Imágenes de páginas

Scarcely had the sound of his retreating footsteps crushing through the frozen snow ceased, before others were heard approaching, and the cottage door again opened, and admitted an object of absolute terror to the poor inmates, in the person of Mr. Grimes, butcher, farmer, and parish overseer. Singularly enough he neither scowled nor blustered; but turning his cold keen eye round the room with a quickness that seemed to scan its disfurnished state at a glance, he exclaimed, “ How is this? how is this, Miles?-I'm very sorry to hear my colleague proceeded to distrain-very sorry-been away myself the last three or four days. Cattle show—Christmas stock-did'nt know anything about it till Mr. Bennett told me just now. They say you can't keep your family upon your earnings."

Earnings !” repeated Miles ; “ I should like to know when I had any; not for the last five weeks, as Mr. Bennett could tell


[ocr errors]

Well, why not come into the house?" inquired the Overseer, quite persuasively.

“What! and be separated from my wife and children? Never," half shrieked the man, I will die by the road-side first.”

" Oh!” resumed Mr. Grimes, his official cast of countenance gradually overshading the grim complacency he had assumed, “Oh, well, if paupers have too much pride to take assistance when it is offered them, you must abide by the consequences, that's all.”

“I have never been a pauper,” cried Greenwood passionately, “till amongst ye I've been made one to-day. We have borne à good many hard things rather than trouble the parish officers, or owe anything to the poor-house ; and we will continue

to do so, Mr. Grimes ; I would rather go to the grave than to the workhouse.'

“Very well, very well," vociferated the Overseer, "I have done my duty-much more than my duty—in making the offer, instead of waiting for your application ; but as you have never troubled the parish, and have hitherto been very exact in paying your rate, I did'nt mind straining a point, and to oblige Mr. Bennett.

“ I did'nt think Mr. Bennett could have known of our trouble," interposed Nell timidly. • No more he did'nt, my good woman, till just now, when we met your goods a going to be carted; he has been from home, too ; both of us have been from home ; and to oblige him, I promised to look into your case, and do all ·I




could for you ; but we've made a rule against giving out-doors relief, so you 'd better think again of offer.”

“ I thought,” said Greenwood bitterly, “it could not be to you we owed even the offer of the workhouse. I have not forgot how you refused us credit even for a pound of meat, when my

children and I lay at death's door, and the doctor gave no hopes of our lives without proper nourishment; though not a farthing in my name stood on your books, you refused it to us. I remember it, Mr. Grimes, and ever shall.' “ Hush ! dear Miles,” interrupted his wife,

- all that is past and gone ; you were not left without friends and assistance, and the same Providence that supplied us then, and raised you and our children from a bed of sickness, will protect and help us now.”

“ I am sure I don't know-can't remember,” muttered Mr. Grimes in some confusion; “ some mistake in the shop, I suppose.?"

Nell, Nell, speak out, why don't you ?” exclaimed her husband vehemently. Why will you let him lie through it? Tell him when it was, and who refused it.

“I am sure if I did so," said Mr. Grimes, in softer accents than he had hitherto employed, “it must have been in the hurry of business or I did'nt understand who it was for ;” and then, as if the truth was after all the weightiest reason, and as good an apology to others as to himself, he rejoined, “Besides, my good man, I have a large family of my own; and where was I to look for the money, when people did'nt think from one hour to another that you

could live.” The muscular frame of the labourer seemed trembling and throbbing all over, with compressed excitement; his hands clenched involuntarily, his throat swelled, and the veins in his temples stood out like cords, while his wife, by her looks, vainly besought his forbearance; then suddenly his passion exploded in a burst of the grimmest laughter Mr. Grimes had erer heard so profoundly charged with hate and scorn, that his ears fairly tingled again ; and he felt this peasant man from his moral elevation scanning him with eyes of contempt, from the bald place on his crown-which seemed to contract, and ruffle the hair over it, with an instinctive sensation of the other's cold keen glance—to his well-shod, and warmly-gaitered pedal extremities. And never had the parochial authority felt himself so little.

“ After all, sir,” said Greenwood, wondering at his own courage in exposing the Overseer to himself, “one ought not to be

[ocr errors]

surprised at your indifference to the dying, when you are daily helping to starve your distressed neighbours with high prices and short weight. You are a hard man, Mr. Grimes, and cannot expect but that one of these days, your bad deeds will find you out. Think of all the beef and mutton you have kept in your shop, till obliged to bury it, or fling it in the river, rather than let the poor benefit by it, or sell it to them a single halfpenny under price. No one gives you a good word—how can they? And at this moment there is scarcely a man in the village who would think it wrong to revenge themselves on you


any way that offered.” What do you say?-what do you say ?" repeated Mr. Grimes, who at that moment saw his barns burning, and his cattle hocked. -“What do you say, my good friend?

And he raised his eyes to Greenwood in the greatest alarm.

There is no friendship between us, sir,” said Miles, almost sternly. “I am the pauper labourer, and you the rich Overseer ; but I am also an honest man, and would scorn to wrong, or let wrong be done, even to such as you, if I knew it.

Ask me no questions; but if

your waggons go to town to-night, let them start with Mrs. Belson's, and send three or four men with them. I can tell you no more ; but where there are so many hungry men about, and food to be had, perhaps, without using force, it is as well to be on your guard.” All this while Nell had been getting closer and closer to her husband : first it was sheer fright that impelled her, when she heard him talk up so boldly, to the rich butcher ; then it was admiration for his courage ; but this touch of integrity'. brought her to his very side, and for the moment the peasant's wife forgot hunger and poverty, in the thought that this same honest, out-spoken man, was hers and nobody else's the father of her children, her friend, companion, and protector—and her wan cheek, and sunken eyes, caught a fleeting brightness and colour from the consciousness.

Before Mr. Grimes had time to put into language the suspicions, fears, and determinations Greenwood's hint had filled him with, Nell, through a little spot in the frozen window-pane, which one of the children had scratched away to look out at the movements of some starveling sparrows, who were supposed to be so tired of their lives as to place themselves voluntarily beneath a brick, raised for the purpose of being let fall on them; the proprietors of the rude snare (to misapply the phrase) being too poor to lay even a crumb

beneath it, by way of persuasion to the rash act. - Nell, I say, caught a sight through this little clearance in the windowpane-of what do you suppose ?

? Of the identical truck on which her children's bed and the rest of her household gear had been taken away, and upon it the articles themselves, bed, table, chairs ; and old Grey, Mr. Bennett's shepherd, marching beside it, and all coming as fast as they could to the cottage.

Here, missus, put your room to rights as soon as you please, exclaimed the shepherd, as he placed his crook behind the door, that he might better assist in bringing in the goods. “Master will be here presently ; it's all right; the rate 's paid ; and if he had been at home, bless you, it would never have happened.”

“ Master Greenwood,” said Grimes hastily, “I'll give you a job if you have a mind to go up with the fish to-night.”

“Beg pardon, sir," interrupted Grey, “but master's got a job for him.

“Oh! all right, Master Grey; all right," said Grimes, with what was intended for a smile of complacency; and the Overseer, with anything but his usual terror-breathing aspect, departed.

Well,” exclaimed the shepherd, “ wonders will never cease. My master in a downright passion (the first time I ever saw him so in my life), and Master Grimes civil.”

“ But lor, Mrs. Greenwood," interrupted another of the men, “ what makes you cry? Why, I thought the sight of these here things coming back again would have made you as merry as a cricket.”

Ah! let her cry," suggested the old shepherd ; “such tears. . do no harm, do they, Missus ? Stay a while till Master comes, you 'll have something to laugh at then—but there, I don't think i can keep it so long—I should burst if I tried ;-the fact is, Miles,”. and Grey sunk his voice to a whisper, - Master has not yet given away the looker's place at Mashford, and you're to have it, my boy- there's news for you!"

One can readily imagine the gratitude of the Greenwoods, when Mr. Bennett made his appearance amongst them; the old shepherd's report proved correct, and the poor man who had awakened that morning without the means of obtaining a mealfor his family, found himself installed in a permanent situationwith a cottage rent-free, and other privileges independent of his weekly stipend. It was a gracious lesson to him, this emanation

of good out of evil; and henceforth he learned to feel under every trial, that let the day be ever so dark and cloudy, the sun is still in heaven, and may at any moment break through.

I have little to add, but that Mr. Grimes lost by his contract with the Barking fishermen ; for, in spite of his precautions (he had sent up four men with the waggon-Joe Howe being one of them—by way of guard), the thieves were too strong to be baulked in their piscatory peculation, and, in consequence, the damage sustained by the cargo outbalanced the price of its carriage, and Mr. Grimes found himself burdened with the forfeiture.

C. W.


SETTING aside soldiers, flunkies, and policemen, there are three grand classes of society who are, as it were, labelled and ticketed off from the rest of humanity by peculiar and whimsical costumes. These are charity boys, beadles, and barristers. Now, why Bill Stibbins of St. Giles's should wear a muffin cap and leathers, because he is taught his A B C by the public ; or why Mr. Bumble of the same or any other parish should sport a gold-laced coat on his back, and a cocked hat on his head, as essential elements of the being whose official dignity presides at the vestry door, overawes the workhouse porter, we profess to be quite as unable to resolve as we are satisfactorily to state why Mr. Briefless puts his head into a bunch of horse-hair, and his body into a species of black sack without a bottom, either because he is or pretends to be “ learned in the law." The way in which a man is made a barrister, and the


in which, when the manufactured article is completed, it is made up for use, are both equally singular. Everybody knows that, to be a “ learned counsel," it is only requisite that you eat so many pounds of beef in a room with a Gothic roof. Thus it is that the raw material of stupid humanity is metamorphosed into a creature learned by courtesy--gentlemanly by act of parliament.

In becoming a barrister, therefore, you have chiefly to mind the inside of your stomach - after you have attained the dignity, to look

« AnteriorContinuar »