge to reach it, but we haven’t got anything to make it of. We have not got any fish yet, only newts out of that water, but we saw a good large one on Saturday. Cooper says he is determined he’ll have him. Cooper can fish beautifully.

‘ Dear father, the thieves have stolen all the apples out of the garden, which is a great pity. I send my love to my mother.

⁠’ I remain, dear father, your dutiful son,

⁠’John Smith.’

His parents read this interesting letter with tears of joy. Indeed, from this time till their son was fifteen years old, he gave them neither trouble nor anxiety, excepting twice—namely, when he took the measles, and when he fought with another boy, and came home with a black eye.

At fifteen, he was apprenticed to his father. And during his apprenticeship, his career was as brilliant as could have been desired. Of course, he liked to be well dressed, which his mother felt to be the natural consequence of his good looks. He also liked now and then to spend an afternoon in the parks, looking about him, which his father was glad of with such powers of observation as he was endowed with. It was highly desirable that he should not be without opportunity for exercising them.

At the age of eighteen he had done growing, and measured five feet eight in his shoes; hair brown, with a slight twist in it, scarcely amounting to a curl; complexion moderately fair, and eyes between grey and green. When his apprenticeship was over, he paid his addresses to the second daughter of a bookseller in Cheapside, and married her after a three years’ courtship. During the next eleven years, Mr Smith was blessed with seven children—John, his eldest son; Mary, named after her grandmother; Fanny, Thomas, Elizabeth, James, and Sarah.

A few days after the birth of this last, his father died, leaving him the braziery business, and four thousand pounds in the funds. Mr Smith was a kind son. His mother lived with him, and her old age was cheered by the sight of his honours, worth, and talents. About this time he took out a patent for a new kind of poker, and in the same year, his fellow-citizens showed their sense of his deserts by making him an alderman of London.

Happy in the esteem of all, and possession of a good business, he lived very quietly till he reached the age of fifty, when his mother died, and was respectably buried by her son in the parish church of Cripplegate.

His eldest son now able to take charge of the shop and business, Mr Smith resolved to travel for a month or two. Accordingly, he went to Ramsgate, where he enjoyed much intellectual pleasure in the prospect of the glorious ocean, and the fine vessels which continually appeared in the offing.

He was a true patriot, and, as he wandered on the beach, in his buff slippers and straw hat, with an umbrella over his head to shield him from the sun. He might often have been heard to sing, with laudable pride, ‘Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!’

After sojourning for three weeks at Ramsgate, he went northward; nor did he stop till he had reached that city so renowned for its beauty as often to be called the modern Athens—we mean Edinburgh. Mr Smith wrote home frequently from thence to his family, and made many valuable remarks on the dialect and manners of the inhabitants. Still, it would appear that he did not altogether approve of what he saw, for in a letter to his son, after praising the goodness of the houses. The excellence of the gas-fittings, and, indeed, of everything in the iron and brass departments, he observed that the poultry was tough and badly fed, and that the inhabitants had a most unwarrantably high opinion of their city, ‘which I can tell you, is as dull compared to London,’ he continued, ‘as the British Museum is compared with the Pantheon in Oxford Street.’

He also, in the same letter, made some new and valuable remarks on the lateness of the season in the North. In proof of the difference between London and Edinburgh, he told his son that strawberries were then in full perfection in the latter city, though it was past the middle of August.

Some years after Mr Smith’s return he was elected churchwarden for the parish of Cripplegate. He performed the duties of that situation with great satisfaction to the inhabitants, heading the subscription to the starving Irish with a donation of £5. In the same year he gave £10 to the Middlesex Hospital.

‘It was not till he reached his sixty-eighth year. That Mr Smith retired from the premises and the sphere he had so long adorned. He then gave up the business to his sons. Then retired with his wife to a pleasant residence on Stamford Hill.

He retained his superior faculties to the last; for, at the time when there was so much stir about the Nineveh Marbles, he went, though very infirm, to see them, and, with his usual sound sense, remarked that they did not answer his expectations: as there was so much marble in the country, and also Derbyshire spar, he wondered that Government had not new articles manufactured, instead of sending abroad for old things which were cracked already.

At the age of seventy, Mr Smith died, universally respected, and was buried in the cemetery at Kensal Green.

‘And is this all?’ cries the indignant reader.

All? I am amazed at your asking such a question! I should have thought you had had enough of it! Yes, it is all. And to tell you a secret, which, of course, I would not proclaim to the world. I should not be in the least surprised if your biography, up to the present date. Is not one bit better worth writing?

What have you done? I should like to know? What are you, and what have you been, that is better worth recording than the sayings and doings recorded here? Do you think yourself superior? Well, you may be, certainly; and to reflect that you are, is a comfortable thing for yourself. And notwithstanding that, I say this. I have a true regard for you, and am far from forgetting that though the events of your life may never be striking, or worth recording. The tenor of your life may be useful and happy, and the record may be written on high. In conclusion, however, I cannot forbear telling you that whether you are destined to be great or little. The honour of writing your biography is not desired by your obedient servant, the biographer of the life of Mr John Smith.

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 Pezibear


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

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Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

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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 Lonely Rock

The Lonely Rock short story, narrative of a story shared

The lonely rock is a shared descriptive short story told of a young girl recovering. It has a unique touch of enchantment all of its own. An experience shared from one to another, a most enjoyable narrative which leads you into another unique tale. 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.


Three summers ago I had a severe illness, and on recovering from it, my father took me for a change of air. It was not to one of our usual pretty townish watering-places, but up to the very north of Scotland. A place which he had himself delighted in when he was a boy, a lonely farm-house, standing on the shore of a rocky bay in one of the Orkneys.

My father is a Highlander, and though he has lived in England from his early youth, he retains, not only a strong love for his own country, but a belief in its healthfulness. He is fond of indulging the fancy that scenery which the fathers have delighted in, will not strike on the senses of the children as something new and strange, but they will enter the hereditary region with a half-formed notion that they must have seen it before, and it will possess a soothing power over them which is better than familiarity itself.

I had often heard my father express this idea, but had neither understood nor believed in it. The listlessness of illness made me indifferent as to what became of me, and during our steam voyage, I cared neither to move nor to look about me. But the result proved that my father was right. It was dark when we reached our destination, but I no sooner opened my eyes the next morning than a delightful home-feeling came over me; I could not look about me enough, and yet nothing was sufficiently unexpected to cause me the least surprise.

It was August, the finest part of the northern summer; and as I lay on pillows, looking out across the bay, I enjoyed that perfect quietude and peace so grateful to those who have lately suffered from the turmoil and restlessness of fever. I had imagined myself always surrounded by shifting, hurrying crowds, always oppressed by the gaze of unbidden guests; how complete and welcome was this change, this seclusion! No one but my father and the young servant whom we had brought with us could speak a word that I understood, and I could fall asleep and wake again, quite secure from the slightest interruption.


The Lonely Rock short story, narrative of a story shared

By the first blush of dawn I used to wake up, and lie watching that quiet bay; there would be the shady crags, dark and rocky, lifting and stretching themselves as if to protect and embrace the water, which, perhaps, would be lying utterly still, or just lapping against them, and softly swaying to and fro the long banners of seaweed which floated out from them.

Or, perhaps, a thin mist would be hanging across the entrance of the bay, like a curtain drawn from cliff to cliff; presently this snowy curtain would turn into an amber colour, and glow towards the centre; once I wondered if that sudden glow could be a ship on fire, and watched it in fear.

Soon I saw the gigantic sun thrust himself up, so near, as it seemed, that the farthest cliffs as they melted into the mist appeared farther off than he—so near, that it was surprising to count the number of little fishing-boats that crossed between me and his great disk; still more surprising to watch how fast he receded, growing so refulgent that he dazzled my eyes, while the mist began to waver up and down, curl itself, and roll away to sea, till on a sudden up sprang a little breeze, and the water, which had been white, streaked here and there with a line of yellow, was blue almost before I could mark the change, and covered with brisk little ripples, and the mist had melted back into some half-dozen caverns, within which it soon receded and was lost.

I used to lie and learn that beautiful bay by heart. In the afternoon the water was often of a pale sea-green, and the precipitous cliffs were speckled with multitudes of sea-birds, and bright in the sunshine I loved to watch at a distance the small mountain goats climbing from point to point; wherever there was a strip of grass I was sure to see their white breasts; but above all things, I loved to watch the long wavy reflection of a tall black rock which was perfectly isolated, and stood out to sea in the very centre of the bay. I was the more occupied in-fancy, with this lonely rock, because, unlike the other features of the landscape, it never changed.

The sea was white, yellow, green and blue a long way off and, the sands were bare. Then the sea came back again and, was rushing between every little rock, and powdering the tops of them with spray. The sea was clear as a mirror, and white gulls were swimming on it by thousands. Then the sea was restless, and the rocking boats were tossing up and down on it. And the cliffs? In the moonlight they were castles, and they were ships. In the sunshine, they were black, brown, blue, green, and ruddy, according to the clouds and the height of the sun. Their shadows, too, now a narrow strip at their bases, now an overshadowing mass, gave an endless variety to the scene.

But this one black lonely rock out at sea never seemed to change. In appearance at that distance, it was a massive column, square, and bending inward at the centre, so as to make it lean towards the northern shore. Considering this changeless character, it was rather strange that in my dreams, still vivid from recent illness, this column always assumed the likeness of a man. A stern man it seemed to be, with head sunk on his breast, and arms gathered under the folds of a dark heavy mantle; yet when I awoke and looked out over the bay, the blue moonbeams would not drop on my rock, or its reflection, in such a way as to make it any other than the bare, bleak, bending thing that I always saw it.

In a week I was able to come out of doors and wander by the help of my father’s arm along the strip of yellow sand by the sea. How delightful was the feeling of leaf-like, pebble, sand, or seaweed to my hand, which so long had been used to nothing but the soft linen of my pillow! Everything looked beautiful and fresh out of doors! How delicious was the sound of the little inch-deep waves as they ran and spread briskly out over the flat green floors of the caverns! Yet even more delicious the crisp rustling of the displaced pebbles, when these capricious waves receded!

And the caverns! How I stood looking into them, sunny and warm as they were at the entrance, and gloomily grand within! What a pleasure it was to think that the world should be so full of beautiful places, even where few had cared to look at them! how wonderful to think that the self-same echo, which answered my voice when I sang to it, was always lying there ready to be spoken with, though rarely invoked but by the winds and the waves; that ever since the Deluge, perhaps, it had possessed this power to mock human utterance, but unless it had caught up and repeated the cries of some drowning fisher-boy, or shipwrecked mariner, and sent them back again more wild than before, its mocking syllables and marvellous cadences had never been tested but by me!

And the first sail in a boat was a pleasure which will never be forgotten.

The Lonely Rock short story, narrative of a story shared

It was a still afternoon when we stepped into that boat—so still that we had oars as well as the flapping sail; I had wished to row out to sea as far as the lonely rock, and now I was to have my wish. On and on we went, looking by turns into the various clefts and caverns; at last we stood out into the middle of the bay, and very soon we had left the cliffs altogether behind. We were out in the open sea, but still the rock was far before us; it became taller, larger, and more important, but yet it presented the same outline, and precisely the same aspect, when, after another half-hour’s rowing, we drew near it, and I could hear the water lapping against its inhospitable sides.

The men rested on their oars, and allowed the boat to drift down towards it. There it stood, high, lonely, inaccessible. I looked up; there was scarcely a crevice where a sea-fowl could have built, not a level slip large enough for a human foot to stand upon, nor projection for the hand of a drowning man to seize on.

Shipwreck and death it had often caused, it was the dread and scourge of the bay, but it yielded no shelter nor food for beast or bird; not a blade of grass waved there — nothing stood there.

We rowed several times round it, and every moment I became more impressed with its peculiar character and situation, so completely aloof from everything else — even another rock as hard and black as itself, standing near it, would have been apparent companionship. If one goat had fed there, if one sea-bird had nestled there, if one rope of tangled seaweed had rooted there, and floated out on the surging water to meet the swimmer’s hand — but no.

I looked, and there was no one. The water washed up against it, and it flung back the water; the wind blew against it, and it would not echo the wind; its very shadow was useless, for it dropped upon nothing that wanted shade. By day the fisherman looked at it only to steer clear of it, and by night, if he struck against it, he went down. Hard, dreary and bleak! I looked at it as we floated slowly towards home; there it stood rearing up its desolate head, a forcible image, and a true one, of a thoroughly selfish, a thoroughly unfeeling and isolated, human heart.

The Lonely Rock short story, narrative of a story shared


Now let us go back a long time, and talk about things which happened before we were born. I do not mean centuries ago, when the sea-kings, in their voyages plundering that coast, drove by night upon the rock and went down. That is not the long time ago of which I want to speak; nor of that other long time ago, when two whaling vessels, large and deeply laden, bounded against it in a storm, and beat up against it till the raging waves tore them to pieces, and splitting and grinding every beam and spar, scarcely threw one piece of wreck on the shore which was as long as the bodies of the mariners.

I am not going to tell of the many fishing-boats which went out and were seen no more—of the many brave men that hard by that fatal place went under the surging water, of the many toiling rowers that made, as they thought, straight for home, and struck, and had only time for one cry—’The Rock! the Rock!’ The long time ago, of which I mean to tell, was a wild night in March, during which, in a fisherman’s hut ashore, sat a young girl at her spinning-wheel, and looked out on the dark driving clouds, and listened, trembling, to the wind and the sea.

The morning light dawned at last. One boat that should have been riding on the troubled waves was missing—her father’s boat! and half a mile from his cottage, her father’s body was washed up on the shore.

This happened fifty years ago, and fifty years is a long time in the life of a human being; fifty years is a long time to go on in such a course, as the woman did of whom I am speaking. She watched her father’s body, according to the custom of her people, till he was laid in the grave. Then she lay down on her bed and slept, and by night got up and set a candle in her casement, as a beacon to the fishermen and a guide. She sat by the candle all night, and trimmed it, and spun; then when day dawned she went to bed and slept in the sunshine.

So many hanks as she had spun before for her daily bread, she spun still, and one over, to buy her nightly candle; and from that time to this, for fifty years, through youth, maturity, and old age, she has turned night into day, and in the snow-storms of winter, through driving mists, deceptive moonlight, and solemn darkness, that northern harbour has never once been without the light of her candle.

How many lives she saved by this candle, or how many a meal she won by it for the starving families of the boatmen, it is impossible to say; how many a dark night the fishermen, depending on it, went fearlessly forth, cannot now be told. There it stood, regular as a light-house, steady as constant care could make it. Always brighter when daylight waned, they had only to keep it constantly in view and they were safe; there was but one thing that could intercept it, and that was the Rock. However far they might have stretched out to sea, they had only to bear down straight for that lighted window, and they were sure of a safe entrance into the harbour.

Fifty years of life and labour—fifty years of sleeping in the sunshine—fifty years of watching and self-denial, and all to feed the flame and trim the wick of that one candle! But if we look upon the recorded lives of great men, and just men, and wise men, few of them can show fifty years of worthier, certainly not of more successful labour. Little, indeed, of the ‘midnight oil’ consumed during the last half-century so worthily deserved the trimming. Happy woman—and but for the dreaded rock her great charity might never have been called into exercise!

But what do the boatmen and the boatmen’s wives think of this? Do they pay the woman?

No; they are very poor; but poor or rich, they know better than that.

Do they thank her?

No. Perhaps they feel that thanks of theirs would be inadequate to express their obligations, or, perhaps, long years have made the lighted casement so familiar, that they look on it as a matter of course.

Sometimes the fishermen lay fish on her threshold, and set a child to watch it for her till she wakes; sometimes their wives steal into her cottage, now she is getting old, and spin a hank or two of thread for her while she slumbers, and they teach their children to pass her hut quietly, and not to sing and shout before her door, lest they should disturb her. That is all. Their thanks are not looked for—scarcely supposed to be due. Their grateful deeds are more than she expects, and as much as she desires.

How often, in the far distance of my English home, I have awoken in a wild winter night, and while the wind and storm were rising, have thought of that northern bay, with the waves dashing against the rock, and have pictured to myself the casement, and the candle nursed by that bending, aged figure! How delightful to know that through her untiring charity the rock has long lost more than half its terrors, and to consider that, curse though it may be to all besides, it has most surely proved a blessing to her!

You, too, may perhaps think with advantage on the character of this woman, and contrast it with the mission of the Rock. There are many degrees between them. Few, like the rock, stand up wholly to work ruin and destruction; few, like the woman, ‘let their light shine’ so brightly for good. But to one of the many degrees between them, we must all most certainly belong—we all lean towards the woman or the lonely rock. On such characters, you do well to speculate with me, for you have not been cheated into sympathy with ideal shipwreck or imaginary kindness. There is many a rock elsewhere as perilous as the one I have told you of—perhaps there are many such women; but for this one, whose story is before you, pray that her candle may burn a little longer, since this record of her charity is true.

illustration of a little girl to say finish

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Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by

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