The unscrupulous proposal of Richard Myers received the disdain it so rightly deserved. The father would have none of it and insisted he would not interfere in his daughter’s private affairs. It was a relief to Catherine, who did not consider it necessary to discuss such an imperious letter. Although her mother, Mrs Ashington, questioned her relationship with an acquaintance of Lord and Lady Haxley, who had been identified as an imposter. On the grounds, the letter amounted to nothing more than blackmail, hoping it would persuade them to accept his proposal, Catherine was not prepared to discuss the matter any further.
Mr Ashington agreed and insisted that the implications of such a letter implied he should in some way be indebted to Richard Myers. When Mrs Ashington inferred they were looking at it all the wrong way and that Richard was merely trying to protect Catherine, her father became infuriated.
“Nonsense!” Mr Ashington shouted, “If, he had any decency at all, he would have first discussed it with Catherine—personally.”
The matter then escalated until Mr Ashington bought his fist down, heavy on the drawing-room table, asking why Richard had not had the decency to discuss it with him first. Catherine found it all so upsetting and quickly ran to her room.
The following night they had agreed to attend a formal gathering to celebrate Richard Myers promotion. Mr Ashington decided he would take the opportunity to express his displeasure at receiving such an unscrupulous proposal.
The announcement of Lord and Lady Haxleys arrival was like the sound of a great wave breaking on the shore before receding in a gentle hum of disbelief.
Robert, the butler, looked horrified and continued a little perplexed, “Accompanied—by—”
With horror, Richard Myers frantically began to search for Catherine. He was in no doubt who had accompanied them. His father would attend to the Haxleys, but he would have to move fast to prevent Catherine from seeing the scoundrel.
Thomas Benton then tapped the base of his glass on the table several times.
“Hear—hear!” Thomas shouted. “Hear—hear!”
His sudden authoritative burst stole the announcement of Paul Watkins, who had accompanied the Haxleys.
“Good heavens!” He exclaimed, “You look as horrified as I was when I first heard of Richards promotion.”
Awkwardly Richard smiled, twisting his large frame through the small congregation.
Thomas continued to welcome the guests and congratulate Richard Myers on becoming a partner in the family’s long-established law firm.
After only a few minutes, Richard saw Catherine standing dutifully beside Mr and Mrs Ashington.
He hesitated for a moment to tidy himself up.
Instinctively he turned to find George Thurston, reaching for his hand.
“Congratulations, my boy.” Vigorously he shook Richards hand, who felt his entire—attire dishevel once more. “I’m sure you’ll make us all very proud, my boy.”
“Thank—you,” Richard replied in a restrained grimace of discomfort, “I’ll—try, to do my best.”
The Unscrupulous Proposal
His view of Catherine diminished behind Albert, who too wished to congratulate him. After a few more pleasantries, he managed to excuse himself on a matter of urgency, only to find she had gone. His heart sank in fear of her finding the wretched fellow.
Paul Watkins relationship with the Haxleys had allowed him the privilege to attend such occasions. Although he always remained unapproachable and seemed to prefer his own company. He had caused more than a few people to speculate that he was not of this world. On one such occasion, he did suffer and, it was Catherine who took pity on him. She led his pale, sunken image out into the cold dead of night.
It was nothing but mere superstition as far as Richard was concerned. The idea that this fellow was some unearthly creature who had somehow stolen her soul was ridiculous. Catherine had merely felt sorry for him and, it was in her nature to nurture something back to health.
“Are—you alright, Richard?”Aunt Geraldine inquired startled by his sudden need to support himself with the arm of her chair.
It was with an exhaustive slump of his shoulders and a harsh glare that he finally saw Catherine again. He looked down with an open mouth and shook his head in disbelief. Geraldine Myers lifted herself slightly in anticipation he was taking a turn for the worst, but he quickly tapped her on the shoulder and insisted he was fine.
He watched them standing there together; she seemed to laugh at almost every gesture he made. He cursed her child-like mannerism, although he did, however, concede it was a quality he found most endearing. After all, she was not yet aware of his feelings.
“Richard!” His Aunt called after him as he followed them out into the night.
They strolled over the large terrace and down onto the lawn. Richard carefully avoided the full ray of light emitted by the lanterns. She then hesitated a moment; she looked up as if in awe of the soft moonlight. It was a clear perfect sky. The stars seemed to enhance its magnificence, flickering harmoniously with the romantic sound of orchestral music his father had requested. If not for Paul Watkins, he would be enjoying such a night.
“What!—What!” he growled, “Are you doing now? Facing, each other like that.”
Paul was offering her his wine glass; she took it. Paul immediately moved around her, removing his dark brown cardigan. Richard watched very closely as he then proceeded to place it over her shoulders carefully.
Catherine looked so beautiful in the soft moonlight. An exchange of pleasant offerings appeared to follow. Oh, how he despised the fellow. Then Paul started to make his way back up towards the house. He felt a little unnerved at the idea of having to enter into any pleasantries with him.
Myers then turned in a squint to try and make out who it was meandering along the far side of the lawn. Harry—yes, it was, his old friend from university, he assured himself. Immediately he put up his hand and began waving, “Harry, old chap—over here.”
Harry continued slowly, with his hands clasped behind his back, and his pipe was hanging from one side of his mouth. Myers started to feel a little nervous when he realised Paul was almost upon him. Quickly he shouted again, but this time rushed down the steps, then with a sly glance over his shoulder at Paul, he rushed over to his friend.
“Harry! Old chap, been looking everywhere for you.”
Harry appeared somewhat perplexed by Richard’s, complete relief at seeing him.
“Oh, Harry, thank—God!”
“I say, is everything alright old chap?”
“Yes, actually—no, well—” Simultaneously, Richard lifted his finger then immediately bent over slightly to catch his breath. “I wasn’t sure whether—” he continued, “—or not, you’d turned up.”
“By Jove! You look in a frightful state, old chap?”
“I’m alright—just a little out of breath, that’s all.”
“I mean, anyone would think you were running for your life or something.”
Richard straightened himself up, chuckled weakly, then put out his hand, “good ter see you, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
Harry replied reflectively, “Well, yes. I suppose it has rather,” then, he popped his pipe back into the side of his mouth, only to withdraw it again and point it at Richard, “Now see here! Never mind all that. What the dickens! Is all this nonsense about?”
Myers glanced about them quickly, then drew close to Harry, “I think Catherine’s life is in danger. You remember Catherine, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course—go on,” he replied in a whisper spontaneously returning his pipe to the corner of his mouth.
A quick note by the Author:
As a writer, the greatest reward is knowing the enjoyment a reader gets from his work. There is always that feeling of uncertainty until he receives a review. Your comments are of great importance in helping me improve my skill and improve your enjoyment. Your comments will be much appreciated and be of great value.
She turned in a smile, 'I'd better be getting back to the library, you know how mother likes to get there, early.'
'Yes —' he replied sadly. . . . .
A feeling of uncertainty made her question her decision. Was it just her mother being overprotective. She knew deep down she wanted their blessing, no matter what. It had been nearly seven years; she began to ponder since she had started working at the library. Every Saturday, her mother would always make sure she was there to walk her home, even during the winter months when the night came early, to ensure she got home safely.
In the summer months, she enjoyed the freedom of walking home alone. However, the last few months had been fraught with her mother unexpectedly turning up after work. Occasionally when she was not outside waiting, she would appear rushing out of a shop in the high street, always with a pleasant smile of relief, followed by a mumbling of coincidence which lacked conviction.
She knew full well, it was never a coincidence and that due to her coming home later than usual, her mother had become suspicious. Mathew, who was a few years younger than her, would have to walk a few steps behind, and only when they were confident she was not going to appear would they join as one. At first, Mathew thought it was exciting, but she knew he had grown frustrated by not having the chance to say goodbye to her correctly. She was beginning to doubt her mother’s irrational behaviour.
A Feeling Of Uncertainty
They had become more daring in their desperate desire for one another, and in the evening, she would sneak out into the garden to meet him. Mary had become increasingly concerned about her mother’s inconstant behaviour and realised the risk they were taking.
His marriage proposal had somehow made her feel complete and more comfortable within herself. She was not afraid of her feelings anymore and wanted her parents to share in her enjoyment. Mathew was kind, understanding and very patient. However, it made her think carefully about whether or not she was doing the right thing, or if there was a selfish, very selfish side to her mother, she had not realised.
– A feeling of uncertainty –
‘Wait up!’ Mathew called after her.
‘Oh, sorry,’ she laughed, ‘I nearly forgot about you.’
‘What! So quickly? Well, that’s just nice, that is.’ He laughed sarcastically back.
‘You know, mother says boys are free to do as they like, but girls can’t because in the end they have children an end up living a life of servitude.’
‘Jee’s! — Sounds like I’ve got my work cut out then?’
Instantly, Mary put her arm around him, ‘You — most certainly have,’ she chuckled, ‘What time?’
‘It’s up to you — say around five?’
‘Make it about six-thirty, just to give us time to get in the door.’
The day was glorious; everywhere they looked, there were bright colours of contentment. Couples strolled arm in arm as children ran about them. It was something she always envied, the joy of having a little family and someone to share her every step.
‘What shall I do? — ring the doorbell and introduce myself? Mathew asked, a little less confident.
‘She’s doesn’t bite, you know.’ Mary insisted, ‘I shall come out and meet you at the gate. We’ll go in together.’
‘I’m not afraid, you know. I’m just a little uncertain of what to say.’ He paused reflectively, ‘I mean, it’s not like they know me or anything.
She drew him a little closer, ‘I know you’re not scared,’ she replied in a quiet, suppressed laugh. ‘It will be fine; we’ll have to tell them we knew each other at school.’
‘Come on hurry up! Otherwise, she’ll get there first.’
If only she could be sure that once her mother had met him, everything would be fine. Although it began to cross her mind that maybe it would be better to introduce him before announcing they wanted to get married. In time she would gradually come around to the idea and realise he was not like other men, and hopefully grow fond of him.
‘Let’s make it seven o’clock instead, shall we?’ She said in the spur of the moment.
They had walked over the lush green verge and were about to get onto the shingle path when a middle-aged couple pushing a little girl in a wheelchair came down the path towards them. He held her a moment, waited until they had passed, then whispered, ‘You, don’t think we’re rushing this a bit, do you?’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘Well, it’s just you seem a little — on edge.’
It was not long before they reached the gravel track leading up to the railway crossing, where she knew Mathew would take a keen look over at the boatyard, which runs up to the railway line, on one side. His dreams of owning a yacht one day always fascinated her, considering he could not even swim. She quietly waited until they had reached the turnstile at the railway crossing, allowing him the opportunity to fantasise about becoming a sailor, before she replied.
‘You might be right; maybe I should try and talk to mother first, soften her up a bit.’
A quick note by the Author:
A writers, greatest reward is knowing the enjoyment a reader gets from his work. There is always a feeling of uncertainty until he receives a review. Your comments are of great importance in helping me improve my skill and improve your enjoyment. Your comments will be much appreciated and be of great value.
Old man and The Twilight Guests is a wonderful short story of an old, man revisited by familiar fond memories of old friends who have long since past. A wonderful short story by the American author and poet Josephine Dodge Daskam wrote a series of short stories based on her own experiences. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few—slight—changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short story.
The Twilight Guests
When they left him, in the warm, late afternoon, lying listless on his couch in the porch, they thought he would stay alone there till they came again. His little granddaughter, indeed, felt so sad at deserting him that she ran back and kissed him twice. “To leave Grandpapa alone!” she said. But he was not alone; there came to him strange guests and sweet. And this was the manner of their coming.
As he watched the shadow creeping up the steps, he thought how often he had marked the time by it in the far-away days. He remembered how he had tried to keep in the broad sunbeam that lay along the walk, when he used to run home to supper tired and hungry, shouting to his mother that his school was over and out and that he had come—”So hungry, mother dear!” And as he thought of her, slow tears crept from under his old eyelids, and he raised his hand feebly to wipe them away. When he saw clearly again, he started slightly, for up the path, walking in the sunbeam came a boy. He smiled sweetly, cheerily at the old, man, and sat down confidingly, close to the couch. “It is so warm in the sun!” he said.
The old man turned uneasily and looked at him. “Are you Arthur’s son?” he asked doubtfully. “My eyes are so dim—I cannot always tell you apart, at first. Are you Arthur’s son?”
“No,” said the child.
“Are you—” but then the boy looked full in his face, and the old man could not take his eyes from that searching smile. And as he looked, there grew around his heart the sweet faint breath of lilac trees, though it was early autumn and not at all the spring. And deep in the child’s eyes was so strange a soul—yet so familiar! As he looked yet deeper, the lilac scent grew stronger, and he dared not turn away his eyes, lest he should lose it. So he listened to the child, who spoke brightly yet gravely, with his head resting against the old man’s knee.
“See!” he said, “the lilacs are all out! I took a bunch to school, and the teacher wore them in her dress. Oh, but I grow tired of the school in the mornings, when the birds sing under the window! The brook is all full with the floodwater, do you know?”
“Yes,” said the old man dreamily, “yes, I know.”
“There are pickerel there—I saw one, anyway!” said the boy. “The old one—he lives under the stone all alone. If I could get him, I’d be proud enough! But I never can—I can only catch him on a Friday night when the moon is full, and then I’m not allowed out! The man that weeds the garden told me that. Do you remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” said the old man.
“But if I don’t fish, I don’t care so much,” said the boy happily. “Because I get so wet and dirty, and Rachel doesn’t like me then. I can’t look on her book. She is so dear! She never spots the ink on her apron, like the other girls. And she never eats fish, either. She thinks it hurts them too much to kill them. I don’t think so—do you? But girls are different.”
“Where are you going to-night?” said the old man, quietly, yet his voice trembled.
“I’m going to sing to Rachel’s grandfather. He’s blind, you know.”
“Yes,” said the old man, “and old. His hair is white. He walks with a cane. But he loves the singing.”
“Then to-morrow I must go to church,” said the boy. “The minister talks and prays and I get so sleepy. But mother keeps a peppermint for me, just before the second hymn. Then I have it for the long prayer. And I can sing the hymns. Rachel never looks at me; she sits so still in church. And she won’t play on Sunday. I can have my whip and two of the largest marbles. Do you think that is wrong?”
“No,” said the old man, “I don’t think that is wrong.”
“And we have gingerbread on the porch in the afternoon,” said the boy, “and Rachel comes. Mother says children must not be vexed at the Lord’s Day.”
“Yes,” said the old man, “mother is so good to us—so good—” and when he saw clearly again, the child was gone. Only the shadow lay upon the porch’s upper step, and the sunbeam was shrunken to a narrow path of light.
He stretched out his trembling hands and called sorrowfully to the boy. “Come back! O come back! I had forgotten so much! And the lilacs—” but he was alone. And his hair was almost white. He covered his face with his hands and shivered, for the shadow was creeping up the porch.
And then over his chilled heart, there came the breath of roses—summer roses. The air struck warm and soft upon his cheeks. And when he dropped his hands there stood in the sun-ray a straight, tall youth. His eyes were shining with strength; his smile was happiness itself. In his firm brown hands he held roses—summer roses. The old man forgot to be afraid and raised himself on the cushions.
“Give them to me—give them!” he cried. The young man laughed low and laid the red flowers softly up against the withered cheeks. Then he sat down and took the cold, dry hands in his.
“What do they make you remember?” he said.
The old man sighed for pure joy. “Ah, how sweet—how heavenly sweet! Did they come from the garden behind her father’s house?”
“Yes,” said the youth, “from the old bush near the wall. It was moonlight, and we picked them together. I reached the highest ones, because Rachel is not tall. She wore—”
“She wore the white gown with the big shade hat,” said the old man eagerly. “And I made a wreath for her shoulders. I called her—what did I call her? The queen—the queen.”
“The queen of roses,” said the youth.
“Ah, yes, the queen of roses!” said the old man. “Her mouth was like the pink, young buds. We went up and down the long paths, and I wanted her to take my arm.”
“But she would not,” laughed the young man. “She said that old folks might lean, but she could run as well as any man!”
“So she ran through the garden, and I after!” cried the old man, crushing the roses till they filled the porch with sweetness. “She hid behind the old elm and let me call and call. And I had to find her in the moon shadows. You know she grew afraid and cried out when I caught her? And yet she knew I would. But women are so. Her mother knew I was with her, so she let us stay till it was late. Rachel’s mother was kind to me, you know?”
“Yes,” said the young man. “But she knew that Rachel—”
“Ah!” said the old man quickly, “it seems they all knew! All but Rachel and me! Now that is so strange. We should have known it first. But Rachel laughed so when I tried to tell her, she said—what was it she said?”
“That you were too young to know how you would think of it later,” said the youth.
“And I said, ‘I’m old enough to know I love you, Rachel, now and forever!” said the old man softly, clasping his hands together so that the roses dropped to the ground. “And then she did not laugh at all, but only held her head down so I could not see her eyes, and would not speak.”
“It was so still,” said the youth. “There was no breeze, and everything in the garden listened, listened, for what she would say.”
But nothing in the garden could hear,” said the old man eagerly because she only whispered!”
“Was it then that her mother called?” asked the youth.
“Yes,” said the old man, and he smiled. But we did not come, for Rachel was afraid to go. She thought her mother would not like to have her leave the old home. And she feared to tell her that she wanted to go. So we sat like silly children in the dark. You see, I was afraid, too. Her father and mother were old and old people cannot know how we feel when love first comes to us—and yet they loved, once!”
“Yes, they loved once,” said the youth, “but they forget. They think of lands and money and the most prudent course—they cannot feed their heart’s blood rushing through their veins, surging in their ears, ‘She loves me!’ They cannot feel that one hour with her is dearer than years with the others of the world!”
“And then we went in!” said the old man softly. “Then we went in! And her mother stood waiting for us. Rachel would not look up, and I had to lead her by the hand. She feared that we could not make it plain, that her mother would scold us—”
The youth laughed aloud. “But did she?” he said.
And the old man laughed too.
“No. She came to me and kissed me and then she held Rachel and cried. But not that she was sorry. Older people feel strange when the younger ones start away, you see.”
The young man picked up the roses and laid them again by the side of the couch. “Sleep,” he said softly, “and dream of her!” And the old man’s eyelids drooped and the hands that held the roses relaxed in quiet sleep.
When he awoke, the sun had almost set. The path of rays had faded, and the creeping shadow had covered the highest step and lay along the porch. He felt feebly for the roses, but they were gone. And the sweet, warm scent of them was only in his dim memory. But there sat in the shadow a man.
Threads of grey were in his hair and lines around his firm mouth. But in his eyes shone yet a sweet strength, and he held his head high as he spoke.
“Do you know where I have been?” he said.
The old man shook his head.
“Think!” said the other.
Then while he looked into the stranger’s eyes, there stole across his heart, the wind that blows through the orchard when the fruit is ripe. He drew in great breaths of it, in doubt, and at last he said in a whisper so low that he hardly heard himself, “You have been to his grave—his little grave!”
“Yes,” said the man, “I have. His mother goes there alone—not even I go with her. She goes alone.”
“No,” said the old man solemnly, “no. God goes with her. I thought that she would have died—why did she live?”
“Because,” said the other, “because you would have been alone. And you could not have kept yourself a man, if she had gone, too.”
“Ah, yes!” said the old man softly, “that is it. She is an angel! When he was born, I was almost afraid. I said, “My son! I have a son! If I should die to-night, he would live, and I should live in him!” And when she brought him herself into the orchard—I see her now—I see her now!”
He could not lift his head from the pillow, he was so tired and weak, but he begged the other to come nearer with his eyes. The man came close to the couch and looked down tenderly at the old man. “She wore the white trailing gown,” he said.
“Yes,” whispered the old man, “and the great wide hat. And she held him up under the brim and said that if it should rain, she and he could keep dry together, but I must stay in the rain!”
“Do you remember,” said the other, “how when he could just say words, you played with him under the apple tree?”
“Can I ever forget?” said the old man. “But now the angels teach him a better language, so that he had but one to learn!”
“Do you remember how she left him with her mother and went away with you?” said the other.
The old man smiled a little. “Ah, yes! Well enough!” he said. “We thought we would be young again, and leave him to his grandmother and his sisters. He had enough care! It was not lacking of that—”
“And when you had gone only a few miles she grew anxious—”
“Yes, yes!” said the old man. “She said, ‘Suppose he is sick? Suppose he falls into the brook? He walks about so brave and strong—and he is our only son!’ So we came back.”
“You were good to her,” said the other. “You did always just as she wished.”
“I loved her,” said the old man simply.
The stranger’s eyes grew moist, and his voice shook as he said, “When he grew sick—”
“Ah, when he grew sick!” cried the old man bitterly. “Almost I lost my trust in the Giver of my child, and dared not give him back! How I begged! How I prayed!—you know!”
“Yes,” whispered the stranger, “I know.”
“Then she left me for the first time,” said the old man slowly. “For the first time. She went alone and prayed. Oh, Rachel, my dear, dear wife, I could not go with you to God! I think even we go best alone! I said ‘It cannot be! He cannot let it come! I have done all my life as best I knew how, and is this my reward?’ And I heard her crying, and I wished I had never lived.”
“But not for long?” said the other.
The old man smiled through his tears.
“No, no, not for long!” he said. “When Rachel saw that I was weak, she grew strong. It is strange, but women are the strongest then. And she showed me the folly and wickedness of throwing away my faith because the Most Faithful had taken away my child. And she brought me my little daughters and set them on my knees and put her arms around my neck. So I grew comforted. And there have come other sons—Arthur and John. But he—ah, Rachel! Little we thought when we laid him on the grass under the tree and measured him with goldenrod, that he would so soon lie there for all our lives!”
“And he lies there now,” said the stranger.
“Yes,” said the old man softly, “he lies there now. Under the apple tree where he lay and laughed that day, he lies there now, for Rachel wanted it so. ‘I carried him out there the first time,’ she said, ‘and he always loved it there. I used to walk there before he came, and plan for him, how he should grow so great and famous and good; and now I want him to be there, while he is asleep. And I think that all the fields are God’s—the orchard as well as the graveyard.’ So we laid him there, and she goes there often, and I.”
“You miss her?” said the stranger.
“Miss her?” said the old man, staring at the visitor, “miss her? Why she is here! She is my wife!—” but he was alone, on the couch, with the faint breath of ripening apples dying on the air.
And as he turned wearily, the shadow crept softly and covered the porch and the couch where he lay. The sun dropped behind the hills, and the air struck cold on his uncovered shoulders. He was too tired to cry, too old and weak to question or find fault, but he dimly felt that to be left alone was hard. His memory grew suddenly untrustworthy; had they come or not? It was all so plain to him now. He was not with Rachel; he was neither in the church nor the garden nor the orchard. He was an old man, strangely weak and confused, left alone.
“Ah, Rachel,” he murmured, “only come again, while I go! Come to take me—not that it will be a long to wait before I see you, dear! We have been so happy, you and I! But it was so cold—”
And then while he shivered helplessly and half afraid, there came the scent of spring lilac-bushes, and by his bed stood the bright-eyed child.
“Come! Come and sit by me!” cried the old man. But the boy only smiled. “Take my hands—they are so cold!” he begged. Still, the boy smiled. And as the old man looked, the child’s eyes filled him with half hope, half fear. “Are you—are you—” he tried to speak, but no sound came from his lips.
“If I come and touch you,” said the boy, “it will be the end. Shall I come?” The old man’s face lighted softly.
“Yes,” he said in his heart, for he could not speak aloud, “yes, come now!” The boy laughed and stepped to the couch and lay down beside him, putting his cheek close to the white hair.
Into the heart of the old man rushed a quick, new life. “Ah, Rachel, Rachel,” he said strong and clear, “sit on the step and eat your cake with me? Here is the flag-root I promised you—it’s quite clean. I took off all the mud! And here is the red marble”—but the child kissed him, and he went to sleep, holding to his heart his happy youth.
And when they found him in the evening, they were not too grieved, for on his face was a great content.
The Life Of Mr John Smith, an ordinary man who lived a normal life. A short story of a man called John Smith has the ability to inspire a moment of reflection. It is an enjoyable, pleasant tale.
There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant story, soon unfolds. An excellent tale for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences—a good reminder— to be sure.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet. It was first published in 1865. We have added some illustrations, and made only a few – slight – changes. We hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
The Life Of Mr John Smith
This great and good man, of whose life is well worth preserving, was born in the parish of Cripplegate. At half-past ten on Friday, the 1st of April, 1780. He was the only child of his parents, who, perceiving from the first his uncommon sweetness of disposition, and acuteness of intellect, felt a natural pride in watching his progress through infancy.
At seven months he cut his first tooth; at fourteen months he could run alone, and such was his precocity, that, at two years and a half, he could speak his mother tongue sufficiently well to be able to ask for what he wanted.
He began to learn his letters as early as three years old, and soon mastered the whole alphabet, which he would repeat with beautiful precision upon the offer of an apple or a ginger-bread nut.
His father was a brazier, and had a very good business. Jack, as he was then called, was allowed the range of the shop, and possession of all the nails that he could find lying about; thus he soon learned to distinguish between tin tacks, ten-pennies, and brass heads, and having a small hammer of his own, used to amuse himself with knocking them by dozens into a door in the yard, which was soon so thickly studded with them, that you could not see the wood between.
He also had a tin saucepan, which was given him on his seventh birthday by his indulgent father. In this he often made toffee and hard-bake for his own eating, and thus, while still a mere babe, his mind was turned to philosophical and scientific pursuits; for by means of his nails and hammer he learned the difference between wood and metal, and also the degree of force required to drive the one into the other, whilst with the aid of his saucepan he taught himself many a lesson in the science of eating, for that it is a science, Soyer has lately demonstrated to the philosophical world.
At seven years old, he— being already able to read almost any English book that was placed before him, his father and mother consulted together and resolved to send him to a school at Clapham. There he made such progress as exceeded their most sanguine hopes, and from this school, he wrote his first letter, which has been preserved, and runs as follows:
‘Dear Father,—I like school a great deal better than I did at first. My jacket has got two great holes in it, so I am forced to wear my Sunday one. We always have roast beef and Yorkshire puddin’ for dinner on Sunday. The boys are very glad of all the nails and screws and nuts I brought with me. If I might have some more when mother sends my cake and the three pots of jam. The glue, and the cobbler’s wax, and the cabbage-nets, and the packthread, and the fishing-hooks, and the knife, and the new fishing-rod that I asked for when she came to see me, we should all be very glad.
‘We have dug a hole in the playground nearly fifteen feet deep. We mean to dig till we get to the water. On half-holidays, we fish in the water on the common, where there is an island. The boys want to make a bridge to reach it, but we haven’t got anything to make it of. We have not got any fish yet, only newts out of that water, but we saw a good large one on Saturday. Cooper says he is determined he’ll have him. Cooper can fish beautifully.
‘ Dear father, the thieves have stolen all the apples out of the garden, which is a great pity. I send my love to my mother.
’ I remain, dear father, your dutiful son,
His parents read this interesting letter with tears of joy. Indeed, from this time till their son was fifteen years old, he gave them neither trouble nor anxiety, excepting twice—namely, when he took the measles, and when he fought with another boy, and came home with a black eye.
At fifteen, he was apprenticed to his father. And during his apprenticeship, his career was as brilliant as could have been desired. Of course, he liked to be well dressed, which his mother felt to be the natural consequence of his good looks. He also liked now and then to spend an afternoon in the parks, looking about him, which his father was glad of with such powers of observation as he was endowed with. It was highly desirable that he should not be without opportunity for exercising them.
At the age of eighteen he had done growing, and measured five feet eight in his shoes; hair brown, with a slight twist in it, scarcely amounting to a curl; complexion moderately fair, and eyes between grey and green. When his apprenticeship was over, he paid his addresses to the second daughter of a bookseller in Cheapside, and married her after a three years’ courtship. During the next eleven years, Mr Smith was blessed with seven children—John, his eldest son; Mary, named after her grandmother; Fanny, Thomas, Elizabeth, James, and Sarah.
A few days after the birth of this last, his father died, leaving him the braziery business, and four thousand pounds in the funds. Mr Smith was a kind son. His mother lived with him, and her old age was cheered by the sight of his honours, worth, and talents. About this time he took out a patent for a new kind of poker, and in the same year, his fellow-citizens showed their sense of his deserts by making him an alderman of London.
Happy in the esteem of all, and possession of a good business, he lived very quietly till he reached the age of fifty, when his mother died, and was respectably buried by her son in the parish church of Cripplegate.
His eldest son now able to take charge of the shop and business, Mr Smith resolved to travel for a month or two. Accordingly, he went to Ramsgate, where he enjoyed much intellectual pleasure in the prospect of the glorious ocean, and the fine vessels which continually appeared in the offing.
He was a true patriot, and, as he wandered on the beach, in his buff slippers and straw hat, with an umbrella over his head to shield him from the sun. He might often have been heard to sing, with laudable pride, ‘Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!’
After sojourning for three weeks at Ramsgate, he went northward; nor did he stop till he had reached that city so renowned for its beauty as often to be called the modern Athens—we mean Edinburgh. Mr Smith wrote home frequently from thence to his family, and made many valuable remarks on the dialect and manners of the inhabitants. Still, it would appear that he did not altogether approve of what he saw, for in a letter to his son, after praising the goodness of the houses. The excellence of the gas-fittings, and, indeed, of everything in the iron and brass departments, he observed that the poultry was tough and badly fed, and that the inhabitants had a most unwarrantably high opinion of their city, ‘which I can tell you, is as dull compared to London,’ he continued, ‘as the British Museum is compared with the Pantheon in Oxford Street.’
He also, in the same letter, made some new and valuable remarks on the lateness of the season in the North. In proof of the difference between London and Edinburgh, he told his son that strawberries were then in full perfection in the latter city, though it was past the middle of August.
Some years after Mr Smith’s return he was elected churchwarden for the parish of Cripplegate. He performed the duties of that situation with great satisfaction to the inhabitants, heading the subscription to the starving Irish with a donation of £5. In the same year he gave £10 to the Middlesex Hospital.
‘It was not till he reached his sixty-eighth year. That Mr Smith retired from the premises and the sphere he had so long adorned. He then gave up the business to his sons. Then retired with his wife to a pleasant residence on Stamford Hill.
He retained his superior faculties to the last; for, at the time when there was so much stir about the Nineveh Marbles, he went, though very infirm, to see them, and, with his usual sound sense, remarked that they did not answer his expectations: as there was so much marble in the country, and also Derbyshire spar, he wondered that Government had not new articles manufactured, instead of sending abroad for old things which were cracked already.
At the age of seventy, Mr Smith died, universally respected, and was buried in the cemetery at Kensal Green.
‘And is this all?’ cries the indignant reader.
All? I am amazed at your asking such a question! I should have thought you had had enough of it! Yes, it is all. And to tell you a secret, which, of course, I would not proclaim to the world. I should not be in the least surprised if your biography, up to the present date. Is not one bit better worth writing?
What have you done? I should like to know? What are you, and what have you been, that is better worth recording than the sayings and doings recorded here? Do you think yourself superior? Well, you may be, certainly; and to reflect that you are, is a comfortable thing for yourself. And notwithstanding that, I say this. I have a true regard for you, and am far from forgetting that though the events of your life may never be striking, or worth recording. The tenor of your life may be useful and happy, and the record may be written on high. In conclusion, however, I cannot forbear telling you that whether you are destined to be great or little. The honour of writing your biography is not desired by your obedient servant, the biographer of the life of Mr John Smith.
Hannah is a short story by the exciting new author A I Moffat, who conjures up the worry and heartache of being a mother. Hannah Jones has a chance to rekindle the close relationship she once shared with her daughter by Charlotte’s arrival, her daughters closest friend. A short story of intrigue which captures the imagination.
By A I Moffat
Hannah Jones was kneeling in front of the fire when she heard the girls open the front door, her head tilted slightly to one side. A warm faint smile grew as she listened to them. She thought of how time had flown and, felt a sense of pride in having watched over them for so many years. They had reached an age to be more than capable of making their own decisions in life. However, she was finding it difficult to prevent herself from interfering in her daughter’s life.
Their once-close relationship had taken a turn for the worst, and she was now afraid of losing the ability to talk as friends rather than a mother to her child. This fear made her realise she had made a mistake in allowing her own feelings and possibly her own desire to influence her actions. She now strongly regretted ever interfering and feared she might never be able to restore the intimate relationship she once shared with her only child.
Charlotte was the first to transform the gloom into life, she went straight to her and instantly fell to her knees beside her, ‘Hello, mother oh — I’ve missed you.’ Instantly she threw her arm around her and kissed her cheek. ‘Gosh, it’s so cold out there tonight.’ She shivered into her.
‘Yes, well you can’t expect anything else at this time of year.’ Hannah Jones chuckled, whilst with a firm hand, she rubbed Charlotte’s arm. ‘How was your journey?’
‘Tiresome mother, you know I’m sure men only have one thing on their minds.’
‘Oh, Charlotte, you will wear such glamorous clothes, what else can you expect.’ She smiled and pulled her close to her. ‘You’re a sight for saw eyes anyway, that’s for sure.’
Emily leaned over and kissed her mother’s other cheek, ‘Sorry we’re a bit, late mum, we stopped at Potters for a coffee on the way up.’
‘I guessed you had, and how is Lara and Mrs Ramsey?’
‘Lara’s off with a stinking cold again, and Mrs Ramsey is still complaining about being quiet, but she said to send you her regards.’
It was strange, but a relief, that in the presence of Charlotte her daughter was behaving more like her usual self, unlike the previous two weeks where she seemed to distance herself from her, sneaking in and out like a church mouse. She saw it as an opportunity to rekindle that close intimate relationship with her daughter.
Emily had positioned herself on the edge of the fireside chair; she sat leaning against the arm toward the fire staring directly into the flames, when her mother asked, ‘How are you feeling today, Emily?’
It was not something her mother would normally ask, unless she had complained of feeling unwell in the first instance. Emily remained silent, unsure of where it might be leading.
‘Only, Trevor phoned today, he wanted to know how you were, and whether or not you would be going back to work on Monday.’ For a few seconds before she continued, she waited, ‘I told him you were feeling much better and was intending to start back again, on Monday.’
‘It’s not my business to interfere. What you do with your life now is up to you. I don’t even want to know why you haven’t been at work, for the past two weeks or even where you have been. I want you to know that— I am always here for you, Emily and, always will be.’ With compunction, Hannah Jones turned to Charlotte and smiled, ‘Well, I think its best that I go and see to your tea, before it spoils.’
Charlotte, managed to bring a small weak smile to her face, her attention was quick to return to Emily, as Hannah stood up.
After Emily’s mother had left the room, it was Charlotte who broke the silence between them in a quiet, discreet raised voice, ‘Holly Shit! Emily! What was that all about?’
‘Nothing, we just ain’t been getting on lately.’
‘I can see that, but what about this business at work. I didn’t even know you hadn’t been going into work.’
‘Oh, Charlotte, I’m sorry. I better go sort things out with her.’
Her mother was standing at the sink; she went over and stood at her side, a moment of silent unity passed before she said, ‘Mum . . . I’m really sorry.’
In that split second, Hannah Jones closed her eyes with relief and thanked God at the same time, but she maintained her composure, prevented herself from showing her weak and unconditional love that she had of late found so unbearable to live with.
‘Mum— please. I don’t understand what’s happened to me; I can’t do this on my own. Please— Mu—mum.’
‘Well, that’s what I’m here for—’ She was unable to suppress her innermost feeling, her wanting, any longer and took her daughter in her arms, tight to her chest.
Charlotte had replenished the fire and was sitting patiently in the fireside chair, when she heard a sudden tapping sound coming from the front door; she was a little hesitant and not completely sure, whether or not somebody was actually at the door, and rather than disturb Emily or her mother she went to check.
Nobody was there; when she was closing the door, she noticed a box on the doorstep. She took a look around to see if anybody was in the street, then lifted it and took it inside; it was an open box wrapped in rustic oak leaves and inside was a single red rose laid on a bed of pale blue forget-me-nots.
Hannah had heard the front door close and rushed out of the kitchen, she was a little startled to find Charlotte looking at her in amazement, ‘What is it, Charlotte?’
‘It’s just so beautiful mother.’ Her gaze instantly fell back to the box; she was now cradled in her arms. ‘They just left it on your doorstep.’
‘Oh, My God, it isn’t?’ On impulse she covered her face in her hands, with her eyes still fixed on Charlotte, she slowly allowed her line of sight to become clearer, ‘You have got to be joking Charlotte, it can’t be.’
Charlotte lifted her head, her expression puzzled, ‘It isn’t— what?’
With apprehension Mrs Jones forced herself to look inside the box, ‘It’s just a rose?
‘Yes, but isn’t it beautiful?’
Mrs Jones sighed with relief, ‘For goodness sakes, you frightened the life out of me for a minute— Yes, it’s lovely.’
Emily had rushed out to see what all the commotion was, ‘What is it, mum?’ She leaned over the side of her mother, ‘Oh— My God!’
Hannah then watched her closely as she offered to take the box from Charlotte; it was done with such delicacy that her mother could hardly believe her eyes, especially after the way she had fought so hard against any such notion, of her and Steve getting back together again. She was not going to be complacent this time and, bit her lip. She merely indicated to Charlotte to follow her into the kitchen.
Emily had taken the rose over to the fire, once again she sat on the edge of the fireside chair, but this time she gazed down into the box and felt its warmth growing inside her, it felt as if he were with her, as it had all day.
‘Oh, Charlotte I just can’t believe it, you know I was beginning to think that boy didn’t have a romantic bone in his body.’ She paused a second and turned the dial-up on the cooker. ‘And to think I had just about lost my patience with Stephen Maguire, who’d have believed it.’
‘It’s very romantic, that’s one thing for sure, but—’
‘You know all the trouble that boy caused in this family over the past month; I tell you Charlotte, I had really reached the end with him. I’ve done your favourite, steak and kidney pie. It shouldn’t be much longer. You wouldn’t mind just peeling the potatoes, there already in the sink. Oh Charlotte, I can’t tell you how pleased I am your finally— here.’
Hannah was unable to suppress the emotion that had been boiling up inside her for so long. She had missed Charlotte immensely, she had always considered her as being part of her family as if she were her own, this mixture of emotion and in the presence of someone, she was able to trust and cared so much about, had allowed her to feel a sense easement, allowing her to let go finally.
Charlotte instantly put her arm around her, ‘Oh mother, please, everything will be alright; you just wait and see.’
‘I’m not sure Charlotte, I can’t take much more, at times I can’t talk sense to her, it’s like she’s in a different world that— I can’t seem to reach. Oh, Charlotte, I only want, what’s best for her.’
‘I know, you do mother, she’ll be fine.’
‘It’s her father you know, him and me arguing all the time, that’s what’s made her like this. I know it. She doesn’t let things out like she use to, she bottles them all up inside. Hardly ever talks to me these days.’ She shook her head lightly in despair. ‘It’s the drink you know; it brings out the worst in a man; he never use to drink; he was always such a kind and caring man.’
‘I know mother. Come on let’s get those spuds scrubbed, and pick their blooming eyes out.’
Hannah smiled, ‘Your one in a million Charlotte, yes lets.’
‘Mmm, I can smell that steak and kidney pie.’ And I’m absolutely starving.’
‘It won’t be much longer, did you not have something on your way down?’
Charlotte shook her head, ‘Well, I’m trying to lose a few pounds.’
‘You’re always trying to lose them; I doubt you ever had them in the first place, just look at you. You know Brian will be absolutely furious if they get back together. He reckons he’s never liked the boy. And after he cancelled the engagement, well —. He’ll not have his name mentioned in the house. He reckons that’s why he took up drinking in the first place, because he couldn’t stand the sight of the boy, sitting there with his daughter like he owned the place. He did use a few stronger words mind.’
‘Oh, mother you mustn’t go worrying about it, he’s probably just looking for any excuse, to get down to the stupid pub. That’s what they like.’
‘Listen to you all grown up, Miss Charlotte Harrison.’ She flicked some water over her arm, and they both laughed. ‘Yes, your right, no use worrying we just got to get on with the hand we’re given.’
‘Well, I think we’ve just about blinded the lot of them Charlotte.’
‘Yes, I think your right. Ooh, you a get a certain sense of satisfaction from sticking it in and twisting it around.’ She smiled wickedly. ‘Come on; let’s show these little blighters what a ring fire really feels like.’
‘She-devils, that’s what we are,’ Charlotte cackled. ‘Doesn’t it feel just great?’
‘Yes.’ She cackled back, ‘Thank you, Charlotte. ‘You’d better go and see if Emily’s alright, and then get unpacked. I’ve put some fresh towels over the rail on the top of the landing.’
Charlotte cackled a thank you.
Charlotte knelt in front of Emily; her hand gently covered hers, she looked up into her gaze and smiled softly. ‘He must love you so much, and it must have taken him ages.’
A few seconds of silence passed between them, then Emily replied, ‘I know. And that’s what makes it, so difficult.’
‘Oh, shit! Em, Steve didn’t send you the rose, did he?
‘No, you see Charlotte some things are far too big, to fit inside their own little box.’
‘Oh, Emi, you’ve fallen in love with him, haven’t you?
‘I think so.’
Charlotte was suddenly lost in thought. She kept repeating to herself over and over again; mother doesn’t know. She looked up at Emily, her eyes waiting, but she could not find an immediate answer. No matter which way she turned things, nothing seemed to fit, and always the same answer sprang to mind. She needed more time, time to think, yes she thought, time must be the answer. ‘Well!’ She exclaimed, scratching her head. ‘Let’s get that thing in some water, before it dies.’
Emily’s eyes opened wide, ‘Yes, and I know just the vase to use.’ She smiled, bringing her shoulders up in a twitch of elation.
Instantly they both stood up, went into the kitchen. Emily turned to Charlotte and asked, ‘Will you take care of it? While I get the vase.’
Charlotte went to grab it, but after seeing the look in Emily’s eyes, it was with empathy; she allowed her to lower the rose gently into her hands.
‘Mum, where’s that vase that looks like a fruit dish?’
‘A fruit dish! Emily for goodness sakes, there’s a vase under the sink.’
‘No, I can’t find it; I need a tall dainty one.’
‘Right at the back there should be a small— flared vase, use that and you’d better hurry, because I’ll be ready to serve up in a minute.’
‘I’ve got it! Thanks, mum.’
Hannah Jones looked over at Charlotte and smiled, it was a mere glimpse, but somehow she felt life was finally returning to the house. In these few days, she was determined, to rekindle her bond with Emily. She would not let the rose or her desire to make Steve a permanent family member come between her and her daughter ever again. She had acted recklessly, had said things that she didn’t mean, purely out of disappointment for her own wanting and desire. If anyone could break the bitter stance her daughter had now adopted towards her, it was Charlotte, and this opportunity that had excited her before seemed to have been restored.
‘You two had better go and freshen up, ready for your tea before it gets spoilt.’
The conversation at the dinner table was mostly local gossip; it seemed no one wanted to approach the subject of Stephen Maguire, least of all Mrs Jones. If his name were to be mentioned, she had already made up her mind, and it would not be of her doing.
Charlotte had enjoyed hearing all about her old school friends, and the local individuals she had known throughout her childhood. She had also avoided his name, and it had seemed the meal would be bought to a conclusion, without even touching the subject.
Emily was fully aware they had acted with prudence, and was grateful for the respite, yet unfortunately made the mistake of comparing Steve with the exploits of a David Bates who had recently cheated on his wife, of sixteen years a Miss Susan Fraser.
At first, there was an unbearable silence. It seemed impenetrable but for the grace of Charlotte who was quick to reveal the character of her new boyfriend, and where he had taken her on their very first date, an ice skating rink.
I have a right, of course, we all have a right yet we seem to misinterpret them sometimes. A short story within in its own rights offers some enlightenment. Having a right is something earned, a responsibility in conducting yourself in a manner that constitutes having that right.
There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant story, soon unfolds. An excellent tale for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences, a good reminder— to be sure.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet and was first published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
I Have A Right
We, as a nation, are remarkably fond of talking about our rights. The expression, ‘I have a right,’ is constantly in our mouths. This is one reason, among some others, why it is fortunate for us that we speak English, since this favourite phrase in more than one continental tongue has no precise equivalent.
Whether the nation’s phrase grew out of the nation’s character, or whether the happy possession of such a phrase has helped to mould that character, it is scarcely now worthwhile to inquire. Certain it is that those generations which make proverbs, make thereby laws which govern their children’s children. And thus, perhaps, it comes to pass that this neat, independent, Anglo-Saxon phrase helps to get and keep for us the very rights it tells of. For, as under some governments, it is true that the dearest and most inalienable rights of the race go by the name of privilege, indulgence, or immunity, a concession, and not an inheritance.
A gift, and not a birthright; while ancient rights, in our sense of this word, merge into mere privileges held at the ruler’s will, and having been once called privileges, may be exchanged by him for other privileges which may amount to no more than the sight of a glittering show; so in our case it is true that privileges have a constant tendency to merge into rights. Let any man grant his neighbours the privilege of walking through his fields, his park, or his grounds, and then see how soon it will be said that they have a right to traverse them. In fact, very soon they will have a right by the law of the land; for, to prove the, right, they need only show that they have enjoyed the privilege ‘time out of mind.’ And then, again, Right is very unfair to his cousin Privilege, for, by the laws of England, sixty years constitute ‘time out of mind.’
By taking the trouble to investigate, any person may find many parallel cases, and so we keep the path of liberty. First, we got that path as a sort of privilege which was winked at. Then we made out that we had a right to it! Next, we proved that it wanted widening, and then we paved it handsomely, made a king’s highway of it, and took pains to have it constantly in repair.
Now, it being an acknowledged thing, my dear friends, that we have rights, and that we like to have these facts well known to all whom it may concern how—glad you will be if I can point out to you certain rights which some of you have scarcely considered at all.
I have met with numbers of worshipful old gentlemen, industrious young workmen, and women of all degrees, who knew well how to use our favourite phrase in its common vulgar sense. Still, I knew a worshipful old baker, in an old country town, who used it oftener than any of them. To hear him hold forth about his rights, did one’s heart good, and made one proud of one’s country. Everybody else’s rights appeared flat and tame compared with his, and the best of it was, that no one was ever heard to dispute them.
Dear old man, he is dead now, but some of his rights survive him. I was on my way home to the neighbourhood of that little country town wherein, for so many years, he might have been seen on a summer evening, standing in his shop door, and exercising the rights he loved, when it so happened that I heard some of my countrymen also discoursing about their rights. The more they talked, the more petty and insignificant seemed their rights compared with those of Mr Bryce, the baker.
We took our tickets at the London terminus of the Great Northern Railway, and entered an empty carriage; in a corner seat, however, a gentleman’s greatcoat was lying; presently a lady got in, and now the two vacant seats were, it so happened, as far as possible, asunder.
The next arrivals were another lady with a little girl about four years old. Without any hesitation, she took up the coat, and placing it in another corner seat, set her child in the division near herself.
Had she a right to do this? You inquire. Certainly not; and she was soon reminded of that fact, for just at the last minute a calm and rather supercilious looking young man entered, glanced coldly at her, and said, ‘I must trouble you, madam, for that seat; I laid my coat on it some time ago, and also turned the cushion; I really must request you to leave it, as I have a right to it.’
He laid as strong an emphasis on the must, as if to turn her out was a stringent duty. Perhaps she thought so, for as she glanced, in rising, at the child, she said, with a smile at the youth, who was quite young enough to be her son, ‘Certainly you have an undoubted right to this seat;’ and then added, ‘but I suppose no one would have disputed your right to give it up to me, if you had chosen.’
Her easy self-possession, and perhaps her remark, made him look a little awkward; but as the lady rose, my brother changed places with the child, and thus they still sat together; and while the youth settled himself in the place, he had a right to, our train set off with one of those thrice horrible, wavering, and querulous screeches of which the Great Northern has a monopoly.
While we went through the first tunnel, rending the air all the time with terrific shrieks, the little girl held tightly by her mother’s hand, and two large tears rolled down her rosy face. ‘We shall soon be at Hornsey,’ said her mother, and accordingly in a few minutes we stopped. While the lady and child disappeared from our view, the owner of the seat ejaculated, ‘Cool!’ and then looking around the carriage, he continued, as appealing to those who were sure to agree with him—’When a man has a right to a thing, why, he has a right, but to have a right to waive a right, is a dodge that a man wouldn’t expect to be told off.’
This most lucid speech he closed with a general smile, and we set off again with another shriek, longer and shriller than the former one.
After an hour’s travelling we were deserted by all our fellow-passengers, and seemed to be waiting a very long time at a little country station. At length, two old gentlemen entered, and, as the railway man opened the door for them. I said to him, ‘Can you tell me why we are detained here so long?’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ he replied; ‘there’s an excursion train due directly, and we’re shunted off the line to let it pass.’
‘Horrid bore!’ said one old gentleman.
‘Disgraceful shame!’ said the other; ‘but don’t let that make you uneasy, young lady,’ he added, politely addressing me; ‘” shunted” means nothing dangerous.’
I was about to ask what it did mean, when with a whiz, and a great noise of cheering, the excursion train shot past us, displaying a long, long succession of second and third-class carriages, every window garnished with pale faces of men and women, besides numbers of delicate-looking children.
‘Disgraceful shame!’ repeated the stoutest of the old gentlemen; ‘here’s our train twenty minutes late; twenty minutes, sir, by the clock.’
‘I should think,’ said my brother, ‘that this is not a grievance of very frequent occurrence—mail trains are not often obliged to give way to the convenience of the excursionists; but we were behind time when we got up to this station, and as we must stop a quarter of an hour, shortly, we should very much have detained that train if it had been on the same line, and behind us.’
‘Well, I can’t make it out,’ was the reply: ‘and what does their being detained matter to me; I paid for my ticket, and I’ve a right to be taken on.’
‘Certainly,’ said the other; ‘no man has a right to interfere with my business for the sake of his pleasure —such new-fangled notions!—What’s the good of a day’s pleasure to the working classes?’
‘They have it so seldom,’ my brother suggested, ‘that they have plenty of time to consider that question. Between one day’s pleasure and the next.’
‘Horrid bore, these excursion trains!’ repeated the first speaker; ‘filling the country with holiday folk; what do they want with holidays—much better stop at home, and work, and earn a little more. What’s the good of sending out a swarm of pale-faced, knock-kneed London artisans, and gaping children, that don’t know a kite from a jackdaw? If you must give ’em a treat, let it be a good dinner. Country air, indeed! I don’t find London unhealthy, and I spend three or four months in it every year.’
‘To be sure,’ echoed his companion, ‘these London clergy and ministers ought to know better than to spread such sentimental nonsense among the people—duty comes before pleasure, doesn’t it? Why, a man had the assurance to write to me—a perfect stranger—to know whether I’d open my park for a shoal of his cockney parishioners to dine and drink tea in! He knew it was closed, forsooth, but he hoped for once, and in the cause of philanthropy, I’d open it. I should like to know where my young coveys would be when every inch in my wood had been overrun, and all the bracken trod down in the cause of philanthropy? No, I wrote him a piece of my mind—I said, “Rev. Sir, I do not fence and guard my grounds that paupers may make a playground of them; and, though your request makes me question you’re good taste a little, I trust to your good sense not to render your people liable to be taken up as trespassers. I have a right to prosecute all trespassers in my grounds, and, therefore, I advise you to keep your people clear of them.”‘
‘And very proper, too,’ replied the other; ‘there are plenty of people that will receive them; there’s your neighbour, Sir Edward, who’s happy and proud to entertain as many as they like to pour into his domain.’
Upon this, they both laughed, as it appeared, in pity of the said Sir Edward. ‘Well, well, every man has a right to his own opinion.’ (N. B., is that a fact?) ‘Sir Edward wanted me, the other day, to subscribe to some new baths and wash-houses. “My good fellow,” I said, “when all the paupers in London can earn their own living, it will be time enough to talk of washing their faces; but for goodness’ sake let ’em earn dinners before you offer ’em Windsor soap, and hats before you find ’em pomatum.”‘
‘And may I know what Sir Edward said in reply?’ I inquired, addressing the old gentleman.
He seemed to consider. ‘Well,’ he said, after a puzzled pause, ‘it was something of this sort—something about the decencies of life being striven for with better heart, if a few of its amenities were within reach.’
This reminded me of a poor woman who lived in a particularly dirty cottage, near my father’s house, in the country. I one day tapped at her door, and she opened it in a gown all spotted with white-wash. ‘What! cleaning, Mrs Matts?’ I exclaimed in surprise. ‘Why, yes, Miss,’ she replied, ‘for my husband’s brother has just been up from London, where he works, to see us, and brought us a beautiful picture of the Queen, all in a gilt frame, Miss; and when he’d hung it up, it made the walls look so shocking dirty, that I couldn’t bear the sight of ’em, so I’m cleaning, you see.’
But enough has been said about the rights of other people; let us now turn to Mr Bryce, the baker.
Bryce was working for a baker in the village near which my grandfather lived. His master died suddenly, leaving a widow and nine children. Bryce was an enterprising young man and had been thinking of setting up for himself. My grandfather, however, heard that after his master’s death, he gave up this wish, and continued to work at his former wages, trying to keep the business together for the widow. Happening to meet him, he asked him if this report were true?
‘Why, yes, sir,’ said Bryce; ‘you see nobody else would manage everything for her without a share of the profits; and nine children—what a tug they are! so as I have nobody belonging to me—nobody that has any claim on me—’
‘But I thought you wanted to set up for yourself?’
‘And so I did, sir; if — I’d a wife and family, I’d make a push to get on for their sakes,—but I’ve none. So, as I can live on what I get, and hurt nobody by it, “I have a right” to help her, poor soul, as I’ve a mind to.’
Soon after this the widow took to dress-making, and did so well that she wanted no help from Bryce, who now set up for himself, and borrowed a sum of money from my grandfather, to begin with. At first, he was so poor, and the weekly profits were so small, that he requested my grandfather to receive the trifle of interest monthly, and for the first two months he said it ‘completely cleared him out’ to pay it. My grandfather was, therefore, rather surprised one Saturday evening, as he sauntered down the village street, to see four decrepit old people hobbling down the steps of his shop, each carrying a good-sized loaf, and loudly praising the generosity of Mr Bryce. The sun was just setting, and cast a ruddy glow on the young baker’s face as he stood leaning against the post of his door, but he started with some confusion when he saw my grandfather, and hastily asked him to enter his shop. ‘I reckon you are surprised, sir,’ he said, ‘to see me giving away bread before I’ve paid my debt: but just look round, sir. Those four loaves were all I had left, except what I can eat myself, and they were stale; so think what they’d have been by Monday morning.’
‘I don’t wish to interfere with your charities,’ said my grandfather.
‘But, sir,’ said Bryce. ‘I want you to see that I’m as eager to pay off that money as I can be; but people won’t buy stale bread—they won’t, indeed; and so I thought I had a right to give away those four loaves, being they were left upon my hands.’
‘I think so, too,’ said my grandfather. Who was then quite a young man, ‘and I shall think so next Saturday and the Saturday after.’
‘Thank you, sir, I’m sure,’ said the baker.
Over time the debt was paid, though almost every Saturday those old people hobbled from the door. And now Mr Bryce’s rights were found to increase with his business and enlarge with his family.
First, he had only a right to give away the stale loaves, ‘being he was in debt.’ Then he had a right to give away all that was left, ‘being he was out of debt.’ While he was single, he had a right to bake dinners for nothing, ‘being he had no family to save for.’ When he was married, he had a right to consider the poor, ‘being, as he was, so prosperous as to have enough for his own, and something over.’ When he had ten children, business still increasing, he found out that he had a right to adopt his wife’s little niece, ‘for, bless you, sir,’ he observed, ‘I’ve such a lot of my own, that a pudding that serves for ten shares serves for eleven just as well. And, as for schooling, I wouldn’t think of it, if my boys and girls were not as good scholars as I’d wish to see; for I spare nothing for their learning—but being they are, and money still in the till, why, I’ve got a right to let this little one share. In fact, when a man has earned a jolly hot dinner for his family every day, and seen ’em say their grace over it, he has a right to give what they leave on’t to the needy, especially if his wife’s agreeable.’
And so Mr Bryce, the baker, went on prospering, and finding out new rights to keep pace with his prosperity. In due time his many sons and daughters grew up; the latter married, and the former were placed out in life. Finally, after a long and happy life, Mr Bryce, the baker, died, and in his will, after leaving £500 apiece to all his sons and daughters, he concluded his bequests with this characteristic sentence:—
‘And, my dear children, by the blessing of God, having put you out well in life, and left you all handsome, I feel (especially as I have the hearty consent of you all) that I have a right to leave the rest of my property, namely £700, for the use of those that want it. First, the village of D——— being very much in want of good water, I leave £400, the estimated cost, for digging a well, and making a pump over it, the same to be free to all. The interest of the remainder I leave to be spent in blankets every winter, and given away to the destitute widows and orphans in the parish.’
So the well was dug, and the pump was made; and as long as the village lasts, opposite his own shop door, the sparkling water will gush out; the village mothers will gossip as they fill their buckets there; the village fathers will cool their sunburnt foreheads there, and the village children will put their ears to it and listen to its purling down below; a witness to the rights, and a proof of how Bryce, the baker used his rights.
The One-eyed Servant is not precisely what she was expecting, but an inspiring degree of hope changes her mood with excitement. When the one-eyed servant is introduced, a point is clearly made. A tale with a twist yet teaches us a valuable lesson.
There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant tale soon unfolds. An excellent story for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences, a good reminder— to be sure.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet, which was first published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
The One-eyed Servant
Do you see those two pretty cottages on opposite sides of the Common? How bright their windows are, and how prettily the vines trail over them! A year ago, one of them was the dirtiest and most forlorn-looking place you can imagine, and its mistress the most untidy woman.
She was once sitting at her cottage door, with her arms folded, as if she were deep in thought, though, to look at her face, one would not have supposed she was doing more than idly watching the swallows as they floated about in the hot, clear air. Her gown was torn and shabby, her shoes down at heel; the little curtain in her casement, which had once been fresh and white, had a great rent in it; and altogether, she looked poor and forlorn.
She sat some time, gazing across the common, when all of a sudden she heard a little noise, like stitching, near the ground. She looked down, and sitting on the border, under a wall-flower bush, she saw the funniest little man possible, with a blue coat, a yellow waistcoat, and red boots; he had got a small shoe on his lap, and he was stitching away at it with all his might.
‘Good morning, mistress!’ said the little man. ‘A —very, fine day. Why may you be looking so earnestly across the common?’
‘I was looking at my neighbour’s cottage,’ said the young woman.
‘What! Tom, the gardener’s wife? She used to be called — little Polly and a very, pretty cottage it is, too! Looks thriving, doesn’t it?’
‘She was always lucky,’ said Bella (for that was the young wife’s name), ‘and her husband is always good to her.’
‘They were both good husbands at first,’ interrupted the little cobbler, without stopping. ‘Reach me, my awl, mistress, will you, for you seem to have nothing to do: it lies close by your foot.’
‘Well, I can’t say, but they were both very, good husbands at first,’ replied Bella, reaching the awl with a sigh; ‘but mine has changed for the worse, and hers for the better; and then, look how she thrives. Only to think of our both being married on the same day; now I’ve nothing, and she has two pigs, and a’—
‘It was a lot of flax that she spun in the winter,’ interrupted the cobbler; ‘and a Sunday gown, as good green stuff as ever was seen, and, to my knowledge, a handsome silk handkerchief for an apron; and a red waistcoat for her goodman, with three rows of blue glass buttons, and a flitch of bacon in the chimney, and a rope of onions.’
‘O, she’s a lucky woman!’ exclaimed Bella.
‘Ay, and a tea-tray, with Daniel in the lion’s den upon it,’ continued the cobbler; ‘and a fat baby in the cradle.’
‘O, I’m sure I don’t envy her that last,’ said Bella pettishly. ‘I’ve little enough for myself and my husband, letting alone children.’
‘Why, mistress, isn’t your husband in work?’ asked the cobbler.
‘No; he’s at the ale-house.’
‘Why, how’s that? He used to be very sober. Can’t he get work?’
‘His last master wouldn’t keep him because he was so shabby.’
‘Humph!’ said the little man. ‘He’s a groom, is he not? Well, as I was saying, your neighbour opposite thrives; but no wonder! Well, I’ve nothing to do with other people’s secrets; but I could tell you, only I’m busy and must go.’
‘Could tell me what?’ cried the young wife. ‘O good cobbler, don’t go, for I’ve nothing to do. Pray tell me why it’s no wonder that she should thrive.’
‘Well,’ said he, ‘it’s no business of mine, you know, but, as I said before, it’s no wonder people thrive who have a servant—a hard-working one, too—who is always helping them.’
‘A servant!’ repeated Bella; ‘ my neighbour has a servant! No wonder, then, everything looks so neat about her, but I never saw this servant. I think you must be mistaken; besides, how could she afford to pay her wages? ‘
‘She has a servant, I say,’ repeated the cobbler— a one-eyed servant—but she pays her no wages, to my knowledge. Well, good morning, mistress, I must go.’
“Do stop one minute, cried Bella, urgently—’where did she get this servant?’
‘O, I don’t know,’ said the cobbler; ‘servants are plentiful enough, and Polly uses hers well, I can tell you.’
‘And what does she do for her?’
‘Do for her? Why, all sorts of things—I think she’s the cause of her prosperity. To my knowledge, she never refuses to do anything—keeps Tom’s and Polly’s clothes in beautiful order, and the baby’s.’
‘Dear me!’ said Bella, in an envious tone and holding up both her hands; ‘well, she is a lucky woman, and I always said so. She takes good care. I shall never see her servant. What sort of a servant is she, and how came she to have only one eye?’
‘It runs in her family,’ replied the cobbler, stitching busily, ‘they are all so—one eye apiece; yet they make a very, good use of it, and Polly’s servant has four cousins who are blind—stone-blind; no eyes at all; and they sometimes come and help her. I’ve seen them in the cottage myself, and that’s how Polly gets a good deal of her money. They work for her, and she takes what they make to market and buys all those lovely things.’
‘Only think,’ said Bella, almost ready to cry with vexation, ‘and I’ve not got a soul to do anything for me; how hard it is!’ and she took up her apron to wipe away her tears.
The cobbler looked attentively at her. ‘Well, you are to be pitied, certainly,’ he said, ‘and if I were not in such a hurry’—
‘O, do go on, pray—were you going to say you could help me? I’ve heard that your people are fond of curds and whey and fresh gooseberry syllabub. Now, if you would help me, trust me that there should be the most beautiful curds and whey set every night for you on the hearth, and nobody should ever look when you went and came.’
‘Why, you see,’ said the cobbler, hesitating, ‘my people are extremely particular about—in short, about—cleanliness, mistress, and your house is not what one would call very clean. No offence, I hope?’
Bella blushed deeply. ‘Well, but it should always be clean if you would like every day of my life I would wash the floor, and sand it, and the hearth should be whitewashed as white as snow, and the windows cleaned.’
‘Well,’ said the cobbler, seeming to consider, ‘well, then, I should not wonder if I could meet with a one-eyed servant for you, like your neighbour’s; but it may be several days before I can; and mind, mistress, I’m to have a dish of curds.’
‘Yes, and some whipped cream, too,’ replied Bella, full of joy.
The cobbler then took up all his tools, wrapped them in his leather apron, walked behind the wallflower, and disappeared.
Bella was so delighted; she could not sleep that night for joy. Her husband scarcely knew the house. She had made it so bright and clean, and by night she had washed the curtain, cleaned the window, rubbed the fire-irons, sanded the floor, and set a great jug of hawthorn in blossom on the hearth.
The next morning Bella kept a sharp look-out both for the tiny cobbler and on her neighbour’s house to see whether she could catch a glimpse of the one-eyed servant. But, no—nothing she could see but her neighbour; sitting on her rocking-chair, with her baby on her knee, working.
At last, when she was quite tired, she heard the voice of the cobbler outside. She ran to the door and cried out—
‘O, do, pray, come in, sir; only look at my house!’
‘Really,’ said the cobbler, looking round, ‘I declare I should hardly have known it the sun can shine brightly now through the clear glass, and what a sweet smell of hawthorn!’
‘Well, and my one-eyed servant?’ asked Bella—’you remember, I hope, that I can’t pay her any wages have you met with one that will come?’ ‘All’s right,’ replied the little man, nodding. ‘I’ve got her with me.’
‘Got her, with you?’ repeated Bella, looking round; ‘I see nobody.’
‘Look, here she is!’ said the cobbler, holding up something in his hand.
Would you believe it? The one-eyed servant was nothing but a Needle.
A short story is essentially a short prose of creative writing intended to captivate the reader into one single theme. To cut a long story short, they are an invented story to capture the readers’ attention—immediately. These brief fictional pieces of creative literature can transform the reader’s mood.
Short Stories are regarded in the publishing world as fictional narratives. An author will often thrust the main character into trouble immediately, to capture the readers’ interest. A sense of curiosity will gradually lead them through a variety of unforeseen circumstances until finally, the story begins to unfold. The best short stories can have you in suspense right to the very end—before—revealing the—outcome.
A Short Story
Emelia had not quite finished reading a short story, when her parents called for her to come at once, ‘What is it?’ She asked, throwing the book on top of an organised row of novels.
‘It’s Paul—’ her mother cried up to her, ‘he’s had a nasty accident.’
‘An—accident?’ Emelia repeated anxiously running down the stairs.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin, was not at all amused by the scruffy paperback being thrown upon her, and instantly complained, ‘How dare you disturb me from trying to sleep.’
‘O, I’m so, so sorry,’ replied the Short story.
‘You don’t belong up here with us novels, you know?’ The Awakening retorted.
‘Well, you’re merely a short fictional piece of nonsense—aren’t you?’ She said shuffling uncomfortably from the weight of him.
Then the Silence of the lambs by Thomas Harris, quietly growled and threatened to eat the short story, if he did not quieten down.
Short story was not feeling very well and wriggled uncomfortably, ‘It’s not my fault.’
‘Honestly! could you just keep still—do you not realise how long I’ve been trying to fall asleep?’ Snapped the Awakening.
‘Insomnia,’ growled the Silence of the lambs. ‘Cursed she is, by the hand that created her.’
‘Well, at least I’m not a cannibalistic hardback!’
‘Look, I’m sorry—but I’m sure I won’t be here much longer,’ interrupted Short story.
‘Not, if I can get hold of your flimsy, sp–sp–sp–sp . . . little papers, you won’t,’ hissed the Silence of the lambs.
Suddenly the door flew open, and Emelia rushed in, grabbed the short story and rushed back out again, leaving the door wide open.
Later that evening, when Emelia was sitting in front of the fire, reading the short story, to her brother Paul, who was nursing a broken leg she noticed holes in the corner of the pages.
Paul was amazed such a book existed and exclaimed, ‘You must throw it straight into the fire, it’s full of bookworm.’
Emelia, shuddered with dread and instantly threw the book into the fire.
The Awakening slowly over time fell into a profound deep sleep, and not one sound was ever heard again from the Silence of the lambs—ever.
Two ways of telling a story, one might say his close encounter with fate was perhaps another side to the story, a twist of a tale born from an act of kindness. There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant story, soon unfolds. An excellent tale for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences, a good reminder— to be sure.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet and was first published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
Two Ways Of Telling A Story
Who is this? A careless little midshipman, idling about in a great city, with his pockets full of money.
He is waiting for the coach: it comes up presently, and he gets on the top of it, and begins to look about him.
They soon leave the chimney-pots behind them; his eyes wander with delight over the harvest fields, he smells the honeysuckle in the hedge-row, and he wishes he was down among the hazel bushes, that he might strip them of the milky nuts; then he sees a great wain piled up with barley, and he wishes he was seated on the top of it; then they go through a little wood, and he likes to see the checkered shadows of the trees lying across the white road, and then a squirrel runs up a bough. He cannot forbear to whoop and halloo, though he cannot chase it to its nest.
The other passengers are delighted with his simplicity and childlike glee; and they encourage him to talk to them about the sea and ships, especially Her Majesty’s ship The Asp, wherein he has the honour to sail. In the jargon of the sea, he describes her many perfections, and enlarges on her peculiar advantages; he then confides to them how a certain middy, having been ordered to the mast-head as a punishment, had seen, while sitting on the top-mast cross-trees, something uncommonly like the sea-serpent—but, finding this hint received with incredulous smiles, he begins to tell them how he hopes that, someday, he shall be promoted to have charge of the poop. The passengers hope he will have that honour; they have no doubt he deserves it. His cheeks flush with pleasure to hear them say so, and he little thinks that they have no notion in what ‘ that honour’ may happen to consist.
The coach stops: the little midshipman, with his hands in his pockets, sits rattling his money, and singing. A poor woman is standing by the door of the village inn; she looks careworn, and well she may, for, in the spring, her husband went up to London to seek for work. He got work, and she was expecting soon to join him there, when, alas! A fellow-workman wrote her word how he had met with an accident, how he was very ill, and wanted his wife to come and nurse him. But she has two young children, and is destitute; she must walk up all the way, and she is sick at heart when she thinks that perhaps he may die among strangers before she can reach him.
She does not think of begging, but seeing the boy’s eyes attracted to her, she makes him a courtesy, and he withdraws his hand and throws her down a sovereign. With incredulous joy, she looks at it and then she looks at him.
‘It’s all right,’ he says, and the coach starts again, while, full of gratitude, she hires a cart to take her across the country to the railway, that the next night she may sit by the bedside of her sick husband.
The midshipman knows nothing about that, and he never will know.
The passengers go on talking—the little midshipman has told them who he is, and where he is going, but there is one man who has never joined in the conversation; he is dark-looking and restless; he sits apart; he has seen the glitter of the falling coin, and now he watches the boy more narrowly than before.
He is a strong man, resolute and determined; the boy with the pockets full of money will be no match for him. He has told the other passengers that his father’s house is the parsonage at Y———, the coach goes within five miles of it, and he means to get down at the nearest point, and walk, or rather run over to his home, through the great wood.
The man decides to get down too, and go through the wood; he will rob the little midshipman; perhaps, if he cries out or struggles, he will do worse. The boy, he thinks, will have no chance against him; it is quite impossible that he can escape; the way is lonely, and the sun will be down.
No. There seems indeed little chance of escape; the half-fledged bird just fluttering down from its nest has no more chance against the keen-eyed hawk, than the little light-hearted sailor boy will have against him.
And now they reach the village where the boy is to alight. He wishes the other passengers ‘good evening,’ and runs lightly down between the scattered houses. The man has got down also, and is following.
The path lies through the village churchyard; there is evening service, and the door is wide open, for it is warm. The little midshipman steals up the porch, looks in, and listens. The clergyman has just risen from his knees in the pulpit, and is giving out his text. Thirteen months have passed since the boy was within a house of prayer, and a feeling of pleasure and awe induces him to stand still and listen.
‘Are not two sparrows (he hears) sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.’
He hears the opening sentences of the sermon; and then he remembers his home, and comes softly out of the porch, full of a calm and serious pleasure. The clergyman has reminded him of his father, and his careless heart is now filled with the echoes of his voice and his prayers. He thinks on what the clergyman said, of the care of our heavenly Father for us; he remembers how, when he left home, his father prayed that he might be preserved through every danger; he does not remember any particular danger that he has been exposed to, excepting in the great storm; but he is grateful that he has come home in safety, and he hopes whenever he shall be in danger, which he supposes he shall be someday, he hopes, that then the providence of God will watch over him and protect him. And so he presses onward to the entrance of the wood.
The man is there before him. He has pushed himself into the thicket, and cut a heavy stake; he suffers the boy to go on before, and then he comes out, falls into the path, and follows him.
It is too light at present for his deed of darkness, and too near the entrance of the wood, but he knows that shortly the path will branch off into two, and the right one for the boy to take will be dark and lonely.
But what prompts the little midshipman, when not fifty yards from the branching of the path, to break into a sudden run? It is not fear; he never dreams of danger. Some impulse, or some wild wish for home, makes him dash off suddenly after his saunter, with a whoop and a, bound. On he goes, as if running a race; the path bends, and the man loses sight of him. ‘But I shall have him yet,’ he thinks; ‘he cannot keep this pace up long.’
The boy has nearly reached the place where the path divides, when he puts up a young white owl that can scarcely fly, and it goes whirring along, close to the ground, before him. He gains upon it; another moment, and it will be his. Now he gets the start again; they come to the branching of the paths, and the bird goes down the wrong one. The temptation to follow is too strong to be resisted; he knows that somewhere, deep in the wood, there is a cross-track by which he can get into the path he has left; it is only to run a little faster, and he shall be at home nearly as soon.
On, he—rushes; the path takes a bend, and he is just out of sight when his pursuer comes where the paths divide. The boy has turned to the right; the man takes a left, and the faster they both run, the farther they are asunder.
The white owl still leads him on; the path gets darker and narrower; at last, he finds that he has missed it altogether, and his feet are on the soft ground. He flounders about among the trees and stumps, vexed with himself, and panting after his race. At last he hits upon another track, and pushes on as fast as he can. The ground begins sensibly to descend—he has lost his way—but he keeps bearing to the left; and, though it is now dark, he thinks that he must reach the main path sooner or later.
He does not know this part of the wood, but he runs on. O, little midshipman! Why did you chase that owl? If you had kept in the path with the dark man behind you, there was a chance that you might have outrun him; or, if he had overtaken you, some passing wayfarer might have heard your cries, and come to save you. Now you are running on straight to your death, for the forest water is deep and black at the bottom of this hill. O, that the moon might come out and show it to you!
The moon is under a thick canopy of heavy black clouds, and there is not a star to glitter on the water and make it visible. The fern is soft under his feet as he runs and slips down the sloping hill. At last, he strikes his foot against a stone, stumbles, and falls. Two minutes more and he will roll into the black. Water.
‘Heyday!’ cries the boy, ‘what’s this? O, how it tears my hands! Oh, this thorn-bush! O-h, my arms! I can’t get free!’ He struggles and pants. ‘All this comes of leaving the path,’ he says; ‘I shouldn’t have cared for rolling down if it hadn’t been for this bush. The fern was soft enough. I’ll never stray in a wood at night again. There, free at last! And my jacket nearly torn off my back!’
With a good deal of patience, and a great many scratches, he gets free of the thorn which had arrested his progress, when his feet were within a yard of the water, manages to scramble up the bank, and makes the best of his way through the wood.
And now, as the clouds move slowly onward, the moon shows her face on the black surface of the water; and the little white owl comes and hoots, and flutters over it like a wandering snowdrift. But the boy is deep in the wood again, and knows nothing of the danger from which he has escaped.
All this time the dark passenger follows the main track, and believes that his prey is before him. At last he hears a crashing of dead boughs, and presently the little midshipman’s voice not fifty yards before him. Yes, it is too true; the boy is in the cross-track. He will pass the cottage in the wood directly, and after that, his pursuer will come upon him.
The boy bounds into the path; but, as he passes the cottage, he is so thirsty, and so hot, that he thinks he must ask the inhabitants if they can sell him a glass of ale.
He enters without ceremony. ‘Ale?’ says the woodman, who is sitting at his supper. ‘No, we have no ale; but perhaps my wife can give thee a drink of milk. Come in.’ So he comes in, and shuts the door; and, while he sits waiting for the milk, footsteps pass. They are the footsteps of his pursuer, who goes on with the stake in his hand, and is angry and impatient that he has not yet come up with him.
The woman goes to her little dairy for the milk, and the boy thinks she is a long time. He drinks it, thanks her, and takes his leave.
Fast and fast the man runs on, and, as fast as he can, the boy runs after him. It is very dark, but there is a yellow streak in the sky, where the moon is ploughing up a furrowed mass of grey cloud, and one or two stars are blinking through the branches of the trees.
Fast the boy follows, and fast the man runs on, with his weapon in his hand. Suddenly he hears the joyish whoop—not before, but behind him. He stops and listens breathlessly. Yes, it is so. He pushes himself into the thicket and raises his stake to strike when the boy shall pass.
On he comes, running lightly, with his hands in his pockets. A sound strikes at the same instant on the ears of both; and the boy turns back from the very jaws of death to listen. It is the sound of wheels, and it draws rapidly nearer. A man comes up, driving a little gig.
‘Halloa?’ he says, in a loud, cheerful voice. ‘What! benighted, youngster?’
‘O, is it you, Mr Davis?’ says the boy; ‘no, I am not benighted; or, at any rate, I know my way out of the wood.’
The man draws farther back among the shrubs. ‘Why, bless the boy,’ he hears the farmer say, ‘to think of our meeting in this way. The parson, told me he was in hopes of seeing thee someday this week. I’ll give thee a lift. This is alone place to be in this time o’ night.’
‘Lone!’ says the boy, laughing. ‘I don’t mind that; and if you know the way, it’s as safe as the quarter-deck.’
So he gets into the farmer’s gig, and is once more out of reach of the pursuer. But the man knows that the farmer’s house is a quarter of a mile nearer than the parsonage, and in that quarter of a mile there is still a chance of committing the robbery. He determines still to make an attempt, and cuts across the wood with such rapid strides that he reaches the farmer’s gate just as the gig drives up to it.
‘Well, thank you, farmer,’ says the midshipman, as he prepares to get down.
‘I wish you good night, gentlemen,’ says the man, when he passes.
‘Good night, friend,’ the farmer replies. ‘I say, my boy, it’s a dark, night enough; but I have a mind to drive you on to the parsonage, and hear the rest of this long tale of yours about the sea-serpent.’
The little wheels go on again. They pass the man, and he stands still in the road to listen till the sound dies away. Then he flings his stake into the hedge, and goes back again. His evil purposes have all been frustrated—the thoughtless boy has baffled him at every turn.
And now the little midshipman is at home—the joyful meeting has taken place. When they have all admired his growth, and decided whom he is like, and measured his height on the window-frame, and seen him eat his supper, they begin to question him about his adventures, more for the pleasure of hearing him talk than any curiosity.
‘Adventures!’ says the boy, seated between his father and mother on a sofa. ‘Why, ma, I did write you an account of the voyage, and there’s nothing else to tell. Nothing happened to-day—at least nothing particular.’
‘You came by the coach we told you of?’ asks his father.
‘O yes, papa; and when we had got about twenty miles, there came up a beggar, while we changed horses, and I threw down (as I thought) a shilling, but, as it fell, I saw it was a sovereign. She was very honest, and showed me what it was, but I didn’t take it back, for you know, mamma, it’s a long time since I gave anything to anybody.’
‘Very true, my boy,’ his mother answers; ‘but you should not be careless with your money; and few beggars are worthy objects of charity.’
‘I suppose you got down at the cross-roads?’ says his elder brother.
‘Yes, and went through the wood. I should have been here sooner if I hadn’t lost my way there.’
‘Lost your way!’ says his mother, alarmed. ‘My dear boy, you should not have left the path at dusk.’
‘O, ma,’ says the little midshipman, with a smile, ‘you always think we’re in danger. If you could see me sometimes sitting at the jib-boom end, or across the main-top-mast cross-trees, you would be frightened. But what danger can there be in a wood?’
‘Well, my boy,’ she answers, ‘I don’t wish to be over-anxious, and to make my children uncomfortable by my fears. What did you stray from the path for?’
‘Only to chase a little owl, mamma; but I didn’t catch her after all. I got a roll down a bank, and caught my jacket against a thorn-bush, which was rather unlucky. Ah! Three large holes I see in my sleeve. And so I scrambled up again, and got into the path, and asked at the cottage for some beer. What a time the woman kept me, to be sure! I thought it would never come. But very soon after Mr Davis drove up in his gig, and he brought me on to the gate.’
‘And so this account of your adventures being brought to a close,’ his father says, ‘ we discover that there were no adventures to tell!’
‘No, papa, nothing happened; nothing particular, I mean.’
Nothing particular! If they could have known, they would have thought lightly in comparison of the dangers of ‘the jib-boom end, and the main-top-mast cross-trees.’ But they did not know, any more than we do, of the dangers that hourly beset us. Some few dangers we are aware of, and we do what we can to provide against them; but, for the greater portion, ‘ our eyes are held that we cannot see.’ We walk securely under His guidance, without whom ‘not a sparrow falleth to the ground!’ and when we have had escapes that the angels have admired at, we come home and say, perhaps, that ‘nothing has happened; at least nothing particular.’
It is not well that our minds should be much exercised about these hidden dangers, since they are so many and so great that no human art or foresight can prevent them. But it is very well that we should constantly reflect on that loving Providence which watches every footstep of a track always balancing between time and eternity; and that such reflections should make us both happy and afraid—afraid of trusting our souls and bodies too much to any earthly guide, or earthly security—happy from the knowledge that there is One with whom we may trust them wholly, and with whom the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Without such trust, how can we rest or be at peace? but with it we may say with the Psalmist, ‘I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety!’
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.
CAN AND COULD.
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 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.