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With the pedlar-man I should like to roam,
From " Lilliput Levee."
In the village of Weston, there was a half foolish boy always to be found lying about in the fields or woods. He was an orphan, and lived with a dirty, drinking old woman, who called herself his aunt, but was no relation. She was willing to keep him for 2s. 6d. a week from the parish, but little enough of that 2s. 6d. was ever spent upon poor Willie, who roamed abbut like a stray dog, eat turnips, apples, and odd bits of bread that people gave him, though he never begged. He had had fits, stuttered, was weak on his legs, and seemed in both mind and body to be no better than a child of five years old, terrified at everything, and incapable of fixing his attention on anything. Now the Weston school-boys thought there was no fun in the world equal to hunting Willie. The moment he saw them let loose from school, he always ran, and they after him, hooting and hallooing like dogs pursuing a hare; and when he fell down, as often happened, though they did not hurt him, they threw mud or sand over him, and made the place ring again with their laughter.
One day, when driven very hard, just like a stag at bay, he flew into the open door of George Randall's cottage, and young George shut out his tormentors, while his mother went to the gate, and, as she said, told " the young ruffians she should like to see them well punished." After this day the poor frightened boy often ran to the Randalls. He was such a mass of dirt and rags, that it was as much as a tidy woman like Mrs. Randall could stand to see him come in; but there was an old story that made her feel she could never turn him out. When her own boy was about three years old, he once fell into the river that runs through the village, and he always declared that Silly Willie jumped in and saved him. No one would believe that he had sense to do such a thing, but little George declared it was true, and certainly they were both that day drenched with water. At last the old woman died, and it seemed nothing could be done with Willie but send him to the Union, and the village generally rejoiced that they were rid of such a wretched object, and that he would no longer be neglected. But, six months after his removal, George Randall and his son were in Stonewall, and little George expressed such a strong wish to see how Silly Willie went on, that his father let him go to see him.
"Yes, you may see him," said the porter, "but it isn't any good, he won't speak, and he won't do nothing; he lies on the floor and cries like a baby; he's no sense, not he; he's been punished, but it's no use."
However, George was only the more anxious to see him. He was lying on the stone floor of the Union infirmary; several idiotic and sick people were in the room. When he heard George's voice, he looked at him, saying,
"Oh take me out! take me out!"
"Why," said George, "you have tidy clothes now and enough to eat; why are you not happy?"
"They shut me up! they shut me up!" he kept repeating, and he clung to George till he could hardly bear to leave him.
"I wish you could take him out," said the master, "we can do nothing with him, he has been put on punishment diet more than once to bring him to reason, but all in vain. 'Let me out!' are all the words he says."
George was obliged to leave him; but all the way home he tried to persuade his father to think of some way of getting him out. But his father thought George was silly indeed to wish it, and that the 2s. 6d. the parish would allow would pay no one for keeping him properly; besides, who would be plagued with such a boy? But George hoped he might do better with his mother, and he waited till Sunday-night, when the little ones were gone to bed.
"Oh, mother, I would give anything to get Willie away! he'll die, shut up there! all he cared for was being in the fields and the woods, and he knows ever so much about birds, and snails, and squirrels; he isn't foolish about them; and, mother, he did save my life when I was little, and, he's quite clean now and his hair quite short. They do nothing but bathe and wash the people in the Union."
"But, my boy, how is 2s. 6d. a week to pay us, and so many of you to feed, and bread one penny dearer this very day?"
"Mother, I've been thinking I could take a place every day after school; I believe farmer Smith would give me Is. or Is. 6d. a week if I go there at four o'clock of a day to drive up the cows for milking and feed the pigs. Willie wouldn't cost more than that and the 2s 6d."
"My boy, what can I say? At church this morning we heard about doing good to others hoping for nothing again, and if you really will work for him, I will try and persuade your father." And she succeeded, as good wives generally do.
So George had the pleasure of going to fetch Willie. At first, he could not believe it; but when once out of the iron enclosure he clapped his hands and danced like a child, while the workhouse people thought the Randalls must be as silly as poor Willie to take charge of him. And yet they were not hard or cruel people, but he had been brought there in such dirt and rags that they quite believed he was the idiot he seemed; and having hundreds under their care, they had not time to look after him, or to see what degree of sense was left in him.
To find himself an object of care and attention, was
so new to poor Willie that it seemed to melt away in
some degree the fog that was over his mind. He
began to feel the greatest confidence in the Randalls, and to believe that every word they said was right, and everything they ordered must be done. If Mrs. Randall told him to watch the baby when asleep, the Queen of England herself could not have made him stir till she came back. Even George's lightest orders were obeyed; so he was able to take him with him to the farmer's, where his love of animals and his kindness to them, soon made him really useful, and his idea of the necessity of strict obedience to any commands from the Randalls made him dependable, as it is called.
A valuable horse of Smith's was very ill; the farmer had sat up with it himself one night, and the next, gave it into the charge of his head man. Willie begged to stay with him, and the man said, "Well, you'll be no good, but still you'll be company, so you may stay." George told him, as long as the man kept awake, not to speak, nor to do anything, but should the man be sleepy or queer, he was to call his master; for George knew the man was given to drink, and generally kept a bottle of gin within reach. Sure enough, it being a cold night, he first offered some to Willie, who answered, "Thank you, sir, Mr. Randall does not allow me to drink spirits." "You are Silly Willie still; there's all the more for me." And he made so free with his bottle that he fell into a drunken sleep, while the poor horse was in agonies, for the want of the soothing remedies that ought to have been given. Then Willie remembered his orders, and called the farmer, who discharged the man, and gave Willie half a sovereign, (the first bit of money he had ever