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University of Adelaide
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“Mother, I should so like to have a great deal of money,” said little Tom Fletcher one evening, as he sat on a low stool by his mother’s knee. His mother was knitting busily by the firelight, and they had both been silent for some time.
“What would you do with a great deal of money if you had it?”
“Oh! I don’t know — I would do a great many things. But should not you like to have a great deal of money, mother?” persisted he.
“Perhaps I should,” answered Mrs. Fletcher. “I am like you sometimes, dear, and think that I should be very glad of a little more money. But then I don’t think I am like you in one thing, for I have always some little plan in my mind, for which I should want the money. I never wish for it just for its own sake.”
“Why, mother! there are so many things we could do if we had but money; — real good, wise things I mean.”
“And if we have real good, wise things in our head to do, which cannot be done without money, I can quite enter into the wish for money. But you know, my little boy, you did not tell me of any good or wise thing.”
“No! I believe I was not thinking of good or wise things just then, but only how much I should like money to do what I liked,” answered little Tom ingenuously, looking up in his mother’s face. She smiled down upon him, and stroked his head. He knew she was pleased with him for having told her openly what was passing in his mind. Presently he began again.
“Mother, if you wanted to do something very good and wise, and if you could not do it without money, what should you do?”
“There are two ways of obtaining money for such wants; one is by earning; and the other is by saving. Now both are good, because both imply self-denial. Do you understand me, Tom? If you have to earn money, you must steadily go on doing what you do not like perhaps; such as working when you would like to be playing, or in bed, or sitting talking with me over the fire. You deny yourself these little pleasures; and that is a good habit in itself, to say nothing of the industry and energy you have to exert in working. If you save money, you can easily see how you exercise self-denial. You do without something you wish for in order to possess the money it would have cost. Inasmuch as self-denial, energy, and industry are all good things, you do well either to earn or to save. But you see the purpose for which you want the money must be taken into consideration. You say, for ‘something wise and good.’ Either earning or saving becomes holy in this case. I must then think which will be most consistent with my other duties, before I decide whether I will earn or save money.”
“I don’t quite know what you mean, mother.”
“I will try and explain myself. You know I have to keep a little shop, and to try and get employment in knitting stockings, and to clean my house, and to mend our clothes, and many other things. Now, do you think I should be doing my duty if I left you in the evenings, when you come home from school, to go out as a waiter at ladies’ parties? I could earn a good deal of money by it, and I could spend it well among those who are poorer than I am (such as lame Harry), but then I should be leaving you alone in the little time that we have to be together; I do not think I should be doing right even for our ‘good and wise purpose’ to earn money, if it took me away from you at nights: do you, Tom?”
“No, indeed; you never mean to do it, do you, mother?”
“No,” said she, smiling; “at any rate not till you are older. You see at present then, I cannot earn money, if I want a little more than usual to help a sick neighbour. I must then try and save money. Nearly every one can do that.”
“Can we, mother? We are so careful of everything. Ned Dixon calls us stingy: what could we save?”
“Oh, many and many a little thing. We use many things which are luxuries; which we do not want, but only use them for pleasure. Tea and sugar — butter — our Sunday’s dinner of bacon or meat — the grey ribbon I bought for my bonnet, because you thought it prettier than the black, which was cheaper; all these are luxuries. We use very little tea or sugar, it is true; but we might do without any.”
“You did do without any, mother, for a long, long time, you know, to help widow Black; it was only for your bad head-aches.”
“Well! but you see we can save money; a penny, a halfpenny a day, or even a penny a week, would in time make a little store ready to be applied to the ‘good and wise’ purpose, when the time comes. But do you know, my little boy, I think we may be considering money too much as the only thing required if we want to do a kindness.”
“If it is not the only thing, it is the chief thing, at any rate.”
“No, love, it is not the chief thing. I should think very poorly of that beggar who liked sixpence given with a curse (as I have sometimes heard it), better than the kind and gentle words some people use in refusing to give. The curse sinks deep into the heart; or if it does not, it is a proof that the poor creature has been made hard before by harsh treatment. And mere money can do little to cheer a sore heart. It is kindness only that can do this. Now we have all of us kindness in our power. The little child of two years old, who can only just totter about, can show kindness.”
“Can I, mother?”
“To be sure, dear; and you often do, only perhaps not quite so often as you might do. Neither do I. But instead of wishing for money (of which I don’t think either you or I are ever likely to have much), suppose you try to-morrow how you can make people happier, by thinking of little loving actions of help. Let us try and take for our text, ‘Silver and gold I have none, but such as I have give I unto thee.’”
“Ay, mother, we will.”
Must I tell you about little Tom’s “to-morrow.”
I do not know if little Tom dreamed of what his mother and he had been talking about, but I do know that the first thing he thought about, when he awoke in the morning, was his mother’s saying that he might try how many kind actions he could do that day without money; and he was so impatient to begin, that he jumped up and dressed himself, although it was more than an hour before his usual time of getting up. All the time he kept wondering what a little boy like him, only eight years old, could do for other people; till at last he grew so puzzled with inventing occasions for showing kindness, that he very wisely determined to think no more about it, but learn his lessons very perfectly; that was the first thing he had to do; and then he would try, without too much planning beforehand, to keep himself ready to lend a helping hand, or to give a kind word, when the right time came. So he screwed himself into a corner, out of the way of his mother’s sweeping and dusting, and tucked his feet up on the rail of the chair, turned his face to the wall, and in about half an hour’s time, he could turn round with a light heart, feeling he had learnt his lesson well, and might employ his time as he liked till breakfast was ready. He looked round the room; his mother had arranged all neatly, and was now gone to the bedroom; but the coal-scuttle and the can for water were empty, and Tom ran away to fill them; and as he came back with the latter from the pump, he saw Ann Jones (the scold of the neighbourhood) hanging out her clothes on a line stretched across from side to side of the little court, and speaking very angrily and loudly to her little girl, who was getting into some mischief in the house-place, as her mother perceived through the open door.
“There never were such plagues as my children are, to be sure,” said Ann Jones, as she went into her house, looking very red and passionate. Directly after, Tom heard the sound of a slap, and then a little child’s cry of pain.
“I wonder,” thought he, “if I durst go and offer to nurse and play with little Hester. Ann Jones is fearful cross, and just as likely to take me wrong as right; but she won’t box me for mother’s sake; mother nursed Jemmy many a day through the fever, so she won’t slap me, I think. Any rate, I’ll try.” But it was with a beating heart he said to the fierce-looking Mrs. Jones, “Please, may I go and play with Hester. May be I could keep her quiet while you’re busy hanging out clothes.”
“What! and let you go slopping about, I suppose, just when I’d made all ready for my master’s breakfast. Thank you, but my own children’s mischief is as much as I reckon on; I’ll have none of strange lads in my house.”
“I did not mean to do mischief or slop,” said Tom, a little sadly at being misunderstood in his good intentions. “I only wanted to help.”
“If you want to help, lift me up those clothes’ pegs, and save me stooping; my back’s broken with it.”
Tom would much rather have gone to play with and amuse little Hester; but it was true enough that giving Mrs. Jones the clothes’ pegs as she wanted them would help her as much; and perhaps keep her from being so cross with her children if they did anything to hinder her. Besides, little Hester’s cry had died away, and she was evidently occupied in some new pursuit (Tom could only hope that it was not in mischief this time); so he began to give Ann the pegs as she wanted them, and she, soothed by his kind help, opened her heart a little to him.
“I wonder how it is your mother has trained you up to be so handy, Tom; you’re as good as a girl — better than many a girl. I don’t think Hester in three years’ time will be as thoughtful as you. There!” (as a fresh scream reached them from the little ones inside the house), “they are at some mischief again; but I’ll teach ’em,” said she, getting down from her stool in a fresh access of passion.
“Let me go,” said Tom, in a begging voice, for he dreaded the cruel sound of another slap. “I’ll lift the basket of pegs on to a stool, so that you need not stoop; and I’ll keep the little ones safe out of mischief till you’re done. Do let me go, missus.”
With some grumblings at losing his help, she let him go into the house-place. He found Hester, a little girl of five, and two younger ones. They had been fighting for a knife, and in the struggle, the second, Johnnie, had cut his finger — not very badly, but he was frightened at the sight of the blood; and Hester, who might have helped, and who was really sorry, stood sullenly aloof, dreading the scolding her mother always gave her if either of the little ones hurt themselves while under her care.
“Hester,” said Tom, “will you get me some cold water, please? it will stop the bleeding better than anything. I daresay you can find me a basin to hold it.”
Hester trotted off, pleased at Tom’s confidence in her power. When the bleeding was partly stopped, he asked her to find him a bit of rag, and she scrambled under the dresser for a little piece she had hidden there the day before. Meanwhile, Johnny ceased crying, he was so interested in all the preparation for dressing his little wound, and so much pleased to find himself an object of so much attention and consequence. The baby, too, sat on the floor, gravely wondering at the commotion; and thus busily occupied, they were quiet and out of mischief till Ann Jones came in, and, having hung out her clothes, and finished that morning’s piece of work, she was ready to attend to her children in her rough, hasty kind of way.
“Well! I’m sure, Tom, you’ve tied it up as neatly as I could have done. I wish I’d always such an one as you to see after the children; but you must run off now, lad, your mother was calling you as I came in, and I said I’d send you — good-by, and thank you.”
As Tom was going away, the baby, sitting in square gravity on the floor, but somehow conscious of Tom’s gentle helpful ways, put up her mouth to be kissed; and he stooped down in answer to the little gesture, feeling very happy, and very full of love and kindliness.
After breakfast, his mother told him it was school time, and he must set off, as she did not like him to run in out of breath and flurried, just when the schoolmaster was going to begin; but she wished him to come in decently and in order, with quiet decorum, and thoughtfulness as to what he was going to do. So Tom got his cap and his bag, and went off with a light heart, which I suppose made his footsteps light, for he found himself above half way to school while it wanted yet a quarter to the time. So he slackened his pace, and looked about him a little more than he had been doing. There was a little girl on the other side of the street carrying a great big basket, and lugging along a little child just able to walk; but who, I suppose, was tired, for he was crying pitifully, and sitting down every two or three steps. Tom ran across the street, for, as perhaps you have found out, he was very fond of babies, and could not bear to hear them cry.
“Little girl, what is he crying about? Does he want to be carried? I’ll take him up, and carry him as far as I go alongside of you.”
So saying, Tom was going to suit the action to the word; but the baby did not choose that any one should carry him but his sister, and refused Tom’s kindness. Still he could carry the heavy basket of potatoes for the little girl, which he did as far as their road lay together, when she thanked him, and bade him good-by, and said she could manage very well now, her home was so near. So Tom went into school very happy and peaceful; and had a good character to take home to his mother for that morning’s lesson.
It happened that this very day was the weekly half-holiday, so that Tom had many hours unoccupied that afternoon. Of course, his first employment after dinner was to learn his lessons for the next day; and then, when he had put his books away, he began to wonder what he should do next.
He stood lounging against the door wishing all manner of idle wishes; a habit he was apt to fall into. He wished he were the little boy who lived opposite, who had three brothers ready to play with him on half-holidays; he wished he were Sam Harrison, whose father had taken him one day a trip by the railroad; he wished he were the little boy who always went with the omnibuses — it must be so pleasant to go riding about on the step, and to see so many people; he wished he were a sailor, to sail away to the countries where grapes grew wild, and monkeys and parrots were to be had for the catching. Just as he was wishing himself the little Prince of Wales, to drive about in a goat-carriage, and wondering if he should not feel very shy with the three great ostrich-feathers always niddle-noddling on his head, for people to know him by, his mother came from washing up the dishes, and saw him deep in the reveries little boys and girls are apt to fall into when they are the only children in a house.
“My dear Tom,” said she, “why don’t you go out, and make the most of this fine afternoon?”
“Oh, mother,” answered he (suddenly recalled to the fact that he was little Tom Fletcher, instead of the Prince of Wales, and consequently feeling a little bit flat), “it is so dull going out by myself. I have no one to play with. Can’t you go with me, mother — just this once, into the fields?”
Poor Mrs. Fletcher heartily wished she could gratify this very natural desire of her little boy; but she had the shop to mind, and many a little thing besides to do; it was impossible. But however much she might regret a thing, she was too faithful to repine. So, after a moment’s thought, she said, cheerfully, “Go into the fields for a walk, and see how many wild flowers you can bring me home, and I’ll get down father’s jug for you to put them in when you come back.”
“But, mother, there are so few pretty flowers near a town,” said Tom, a little unwillingly, for it was a coming down from being Prince of Wales, and he was not yet quite reconciled to it.
“Oh dear! there are a great many if you’ll only look for them. I dare say you’ll make me up as many as twenty different kinds.”
“Will you reckon daisies, mother?”
“To be sure; they are just as pretty as any.”
“Oh, if you’ll reckon such as them, I dare say I can bring you more than twenty.”
So off he ran; his mother watching him till he was out of sight, and then she returned to her work. In about two hours he came back, his pale cheeks looking quite rosy, and his eyes quite bright. His country walk, taken with cheerful spirits, had done him all the good his mother desired, and had restored his usually even, happy temper.
“Look, mother! here are three-and-twenty different kinds; you said I might count all, so I have even counted this thing like a nettle with lilac flowers, and this little common blue thing.”
“Robin-run-in-the-hedge is its name,” said his mother. “It’s very pretty if you look at it close. One, two, three”— she counted them all over, and there really were three-and-twenty. She went to reach down the best jug.
“Mother,” said little Tom, “do you like them very much?”
“Yes, very much,” said she, not understanding his meaning. He was silent, and gave a little sigh. “Why, my dear?”
“Oh, only — it does not signify if you like them very much; but I thought how nice it would be to take them to lame Harry, who can never walk so far as the fields, and can hardly know what summer is like, I think.”
“Oh, that will be very nice; I am glad you thought of it.”
Lame Harry was sitting by himself, very patiently, in a neighbouring cellar. He was supported by his daughter’s earnings; but as she worked in a factory, he was much alone.
If the bunch of flowers had looked pretty in the fields, they looked ten times as pretty in the cellar to which they were now carried. Lame Harry’s eyes brightened up with pleasure at the sight; and he began to talk of the times long ago, when he was a little boy in the country, and had a corner of his father’s garden to call his own, and grow lad’s-love and wall-flower in. Little Tom put them in water for him, and put the jug on the table by him; on which his daughter had placed the old Bible, worn with much reading, although treated with careful reverence. It was lying open, with Harry’s horn spectacles put in to mark the place.
“I reckon my spectacles are getting worn out; they are not so clear as they used to be; they are dim-like before my eyes, and it hurts me to read long together,” said Harry. “It’s a sad miss to me. I never thought the time long when I could read; but now I keep wearying for the day to be over, though the nights, when I cannot sleep for my legs paining me, are almost as bad. However, it’s the Lord’s will.”
“Would you like me — I cannot read very well aloud, but I’d do my best, if you’d like me to read a bit to you. I’ll just run home and get my tea, and be back directly.” And off Tom ran.
He found it very pleasant reading aloud to lame Harry, for the old man had so much to say that was worth listening to, and was so glad of a listener, that I think there was as much talking as reading done that evening. But the Bible served as a text-book to their conversation; for in a long life old Harry had seen and heard so much, which he had connected with events, or promises, or precepts contained in the Scriptures, that it was quite curious to find how everything was brought in and dove-tailed, as an illustration of what they were reading.
When Tom got up to go away, lame Harry gave him many thanks, and told him he would not sleep the worse for having made an old man’s evening so pleasant. Tom came home in high self-satisfaction. “Mother,” said he, “it’s all very true what you said about the good that may be done without money: I’ve done many pieces of good to-day without a farthing. First,” said he, taking hold of his little finger, “I helped Ann Jones with hanging out her clothes when she was”—
His mother had been listening while she turned over the pages of the New Testament which lay by her, and now having found what she wanted, she put her arm gently round his waist, and drew him fondly towards her. He saw her finger put under one passage, and read —
“Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.”
He was silent in a moment.
Then his mother spoke in her soft low voice:—“Dearest Tom, though I don’t want us to talk about it, as if you had been doing more than just what you ought, I am glad you have seen the truth of what I said; how far more may be done by the loving heart than by mere money-giving; and every one may have the loving heart.”
I have told you of one day of little Tom’s life, when he was eight years old, and lived with his mother. I must now pass over a year, and tell you of a very different kind of life he had then to lead. His mother had never been very strong, and had had a good deal of anxiety; at last she was taken ill, and soon felt that there was no hope for her recovery. For a long time the thought of leaving her little boy was a great distress to her, and a great trial to her faith. But God strengthened her, and sent his peace into her soul, and before her death she was content to leave her precious child in his hands, who is a Father to the fatherless, and defendeth the cause of the widow.
When she felt that she had not many more days to live, she sent for her husband’s brother, who lived in a town not many miles off; and gave her little Tom in charge to him to bring up.
“There are a few pounds in the savings-bank — I don’t know how many exactly — and the furniture and bit of stock in the shop; perhaps they would be enough to bring him up to be a joiner, like his father before him.”
She spoke feebly, and with many pauses. Her brother-in-law, though a rough kind of man, wished to do all he could to make her feel easy in her last moments, and touched with the reference to his dead brother, promised all she required.
“I’ll take him back with me after”— the funeral, he was going to say, but he stopped. She smiled gently, fully understanding his meaning.
“We shall, may be, not be so tender with him as you’ve been; but I’ll see he comes to no harm. It will be a good thing for him to rough it a bit with other children — he’s too nesh for a boy; but I’ll pay them if they aren’t kind to him in the long run, never fear.”
Though this speech was not exactly what she liked, there was quite enough of good feeling in it to make her thankful for such a protector and friend for her boy. And so, thankful for the joys she had had, and thankful for the sorrows which had taught her meekness, thankful for life, and thankful for death, she died.
Her brother-in-law arranged all as she had wished. After the quiet simple funeral was over, he took Tom by the hand, and set off on the six-mile walk to his home. Tom had cried till he could cry no more, but sobs came quivering up from his heart every now and then, as he passed some well-remembered cottage, or thorn-bush, or tree on the road. His uncle was very sorry for him, but did not know what to say, or how to comfort him.
“Now mind, lad, thou com’st to me if thy cousins are o’er hard upon thee. Let me hear if they misuse thee, and I’ll give it them.”
Tom shrunk from the idea that this gave him of the cousins, whose companionship he had, until then, been looking forward to as a pleasure. He was not reassured when, after threading several streets and by-ways, they came into a court of dingy-looking houses, and his uncle opened the door of one, from which the noise of loud, if not angry voices was heard.
A tall large woman was whirling one child out of her way with a rough movement of her arm; while she was scolding a boy a little older than Tom, who stood listening sullenly to her angry words.
“I’ll tell father of thee, I will,” said she; and turning to uncle John, she began to pour out her complaints against Jack, without taking any notice of little Tom, who clung to his uncle’s hand as to a protector in the scene of violence into which he had entered.
“Well, well, wife! — I’ll leather Jack the next time I catch him letting the water out of the pipe; but now get this lad and me some tea, for we’re weary and tired.”
His aunt seemed to wish Jack might be leathered now, and to be angry with her husband for not revenging her injuries; for an injury it was that the boy had done her in letting the water all run off, and that on the very eve of the washing day. The mother grumbled as she left off mopping the wet floor, and went to the fire to stir it up ready for the kettle, without a word of greeting to her little nephew, or of welcome to her husband. On the contrary, she complained of the trouble of getting tea ready afresh, just when she had put slack on the fire, and had no water in the house to fill the kettle with. Her husband grew angry, and Tom was frightened to hear his uncle speaking sharply.
“If I can’t have a cup of tea in my own house without all this ado, I’ll go to the Spread Eagle, and take Tom with me. They’ve a bright fire there at all times, choose how they manage it; and no scolding wives. Come, Tom, let’s be off.”
Jack had been trying to scrape acquaintance with his cousin by winks and grimaces behind his mother’s back, and now made a sign of drinking out of an imaginary glass. But Tom clung to his uncle, and softly pulled him down again on his chair, from which he had risen to go to the public-house.
“If you please, ma’am,” said he, sadly frightened of his aunt, “I think I could find the pump, if you’d let me try.”
She muttered something like an acquiescence; so Tom took up the kettle, and, tired as he was, went out to the pump. Jack, who had done nothing but mischief all day, stood amazed, but at last settled that his cousin was a “softy.”
When Tom came back, he tried to blow the fire with the broken bellows, and at last the water boiled, and the tea was made. “Thou’rt a rare lad, Tom,” said his uncle. “I wonder when our Jack will be of as much use.”
This comparison did not please either Jack or his mother, who liked to keep to herself the privilege of directing their father’s dissatisfaction with his children. Tom felt their want of kindliness towards him; and now that he had nothing to do but rest and eat, he began to feel very sad, and his eyes kept filling with tears, which he brushed away with the back of his hand, not wishing to have them seen. But his uncle noticed him.
“Thou had’st better have had a glass at the Spread Eagle,” said he, compassionately.
“No; I only am rather tired. May I go to bed?” said he, longing for a good cry unobserved under the bed-clothes.
“Where’s he to sleep?” asked the husband of the wife.
“Nay,” said she, still offended on Jack’s account, “that’s thy look-out. He’s thy flesh and blood, not mine.”
“Come, wife,” said uncle John, “he’s an orphan, poor chap. An orphan is kin to every one.”
She was softened directly, for she had much kindness in her, although this evening she had been so much put out.
“There’s no place for him but with Jack and Dick. We’ve the baby, and the other three are packed close enough.”
She took Tom up to the little back room, and stopped to talk with him for a minute or two, for her husband’s words had smitten her heart, and she was sorry for the ungracious reception she had given Tom at first.
“Jack and Dick are never in bed till we come, and it’s work enough to catch them then on fine evenings,” said she, as she took the candle away.
Tom tried to speak to God as his mother had taught him, out of the fulness of his little heart, which was heavy enough that night. He tried to think how she would have wished him to speak and to do, and when he felt puzzled with the remembrance of the scene of disorder and anger which he had seen, he earnestly prayed God would make and keep clear his path before him. And then he fell asleep.
He had had a long dream of other and happier days, and had thought he was once more taking a Sunday evening walk with his mother, when he was roughly wakened up by his cousins.
“I say, lad, you’re lying right across the bed. You must get up, and let Dick and me come in, and then creep into the space that’s left.”
Tom got up dizzy and half awake. His cousins got into bed, and then squabbled about the largest share. It ended in a kicking match, during which Tom stood shivering by the bedside.
“I’m sure we’re pinched enough as it is,” said Dick at last. “And why they’ve put Tom in with us I can’t think. But I’ll not stand it. Tom shan’t sleep with us. He may lie on the floor, if he likes. I’ll not hinder him.”
He expected an opposition from Tom, and was rather surprised when he heard the little fellow quietly lie down, and cover himself as well as he could with his clothes. After some more quarrelling, Jack and Dick fell asleep. But in the middle of the night Dick awoke, and heard by Tom’s breathing that he was still awake, and was crying gently.
“What! molly-coddle, crying for a softer bed?” asked Dick.
“Oh, no — I don’t care for that — if — oh! if mother were but alive,” little Tom sobbed aloud.
“I say,” said Dick, after a pause. “There’s room at my back, if you’ll creep in. There! don’t be afraid — why, how cold you are, lad.”
Dick was sorry for his cousin’s loss, but could not speak about it. However, his kind tone sank into Tom’s heart, and he fell asleep once more.
The three boys all got up at the same time in the morning, but were not inclined to talk. Jack and Dick put on their clothes as fast as possible, and ran downstairs; but this was quite a different way of going on to what Tom had been accustomed. He looked about for some kind of basin or mug to wash in; there was none — not even a jug of water in the room. He slipped on a few necessary clothes, and went downstairs, found a pitcher, and went off to the pump. His cousins, who were playing in the court, laughed at him, and would not tell him where the soap was kept: he had to look some minutes before he could find it. Then he went back to the bedroom; but on entering it from the fresh air, the smell was so oppressive that he could not endure it. Three people had been breathing the air all night, and had used up every particle many times over and over again; and each time that it had been sent out from the lungs, it was less fit than before to be breathed again. They had not felt how poisonous it was while they stayed in it; they had only felt tired and unrefreshed, with a dull headache; but now that Tom came back again into it, he could not mistake its oppressive nature. He went to the window to try and open it. It was what people call a “Yorkshire light,” where you know one-half has to be pushed on one side. It was very stiff, for it had not been opened for a long time. Tom pushed against it with all his might; at length it gave way with a jerk; and the shake sent out a cracked pane, which fell on the floor in a hundred little bits. Tom was sadly frightened when he saw what he had done. He would have been sorry to have done mischief at any time, but he had seen enough of his aunt the evening before to find out that she was sharp, and hasty, and cross; and it was hard to have to begin the first day in his new home by getting into a scrape. He sat down on the bedside, and began to cry. But the morning air blowing in upon him, refreshed him, and made him feel stronger. He grew braver as he washed himself in the pure, cold water. “She can’t be cross with me longer than a day; by to-night it will be all over; I can bear it for a day.”
Dick came running upstairs for something he had forgotten.
“My word, Tom! but you’ll catch it!” exclaimed he, when he saw the broken window. He was half pleased at the event, and half sorry for Tom. “Mother did so beat Jack last week for throwing a stone right through the window downstairs. He kept out of the way till night, but she was on the look-out for him, and as soon as she saw him, she caught hold of him and gave it him. Eh! Tom, I would not be you for a deal!”
Tom began to cry again at this account of his aunt’s anger; Dick became more and more sorry for him.
“I’ll tell thee what; we’ll go down and say it was a lad in yon back-yard throwing stones, and that one went smack through the window. I’ve got one in my pocket that will just do to show.”
“No,” said Tom, suddenly stopping crying. “I dare not do that.”
“Daren’t! Why you’ll have to dare much more if you go down and face mother without some such story.”
“No! I shan’t. I shan’t have to dare God’s anger. Mother taught me to fear that; she said I need never be really afraid of aught else. Just be quiet, Dick, while I say my prayers.”
Dick watched his little cousin kneel down by the bed, and bury his face in the clothes; he did not say any set prayer (which Dick was accustomed to think was the only way of praying), but Tom seemed, by the low murmuring which Dick heard, to be talking to a dear friend; and though at first he sobbed and cried, as he asked for help and strength, yet when he got up, his face looked calm and bright, and he spoke quietly as he said to Dick, “Now I’m ready to go and tell aunt.”
“Aunt” meanwhile had missed her pitcher and her soap, and was in no good-tempered mood when Tom came to make his confession. She had been hindered in her morning’s work by his taking her things away; and now he was come to tell her of the pane being broken and that it must be mended, and money must go all for a child’s nonsense.
She gave him (as he had been led to expect) one or two very sharp blows. Jack and Dick looked on with curiosity, to see how he would take it; Jack, at any rate, expecting a hearty crying from “softy” (Jack himself had cried loudly at his last beating), but Tom never shed a tear, though his face did go very red, and his mouth did grow set with the pain. But what struck the boys more even than his being “hard” in bearing such blows, was his quietness afterwards. He did not grumble loudly, as Jack would have done, nor did he turn sullen, as was Dick’s custom; but the minute afterwards he was ready to run an errand for his aunt; nor did he make any mention of the hard blows, when his uncle came in to breakfast, as his aunt had rather expected he would. She was glad he did not, for she knew her husband would have been displeased to know how early she had begun to beat his orphan nephew. So she almost felt grateful to Tom for his silence, and certainly began to be sorry she had struck him so hard.
Poor Tom! he did not know that his cousins were beginning to respect him, nor that his aunt was learning to like him; and he felt very lonely and desolate that first morning. He had nothing to do. Jack went to work at the factory; and Dick went grumbling to school. Tom wondered if he was to go to school again, but he did not like to ask. He sat on a little stool, as much out of his terrible aunt’s way as he could. She had her youngest child, a little girl of about a year and a half old, crawling about on the floor. Tom longed to play with her; but he was not sure how far his aunt would like it. But he kept smiling at her, and doing every little thing he could to attract her attention and make her come to him. At last she was coaxed to come upon his knee. His aunt saw it, and though she did not speak, she did not look displeased. He did everything he could think of to amuse little Annie; and her mother was very glad to have her attended to. When Annie grew sleepy, she still kept fast hold of one of Tom’s fingers in her little, round, soft hand, and he began to know the happy feeling of loving somebody again. Only the night before, when his cousins had made him get out of bed, he had wondered if he should live to be an old man, and never have anybody to love all that long time; but now his heart felt quite warm to the little thing that lay on his lap.
“She’ll tire you, Tom,” said her mother, “you’d better let me put her down in the cot.”
“Oh, no!” said he, “please don’t! I like so much to have her here.” He never moved, though she lay very heavy on his arm, for fear of wakening her.
When she did rouse up, his aunt said, “Thank you, Tom. I’ve got my work done rarely with you for a nurse. Now take a run in the yard, and play yourself a bit.”
His aunt was learning something, and Tom was teaching, though they would both have been very much surprised to hear it. Whenever, in a family, every one is selfish, and (as it is called) “stands up for his own rights,” there are no feelings of gratitude; the gracefulness of “thanks” is never called for; nor can there be any occasion for thoughtfulness for others when those others are sure to get the start in thinking for themselves, and taking care of number one. Tom’s aunt had never had to remind Jack or Dick to go out to play. They were ready enough to see after their own pleasures.
Well! dinner-time came, and all the family gathered to the meal. It seemed to be a scramble who should be helped first, and cry out for the best pieces. Tom looked very red. His aunt in her new-born liking for him, helped him early to what she thought he would like. But he did not begin to eat. It had been his mother’s custom to teach her little son to say a simple “grace” with her before they began their dinner. He expected his uncle to follow the same observance; and waited. Then he felt very hot and shy; but, thinking that it was right to say it, he put away his shyness, and very quietly, but very solemnly said the old accustomed sentence of thanksgiving. Jack burst out laughing when he had done; for which Jack’s father gave him a sharp rap and a sharp word, which made him silent through the rest of the dinner. But, excepting Jack, who was angry, I think all the family were the happier for having listened reverently (if with some surprise) to Tom’s thanksgiving. They were not an ill-disposed set of people, but wanted thoughtfulness in their every-day life; that sort of thoughtfulness which gives order to a home, and makes a wise and holy spirit of love the groundwork of order.
From that first day Tom never went back in the regard he began then to win. He was useful to his aunt, and patiently bore her hasty ways, until for very shame she left off being hasty with one who was always so meek and mild. His uncle sometimes said he was more like a girl than a boy, as was to be looked for from being brought up for so many years by a woman; but that was the greatest fault he ever had to find with him; and in spite of it, he really respected him for the very qualities which are most truly “manly;” for the courage with which he dared to do what was right, and the quiet firmness with which he bore many kinds of pain. As for little Annie, her friendship and favour and love were the delight of Tom’s heart. He did not know how much the others were growing to like him, but Annie showed it in every way, and he loved her in return most dearly. Dick soon found out how useful Tom could be to him in his lessons; for though older than his cousin, Master Dick was a regular dunce, and had never even wished to learn till Tom came; and long before Jack could be brought to acknowledge it, Dick maintained that “Tom had a great deal of pluck in him, though it was not of Jack’s kind.”
Now I shall jump another year, and tell you a very little about the household twelve months after Tom had entered it. I said above that his aunt had learned to speak less crossly to one who was always gentle after her scoldings. By-and-by her ways to all became less hasty and passionate, for she grew ashamed of speaking to any one in an angry way before Tom; he always looked so sad and sorry to hear her. She has also spoken to him sometimes about his mother; at first because she thought he would like it; but latterly because she became really interested to hear of her ways; and Tom being an only child, and his mother’s friend and companion, has been able to tell her of many household arts of comfort, which coming quite unconscious of any purpose, from the lips of a child, have taught her many things which she would have been too proud to learn from an older person. Her husband is softened by the additional cleanliness and peace of his home. He does not now occasionally take refuge in a public-house, to get out of the way of noisy children, an unswept hearth, and a scolding wife. Once when Tom was ill for a day or two, his uncle missed the accustomed grace, and began to say it himself. He is now the person to say “Silence, boys;” and then to ask the blessing on the meal. It makes them gather round the table, instead of sitting down here and there in the comfortless, unsociable way they used to do. Tom and Dick go to school together now, and Dick is getting on famously, and will soon be able to help his next brother over his lessons, as Tom has helped him.
Even Jack has been heard to acknowledge that Tom has “pluck” in him; and as “pluck” in Jack’s mind is a short way of summing up all the virtues, he has lately become very fond of his cousin. Tom does not think about happiness, but is happy; and I think we may hope that he, and the household among whom he is adopted, will go “from strength to strength.”
Now do you not see how much happier this family are from the one circumstance of a little child’s coming among them? Could money have made one-tenth part of this real and increasing happiness? I think you will all say no. And yet Tom was no powerful person; he was not clever; he was very friendless at first; but he was loving and good; and on those two qualities, which any of us may have if we try, the blessing of God lies in rich abundance.
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