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leán man who confronted him, to the meagre sleepers on their bed of straw, and drawing the back of his great dirty hand across his eyes, he left the room for a moment and returned bringing in about a peck of coals in a bag, and a bundle or two of wood.
“Here, take them, missus,” said the man, “and God forgive me for being so hard to you; I will bring ye in half a hundred in the morning, and if you never pay me, why I shall be nonė the worse off in the end.”
“Kind, generous man!” exclaimed Kate, lifting her tearful eyes to his rugged countenance, that, even through its mask of coal dust, showed full of benevolence and pity.
“You see our condition, my good friend,” said Archer, who faintly comprehended the affair; “ we are poor, but not unprincipled ; the very first money I am enabled to earn you shall be paid the price of the coal. Your disinterested compassion we can never repay;" and he laid his thin hand in that of the poor coal merchant, and wrung it with a sensation of deeper gratitude than he had ever felt to man..
“Forgive me, William, for not telling you what I had done,” said Mrs. Archer ; “I knew, when I requested the coals to be sent to me, that I had no means of paying for them ; but I have been promised by one of our poor neighbours some work to-morrow, which it would be impossible to do without fire, and so I thought I would ask trust till I had been paid for it.”
“Feed your children first, ma'am,” interrupted the kind-hearted coal-man ; "I can better do without the money than they can food ; when I want it I'll come for it ;” and, so saying, he caught up his sack and shuffled out of the room. Scarcely had, he been gone ten minutes--not more than long enough for Kate to light the fire, all the while making his generous conduct the subject of grateful panegyric—when some one rapped at the door, and a clean ruddy-faced woman, whom Mrs. Archer imediately recognised as the person to whom she had given her order at the coal store, appeared at it, with a basket of no very small dimensions in her hand.
“Lord love you, ma'am,” exclaimed the woman, “why did'nt you tell me how badly off you were this afternoon ? I hope you won't take it amiss-(for there was something that spoke out through the squalid looks and poor garb of Kate Archer, indicative of a different sphere of life from what her humble benefactress was accustomed to),- I hope you won't take amiss my bringing a few
things for the ehildren;" and she deposited the basket before the glad but bewildered mother, who could only thank her with her tears; but the poor woman wanted no thanks ; she hastened to fill the kettle with water, and spread out upon the coarse but clean tabler the stores she had brought with her-bread and tea and cold meat ; and then ati last turning to her husband, Mrs. Archer exclaimed
“Did I not say God would be merciful to us? How can we thank this kind woman and her husband, who have saved us from another night of cold and hunger ?”
“Oh, ma'am, if you could but know how warm my heart feels, and how light and happy I am, you would know I didn't want thanks, bless you, the pleasure's worth double the expense ; but what I was a going to say to you, if so be your good gentleman won't be offended, is this --my boy Jem has come home very poorly, and he wants somebody to take his place for two or three days, till he comes round again. Well, it isn't that the place is much, but then three and sixpence a day is better than nothing, and my boy and the old man thought. if your good gentleman could drive, it 'edbe better than sitting in doors doing nothing." . “But what is it I am to do?” exclaimed Archer. *If I can be useful to your son, for the sake of his father's kindness and yours, I shall be most willing.”
“I am half afraid, now, I have been too bold," answered the old woman, “and that when I tell you, you'll quarrel with your bread and butter. The long and short of it is, Jem drives a cab."
“And he is ill, and wants some one to drive it for him?" suggested Archer.
"Not exactly 50, sir; there are plenty of people who would drive it for him, and be glad of the chance," rejoined Jem's mother ;: “ but we thought that the air and the exercise, and your little children, and the three and sixpence a day "
"I see, I see,” interrupted Archer, whose cheeks a moment before had flushed with a rebellious sense of degradation at the proposal," and will accept of the offer ; tell your son I have been accustomed to drive in town, and will be very careful both of his carriage and horse-fesh.” The children gladly rose up to their unexpected supper, and the good woman departed delighted with the comfort she had conferred, and the thanks and blessings of the distressed couple. It was now Archer's turn to inspirit and reassure his wife, who knew that nothing but her wants, and those of his children, could have determined him to trample' upon every prejudice, and pluck up thus bodily, the latent pride still rooted in his heart ; but the fire kindled by the hands of humble charity, the only food he or his had tasted through the day, provided from the samé source, had read a homily to his galled spirit, that had suddenly reduced it to a sense of his true duty, and determined him, at whatever amount of humiliation, to close with the present offer.
. * You have indeed proved a true prophet, Kate," he added consolingly. “I shall soon obtain the means of applying to an agent, or of advertising for something else ; and in the mean time, there is no fear of my being recognised by any one who formerly knew me, in such a garb, and such a calling'; but beggars must not be choosers; so bear up, my poor girl, and strive to think, as you reminded me just now, that it is all for the best.”
Katê rose early the next morning, and prepared her husband's breakfast before he started to his novel occupation, and long indeed did the hours seem till his return, so unused had she lately been to pass a day without seeing him. It was late in the evening when he came home; the children had gone to bed, not, however, supperless ; ånd, thanks to the poor coalman, a fire welcomed him, and made comparatively cheerful å little space about the hearth.
After his first greetings with his wife, Archer produced from his pocket, not his promised day's earnings, three and sixpence, but a handsome and apparently well-filled purse, the contents of which he proceeded to spread on the table, requesting her to take a pencil and make an inventory of them : there were eight sovereigns, and 2701. in Bank of England notes. “ And now let me tell you how they came into my hands, Kate,” said Archer, “ for you are looking very white and anxious. I took up a lady and gentleman in the Strand, who desired to be driven to Camden Town, and you may guess my agitation when I found that the house I'was ordered to set them down at, was close by that man, 11 Gill's. I did not wait a moment after I had received my fare, except to put up the steps, and shut the door, but drove off as rapidly as possible. Presently, another gentleman hailed me, and in letting down the steps, and re-adjusting the cushion, I perceived between it and the back of the carriage the shining tassel of this purse. I put it in my pocket, and having driven this passenger to the other extreme of town, I inquired of a policeman what I ought to do in such a case, but without telling him what had happened. The man, who perceived I was not much an adept at my business, informed me the place for such deposits was Somerset House, where I immediately drove, but the office was shut up, so that nothing remains but to keep possession of it till to-morrow morning, when I shall take it there the first thing." And this man, who but the previous evening had been tempted by his poverty to canvass within himself the propriety of robbing in defence of his starving wife and children, now that he had to all appearance this money at his mercy, felt no other feeling with regard to it, but anxiety for its restoration to the owner ; but then he had the present means of honestly providing bread for them. Having carefully taken the numbers of the notes, and the amount of the whole, the poor cab-driver and his wife lay down on their wretched pallet.
The effect of air and labour was soon evident in the sound sleep of the man, nor was Kate, who had also been hard at work during the day, long in following his example. Considerably after midnight, or rather, in the small hours of the morning, the creaking of the old stairs, the noise of heavy footsteps in the room, and the flashing of sudden lights awakened Kate, who cowered closer to her husband on perceiving three or four men standing by them ; Archer, however, instantly sprang up, and, after a moment or two, recognised the person of the coal-dealer, who regarded him with a very rueful expression of face ; and beside him a police-officer, and the gentleman whom he had driven the day before to Camden Town. The latter, who did not discover his loss till some hours after it had occurred, immediately applied to a magistrate, and obtained the assistance of a very intelligent police officer, who, having found out the number of the cab from the keeper of the Camden Town toll-gate, proceeded to the various coach-stands, and, after some difficulty, succeeded in hunting out the owner of the one in question. Poor Archer immediately comprehended the meaning of their visit, and after his first involuntary feeling of annoyance and humiliation at the outrage offered to his poverty, by their unceremonious entrance to his wretched home, he exclaimed
“ I am sorry, sir, that you have suffered so many hours'anxiety about your purse; I assure you I have been as anxious to restore it to you as you could be to recover it, and went for that purpose to Somerset-house yesterday afternoon ; but, unfortunately, it was after office hours, so that there was nothing left but to retain it till the morning, when I intended taking it there the first thing.”
He then banded the inventory of its contents to the gentleman, and produced the purse. The latter looked from the man round his miserable abode, with undisguised interest and commiseration ; and, after thanking him sincerely for the manner in which he had acted, and apologising for entering his place and disturbing his family, he laid his card on the table, requesting Archer would call at the address on the following morning, and pressed into the poor man's hand a note for five-and-twenty pounds, delicately saying that it was not offered by way of rewarding his honesty, for he felt that would be to insult him, but as a trifling assistance in his unhappy circumstances, which he could not think were self-induced. Overwhelmed with gratitude and astonishment, Archer could only clasp the hand of the generous man, and stammer forth broken thanks on behalf of himself and children, while the poor coal-man delightedly exclaimed
“ Didn't I say, sir, it was all right, and that if he had got the money you were sure of it?".
“ You did, indeed, my good fellow," answered the gentleman, who had heard from him as they came along the history of his acquaintance with Archer;" and to prove that such conduct as yours rarely goes unrewarded, even temporally, you must let me be the means of repaying you your kindness to this distressed family,-I mean so far as money can repay it ;" and the stranger absolutely forced upon the honest coal-dealer a five-pound note. The services of the officer were rewarded afterwards, and the party left Court.
The feelings of Archer and his wife may be imagined ; palpably, indeed, the finger of a merciful Providence appeared throughout the transaction, and their gratitude and happiness were in proportion to the exigence and hopelessness of their past situation. Fortunately the next morning Jem the cabman was well enough to resume his box, and his first job, by order of Mr. Worthington (the owner of the lost purse), was to drive Archer to his hotel in the Adelphi, but not before the latter had spent some of the 251. in redeeming his own, his wife's, and his children's apparel ; 80 that, though wan and meagre, he now looked respectable in appearance, and his features, freed from the hard, care-drawn expression misery had impressed them with, even prepossessing. Not contented with having relieved the present necessities of