Friarswood Post Office
Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 2 out of 4
The service seemed to rest him, and to be like being brought near a
friend; and he had been told that church might always be his home.
He took a pleasure in going thither--the more, perhaps, that he
rather liked to shew how little he cared for remarks upon his
appearance. There was a great deal of independence about him; and,
having escaped from the unloving maintenance of the parish, while he
had as yet been untaught what affection or gratitude meant, he WOULD
not be beholden to any one.
Scanty as were his wages, he would accept nothing from anybody; he
daily bought his portion of bread from Mrs. King, but it was of no
use for her to add a bit of cheese or bacon to it; he never would see
the relish, and left it behind; and so he never would accept Mr.
Cope's kind offers of giving him a bit of supper in his kitchen,
perhaps because he was afraid of being said to go to the Rectory for
the sake of what he could get.
He did not object to the farmer's beer, which was sometimes given him
when any unusual extra work had been put on him. That was his right,
for in truth the farmer did not pay him the value of his labour, and
perhaps disliked him the more, because of knowing in his conscience
that this was shameful extortion.
However, just at harvest time, when Paul's shoes had become very like
what may be sometimes picked up by the roadside, Mr. Shepherd did
actually bestow on him a pair that did not fit himself! Harold came
home quite proud of them.
However, on the third day they were gone, and the farmer's voice was
heard on the bridge, rating Paul violently for having changed them
away for drink.
Mrs. King felt sorrowful; but, as Ellen said, 'What could you expect
of him?' In spite of the affront, there was a sort of acquaintance
now over the counter between Mrs. King and young Blackthorn; and when
he came for his bread, she could not help saying, 'I'm sorry to see
you in those again.'
'Why, the others hurt me so, I could hardly get about,' said Paul.
'Ah! poor lad, I suppose your feet has got spread with wearing those
old ones; but you should try to use yourself to decent ones, or
you'll soon be barefoot; and I do think it was a pity to drink them
'That's all the farmer, Ma'am. He thinks one can't do anything but
'Well, what is become of them?'
'Why, you see, Ma'am, they just suited Dick Royston, and he wanted a
pair of shoes, and I wanted a Bible and Prayer-book, so we changed
When Ellen heard this, she could not help owning that Paul was a good
boy after all, though it was in an odd sort of way. But, alas! when
next he was to go to Mr. Cope, there was a hue-and-cry all over the
hay-loft for the Prayer-book. There was no place to put it safely,
or if there had been, Poor Paul was too great a sloven to think of
any such thing; and as it was in a somewhat rubbishy state to begin
with, it was most likely that one of the cows had eaten it with her
hay; and all that could be said was, that it would have been worse if
it had been the Bible.
As to Dick Royston, to find that he would change away his Bible for a
pair of shoes, made Mrs. King doubly concerned that he should be a
good deal thrown in Harold's way. There are many people who neglect
their Bibles, and do not read them; but this may be from
thoughtlessness or press of care, and is not like the wilful breaking
with good, that it is to part with the Holy Scripture, save under the
most dire necessity; and Dick was far from being in real want, nor
was he ignorant, like Mr. Cope's poor Jem, for he had been to school,
and could read well; but he was one of those many lads, who, alas!
are everywhere to be found, who break loose from all restraint as
soon as they can maintain themselves. They do their work pretty
well, and are tolerably honest; but for the rest--alas! they seem to
live without God. Prayers and Church they have left behind, as
belonging to school-days; and in all their strength and health, their
days of toil, their evenings of rude diversion, their Sundays of
morning sleep, noonday basking in the sun, evening cricket, they have
little more notion of anything concerning their souls than the horses
they drive. If ever a fear comes over them, it seems a long long way
off, a whole life-time before them; they are awkward, and in dread of
one another's jeers and remarks; and if they ever wish to be better,
they cast it from them by fancying that time must steady them when
they have had their bit of fun, or that something will come from
somewhere to change them all at once, and make it easy to them to be
good--as if they were not making it harder each moment.
This sort of lad had been utterly let alone till Mr. Cope came; and
Lady Jane and the school-master felt it was dreary work to train up
nice lads in the school, only to see them run riot, and forget all
good as soon as they thought themselves their own masters.
Mr. Cope was anxious to do the best he could for them, and the
Confirmation made a good opportunity; but the boys did not like to be
interfered with--it made them shy to be spoken to; and they liked
lounging about much better than having to poke into that mind of
theirs, which they carried somewhere about them, but did not like to
stir up. They had no notion of going to school again--which no one
wanted them to do--nor to church, because it was like little boys;
and they wouldn't be obliged.
So Mr. Cope made little way with them; a few who had better parents
came regularly to him, but others went off when they found it too
much trouble, and behaved worse than ever by way of shewing they did
not care. This folly had in some degree taken possession of Harold;
and though he could not be as bad as were some of the others, he was
fast growing impatient of restraint, and worried and angry, as if any
word of good advice affronted him. Driven from home by the fear of
disturbing Alfred, he was left the more to the company of boys who
made him ashamed of being ordered by his mother; and there was a
jaunty careless style about all his ways of talking and moving, that
shewed there was something wrong about him--he scorned Ellen, and was
as saucy as he dared even to his mother; and though Mr. Cope found
him better instructed than most of his scholars, he saw him quite as
idle, as restless at church, and as ready to whisper and grin at
improper times, as many who had never been trained like him.
One August Sunday afternoon, Mrs. King was with Alfred while Ellen
was at church. He was lying on his couch, very uncomfortable and
fretful, when to the surprise of both, a knock was heard at the door.
Mrs. King looked out of the window, and a smart, hard-looking,
pigeon's-neck silk bonnet at once nodded to her, and a voice said,
'I've come over to see you, Cousin King, if you'll come down and let
me in. I knew I should find you at home.'
'Betsey Hardman!' exclaimed Alfred, in dismay; 'you won't let her
come up here, Mother?'
'Not if I can help it,' said Mrs. King, sighing. If there were a
thing she disliked above all others, it was Sunday visiting.
'You must help it, Mother,' said Alfred, in his most pettish tones.
'I won't have her here, worrying with her voice like a hen cackling.
Say you won't let her come her!'
'Very well,' said Mrs. King, in doubt of her own powers, and in haste
to be decently civil.
'Say you won't,' repeated Alfred. 'Gadding about of a Sunday, and
leaving her old sick mother--more shame for her! Promise, Mother!'
He had nearly begun to cry at his mother's unkindness in running
down-stairs without making the promise, for, in fact, Mrs. King had
too much conscience to gain present quiet for any one by promises she
might be forced to break; and Betsey Hardman was only too well known.
Her mother was an aunt of Alfred's father, an old decrepit widow,
nearly bed-ridden, but pretty well to do, by being maintained chiefly
by her daughter, who made a good thing of taking in washing in the
suburbs of Elbury, and always had a girl or two under her. She had
neither had the education, nor the good training in service, that had
fallen to Mrs. King's lot; and her way of life did not lead to
softening her tongue or temper. Ellen called her vulgar, and though
that is not a nice word to use, she was coarse in her ways of talking
and thinking, loud-voiced, and unmannerly, although meaning to be
Alfred lay in fear of her step, ten times harder than Harold's in his
most boisterous mood, coming clamp clamp! up the stairs; and her
shrill voice--the same tone in which she bawled to her deaf mother,
and hallooed to her girls when they were hanging out the clothes in
the high wind--coming pitying him--ay, and perhaps her whole weight
lumbering down on the couch beside him, shaking every joint in his
body! His mother's ways, learnt in the Selby nursery, had made him
more tender, and more easily fretted by such things, than most
cottage lads, who would have been used to them, and never have
thought of not liking to have every neighbour who chose running up
into the room, and talking without regard to subject or tone.
He listened in a fright to the latch of the door, and the coming in.
Betsey's voice came up, through every chink of the boards, whatever
she did herself; and he could hear every word of her greeting, as she
said how it was such a fine day, she said to Mother she would take a
holiday, and come and see Cousin King and the poor lad: it must be
mighty dull for him, moped up there.
Stump! stump! Was she coming? His mother was answering something
too soft for him to hear.
'What, is he asleep?'
'O Mother, must you speak the truth?'
'Bless me! I should have thought a little cheerful company was good
for him. Do you leave him quite alone? Well--' and there was a
frightful noise of the foot of the heaviest chair on the floor.
'I'll sit down and wait a bit! Is he so very fractious, then?'
What was his mother saying? Alfred clenched his fist, and grinned
anger at Betsey with closed teeth. There was the tiresome old word,
'Low--ay, so's my mother; but you should rise his spirits with
company, you see; that's why I came over; as soon as ever I heard
that there wasn't no hope of him, says I to Mother--'
What? What was that she had heard? There was his mother, probably
trying to restrain her voice, for it came up now just loud enough to
make it most distressing to try to catch the words, which sounded
like something pitying. 'Ay, ay--just like his poor father; when
they be decliny, it will come out one ways or another; and says I to
Mother, I'll go over and cheer poor Cousin King up a bit, for you
see, after all, if he'd lived, he'd be nothing but a burden, crippled
up like that; and a lingering job is always bad for poor folks.'
Alfred leant upon his elbow, his eyes full stretched, but feeling as
if all his senses had gone into his ears, in his agony to hear more;
and he even seemed to catch his mother's voice, but there was no hope
in that; it was of her knowing it would be all for the best; and the
sadness of it told him that she believed the same as Betsey. Then
came, 'Yes; I declare it gave me such a turn, you might have knocked
me down with a feather. I asked Mr. Blunt to come in and see what's
good for Mother, she feels so weak at times, and has such a noise in
her head, just like the regiment playing drums, she says, till she
can't hardly bear herself; and so what do you think he says? Don't
wrap up her head so warm, says he--a pretty thing for a doctor to
say, as if a poor old creature like that, past seventy years old,
could go without a bit of flannel to her head, and her three night-
caps, and a shawl over them when there's a draught. I say, Cousin, I
ha'n't got much opinion of Mr. Blunt. Why don't you get some of them
boxes of pills, that does cures wonderful? Ever so many lords and
ladies cured of a perplexity fit, by only just taking an imposing
draught or two.'
Another time Alfred would have laughed at the very imposing draught,
that was said to cure lords and ladies of this jumble between
apoplexy and paralysis; but this was no moment for laughing, and he
was in despair at fancying his mother wanted to lead her off on the
quack medicine; but she went on.
'Well, only read the papers that come with them. I make my girl
Sally read 'em all to me, being that she's a better scholar; and the
long words is quite heavenly--I declare there ain't one of them
shorter than peregrination. I'd have brought one of them over to
shew you if I hadn't come away in a hurry, because Evans's cart was
going out to the merry orchard, and says I to Mother, Well, I'll get
a lift now there's such a chance to Friarswood: it'll do them all a
bit of good to see a bit of cheerful company, seeing, as Mr. Blunt
says, that poor lad is going after his father as fast as can be.
Dear me, says I, you don't say so, such a fine healthy-looking chap
as he was. Yes, he says, but it's in the constitution; it's getting
to the lungs, and he'll never last out the winter.'
Alfred listened for the tone of his mother's voice; he knew he should
judge by that, even without catching the words--low, subdued, sad--he
almost thought she began with 'Yes.'
All the rest that he heard passed by him merely as a sound, noted no
more than the lowing of the cattle, or the drone of the thrashing
machine. He lay half lifted up on his pillows, drawing his breath
short with apprehension; his days were numbered, and death was coming
fast, fast, straight upon him. He felt it within himself--he knew
now the meaning of the pain and sinking, the shortness of breath and
choking of throat that had been growing on him through the long
summer days; he was being 'cut off with pining sickness,' and his
sentence had gone forth. He would have screamed for his mother in
the sore terror and agony that had come over him, in hopes she might
drive the notion from him; but the dread of seeing her followed by
that woman kept his lips shut, except for his long gasps of breath.
And she could not keep him--Mr. Blunt could not keep him; no one
could stay the hand that had touched him! Prayer! They had prayed
for his father, for Charlie, but it had not been God's Will. He had
himself many times prayed to recover, and it had not been granted--he
was worse and worse.
Moreover, whither did that path of suffering lead? Up rose before
Alfred the thought of living after the unknown passage, and of
answering for all he had done; and now the faults he had refused to
call to mind when he was told of chastisement, came and stood up of
themselves. Bred up to know the good, he had not loved it; he had
cared for his own pleasure, not for God; he had not heeded the
comfort of his widowed mother; he had been careless of the honour of
God's House, said and heard prayers without minding them; he had been
disrespectful and ill-behaved at my Lady's--he had been bad in every
way; and when illness came, how rebellious and murmuring he had been,
how unkind he had been to his patient mother, sister, and brother;
and when Mr. Cope had told him it was meant to lead him to repent, he
would not hear; and now it was too late, the door would be shut. He
had always heard that there was a time when sorrow was no use, when
the offer of being saved had been thrown away.
When Ellen came in, and after a short greeting to Betsey Hardman,
went up-stairs, she found Alfred lying back on his pillow, deadly
white, the beads of dew standing on his brow, and his breath in
gasps. She would have shrieked for her mother, but he held out his
hand, and said, in a low hoarse whisper, 'Ellen, is it true?'
'What, Alfy dear? What is the matter?'
'What SHE says.'
'Who? Betsey Hardman? Dear dear Alf, is it anything dreadful?'
'That I shall die,' said Alfred, his eyes growing round with terror
again. 'That Mr. Blunt said I couldn't last out the winter.'
'Dear Alfy, don't!' cried Ellen, throwing her arms round him, and
kissing him with all her might; 'don't fancy it! She's always
gossiping and gadding about, and don't know what she says, and she'd
got no business to tell stories to frighten my darling!' she
exclaimed, sobbing with agitation. 'I'm sure Mr. Blunt never said no
'But Mother thinks it, Ellen.'
'She doesn't, she can't!' cried Ellen vehemently; 'I know she
doesn't, or she could never go about as she does. I'll call her up
and ask her, to satisfy you.'
'No, no, not while that woman is there!' cried Alfred, holding her by
the dress; 'I'll not have HER coming up.'
Even while he spoke, however, Mrs. King was coming. Betsey had spied
an old acquaintance on the way from church, and had popped out to
speak to her, and Mrs. King caught that moment for coming up. She
understood all, for she had been sitting in great distress, lest
Alfred should be listening to every word which she was unable to
silence, and about which Betsey was quite thoughtless. So many
people of her degree would talk to the patient about himself and his
danger, and go on constantly before him with all their fears, and the
doctor's opinions, that Betsey had never thought of there being more
consideration and tenderness shewn in this house, nor that Mrs. King
would have hidden any pressing danger from the sick person; but such
plain words had not yet passed between her and Mr. Blunt; and though
she had long felt what Alfred's illness would come to, the perception
had rather grown on her than come at any particular moment.
Now when Ellen, with tears and agitation, asked what that Betsey had
been saying to frighten Alfred so, and when she saw her poor boy's
look at her, and heard his sob, 'Oh, Mother!' it was almost too much
for her, and she went up and kissed him, and laid him down less
uneasily, but he felt a great tear fall on his face.
'It's not true, Mother, I'm sure it is not true,' cried Ellen; 'she
Mrs. King looked at her daughter with a sad sweet face, that stopped
her short, and brought the sense over her too. 'Did he say so,
Mother?' said Alfred.
'Not to me, dear,' she answered; 'but, Ellen, she's coming back!
She'll be up here if you don't go down.'
Poor Ellen! what would she not have given for power to listen to her
mother, and cry at her ease? But she was forced to hurry, or Betsey
would have been half-way up-stairs in another instant. She was a
hopeful girl, however, and after that 'not to me,' resolved to
believe nothing of the matter. Mrs. King knelt down by her son, and
looked at him tenderly; and then, as his eyes went on begging for an
answer, she said, 'Dr. Blunt never told me there was no hope, my
dear, and everything lies in God's power.'
'But you don't think I shall get well, Mother?'
'I don't feel as if you would, my boy,' she said, very low, and
fondling him all the time. 'You've got to cough like Father and
Charlie, and--though He might raise my boy up--yet anyhow, Alfy boy,
if God sees it good for us, it WILL be good for us, and we shall be
helped through with it.'
'But I'm not good, Mother! What will become of me?'
'Perhaps the hearing this is all out of God's mercy, to give you time
to get ready, my dear. You are no worse now than you were this
morning; you are not like to go yet awhile. No, indeed, my child; so
if you don't put off any longer--'
'Mother!' called up Ellen. She was in despair. Betsey was not to be
kept by her from satisfying herself upon Alfred's looks, and Mrs.
King was only in time to meet her on the stairs, and tell her that he
was so weak and low, that he could not be seen now, she could not
tell how it would be when he had had his tea.
Ellen thought she had never had so distressing a tea-drinking in her
life, as the being obliged to sit listening civilly to Betsey's long
story about the trouble she had about a stocking of Mrs. Martin's
that was lost in the wash, and that had gone to Miss Rosa Marlowe,
because Mrs. Martin had her things marked with a badly-done K. E. M.,
and all that Mrs. Martin's Maria and all Miss Marlowe's Jane had said
about it, and all Betsey's 'Says I to Mother,'--when she was so
longing to be watching poor Alfred, and how her mother could sit so
quietly making tea, and answering so civilly, she could not guess;
but Mrs. King had that sense of propriety and desire to do as she
would be done by, which is the very substance of Christian courtesy,
the very want of which made Betsey, with all her wish to be kind, a
real oppression and burthen to the whole party.
And where was Harold? Ellen had not seen him coming out of church,
but meal-times were pretty certain to bring him home.
'Oh,' said Betsey, 'I'll warrant he is off to the merry orchard.'
'I hope not,' said Mrs. King gravely.
'He never would,' said Ellen, in anger.
'Ah, well, I always said I didn't see no harm in a lad getting a bit
'No, indeed,' said Mrs. King. 'Harold knows I would not stint him in
the fruit nor in the pleasure, but I should be much vexed if he could
go out on a Sunday, buying and selling, among such a lot as meet at
'Well, I'm sure I don't know when poor folks is to have a holiday if
not on a Sunday, and the poor boy must be terrible moped with his
brother so ill.'
'Not doing thine own pleasure on My holy day,' thought Ellen, but she
did not say it, for her mother could not bear for texts to be quoted
at people. But her heart was very heavy; and when she went up with
some tea to Alfred, she looked from the window to see whether, as she
hoped, Harold might be in Paul's hay-loft, preferring going without
his tea to being teased by Betsey. Paul sat in his loft, with his
Bible on his knee, and his head on Caesar's neck.
'Alfred,' said Ellen, 'do you know where Harold is? Sure he is not
gone to the merry orchard?'
'Is not he come home?' said Alfred. 'Oh, then he is! He is gone to
the merry orchard, breaking Sunday with Dick Royston! And by-and-by
he'll be ill, and die, and be as miserable as I am!' And Alfred
cried as Ellen had never seen him cry.
CHAPTER VI--THE MERRY ORCHARD
Where was Harold?
Still the evening went on, and he did not come. Alfred had worn
himself out with his fit of crying, and lay quite still, either
asleep, or looking so like it, that when Betsey had finished her tea,
and again began asking to see him, Ellen could honestly declare that
he was asleep.
Betsey had bidden them good-bye, more than half affronted at not
being able to report to her mother all about his looks, though she
carried with her a basket of gooseberries and French beans, and Mrs.
King walked all the way down the lane with her, and tried to shew an
interest in all she said, to make up for the disappointment.
Maybe likewise Mrs. King felt it a relief to her uneasiness to look
up and down the road, and along the river, and into the farm-yard, in
the hope that Harold might be in sight; but nothing was to be seen on
the road, but Master Norland, his wife, and baby, soberly taking
their Sunday walk; nor by the river, except the ducks, who seemed to
be enjoying their evening bath, and almost asleep on the water; nor
in the yard, except Paul Blackthorn, who had come down from his perch
to drive the horses in from the home-field, and shut the stable up
for the night.
She could not help stopping a moment at the gate, and calling out to
Paul to ask whether he had seen anything of Harold. He seemed to
have a great mind not to hear, and turned very slowly with his
shoulder towards her, making a sound like 'Eh?' as if to ask what she
'Have you seen my boy Harold?'
'I saw him in the morning.'
'Have you not seen him since? Didn't he go to church with you?'
'No; I don't go to Sunday school.'
'Was he there?'
She did not receive any answer.
'Do you know if many of the boys are gone to the merry orchard?'
'Well, you are a good lad not to be one of them.'
'Hadn't got any money,' said Paul gruffly; but Mrs. King thought he
said so chiefly from dislike to be praised, and that there had been
some principle as well as poverty to keep him away.
'It might be better if no one had it on a Sunday,' she could not help
sighing out as she looked anxiously along the lane ere turning in,
and then said, 'My good lad, I don't want to get you to be telling
tales, but it would set my heart at rest, and his poor brother's up
there, if you could tell me he is not gone to Briar Alley.'
Paul turned up his face from the gate upon which he was leaning his
elbows, and gazed for a moment at her sad, meek, anxious face, then
exclaimed, 'I can't think how he could!'
Poor Paul! was it not crossing him how impossible it would seem to do
anything to vex one who so cared for him?
'Then he is gone,' she said mournfully.
'They were all at him,' said Paul; 'and he said he'd never seen what
it was like. Please don't take on, Missus; he's right kind and good-
hearted, and wanted to treat me.'
'I had rather he had hearkened to you, my boy,' said Mrs. King.
'I don't know why he should do that,' said Paul, perhaps meaning that
a boy who heeded not such a mother would certainly heed no one else.
'But please, Missus,' he added, 'don't beat him, for you made me tell
'Beat him! no,' said Mrs. King, with a sad smile; 'he's too big a boy
for me to manage that way. I can't do more than grieve if he lets
himself be led away.'
'Then I'd like to beat him myself if he grieves you!' burst out Paul,
doubling up his brown fist with indignation.
'But you won't,' said Mrs. King gently; 'I don't want to make a
quarrel among you, and I hope you'll help to keep him out of bad
ways, Paul. I look to you for it. Good-night.'
Perhaps the darkness and her own warm feeling made her forget the
condition of that hand; at any rate, as she said Good-night she took
it in her own and shook it heartily, and then she went in.
Paul did not say Good-night in answer; but when she had turned away,
his head went down between his two crossed arms upon the top of the
gate, and he did not move for many many minutes, except that his
shoulders shook and shook again, for he was sobbing as he had never
sobbed since Granny Moll died. If home and home love were not
matters of course to you, you might guess what strange new fountains
of feeling were stirred in the wild but not untaught boy, by that
face, that voice, that touch.
And Mrs. King, as she walked to her own door in the twilight, with
bitter pain in her heart, could not help thinking of those from the
highways and hedges who flocked to the feast set at naught by such as
A sad and mournful Sunday evening was that to the mother and
daughter, as each sat over her Bible. Mrs. King would not talk to
Ellen, for fear of awakening Alfred; not that low voices would have
done so, but Ellen was already much upset by what she had heard and
seen, and to talk it over would have brought on a fit of violent
crying; so her mother thought it safest to say nothing. They would
have read their Bible to one another, but each had her voice so
choked with tears, that it would not do.
That Alfred was sinking away into the grave, was no news to Mrs.
King; but perhaps it had never been so plainly spoken to her before,
and his own knowledge of it seemed to make it more sure; but broken-
hearted as she felt, she had been learning to submit to this, and it
might be better and safer for him, she thought, to be aware of his
state, and more ready to do his best with the time left to him. That
was not the freshest sorrow, or more truly a darker cloud had come
over, namely, the feeling, so terrible to a good careful mother, that
her son is breaking out of the courses to which she has endeavoured
and prayed to bring him up--that he is casting off restraint, and
running into evil that may be the beginning of ruin, and with no
father's hand to hold him in.
O Harold, had you but seen the thick tears dropping on the walnut
table behind the arm that hid her face from Ellen, you would not have
thought your fun worth them!
That merry orchard was about three miles from Friarswood. It
belonged to a man who kept a small public-house, and had a little
farm, and a large garden, with several cherry trees, which in May
were perfect gardens of blossoms, white as snow, and in August with
small black fruit of the sort known as merries; and unhappily the
fertile produce of these trees became a great temptation to the owner
and to all the villagers around.
As Sunday was the only day when people could be at leisure, he chose
three Sundays when the cherries were ripe for throwing open his
orchard to all who chose to come and buy and eat the fruit, and of
course cakes and drink of various kinds were also sold. It was a
solitary spot, out of the way of the police, or the selling in
church-time would have been stopped; but as there may be cases of
real distress, the law does not shut up all houses for selling food
and drink on a Sunday, so others, where there is no necessity, take
advantage of it; and so for miles round all the idle young people and
children would call it a holiday to go away from their churches to
eat cherries at Briar Alley, buying and selling on a Sunday, noisy
and clamorous, and forgetting utterly that it was the Lord's Day, not
their day of idle pleasure.
It was a sad pity that an innocent feast of fruit should be almost
out of reach, unless enjoyed in this manner. To be sure, merries
might be bought any day of the week at Briar Alley, and were hawked
up and down Friarswood so cheaply that any one might get a mouth as
purple as the black spaniel's any day in the season; but that was
nothing to the fun of going with numbers, and numbers never could go
except on a Sunday. But if people wish to serve God truly, why, they
must make up their minds to miss pleasures for His sake, and this was
one to begin with; and I am much mistaken if the happiness of the
week would not have turned out greater in the end with him. Ay, and
as to the owner of the trees, who said he was a poor man, and could
not afford to lose the profit, I believe that if he would have
trusted God and kept His commandment, his profit in the long run
would have been greater here, to say nothing of the peril to his own
soul of doing wrong, and leading so many into temptation.
The Kings had been bred up to think a Sunday going to the merry
orchard a thing never to be done; and in his most idle days Alfred
would never have dreamt of such a thing. Indeed, their good mother
always managed to have some treat to make up for it when they were
little; and they certainly never wanted for merries, nay, a merry
pudding had been their dinner this very day, with savage-looking
purple juice and scalding hot stones. If Harold went it was for the
frolic, not for want of the dainty; and wrong as it was, his mother
was grieving more at the thought of his casting away the restraint of
his old habits than for the one action. One son going away into the
unseen world, the other being led away from the paths of right--no
wonder she wept as she tried to read!
At last voices were coming, and very loud ones. The summer night was
so still, they could be heard a great way--those rude coarse voices
of village boys boasting and jeering one another.
'I say, wouldn't you like to be one of they chaps at Ragglesford
'What lots they bought there on Saturday, to be sure!'
'Well they may: they've lots of tin!'
'Have they? How d'ye know?'
'Why, the money-letters! Don't I know the feel of them--directed to
master this and master that, and with a seal and a card, and half a
sovereign, or maybe a whole one, under it; and such lots as they gets
before the holidays--that's to go home, you see.'
'Well, it's a shame such little impudent rogues should get so much
without ever doing a stroke of work for it.'
'I say, Harold, don't ye never put one of they letters in your
'For shame, Dick!'
'Ha! I shall know where to come when I wants half a sovereign or
'No, you won't.'
It was only these last two or three speeches that reached the cottage
at all clearly; and they were followed by a sound as if Harold had
fallen upon one of the others, and they were holding him off, with
halloos and shouts of hoarse laughing, which broke Alfred's sleep,
and his voice came down-stairs with a startled cry of 'Mother!
Mother! what is that?' She ran up-stairs in haste, and Ellen threw
the door open. The sudden display of the light silenced the noisy
boys; and Harold came slowly up the garden-path, pretty certain of a
scolding, and prepared to feel it as little as he could help.
'Well, Master, a nice sort of a way of spending a Sunday evening
this!' began Ellen; 'and coming hollaing up the lane, just on purpose
to wake poor Alfred, when he's so ill!'
'I'm sure I never meant to wake him.'
'Then what did you bring all that good-for-nothing set roaring and
shouting up the road for? And just this evening, too, when one would
have thought you would we have cared for poor Mother and Alfred,'
said she, crying.
'Why, what's the matter now?' said Harold.
'Oh, they've been saying he can't live out the winter,' said Ellen,
shedding the tears that had been kept back all this time, and broke
out now with double force, in her grief for one brother and vexation
with the other.
But next winter seemed a great way off to Harold, and he was put out
besides, so he did not seem shocked, especially as he was reproached
with not feeling what he did not know; so all he did was to say
angrily, 'And how was I to know that?'
'Of course you don't know anything, going scampering over the country
with the worst lot you can find, away from church and all, not caring
for anything! Poor Mother! she never thought one of her lads would
come to that!'
'Plenty does so, without never such a fuss,' said Harold. 'Why, what
harm is there in eating a few cherries?'
There would be very little pleasure or use in knowing what a
wrangling went on all the time Mrs. King was up-stairs putting Alfred
to bed. Ellen had all the right on her side, but she did not use it
wisely; she was very unhappy, and much displeased with Harold, and so
she had it all out in a fretful manner that made him more cross and
less feeling than was his nature.
There was something he did feel, however--and that was his mother's
pale, worn, sorrowful face, when she came down-stairs and hushed
Ellen, but did not speak to him. They took down the books, read
their chapter, and she read prayers very low, and not quite steadily.
He would have liked very much to have told her he felt sorry, but he
was too proud to do so after having shewn Ellen he was above caring
for such nonsense.
So they all went to bed, Harold on a little landing at the top of the
stairs; but--whether it was from the pounds of merry-stones he had
swallowed, or the talk he had had with his sister--he could not go to
sleep, and lay tossing and tumbling about, thinking it very odd he
had not heeded more what Ellen had said when he first came in, and
the notion dawning on him more and more, that day after day would
come and make Alfred worse, and that by the time summer came again he
should be alone. Who could have said it? Why had not he asked?
What could he have been thinking about? It should not be true! A
sort of frenzy to speak to some one, and hear the real meaning of
those words, so as to make sure they were only Ellen's nonsense, came
over him in the silent darkness. Presently he heard Alfred moving on
his pillow, for the door was open for the heat; and that long long
sigh made him call in a whisper, 'Alf, are you awake?'
In another moment Harold was by his brother's side. 'Alf! Alf! are
you worse?' he asked, whispering.
'Then what's all this? What did they say? It's all stuff; I'm sure
it is, and you're getting better. But what did Ellen mean?'
'No, Harold,' said Alfred, getting his brother's hand in his, 'it's
not stuff; I shan't get well; I'm going after poor Charlie; and don't
you be a bad lad, Harold, and run away from your church, for you
don't know--how bad it feels to--' and Alfred turned his face down,
for the tears were coming thick.
'But you aren't going to die, Alf. Charlie never was like you, I
know he wasn't; he was always coughing. It is all Ellen. Who said
it? I won't let them.'
'The doctor said it to Betsey Hardman,' said Alfred; and his cough
was only too like his brother's.
Harold would have said a great deal in contempt of Betsey Hardman,
but Alfred did not let him.
'You'll wake Mother,' he said. 'Hush, Harold, don't go stamping
about; I can't bear it! No, I don't want any one to tell me now;
I've been getting worse ever since I was taken, and--oh! be quiet,
'I can't be quiet,' sobbed Harold, coming nearer to him. 'O Alf! I
can't spare you! There hasn't been no proper downright fun without
Harold had lain down by him and clung to his hand, trying not to sob
'O Harold!' sighed Alfred, 'I don't think I should mind--at least not
so much--if I hadn't been such a bad boy.'
'You, Alfy! Who was ever a good boy if you was not?'
'Hush! You forget all about when I was up at my Lady's, and all
that. Oh! and how bad I behaved at church, and when I was so saucy
to Master about the marbles; and so often I've not minded Mother. O
Harold! and God judges one for everything!'
What a sad terrified voice it was!
'Oh! don't go on so, Alf! I can't bear it! Why, we are but boys;
and those things were so long ago! God will not be hard on little
boys. He is merciful, don't you know?'
'But when I knew it was wrong, I did the worst I could!' said Alfred.
'Oh, if I could only begin all over again, now I do care! Only,
Harold, Harold, you are well; you can be good now when there's time.'
'I'll be ever so good if you'll only get well,' said Harold. 'I
wouldn't have gone to that there place to-night; but 'tis so terribly
dull, and one must do something.'
'But in church-time, and on Sunday!'
'Well, I'll never do it again; but it was so sunshiny, and they were
all making such fun, you see, and it did seem so stuffy, and so long
and tiresome, I couldn't help it, you see.'
Alfred did not think of asking how, if Harold could not help it this
time, he could be sure of never doing so again. He was more inclined
to dwell on himself, and went back to that one sentence, 'God judges
us for everything.' Harold thought he meant it for him, and
'Yes, yes, I know, but--oh, Alf, you shouldn't frighten one so; I
never meant no harm.'
'I wasn't thinking about that,' sighed Alfred. 'I was wishing I'd
been a better lad; but I've been worse, and crosser, and more unkind,
ever since I was ill. O Harold! what shall I do?'
'Don't go on that way,' said Harold, crying bitterly. 'Say your
prayers, and maybe you will get well; and then in the morning I'll
ask Mr. Cope to come down, and he'll tell you not to mind.'
'I wouldn't listen to Mr. Cope when he told me to be sorry for my
sins; and oh, Harold, if we are not sorry, you know they will not be
'Well, but you are sorry now.'
'I have heard tell that there are two ways of being sorry, and I
don't know if mine is the right.'
'I tell you I'll fetch Mr. Cope in the morning; and when the doctor
comes he'll be sure to say it is all a pack of stuff, and you need
not be fretting yourself.'
When Harold awoke in the morning, he found himself lying wrapped in
his coverlet on Alfred's bed, and then he remembered all about it,
and looked in haste, as though he expected to see some sudden and
terrible change in his brother.
But Alfred was looking cheerful, he had awakened without discomfort;
and with some amusement, was watching the starts and movements, the
grunts and groans, of Harold's waking. The morning air and the
ordinary look of things, had driven away the gloomy thoughts of
evening, and he chiefly thought of them as something strange and
dreadful, and yet not quite a dream.
'Don't tell Mother,' whispered Harold, recollecting himself, and
starting up quietly.
'But you'll fetch Mr. Cope,' said Alfred earnestly.
Harold had begun not to like the notion of meeting Mr. Cope, lest he
should hear something of yesterday's doings, and he did not like
Alfred or himself to think of last night's alarm, so he said, 'Oh,
very well, I'll see about it.'
He had not made up his mind. Very likely, if chance had brought him
face to face with Mr. Cope, he would have spoken about Alfred as the
best way to hinder the Curate from reproving himself; but he had not
that right sort of boldness which would have made him go to meet the
reproof he so richly deserved, and he was trying to persuade himself
either that when Alfred was amused and cheery, he would forget all
about 'that there Betsey's nonsense,' or else that Mr. Cope might
come that way of himself.
But Alfred was not likely to forget. What he had heard hung on him
through all the little occupations of the morning, and made him meek
and gentle under them, and he was reckoning constantly upon Mr.
Cope's coming, fastening on the notion as if he were able to save
Still the Curate came not, and Alfred became grieved, feeling as if
he was neglected.
Mr. Blunt, however, came, and at any rate he would have it out with
him; so he asked at once very straightforwardly, 'Am I going to die,
'Why, what's put that in your head?' said the doctor.
'There was a person here talking last night, Sir,' said Mrs. King.
'Well, but am I?' said Alfred impatiently.
'Not just yet, I hope,' said Mr. Blunt cheerfully. 'You are weak,
but you'll pick up again.'
'But of this?' persisted Alfred, who was not to be trifled with.
Mr. Blunt saw he must be in earnest.
'My boy,' he said, 'I'm afraid it is not a thing to be got over.
I'll do the best I can for you, by God's blessing; and if you get
through the winter, and it is a mild spring, you might do; but you'd
better settle your mind that you can't be many years for this world.'
Many years! that sounded like a reprieve, and sent gladness into
Ellen's heart; but somehow it did not seem in the same light to
Alfred; he felt that if he were slowly going down hill and wasting
away, so as to have no more health or strength in which to live
differently from ever before, the length of time was not much to him,
and in his sickly impatience he would almost have preferred that it
should not be what Betsey kindly called 'a lingering job.'
There he lay after Mr. Blunt was gone, not giving Ellen any trouble,
except by the sad thoughtfulness of his face, as he lay dwelling on
all that he wanted to say to Mr. Cope, and the terror of his sin and
of judgment sweeping over him every now and then.
Still Mr. Cope came not. Alfred at last began to wonder aloud, and
asked if Harold had said anything about it when he came in to dinner;
but he heard that Harold had only rushed in for a moment, snatched up
a lump of bread and cheese, and made off to the river with some of
the lads who meant to spend the noon-tide rest in bathing.
When he came for the evening letters he was caught, and Mr. Cope was
asked for; and then it came out that Harold had never given the
message at all.
Alfred, greatly hurt, and sadly worn by his day of expectation, had
no self-restraint left, and flew out into a regular passion, calling
his brother angry names. Harold, just as passionate, went into a
rage too, and scolded his brother for his fancies. Mrs. King, in
great displeasure, turned him out, and he rushed off to ride like one
mad to Elbury; and poor Alfred remained so much shocked at his own
outbreak, just when he meant to have been good ever after, and
sobbing so miserably, that no one could calm him at all; and Ellen,
as the only hope, put on her bonnet to fetch Mr. Cope.
At that moment Paul was come for his bit of bread. She found him
looking dismayed at the sounds of violent weeping from above, and he
asked what it was.
'Oh, Alfred is so low and so bad, and he wants Mr. Cope! Here's your
bread, don't keep me!'
'Let me go! I'll be quicker!' cried Paul; and before she could thank
him, he was down the garden and right across the first field.
Alfred had had time to cry himself exhausted, and to be lying very
still, almost faint, before Mr. Cope came in in the summer twilight.
Good Paul! He had found that Mr. Cope was dining at Ragglesford and
had run all the way thither; and here was the kind young Curate,
quite breathless with his haste, and never regretting the cheerful
party whence he had been called away. All Alfred could say was, 'O
Sir, I shall die; and I'm a bad boy, and wouldn't heed you when you
'And God has made you see your sins, my poor boy,' said Mr. Cope.
'That is a great blessing.'
'But if I can't do anything to make up for them, what's the use? And
I never shall be well again.'
'You can't make up for them; but there is One Who has made up for
them, if you will only truly repent.'
'I wasn't sorry till I knew I should die,' said Alfred.
'No, your sins did not come home to you! Now, do you know what they
'Oh yes; I've been a bad boy to Mother, and at church; and I've been
cross to Ellen, and quarrelled with Harold; and I was so audacious at
my Lady's, they couldn't keep me. I never did want really to be
good. Oh! I know I shall go to the bad place!'
'No, Alfred, not if you so repent, that you can hold to our Blessed
Saviour's promise. There is a fountain open for sin and all
'It is very good of Him,' said Alfred, a little more tranquilly, not
in the half-sob in which he had before spoken.
'Most merciful!' said Mr. Cope.
'But does it mean me?' continued Alfred.
'You were baptized, Alfred, you have a right to all His promises of
pardon.' And he repeated the blessed sentences:
'Come unto Me, all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will
'God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, to the
end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have
'But how ought I to believe, Sir?'
'You say you feel what your sins are; think of them all as you lie,
each one as you remember it; say it out in your heart to our Saviour,
and pray God to forgive it for His sake, and then think that it cost
some of the pain He bore on the Cross, some of the drops of His agony
in the Garden. Each sin of ours was indeed of that burden!'
'Oh, that will make them seem so bad!'
'Indeed it does; but how it will make you love Him, and feel thankful
to Him, and anxious not to waste the sufferings borne for your sake,
and glad, perhaps, that you are bearing some small thing yourself.
But you are spent, and I had better not talk more now. Let me read
you a few prayers to help you, and then I will leave you, and come
How differently those Prayers and Psalms sounded to Alfred now that
he had really a heart grieved and wearied with the burthen of sin!
The point was to make his not a frightened heart, but a contrite
CHAPTER VII--HAROLD TAKES A WRONG TURN
Mrs. King was very anxious about Alfred for many hours after this
visit from the Curate, for he was continually crying, not violently,
but the tears flowing quietly from his eyes as he lay, thinking.
Sometimes it was the badness of the faults as he saw them now,
looking so very different from what they did when they were committed
in the carelessness of fun and high spirits, or viewed afterwards in
the hardening light of self-justification. Now they did look so
wantonly hard and rude--unkind to his sister, ruinous to Harold,
regardless of his widowed mother, reckless of his God--that each one
seemed to cut into him with a sense of its own badness, and he was
quite as much grieved as afraid; he hated the fault, and hated
himself for it.
Indeed, he was growing less afraid, for the sorrow seemed to swallow
that up; the grief at having offended One so loving was putting out
the terror of being punished; or rather, when he thought that this
illness was punishment, he was almost glad to have some of what he
deserved; just as when he was a little boy, he really used to be
happier afterwards for having been whipped and put in the corner,
because that was like making it up. Though he knew very well that if
he had ten thousand times worse than this to bear, it would not be
making up for his faults, and he felt now that one of them had been
his 'despising the chastening of the Lord.' And then the thought of
what had made up for it would come: and though he had known of it
all his life, and heeded it all too little, now that his heart was
tender, and he had felt some of the horror and pain of sin, he took
it all home now, and clung to it. He recollected the verses about
that One kneeling--nay, falling on the ground, in the cold dewy
night, with the chosen friends who could not watch with Him, and the
agony and misery that every one in all the world deserved to feel,
gathering on Him, Who had done no wrong, and making His brow stream
with great drops of Blood.
And the tortures, the shame, the slow Death--circumstance after
circumstance came to his mind, and 'for me,' 'this fault of mine
helped,' would rise with it, and the tears trickled down at the
thought of the suffering and of the Love that had caused it to be
Once he raised up his head, and saw through the window the deep dark-
blue sky, and the stars, twinkling and sparkling away; that pale band
of light, the Milky Way, which they say is made of countless stars
too far off to be distinguished, and looking like a cloud, and on it
the larger, brighter burnished stars, differing from one another in
glory. He thought of some lines in a book Miss Jane once gave Ellen,
which said of the stars:
'The Lord resigned them all to gain
The bliss of pardoning thee.'
And when he thought that it was the King of those stars Who was
scourged and spit on, and for the sake of HIS faults, the loving
tears came again, and he turned to another hymn of Ellen's:
'Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!'
And going on with this, he fell into a more quiet sleep than he had
had for many nights.
Alfred had worked up his mind to a point where it could not long
remain; and when he awoke in the morning, the common affairs of the
day occupied him in a way that was not hurtful to him, as the one
chief thought was ever present, only laid away for a time, and
helping him when he might have been fretful or impatient.
He was anxious for Mr. Cope, and grateful when he saw him coming
early in the day. Mr. Cope did not, however, say anything very new.
He chiefly wished to shew Alfred that he must not think all his
struggle with sin over, and that he had nothing to do but to lie
still and be pardoned. There was much more work, as he would find,
when the present strong feeling should grow a little blunt; he would
have to keep his will bent to bear what was sent by God, and to prove
his repentance by curing himself of all his bad habits of peevishness
and exacting; to learn, in fact, to take up his cross.
Alfred feebly promised to try, and it did not seem so difficult just
then. The days were becoming cooler, and he did not feel quite so
ill; and though he did not know how much this helped him, it made it
much easier to act on his good resolutions. Miss Selby came to see
him, and was quite delighted to see him looking so much less
uncomfortable and dismal.
'Why, Alfred,' said she, 'you must be much better.'
Ellen looked mournful at this, and shook her head so that Miss Jane
turned her bright face to her in alarm.
'No, Ma'am,' said Alfred. 'Dr. Blunt says I can never get over it.'
'And does that make you glad?' almost gasped Miss Jane.
'No, Ma'am,' said Alfred; 'but Mr. Cope has been talking to me, and
made it all so--'
He could not get out the words; and, besides, he saw Miss Jane's eyes
winking very fast to check the tears, and Ellen's had begun to rain
'I didn't mean to be silly,' said little Jane, in rather a trembling
voice; 'but I'm sorry--no--I'm glad you are happy and good, Alfred.'
'Not good, Miss Jane,' cried Alfred; 'I'm such a bad boy, but there
are such good things as I never minded before--'
'Well then, I think you'll like what I've brought you,' said Jane
It was a little framed picture of our Blessed Lord on His Cross, all
darkness round, and the Inscription above His Head; and Miss Jane had
painted, in tall Old English red letters, under it the two words,
Alfred looked at it as if indeed it would be a great comfort to him
to be always reminded by the eye, of how 'He was wounded for our
transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities.'
He thanked Miss Jane with all his heart, and she and Ellen soon found
a place to hang it up well in his sight. It was a pretty bright
sight to see her insisting on holding the nail for it, and then
playfully pretending to shrink and fancy that Ellen would hammer her
Alfred could enjoy the sunshine of his sick-room again; and Ellen and
his mother down-stairs told Miss Selby, with many tears, of the happy
change that had come over him ever since he had resigned himself to
give up hopes of life. Mrs. King looked so peaceful and thankful,
that little Jane could hardly understand what it was that made her so
much more at rest.
Even Ellen, though her heart ached at the hope having gone out, and
left a dark place where it had been, felt the great relief from hour
to hour of not being fretted and snarled at for whatever she either
did or left undone. Thanks and smiles were much pleasanter payment
than groans, murmurs, and scoldings; and the brother and sister
sometimes grew quite cheerful and merry together, as Alfred lay
raised up to look over the hedge into the harvest-field across the
meadow, where the reaper and his wife might be seen gathering the
brown ears round, and cutting them with the sickle, and others going
after to bind them into the glorious wheat sheaves that leant against
each other in heaps of blessed promise of plenty.
Paul tried reaping; but the first thing he did was to make a terrible
cut in his hand, which the shuffler told him was for good luck! Some
of the women in the field bound it up, but he was good for nothing
after it except going after the cattle, and so he was likely to lose
all the chance of earning himself any better clothes in harvest-time.
Harold grumbled dreadfully that his mother could not spare him to go
harvesting beyond their own tiny quarter of an acre of wheat. The
post made it impossible for him to go out to work like the labourers;
and besides, his mother did not think he had gained much good in hay-
time, and wished to keep him from the boys.
Very hard he thought it; and to hear him grumble, any one would have
thought Mrs. King was a tyrant far worse than Farmer Shepherd,
working the flesh off his bones, taking away the fun and the payment
The truth was, that the morning when Harold threw away from him the
thought of his brother's danger, and broke all his promises to him in
the selfish fear of a rebuke from the clergyman, had been one of the
turning-points of his life, and a turning-point for the bad. It had
been a hardening of his heart, just as it had begun to be touched,
and a letting in of evil spirits instead of good ones.
He became more than ever afraid of Mr. Cope, and shirked going near
him so as to be spoken to; he cut Ellen off short if she said a word
to him, and avoided being with Alfred, partly because it made him
melancholy, partly because he was afraid of Alfred's again talking to
him about the evil of his ways. In reality, his secret soul was
wretched at the thought of losing his brother; but he tried to put
the notion away from him, and to drown it in the noisiest jokes and
most riotous sports he could meet with, keeping company with the
wildest lads about the parish. That Dick Royston especially, whose
honesty was doubtful, but who, being a clever fellow, was a sort of
leader, was doing great harm by setting his face against the new
parson, and laughing at the boys who went to him. Mrs. King was very
unhappy. It was almost worse to think of Harold than of his sick
brother; and Alfred grieved very much too, and took to himself the
blame of having made home miserable to Harold, and driven him into
bad company; of having been so peevish and unpleasant, that it was no
wonder he would not come near him more than could be helped; and
above all, of having set a bad example of idleness and recklessness,
when he was well. If the tears were brought into his eyes at first
by some unkind neglect of Harold's, they were sure to end in this
thought at last; and then the only comfort was, that Mr. Cope had
told him that he might make his sick-bed very precious to his
brother's welfare, by praying always for him.
Mr. Cope had talked it over with Mrs. King; and they had agreed that
as Harold was under the regular age for Confirmation, and seemed so
little disposed to prepare for it in earnest, they would not press it
on him. He was far from fit for it, and he was in such a mood of
impatient irreverence, that Mr. Cope was afraid of making his sin
worse by forcing serious things on him, and his mother was in
constant fear of losing her last hold on him.
Yet Harold was not a bad or unfeeling boy by nature; and if he would
but have paused to think, he would have been shocked to see how
cruelly he was paining his widowed mother and dying brother, just
when he should have been their strength and stay.
One afternoon in October, when Alfred was in a good deal of pain, Mr.
Blunt said he would send out some cooling ointment for the wound at
the joint, when Harold took the evening letters into Elbury. Alfred
reckoned much on the relief this was to give, and watched the ticks
of the clock for the time for Harold to set off.
'Make haste,' were the last words his mother spoke--and Harold fully
meant to make haste; nor was it weather to tempt him to stay long,
for there was a chill raw fog hanging over the meadows, and fast
turning into rain, which hung in drops upon his eyebrows, and the
many-tiered cape of his father's box-coat, which he always wore in
bad weather. It was fortunate he was likely to meet nothing, and
that he and the pony both knew the road pretty well.
How fuzzy the grey fog made the lamps of the town look! Did they
disturb the pony? What a stumble! Ha! there's a shoe off. Be it
known that it was Harold's own fault; he had not looked at the shoes
for many a morning, as he knew it was his duty to do.
He left Peggy with her ears back, much discomposed at being shod in a
strange forge, and by any one but Bill Saunders.
Then Harold was going to leave his bag at the post-office, when, as
he turned up the street, some one caught hold of him, and cried, 'Ho!
Harold King on foot! What's the row? Old pony tumbled down dead?'
'Cast a shoe,' said Harold.
'Oh, jolly, you'll have to wait!' went on Dick Royston. 'Come in
here! Here's such a lark!'
Harold looked into a court-yard belonging to a low public-house, and
saw what was like a tent, with a bright red star on a blue ground at
the end, lighted up. A dark figure came between, and there was a
sudden crack that made Harold start.
'It's the unique (he called it eu-ni-quee) royal shooting-gallery,
patronized by his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales,' (what a
story!) said Dick. 'You've only to lay down your tin; one copper for
three shots, and if you hit, you may take your choice--gingerbread-
nuts, or bits of cocoa-nut, or, what's jolliest, lollies with gin
inside 'em! Come, blaze away! or ha'n't you got the money? Does
Mother keep you too short?'
If there was a thing Harold had a longing for, it was to fire off a
gun! If there was a person he envied more than another, it was old
Isaac Coffin, when he prowled up and down Farmer Ledbitter's fields
with an old blunderbuss and some powder, to keep off the birds!
To be sure it was a public-house, but it was not inside one! And
Mother would call it gambling. Oh, but it wasn't cards or skittles!
And if he shot away his half-pence, how should he pay for the shoeing
of the pony? The blacksmith might trust him, or the clerk at the
post-office would lend him the money, or Betsey Hardman. And the
time? One shot would not waste much! Pony must be shod. Besides,
Dick and all the rest would say he was a baby.
He paid the penny, threw aside his cap, and took the gun, though
after all it was only a sham one, and what a miss he made! What
business had every one to set up that great hoarse laugh? which made
him so angry that he had nearly turned on Dick and cuffed him for his
However, he was the more bent on trying again, and the owner of the
gallery shewed him how to manage better. He hit anything but the
middle of the star, and just saw how he thought he might hit next
time. Next time was barely a miss, so that the man actually gave him
a gin-drop to encourage him. That made him mad to meet with real
success; but it was the turn of another 'young gent,' as the man
called him, and Harold had to stand by, with his penny in his hand,
burning with impatience, and fancying he could mend each shot of that
young gent, and another, and another, and another, who all thrust in
to claim their rights before him. His turn came at last; and so
short and straight was the gallery, that he really did hit once the
side of the star, and once the middle, and thus gained one
gingerbread-nut, and three of the gin-drops.
It would have been his nature to share them with Alfred, but he could
not do so without saying where he had been, and that he could not do,
so he gave one to Dick, and swallowed the rest to keep out the cold.
Just then the town clock struck six, and frightened him. He had been
there three-quarters of an hour. What would they say at the post-
The clerk looked out of his hole as angry as clerk could look. 'This
won't do, King,' he said. 'Late for sorting! Fine, remember--near
an hour after time.'
'Pony cast a shoe, Sir,' said Harold. He had never been so near a
'Whew! Then I suppose I must not report you this time! But look
out! You're getting slack.'
No time this for borrowing of the clerk. Harold was really
frightened, for he HAD dawdled much more than he ought of late, and
though he sometimes fancied himself sick of the whole post business,
a complaint to his mother would be a dreadful matter. It put
everything else out of his head; and he ran off in great haste to get
the money from Betsey Hardman, knocking loud at her green door.
What a cloud of steamy heat the room was, with the fire glowing like
a red furnace, and five black irons standing up before it; and
clothes-baskets full of heaps of whiteness, and horses with vapoury
webs of lace and cambric hanging on them; and the three ironing-
boards, where smoothness ran along with the irons; and the heaps of
folded clothes; and Betsey in her white apron, broad and red in the
midst of her maidens!
'Ha! Harold King! Well, to be sure, you are a stranger! Don't come
nigh that there hoss; it's Mrs. Parnell's best pocket-handkerchiefs,
real Walencines!' (she meant Valenciennes.) 'If you'll just run up
and see Mother, I'll have it out of the way, and we'll have a cup of
'Thank you, but I--'
'My! What a smoke ye're in! Take care, or I shall have 'em all to
do over again. Go up to Mother, do, like a good lad.'
'I can't, Betsey; I must go home.'
'Ay! that's the way. Lads never can sit down sensible and
comfortable! it's all the same--'
'I wanted,' said Harold, interrupting her, 'to ask you to lend me
sixpence. Pony's cast a shoe, and I had to leave her with the
'Ay? Who did you leave her with?'
'The first I came to, up in Wood Street.'
'Myers. Ye shouldn't have done that. His wife's the most stuck-up
proud body I ever saw--wears steel petticoats, I'll answer for it.
You should have gone to Charles Shaw.'
'Can't help it,' said Harold. 'Please, Betsey, let me have the
sixpence; I'll pay you faithfully to-morrow!'
'Ay! that's always the way. Never come in unless ye want somewhat.
'Twasn't the way your poor father went on! He'd a civil word for
every one. Well, and can't you stop a minute to say how your poor
'Much the same,' said Harold impatiently.
'Yes, he'll never be no better, poor thing! All decliny; as I says
to Mother, what a misfortune it is upon poor Cousin King! they'll all
go off, one after t'other, just like innocents to the slaughter.'
This was not a cheerful prediction; and Harold petulantly said he
must get back, and begged for the sixpence. He got it at last, but
not till all Betsey's pocket had been turned out; and finding nothing
but shillings and threepenny-bits, she went all through her day's
expenses aloud, calling all her girls to witness to help her to
account for the sixpence that ought to have been there.
Mrs. Brown had paid her four and sixpence--one florin and a half-
crown--and she had three threepenny-pieces in her pocket, and
twopence. Then Sally had been out and got a shilling's-worth of
soap, and six-penn'orth of blue, and brought home one shilling; and
there was the sausages--no one could recollect what they had cost,
though they talked so much about their taste; and five-pence-worth of
red-herrings, and the butter; yes, and threepence to the beggar who
said he had been in Sebastopol. Harold's head was ready to turn
round before it was all done; but he got away at last, with a
scolding for not going up to see Mother.
Home he trotted as hard as the pony would go, holding his head down
to try to bury nose and mouth in his collar, and the thick rain
plastering his hair, and streaming down the back of his neck. What
an ill-used wretch was he, said he to himself, to have to rattle all
over the country in such weather!
Here was home at last. How comfortable looked the bright light, as
the cottage door was thrown open at the sound of the horse's feet!
'Well, Harold!' cried Ellen eagerly, 'is anything the matter?'
'No,' he said, beginning to get sulky because he felt he was wrong;
'only Peggy lost a shoe--'
'No, I took her to the smith.'
'Give me Alfred's ointment, please, before you put her up. He is in
such a way about it, and we can't put him to bed--'
'Haven't got it.'
'Not got it! O Harold!'
'I should like to know how to be minding such things when pony loses
a shoe, and such weather! I declare I'm as wet--!' said Harold
angrily, as he saw his sister clasp her hands in distress, and the
tears come in her eyes.
'Is Harold come safe?' called Mrs. King from above.
'Is the ointment come?' cried Alfred, in a piteous pain-worn voice.
Harold stamped his foot, and bolted to the stable to put the pony
'It's not come,' said Ellen, coming up-stairs, very sadly.
'He has forgot it.'
'Forgot it!' cried Alfred, raising himself passionately. 'He always
does forget everything! He don't care for me one farthing! I
believe he wants me dead!'
'This is very bad of him! I didn't think he'd have done it,' said
Mrs. King sorrowfully.
'He's been loitering after some mischief,' exclaimed Alfred. 'Taking
his pleasure--and I must stay all this time in pain! Serve him right
to send him back to Elbury.'
Mrs. King had a great mind to have done so; but when she looked at
the torrents of rain that streamed against the window, and thought
how wet Harold must be already, and of the fatal illnesses that had
been begun by being exposed to such weather, she was afraid to
venture a boy with such a family constitution, and turning back to
Alfred, she said, 'I am very sorry, Alfred, but it can't be helped; I
can't send Harold out in the rain again, or we shall have him ill
Poor Alfred! it was no trifle to have suffered all day, and to be
told the pain must go on all night. His patience and all his better
thoughts were quite worn away, and he burst into tears of anger and
cried out that it was very hard--his mother cared for Harold more
than for him, and nobody minded it, if he lay in such pain all night.
'You know better than that, dear,' said his poor mother, sadly
grieved, but bearing it meekly. 'Harold shall go as soon as can be
'And what good will that be to-night?' grumbled Alfred. 'But you
always did put Harold before me. However, I shall soon be dead and
out of your way, that's all!'
Mrs. King would not make any answer to this speech, knowing it only
made him worse. She went down to see about Harold, an additional
offence to Alfred, who muttered something about 'Mother and her
'How can you, Alfred, speak so to Mother?' cried Ellen.
'I'm sure every one is cross enough to me,' returned Alfred.
'Not Mother,' said Ellen. 'She couldn't help it.'
'She won't send Harold out again, though; I'm sure I'd have gone for
'You don't know what the rain was,' said Ellen.
'Well, he should have minded; but you're all against me.'
'You'll be sorry by-and-by, Alfred; this isn't like the way you talk
'Some one else had need to be sorry, not me.'
Perhaps, in the midst of his captious state, Alfred was somewhat
pacified by hearing sounds below that made him certain that Harold
was not escaping without some strong words from his mother.
They were not properly taken. Harold was in no mood of repentance,
and the consciousness that he had been behaving most unkindly, only
made him more rough and self-justifying.
'I can't help it! I can't be a slave to run about everywhere, and
remember everything--pony losing her shoe, and nigh tumbling down
with me, and Ross at the post so cross for nothing!'
'You'll grieve at the way you have used your poor brother one of
these days, Harold,' quietly answered his mother, so low, that Alfred
could not hear through the floor. 'Now, you'll please to go to bed.'
'Ain't I to have no supper?' said Harold in a sullen voice, with a
great mind to sit down in the chimney-corner in defiance.
'I shall give you something hot when you are in bed. If I treated
you as you deserve, I should send you to Mr. Blunt's this moment; but
I can't afford to have you ill too, so go to bed this moment.'
His mother could still master him by her steadiness and he went up,
muttering that he'd no notion of being treated like a baby, and that
he would soon shew her the difference: he wasn't going to be made a
slave to Alfred, and 'twas all a fuss about that stuff!
He did fancy he said his prayers; but they could not have been real
ones, for he was no softer when his mother came to his bedside with a
great basin of hot gruel. He said he hated such nasty sick stuff,
and grunted savagely when, with a look that ought to have gone to his
heart, she asked if he thought he deserved anything better.
Yet she did not know of the shooting gallery, nor of his false
excuses. If he had not been deceiving her, perhaps he might have
'Well, Harold,' she said at last, after taking the empty basin from
him, and picking up his wet clothes and boots to dry them by the
fire, 'I hope as you lie there you'll come to a better mind. It
makes me afraid for you, my boy. It is not only your brother you are
sinning against, but if you are a bad boy, you know Who will be angry
with you. Good-night.'
She lingered, but Harold was still hard, and would neither own
himself sorry, nor say good-night.
When she passed his bed at the top of the stairs again, after hanging
up the things by the fire, he had his head hidden, and either was, or
feigned to be, asleep.
Alfred's ill-temper was nearly gone, but he still thought himself
grievously injured, and was at no pains to keep himself from groaning
and moaning all the time he was being put to bed. In fact, he rather
liked to make the most of it, to shew his mother how provoking she
was, and to reproach Harold for his neglect.
The latter purpose he did not effect; Harold heard every sound, and
consoled himself by thinking what an intolerable work Alfred was
making on purpose. If he had tried to bear it as well as possible,
his brother would have been much more likely to be sorry.
Alfred was thinking too much about his misfortunes and discomforts to
attend to the evening reading, but it soothed him a little, and the
pain was somewhat less, so he did fall asleep, so uneasily though,
that Mrs. King put off going to bed as late as she could.
It was nearly eleven, and Ellen had been in bed a long time, when
Alfred started, and Mrs. King turned her head, at the click of the
wicket gate, and a step plashing on the walk. She opened the little
window, and the gust of wet wind puffed the curtains, whistled round
the room, and almost blew out the candle.
'It's me, Mrs. King! I've got the stuff,' called a hoarse tired
'Well, if ever! It's Paul Blackthorn!' exclaimed Mrs. King. 'Thank
ye kindly. I'll come and let you in.'
'Paul Blackthorn!' cried Alfred. 'Been all the way to Elbury for me!
O Mother, bring him up, and let me thank him! But how ever did he
know?' The tears came running down Alfred's cheeks at such kindness
from a stranger. Mrs. King had hurried downstairs, and at the
threshold stood a watery figure, holding out the gallipot.
'Oh! thank you, thank you; but come in! Yes, come in! you must have
something hot, and get dried.'
Paul shambled in very foot-sore. He looked as if he were made of
moist mud, and might be squeezed into any shape, and streams of rain
were dropping from each of his many rags.
'Well, I don't know how to thank you--such a night! But he'll sleep
easy now. How did you come to think of it?'
'I was just coming home from the parson's, and I met Harold putting
up Peggy, in a great way because he'd forgotten. That's all,
Missus,' said Paul, looking shamefaced. 'Good-night to you.'
'No, no, that won't do. I must have you sit down and get dry,' said
Mrs. King, nursing up the remains of the fire; and as Paul's day-
garments served him for night-gear likewise, he could hardly help
accepting the invitation, and spreading his chilled hands to the
As to Mrs. King's feelings, it must be owned that, grateful as she
was, it was rather like sitting opposite to the heap in the middle of
Mr. Shepherd's farm-yard.
'Would you take that?' she said, holding out a three-penny piece.
'I'd make it twice as much if I could, but times are hard.'
'No, no, Missus, I didn't do it for that,' said Paul, putting it
'Then you must have some supper, that I declare.'
And she brought out a slice of cold bacon, and some bread, and warmed
some beer at the fire. She would go without bacon and beer herself
to-morrow, but that was nothing to her. It was a real pleasure to
see the colour come into Paul's bony yellow cheeks at the hearty
meal, which he could not refuse; but he did not speak much, for he
was tired out, and the fire and the beer were making him very sleepy.
Alfred rapped above with the stick that served as a bell. It was to
beg that Paul would come and be thanked; and though Mrs. King was a
little afraid of the experiment, she did ask him to walk up for a
Grunt went he, and in rather an unmannerly way, he said, 'I'd rather
'Pray do,' said Mrs. King; 'I don't think Alfred will sleep easy
without saying thank you.'
So Paul complied, and in a most ungainly fashion clumped up-stairs
and stood at the door. He had not forgotten his last reception, and
would not come a step farther, though Alfred stretched out his hand
and begged him to come in.
Alfred could say only 'Thank you, I never thought any one would be so
And Paul made gruff reply, 'Ye're very welcome,' turned about as if
he were running away, and tumbled down-stairs, and out of the house,
without even answering Mrs. King's 'Good-night.'
Harold had wakened at the sounds. He heard all, but he chose to seem
to be asleep, and, would you believe it? he was only the more
provoked! Paul's exertion made his neglect seem all the worse, and
he was positively angry with him for 'going and meddling, and poking
his nose where he'd no concern. Now he shouldn't be able to get the
stuff to-morrow, and so make it up; and of course mother would go and
dock Paul's supper out of his dinner!'
If such reflections were going on upon one side of the partition,
there were very different thoughts upon the other. The stranger's
kindness had done more than relieve Alfred's pain: the warm sense of
thankfulness had softened his spirit, and carried off his selfish
fit. He knew not how kind people were to him, and how ungrateful he
had been to punish his innocent mother and sister, and so much to
magnify a bit of thoughtlessness on Harold's part; to be angry with
his mother for not driving him out when she thought it might endanger
his health and life, and to say such cruel things on purpose to wound
her. Alfred felt himself far more cruel than he had even thought
And was this his resolution? Was this the shewing the sincerity of
his repentance through his conduct in illness? Was this patience?
Was it brotherly love? Was it the taking up the cross so as to bear
it like his Saviour, Who spoke no word of complaining, no murmur
against His tormentors?
How he had fallen! How he had lost himself! It was a bitter
distress, and threw him almost into despair. He prayed over and over
to be forgiven, and began to long for some assurance of pardon, and
for something to prevent all his right feelings and wishes from thus
seeming to slip away from his grasp at the first trial.
He told his mother how sorry he was; and she answered, 'Dear lad,
don't fret about it. It was very hard for you to bear, and you are
but learning, you see, to be patient.'
'But I'm not learning if I don't go on no better,' sighed Alfred.
'By bits you are, my boy,' she said; 'you are much less fractious now
than you used to be, only you could not stand this out-of-the-way
'Do you remember what our Saviour said to St. Peter?' said his
mother; '"Whither I go thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt
follow Me afterwards." You see, St. Peter couldn't bear his cross
then, but he went on doing his best, and grieving when he failed, and
by-and-by he did bear it almost like his Master. He got to be made
strong out of weakness.'
There was some comfort to Alfred in this; but he feared, and yet
longed, to see Mr. Cope, and when he came, had scarcely answered his
questions as to how he felt, before he said, 'O Sir, I've been a bad
boy again, and so cross to them all!'
'O Sir,' said Ellen, who could not bear for him to blame himself,
'I'm sure it was no wonder--he's so distracted with the pain, and
Harold getting idling, and forgetting to bring him the ointment.
Why, even that vagabond boy was so shocked, that he went all the way
to Elbury that very night for it. I told Alfred you'd tell him that
anybody would be put out, and nobody would think of minding what he
'Nobody, especially so kind a sister,' said Mr. Cope, smiling; 'but
that is not what Alfred is thinking of.'
'No, Sir,' said Alfred; 'their being so good to me makes it all the
'I quite believe so; and you are very much disappointed in yourself.'
'Oh yes, Sir, just when I wanted to be getting patient, and more
like--' and his eyes turned to the little picture, and filled with
Mr. Cope said somewhat of what his mother had said that he was but a
scholar in patience, and that he must take courage, though he had
slipped, and pray for new strengthening and refreshing to go on in
the path of pain his Lord had hallowed for him.
Perhaps the words reminded Alfred of the part of the Catechism where
they occur, for he said, 'Oh, I wish I was confirmed! If I could but
take the Holy Sacrament, to make me stronger, and sure of being
'You shall--before--' said Mr. Cope, speaking eagerly, but becoming
choked as he went on. 'You are one whom the Church would own as
ready and desirous to come, though you cannot be confirmed. You
should at once--but you see I am not yet a priest; I have not the
power to administer the Holy Communion; but I trust I shall be one in
the spring, and then, Alfred--Or if you should be worse, I promise
you that I would bring some one here. You shall not go without the
Bread of Life.'
Alfred felt what he said to the depths of his heart, but he could not
say anything but 'Thank you, Sir.'
Mr. Cope, still much moved, laid his hand upon that of the boy. 'So,
Alfred, we prepare together. As I hope and long to prepare myself to
have that great charge committed to me, which our Saviour Christ gave
to His Apostles; so you prepare for the receiving of that Bread and
that Cup which will more fully unite you to Him, and join your
suffering to what He bore for you.'
'How shall I, Sir?' murmured Alfred.
'I will do my best to shew you,' said Mr. Cope; 'but your Catechism
tells you best. Think over that last answer.'
Alfred's face lighted sweetly as he went over it. 'Why, that's what
I can't help doing, Sir; I can't forget my faults, I'm so afraid of
them; and I'm sure I do want to lead a new life, if I didn't keep on
being so bad; and thinking about His dying is the best comfort I
have. Nor I'm sure I don't bear ill-will to nobody, only I suppose
it is not charity to run out at poor Mother and Ellen when one's put
'Perhaps that is what you want to learn,' said Mr. Cope, 'and to get
all these feelings deepened, and more earnest and steadfast. If the
long waiting does that for you, it will be good, and keep you from
coming lightly to the Holy Feast.'
'Oh, I could not do that!' exclaimed Alfred. 'And may I think that
all my faults will be taken away and forgiven?'
'All you repent of, and bring in faith--'
'That is what they say at church in the Absolution,' said Alfred
'Rather it is what the priest says to them,' said Mr. Cope; 'it is
the applying the promise of forgiveness that our Saviour bought. I
may not yet say those words with authority, Alfred, but I should like
to hope that some day I may speak them to you, and bring rest from
the weight at your heart.'
'Oh! I hope I may live to that!' said Alfred.
'You shall hear them, whether from me or from another,' said Mr.
Cope, 'that is, if God will grant us warning. But you need not fear,
Alfred, if you thoroughly repent, and put your full faith in the
great Sacrifice that has been offered for your sins and the sins of
all the world. God will take care of His child, and you already have
His promise that He will give you all that is needful for your
If Harold had known all the consequences of his neglect, perhaps he
would have been more sorry for it than as yet he had chosen to be.
The long walk and the warm beer and fire sent Paul to his hay-nest so
heavy with sleep, that he never stirred till next morning he was
wakened by Tom Boldre, the shuffler, kicking him severely, and
swearing at him for a lazy fellow, who stayed out at night and left
him to do his work.
Paul stumbled to his feet, quite confused by the pain, and feeling
for his shoes in the dark loft. The shuffler scarcely gave him an
instant to put them on, but hunted him down-stairs, telling him the
farmer was there, and he would catch it.
It would do nobody any good to hear the violent way in which Mr.
Shepherd abused the boy. He was a passionate man, and no good
labourers liked to work with him because of his tongue. With such
grown men as he had, he was obliged to keep himself under some
restraint, but this only incited him to make up for it towards the
poor friendless boy.
It was really nearly eight o'clock, and Paul's work had been
neglected, which was enough to cause displeasure; and besides, Boldre
had heard Paul coming home past eleven, and the farmer insisted on
knowing what he had been doing.
Under all his rags, Paul was a very proud boy, and thus asked, he
would not tell, but stood with his legs twisted, looking very sulky.
'No use asking him,' cried Mrs. Shepherd's shrill voice at the back
door; 'why, don't ye hear that Mrs. Barker's hen-roost has been
robbed by Dick Royston and two or three more on 'em?'
'I never robbed!' cried Paul indignantly.
'None of your jaw,' said the farmer angrily. 'If you don't tell me
this moment where you've been, off you go this instant. Drinking at
the Tankard, I'll warrant.'
'No such thing, Sir,' said Paul. 'I went to Elbury after some
medicine for a sick person.'
Somehow he had a feeling about the house opposite, which would not
let him come out with the name in such a scene.
'That's all stuff,' broke in Mrs. Shepherd, 'I don't believe one word
of it! Send him off; take my advice, Farmer, let him go where he
comes from; Ellen King told me he was out of prison.'
Paul flushed crimson at this, and shook all over. He had all but
turned to go, caring for nothing more at Friarswood; but just then,
John Farden, one of the labourers, who was carrying out some manure,
called out, 'No, no, Ma'am. Sure enough he did go to Elbury to Dr.
Blunt's. I was on the road myself, and I hears him. "Goodnight,"
says I. "Good-night," says he. "Where be'est going?" says I. "To
doctor's," says he, "arter some stuff for Alfred King."
'Yes,' said Paul, speaking more to Farden than to his master, 'and
then Mrs. King gave me some supper, and that was what made me so
'She ought to be ashamed of herself, then,' said Mrs. Shepherd
spitefully, 'having a vagabond scamp like that drinking beer at her
house at that time of night. How one is deceived in folks!'
'Well, what are you doing here?' cried the farmer, turning on Paul
angrily; 'd'ye mean to waste any more of the day?'
So Paul was not turned off, and had to go straight to his work. It
was well he had had so good a supper, for he had not a moment to
snatch a bit of breakfast. It so happened that his work was to go
with John Farden, who was carrying out the manure in the cart. Paul
had to hold the horse, while John forked it out into little heaps in
the field. John was a great big powerful man, with a foolish face,
not a good workman, nor a good character, or he would not have been
at that farm. He had either never been taught anything, or had
forgotten it all; he never went near church; he had married a
disreputable wife, and had two or three unruly children, who were
likely to be the plagues of their parents and the parish, but not a
whit did John heed; he did not seem to have much more sense than to
work just enough to get food, lodging, beer, and tobacco, to sleep
all night, and doze all Sunday. There was not any malice nor
dishonesty in him; but it was terrible that a man with an immortal
soul should live so nearly the life of the brute beasts that have no
understanding, and should never wake to the sense of God or of
He was not a man of many words, and nothing passed for a long time
but shouts of hoy, and whoa, and the like, to the horse. Paul went
heavily on, scarce knowing what he was about; there was a stunned
jaded feel about him, as if he were hunted and driven about, a mere
outcast, despised by every one, even by the Kings, whose kindness had
been his only ray of brightness. Not that his senses or spirits were
alive enough even to be conscious of pain or vexation; it was only a
dull dreary heedlessness what became of him next; and, quick clever
boy as he had been in the Union, he did not seem to have a bit more
sense, thought, or feeling, than John Farden.
John Farden was the first to break the silence: 'I wouldn't bide,'
Paul looked up, and muttered, 'I have nowhere to go.'
'Farmer uses thee shameful,' repeated John. 'Why don't thee cut?'
Paul saw the smoke of Mrs. King's chimney. That had always seemed
like a friend to him, but it came across him that they too thought
him a runaway from prison, and he felt as if his only bond of
fellowship was gone. But there was something else, too; and he made
answer, 'I'll bide for the Confirmation.'
'Eh?' said John, 'what good'll that do ye?'
'Help me to be a good lad,' said Paul, who knew John Farden would not
enter into any other explanation.
'Why, what'll they do to ye?'
'The Bishop will put his hand on me and bless me,' said Paul; and as
he said the words there was hope and refreshment coming back. He was
a child of God, if no other owned him.
'Whoy,' said Farden, much as he might have spoken to his horse, 'rum
sort of a head thou'st got! Thee'll never go up to Bishop such a
'Can't help it,' said Paul rather sullenly; 'it ain't the clothes
that God looks at.'
John scanned him all over, with his face looking more foolish than
ever in the puzzle he felt.
'Well,' he said, 'and what wilt get by it?'
'God's grace to do right, I hope,' said Paul; then he added, out of
his sad heart, 'It's bad enough here, to be sure. It would be a bad
look-out if one hoped for nothing afterwards.'
Somehow John's mind didn't take in the notion of afterwards, and he
did not go on talking to Paul. Perhaps there was a dread in his poor
dull mind of getting frightened out of the deadly stupefied sleep it
was bound in.
But that bit of talk had done Paul great good, by rousing him to the
thought of what he had to hope for. There was the Confirmation nigh
at hand, and then on beyond there was rest; and the words came into
his mind, 'There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary
are at rest.'
Poor, poor boy! He was very young to have such yearnings towards the
grave, and well-nigh to wish he lay as near to it as Alfred King, so
he might have those loving tender hands near him, those kind voices
round him. Paul had gone through a great deal in these few months;
and, used to good shelter and regular meals, he was less inured to
bodily hardship than many a cottage boy. His utter neglect of his
person was telling on him; he was less healthy and strong than he had
been, and though high spirits, merriment, and the pleasure of freedom
and independence, had made all light to him in the summer, yet now
the cold weather, with his insufficient food and scanty clothing, was
dulling him and deadening him, and hard work and unkind usage seemed
to be grinding his very senses down. To be sure, when twelve o'clock
came, he went up into the loft, ate his bit of dry bread, and said
his prayers, as he had not been able to do in the morning, and that
made him feel less forlorn and downcast for a little while; but then
as he sat, he grew cold, and numb, and sleepy, and seemed to have no
life in him, but to be moving like a horse in a mill, when Boldre
called him down, and told him not to be idling there.
The theft in Mrs. Barker's poultry-yard was never traced home to any
one, but the world did not the less believe Dick Royston and Jesse
Rolt to have been concerned in it. Indeed, they had been drinking up
some of their gains when Harold met them at the shooting-gallery:
and Mrs. Shepherd would not put it out of her head that Paul
Blackthorn was in the secret, and that if he did really go for the
medicine as he said, it was only as an excuse for carrying the
chickens to some receiver of stolen goods. She had no notion of any
person doing anything out of pure love and pity. Moreover, it is
much easier to put a suspicion into people's heads than out again;
and if Paul's whole history and each day's doings had been proved to
her in a court of justice, she would still have chiefly remembered
that she had always thought ill of him, and that Ellen King had said
he was a runaway convict, and so she would have believed him to the
Ellen had long ago forgotten that she had said anything of the kind;
and though she still held her nose rather high when Paul was near,
she would have answered for his honesty as readily as for that of her
own brothers. But hers had not been the charity that thinketh no
evil, and her idle words had been like thistle-down, lightly sent
forth, but when they had lighted, bearing thorns and prickles.
Those thorns were galling poor Paul. Nobody could guess what his
glimpses of that happy, peaceful, loving family were to him. They
seemed to him like a softer, better kind of world, and he looked at
their fair faces and fresh, well-ordered garments with a sort of
reverence; a kind look or greeting from Mrs. King, a mere civil
answer from Ellen, those two sights of the white spirit-looking
Alfred, were like the rays of light that shone into his dark hay-
loft. Sometimes he heard them singing their hymns and psalms on a
Sunday evening, and then the tears would come into his eyes as he
leant over the gate to listen. And, as if it was because Ellen kept
at the greatest distance from him, he set more store by her words and
looks than those of any one else, was always glad when she served him
in the shop, and used to watch her on Sunday, looking as fresh as a
flower in her neat plain dress.
And now to hear that she not only thought meanly of him, which he
knew well enough, but thought him a thief, a runaway, and an impostor
coming about with false tales, was like a weight upon his sunken
spirits, and seemed to take away all the little heart hard usage had
left him, made him feel as if suspicious eyes were on him whenever he
went for his bit of bread, and took away all his peace in looking at
He did once take courage to say to Harold, 'Did your sister really
say I had run away from gaol?'
'Oh, nobody minds what our Ellen says,' was the answer.
'But did she say so?'
'I don't know, I dare say she did. She's so fine, that she thinks no
one that comes up-stairs in dirty shoes worth speaking to. I'm sure
she's the plague of my life--always at me.'
That was not much comfort for Paul. He had other friends, to be
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