Imágenes de páginas

land, and having made up the Duckling's firc, and placed his fragment of blanket around him, Tom, with the box beneath his arm, and naked as of old, took his way to Brandle's shop ; and, bless thee outcast! not a bit of hesitation now; so different is the principle of evil and that of good ; but going right in, placed the box upon the book the old man was reading. Ile turned deadly pale, looked fiercely up into the thief's face, and then, moving rapidly off his stool, griped the wretch's naked arm. But fear was past. Looking with eyes that never flinched or wavered before the old man's searching gaze, Tom told the whole truth, yet never asked one word of pity. One by one the fingers relaxed, as the gaunt face of famine betrayed the misery of endurance, and when the tale was done, the old man said merely—“ IIumph! well see if you can put up the shutters, there they are:”—and when, with glad alacrity, the boy had moved away, that old hand fell upon the box, and the tears gushed forth like summer rain. Well, when the shop was closed, and Tom was especially handy, the old man merely saying—"You 're hungry, I see;' beckoned him upstairs, roused up the fire in that same little room, placed bread and a scrap of meat before him, and sinking into the old arm-chair, fell into a sort of dreaming reverie, looking up, however, from time to time, to ask the name of the schoolmaster, and to note it down; and when at last hunger was satisfied, and the best morsel saved for the Duckling, the boy rose and thanked the old man, who then said—“Well, I 'll light you down ; but come again to-inorrow at noon. I'll see what can be done for you.”

It was a glorious night that, of hope and fear. When he went, pictual to the time, at noon, le found that the old man had been already to the schoolmaster, and the report had been so favourable, that lie, Tom, the outcast, the vagabond, found himself in some five minutes appointed to the office of shop-shutter, sweeper, and sole attendant on the old bookseller, the once-named rednosed individual having recently died. In few words, the old man told him that he led a very lonely life ; that one condition of their intercourse was that of little speech; that in the kitchen below he might make his home, and do there as he liked, that coals were in abundance for his use, that though for himself he sternly refused all comforts, having merely his food from a neighbouring cook-shop, yet that he, Tom, should have a little weekly sum to do with as he pleased, and that some old clothes were in a chest upstairs that he might have.

Life's contrasts make the poetry of life. Truth's poetry of hope and gratefulness was there that night, when a fire burnt high and clear in the long-neglected grate of the strange kitchen; when the scissors, in the John-Bull-trowsers-of-capacity, fashioned forth a smaller pair ; when there was a rub at the old Dutch clock, and a new voice drawn from that long perished hour ; when there was a dipping into one of the dusty volumes ; and just a toast at the cheese, and a warm to the beer. Oh! blessed poetry of cheerfulness and joy!

Weeks of this happiness soon rolled by, and never was the trutlı better shown, that all great natural intellect, true to the great laws of nature of which it forms a part, falls, with its own perfecting power, upon the lowliest, as the highest things. The trowsers of once terrible capacity fitted fairly; the coat outshone Slimps' very best; the saucepans bright, the dressers reflected back the glowing fire; the fire itself was so cheerful, that the long moped crickets came in joy; the music of the Dutch clock went fairly on; the old man's food, though he knew it not, was warmer than of old; lis hearth secretly cleaned ; last and best too, with leave, the vast heterogeneous mass of books, in the neglected rooms upstairs, was begun to be sorted and arranged: and when, one night, a pile of thousands of spelling-books and grammars reared itself up, that intellect which society had disregarded and called vile, thought within “every one of these shall be a light upon miserable Togg darkness ;” and thus, and thus, began to be fashioned that great spiritual divinity which SITALL come forth from rags.

Another joy, too! One day, from some questions asked, Tom took courage to tell the taciturn old man the history of the wretched Duckling perishing in a sewer. In a moment ; in a word or so of brief mercy, that supposed hard old man said, “Well, let him come and be by your fire below.” And so that very night, in an ancient sedan, lent by a smiling beadle (what a wonder !) who lived in the neighbourhood and had retired from sedan keeping, the dying creature was brought, and laid tenderly by Tom himself, for he had wasted to a shadow, upon a little bed made upon three chairs beside the glowing fire. And though the little shrimped-up starveling was alone almost all day, with no other company than the ticking melody of the hours, and the chirping crickets, there was night, when Tom could sit beside and read, and strew with flowers the sinking pathway to the grave. Though still taciturn, the old man seemed to take pleasure in the com

pany of the boy. One night, after having observed a little tobaccobox on a shelf, Tom bought a pipe and some delicate tobacco, and laid it filler beside the old man. IIc sliook his head, said something about his not having smoked for many years; yet, nevertheless, laid it reverently beside him on the mantel-piece. As these privileges of intercourse increased, Tom found, that often after night-fall, the old man had a visitor ; a little flute-shaped weazened old gentleman, named Webbe, who kept a small music shop in a street hard by; and as the strange story of the old man's daughter

Daisy Brandle oozell out bit by bit from the said cheerful beadle, Tom began to take great interest in luis coming, as often, on such occasions, a voice was given to the music of those old madrigals. This Webbe had been music-master to the girl, who, besides being very beautiful, had been gifted with a wonderful voice, and possessing somewhat her father's quaint taste, had loved such music and such words. Much mystery hung about the foregone time ; but on the very noon she was to have married a cousin, who dearly loved her, and who managed the old man's then extensive business, she departed with some princely vagabond, whom she had by accident met with at Webbe's. Little had been known of her from that hour ; the business dwindled away, and the cousin dying broken-hearted, the old man had sunk into the sort of dreary life I tell off, and only once a year, on the anniversary of her departure, opened that old chamber that had been hers, and in its moulder and decay, was whispered to be just as she had left it ; Master Webbe being on that night always a guest. From hints, dropped by the before-mentioned predecessor of Tom, the beadle had gathered, that Daisy had returned of late years to England, with a young child, and earned a precarious living as an itinerant player. This was all that was known.

It was curious that, as the summer waned, the Duckling still lingering fitfully on, some little errand took the boy one night to old Webbe's shop. The musician was in his little back parlour, rummaging amongst some old music for a customer, who, seated in the shop, was worthily representing those gods of Parnassus, Sternhold and Hopkins, by scraping his throat, and looking solemn, whenever he laid aside an heretic song from the quaint L.M.'s and S.M.’s he was looking at.

“A pretty thing this, sir,” said Tom, as he took up some song he had heard old Webbe sing. Profane, profane,” hem'd Sternholdism.

66 Yet




This was

cometh it forth from the mouth of babes and sucklings, for no longer ago than last Monday a little vagabond was a-sitting asinging it in my churchyard, and what made it badder, under my very desk winder.

IIe-m, but I s'e soon had her off, for like Moses I smote with a rod, 'specially as it was a little vagabond, as our blessed wicar o' Goldencorn is going to law with the neighbouring wicar of Butter-cum-Bacon, 'cause the mother, a tramping cretur, died on extraparochial ground, and each parish says it won't maintain, and so

*" With glistening eyes, and heart divining all, Tom stopped him here to ask the name.

Well, some scrap of paper, with Brandle written on it, was found in the mother's pocket, and enough, the boy waited not for his errand, but posted off to his friend the smiling beadle ; and that very night Tom asked his master for a holiday, which was granted.

It was a glorious autumn noon some days after, that the once outcast and the vagabond made some inquiries at a cottage door in a little village amidst the Surrey hills. “ The child that these parsons are a-making a noise about ! Well, as Gruntpipe 's gathering his apples, and 's safe, she, poor cretur, has crept into the churchyard I daresay, it is her only home." And so, breathilessly, Tom crossed the rustic stile, and with hushed step, went on towards the shadow of the church. In a corner, assigned to pauper burial, for the grass was rank and long, sat a little child some seven years old, bending like a crushed flower down-trodden to the earth. Starting with terror, even at the boy's light step, she rose, little flower as she was, and stood before him, the image of the old man. “Daisy," and at that word spoken lowlily by divinity from rags, the trusting nature of childhood recognised in the outcast a friend, and, folded in his arms, the ministering angel of Pity wept above the tears of overflowing gladness. He bore her swiftly from the churchyard in his arms, to the top of the lane where the coach passed by, waited for it, and with her then journeyed on to town. Reaching home by night-fall, he bore her into the house unseen by the old man; and the slowly-dying creature, who at times wandered in intellect, said often through the night as she slept beside the fire, nursed by Tom, “ Don't look at her hard, she is too like those pure-winged things you read of, Tom.

The morrow night, as the divinity-forth-from-rags had reckoned, was the anniversary when the locked chamber was opened. Tom



power of

was all

lal never entered it ; but when he knew old Webbe was come, and after listening with little tiptoed Daisy on the landing to some cof those old songs, quickly recognised by the child, for they had been sung by her mother, he took courage and went in. It was a beil-chamber, strewn with apparel, just as the girl had left it ; and the two old men were seated by the instrument she had so often plaved. The one haul played sorrowfully, the other had listened roopingly, and they heard not the boy and the child enter; to them the past was visible and sentient; the present dead.

l'lease, sir," said Tom, at last laying his hand respectfully on that of the oll bookseller, “ do not now let these songs make you longer sorrowful ; here is a living spirit that will sing them cheerfully ; cheerfully because music is the glad voice of God himself. This is

pour little grandchild.” The anger gone; and the old man forgot his years of sorrow, in the living image and voice of the child. And if at last one was more subdued than the rest, it was the once outcast, the vagabond, the thief, who had by act made the baptism of sin, and recognised by cach the beautiful

power which good in its nature has over evil!

The pipe was four times filled that night ; a rare supper came from the Drum and Trumpet opposite, and whilst Daisy sung on the old man's knee to the ravished ear of Webbe, Tom listened reverently and lovingly !

And now, whilst I write, Tom Brandle, as he is called, is a proper fighting dragon in the matter of crime and education, and the dogmatic, self-satisfied British Lion, with all his roaring, is like to have the worst of it ; fur, besides being a bookseller, and concoctor of “aiming-high" spelling books, and a diver into every haunt of crime and wretchedness, he has turned the once gloomy warehouses into a great Ragged School, where is fought, every night, a glorious and triumphant battle with Ignorance and Superstition. That sweet harmonies of our divine nature may not be absent. Daisy has been trained to sing ofttimes therein ; and the little flute-shaped man has become an enthusiastic teacher. And Mr. Slimps, from an Apollo of thievery, has become a dispenser of Brandle spelling-books through the country, and he often tells of the poor Duckling's happy death, and Tom's great friendship. And old Brandle smokes extraordinary pipes, over his Burton's and his Fuller's, thinking much of a wedding ring Tom may bye-andbye give to Daisy, with as much reverence for the human flower,

« AnteriorContinuar »