POOR MATT; OR, THE CLOUDED
ON a lonely
sea-coast, at some distance from any houses, a lady was wandering at
the turn of the tide, and watching somewhat sadly the shadows of the
clouds as they passed over and changed the colours of the tranquil
It was a a clear morning in the beginning of September, and she had
walked more than three miles from her lodgings in the nearest
village. The first two miles had been under high rocky cliffs, from
which tangled bugloss, thrift, and sea-lavender hung, and long
trailing fern-leaves peeped, and offered somewhat to hold for the
hand of the adventurous climber. The shore under these cliffs was
rugged with rocks which stood out from the soft sand, and were
covered with limpets; the water washing among them made a peculiar
singing noise, quite different to the deep murmur with which it
recedes from a more level shore. She listened to this cheery
singing, as the crisp little waves shook the pebbles, playing with
them, lifting them up and tossing them together; and she listened to
the sheep bells, and watched with wonder how the adventurous lambs
found food and footing on the slippery heights of the cliffs.
The day was so sunny, the air and water so still, and the
scene so quiet, that she was tempted to enter upon the third mile;
and here the high cliff suddenly dipped down with a grassy sweep,
and the shore changed its character altogether.
Those who are familiar with the scene I am describing will
know that I do not exaggerate in saying that after this range of
cliffs, more than two hundred feet high, the last descending so
steeply as not to be climbed without risk, the coast and country
become so perfectly level, that, standing on the low bank of sand
a natural barrier which keeps out the sea a spectator may discern
spires and turrets more than twelve miles inland, and may carry his
eye over vast fields, pastures, and warrens, undiversified by a
single hill, and over which the shadows of the clouds are seen to
lie, and float as distinctly as over the calmest sea.
It is a green and peaceful district; the church bells, the
sheep bells, and the skylarks make all its music; and a few
fishermen's cottages are the only habitations along its coast for
As I before mentioned, the lady had wandered for more than
three miles from her temporary home; and now pausing to consider
whether she should return, she observed a figure at a distance
before her on the level sand. At first she thought it was a
child, and then she imagined it was a large white stone, for it was
perfectly motionless, and of a dazzling white in the sunshine.
It stood upon a vast expanse of sand, and excited her
curiosity so much that she drew nearer to look at it; and then she
found that it certainly was some person standing up but not moving;
and upon a still closer approach, she found that it was a boy,
apparently about twelve years of age, and that he was intently
gazing up into the sky.
So intent, so immovable, was his attitude, that the lady also
looked up earnestly; but she could see nothing there but a flock of
swallows, and they were so far up, that they only looked like little
black specks moving in an open space of blue between two pure white
She still approached, and again looked up, for the steady
gaze of the boy amazed her; his arms were slightly raised towards
heaven, his whole attitude spoke of the deepest abstraction; he had
nothing on his head, and his white smock frock, the common dress of
that country, fluttered slightly in the soft wind.
She was close at his side, but attracting no attention, said,
'What are you looking at, boy?'
The child made no answer. He had a peculiar
countenance; and the idea suggested itself to her mind that he was
deficient in intellect.
'Boy, boy!' she said, shaking him gently by the sleeve; 'what
are you doing? what are you looking at?'
Upon this the figure by her side seemed to wake up from his
deep abstraction; he rubbed his eyes, and that painful smile came
over his features which we so often see in those whose reason is
'Boy,' said the lady, 'what are you doing?'
The boy sighed, and again glanced towards the space between
the clouds; then he shaded his eyes, and said, with distressful
earnestness, 'Matt was looking for God Matt wants to see God.'
Astonished and shocked at receiving such an answer, the lady
started back; she now felt assured that the boy was an idiot.
She did not know how much trouble and pains it might have cost his
friends only to convey to his mind the fact that there is a God; and
she was not one of those who inconsiderately and unauthorized will
venture to interfere with the teaching of others. She
therefore said nothing; for she could not tell that to assure him of
the impossibility of his ever seeing God might not confuse him in
his firm belief in the being of God.
She looked up also, and prayed that his dim mind might be
comforted, and his belief made more intelligent. The clouds
were coming together, and as they mingled and shut out the space of
sky, the boy withdrew his eyes, and said to his new companion,
'There was a great hole Matt wanted to see God.'
'Poor Mat,' said the lady, compassionately; 'does he often
look for God in the sky?'
The boy did not reply; but, as if to comfort himself for his
disappointment, said, in a reassuring tone, 'Matt shall see God
to-morrow shall see God some day.'
He then began to move away, but as be appeared to be rather
lame, his new friend kindly led him; but when she found he did not
seem to be making for any particular point, but wandered first to
one side, then to the other, she said, 'Where does Matt want to go?'
The boy looked about him, but could not tell; perhaps his
long upward gazing had dazzled his eyes; perhaps the sweet sound of
some church bells which was wafted towards them, now louder, now
fainter, attracted his attention, for he stopped to listen, and
pointing to a gray church spire, told his new friend that the bells
said, 'Come to church, good people.'
This was evidently what he had been told concerning them.
There were some cottages on the sand bank a quarter of a mile from
them, and not doubting that he lived there, the lady led him towards
them. Though dressed like one of the labouring classes, the
boy was perfectly neat, clean, and obviously well cared for; his
light hair was bright, and his hands, by their shrunk and white
appearance, showed that he was quite incapable of any kind of
labour. He yielded himself passively to her guidance, only
muttering now and then in an abstracted tone, 'Matt shall find God
Very shortly a little girl came out of one of the cottages
and ran towards them. She was an active, cheerful little
creature; and when she had made the lady a courtesy, she took the
boy by the hand, saying to him in a slow, measured tone, 'Come home,
Matt; dinner's ready.'
'How can you think of leaving this poor boy to wander on the
shore by himself?' said the lady. 'Did you know that he had
left his home?'
'He always goes out, ma'am, o' fine days,' said the child;
'and we fetch him home to his meals.'
'But does he never get into mischief?' asked the lady.
The child smiled, as if amused at the simplicity of the
question, and said, 'He's a natural, ma'am; he doesn't know
how to get into mischief like us that have sense.'
'How grateful you ought to be to God for giving you your
senses,' said the lady; 'and what a bad thing it seems that children
should ever use their sense to help them to do mischief.'
The little girl looked up shrewdly; and perhaps, suspecting
some application to herself, began to evade it, as clever children
will do, by applying it to another.
'There's Rob, he's the smartest boy in the school, ma'am.
Got the prize, he did, last year. His mother says he's the
most mischievous boy in the parish. Mr. Green gave him
"Pilgrim's Progress" for his prize, but I reckon he doesn't know
Rob's ways. Rob climbs up the cliffs after the pigeons' eggs,
he does; and his mother says she knows he'll break his neck some
day; he climbed a good way up one day, with his little brother on
his back, and his mother says she thought she should ha' died o'
'I am sorry to hear that he is such a bad boy,' said the
lady; 'I hope his little brother was not hurt.'
'No,' said the child; 'but Rob was beat his father beat
him, he did, when he got down, all the same as if he had hurt his
little brother.' Then, as the boy at her side appeared to flag
and come on with reluctance, his little guide resumed the measured
tone in which she had at first spoken, and said to him, 'Matt must
make haste, the dumpling's ready; make haste, Mat.'
The kindness and care with which she led him induced the lady
to say again, 'Is it safe to leave this poor boy all alone on the
beach, when he does not seems to know the way home?'
'He can't go out of sight, ma'am,' said the child, shaking
back her hair from her healthy brown face; 'and our folks give a
look at him now and then to see what he's about.'
'O, then you all care for him,' said the lady; 'you are all
fond of him.'
'Yes, sure,' replied the girl; 'he never does us any harm;
and he must come out; he would fret unless he might come out and
The child hesitated; but being encouraged to proceed,
continued in a lower tone,
'He expects that some day he shall see God, ma'am. He
is always asking where God is; and when our folks tell him that God
is up in heaven, he comes out and looks up.'
'Poor fellow,' said the lady; 'does he know that we are
talking about him now?'
'No,' said the child, decidedly; 'his grandfather says he can
only think about one thing at a time; and now he is thinking about
By this time they had reached the nearest cottage, and a
decent-looking woman came out and requested the lady to walk in and
rest. She then led the boy in, set him on a low stool, and
having cut up his dinner on a plate, gave it to the little girl, who
began to feed him with it.
A chair had been set for the stranger; and as she gladly sat
down to rest, she took the opportunity of looking about her.
A very agθd man was sitting
in a corner mending a net, such a one as is used for catching
shrimps. A middle-aged woman was clearing away the remains of
a meal; and the other, having given the plate into the hands of the
child, had turned to an ironing-board, which was covered with laces
It was a tolerably comfortable kitchen; and, as no one spoke
for a few moments, the lady had time to remark the long strings of
dried herrings that hung from the blackened beams in the roof, the
brick floor which was a good deal worn away, and looked somewhat
damp, the sea coats hanging on the wall, the oars lying under the
chairs, and that general overcrowding of furniture, and yet
neatness, which is often seen in a fisherman's cottage, and gives it
a resemblance to the cabin of a ship.
The old man at length looked up. 'I reckon you have had
a long walk, ma'am,' said he; 'the visitors from D――
very seldom come over to this lone place; all the fine things they
want to see lie on t'other side.'
'Yes, it is a long walk,' she answered; 'and I do not know
that I should have come quite so far if I had not met with this poor
boy; he must be a great charge to you, indeed.'
'Ah, you may say that, ma'am,' said the woman at the
ironing-board; 'he is thirteen years old come Michaelmas, poor
fellow, and has never done a hand's turn for himself in his life,
and never will, as you may plainly see.'
'Are both his parents dead?'
'Yes; his poor father was lost in a gale five weeks afore he
was born. He sailed in a fine new brig, the Fanny of London;
she was very heavy laden with wheat, and she went down in Boston
Deeps, and all on board perished he was mate, and a very steady
'The boy's mother was my granddaughter,' said the aged man.
'Yes, a poor young thing,' observed the woman, and she died
afore he was a year old. As fine a child he was as you would
wish to see at first; and when I took him to be baptized, for his
mother didn't get over her confinement time enough to take him
herself, I well remember Mr. Green saying to me, "Well, Mary
Goddard, I hope this child may live to be a comfort to his mother,
and you may tell her so from me." But, poor dear, she didn't
live to want comfort, but doted on the child, and never thought he
would be a comfort to nobody.'
'Not but what there was something strange about him from the
first,' interrupted the old man.
'Ay,' said the woman, 'for though he was a brave child to
look at, he couldn't stand; and he had a way of sitting with his
head back that was queer to see; and his mother took notice of it,
for a few days afore she died. "Aunt," she says, "I misdoubt
about my boy; however, I put my trust in the Almighty." "What
do you mean by that?" says I; "the child's well enough, Sarah."
"I misdoubt about his head," says she; "and I'll warrant you if you
give a crust to other folks' children, they're sharp enough to put
it in their mouths by the time they are his age." "Well," says
I, for I began to be afraid myself (for what she said was true
enough), "don't you be fretting, Sally, for he has friends, and he
shall never want so long as they can work for him." Becca, don't
feed him so fast, my dear.'
'I suppose this little girl is a relation,' said the visitor.
'O, no, ma'am,' was the reply, 'none at all; but the
neighbours' children take a sort of pride in waiting on Matt; this
little lass in particular; and as her mother has no young children
at home, she can very well spare her.'
By this time the old man, having finished the work he was
about, lighted a short pipe, and went out, and the boy with him;
little Becca set a stool for him in the sun outside the cottage
door, and there he sat basking and apparently enjoying himself,
while his grandfather went to his work.
'You see, ma'am,' said the woman, 'that poor boy can do
nothing; but the neighbours are as kind as kind can be; and Mr.
Green says sometimes, "Though this is not a common misfortune," says
he, "yet your father's being able to work at his time o' life is not
a common blessing," for father is nigh upon eighty years of age,
and as hale and hearty as some men at sixty. So the old can
work for the young, and we are not burdened with both old and
'No, that is certainly a blessing,' said the visitor, who
felt self-reproved when she saw the cheerfulness and industry of
this family, particularly of the woman herself; 'and no doubt you
have done what you can for the poor fellow; you have tried whether
he is capable of being taught anything.'
The woman was busy laying the clear-starched articles in a
flat basket, and counting them over to her sister, who was about to
take them home; when the latter had left the cottage, and shut the
door behind her, she went on with her ironing, and answered her
'Ten years ago, ma'am, I walked over to K――;
it is nigh upon thirty miles from our place, but I had heard say
there was a doctor there that folks thought very highly of. So
I told him my name was Mary Goddard, and that I had come about a
child that was afflicted; and he asked a vast many questions, and by
what I said, he said it was easy to tell that the child was
paralytic, and had what they call pressure on the brain. But
when I asked if he could do anything for him, "Mary Goddard," says
he, "can he feed himself?" "No, sir," says I, "his hands are
too weak." "Then," says he, "I am afraid it is out of my power
to help him, want of sense is less against him than want of power,
but I will come and see him." And so he did, sure enough.
May the Almighty reward him, for he would take nothing from us!'
'And could he do anything for the boy?' asked her visitor.
'No, ma'am,' answered the woman, with a sigh; he shook his
bead, and said all we could do was to keep him as warm as possible.
He was eight years old afore he could speak plain enough to be
understood. The neighbours' children taught him, and a vast
deal o' pains they took; for, dear heart! the difficult thing is to
get anything into his head; when once that's done, there's no fear
of his ever forgetting it.'
'But that is an advantage is it not?'
'Not so much as you would think, ma'am. Now you see how
peaceable he is, sitting in the sun as happy as can be, with his
jackdaw on his knee; but there are some words that, if he was but to
hear them mentioned, would put him into such a fret and a ferment as
is pitiful to see.'
'Does he go to church?' asked the visitor, who felt more and
more interest in the poor child.
'Yes, ma'am,' said the woman; 'but I reckon he has no notion
of praying, and sometimes the organ frightens him a little; but we
have taught him to behave very pretty, only sometimes (and that's
not often, I'm sure) the poor child will give a little laugh when he
sees anybody come in that he knows; and the neighbours never take
any notice; but some people in the other hamlet set it about that he
disturbed the congregation, and ought not to come. So I walked
over to Mr. Green, and I said, "Sir, if it is your wish, I and my
sister will take it in turns to stay at home with the boy."
"Why should you, Mary Goddard?" says he, "he behaves as well as many
children that have all their faculties; and I do not see why you
should be kept from public worship on his account; and as for the
child," said he, "I should be sorry to banish him, for who can tell
whether he may not learn something, however little? Indeed, it
is my wish that he should come."
'And do you think he has learned anything at church?' asked
'No, ma'am, because he never seems to understand anything,
unless the person that says it stands close to him and speaks to
him, and attends to nothing else; but Mr. Green said it was not for
us to limit the Almighty and decide whether he could understand or
no; we were to do our duty and leave the rest.'
'That is the only way to avoid anxiety,' observed the
'At one time,' continued the woman, 'we did think he was more
sensible, and Mr. Green let him come to school; the neighbours'
children used to wheel him there in a barrow, but they could teach
him nothing; and at last Mr. Green came and told us, in a very kind
way, that he could not let him stay because he disturbed the other
children, and wanted so much watching. But Mrs. Green, when
she found how much we took it to heart, said she would try what she
could do for him; and, sure enough, she was a clever lady, and she
made him know more in three months than anybody else has taught him
all his life; but she fell ill and died, dear lady; and there was an
end of his learning.'
'What did she teach him?' asked the visitor, who was
beginning to consider whether she could not take up the work.
'She made him understand that there is a God,' said the
woman, 'and made him have a wonderful sort of reverence for God; and
you would hardly believe, ma'am, that when that boy has done a wrong
thing, such as throwing things in the fire, which he will do
sometimes, or overturning the milk, which he knows he ought not to
meddle with, he will go and hide himself in the closet till it gets
dark, that, as he says, God may not see him; for you know it is too
much to expect that poor child to understand that God can see
through a door.'
'Poor fellow,' said the lady; 'but what a proof this is of
his entire belief of what he has been told.'
'Yes, ma'am, that is what Mr. Green said when I told him.
"Mary Goddard," he said, "this ought to put us to shame; how few of
us have the presence of God so clearly in our minds, and are so much
afraid when we know we have done amiss." Now, Mrs. Green being
dead, we cannot exactly find out what she taught Matt, for though he
can turn things over in his mind, he cannot tell them to us.
However, we noticed from that time that Matt had a great habit of
looking up in the sky, and I have no doubt, madam, he told you, if
you asked him, what he was looking for.'
'Yes, he did; and I felt very much surprised,' said the
'Ah,' remarked the woman, 'I thought so, ma'am. I saw
you were surprised when you came in, and I made up my mind you
should know the rights of the story, if you would stop awhile.
Well, ma'am, Matt spends the chief part of his time, on fine days,
looking for God; and knowing God sees everything, seems to make more
difference to him than to us that have our senses.'
'And there he again reproves us,' observed the visitor.
'What you say is very true, ma'am. Now the neighbours
never tell him any lies, that would be a wicked thing, so
I know none of them ever made him expect to see what we shall never
see in this world; so I reckon that Matt put two things together,
and thought if the Almighty could see him, why He might be seen.'
'And do you know whether he learned any more,' asked the
visitor, 'of this kind friend?'
'Mrs. Green told me she had tried to give him a notion of the
Saviour,' said the woman; 'but she didn't think he understood her at
all. He only knows the name of Jesus Christ, I think; for one
day when the sky was uncommonly clear, he told me that Jesus Christ
lived up there with God. Mrs. Green showed him pictures, and
took a deal of pains, but I don't think she made any more than that
out of her teaching; but she taught him to count and say the days of
the week; and altogether he has taken much more notice since she
The woman had evidently been so well pleased to have some one
speak to her who could sympathize with her, and take a kind interest
in her poor charge, that her visitor had staid much longer than she
had at first intended. She now prepared to leave the cottage;
and before doing so, observed that she could not but think, in spite
of the boy's deficient sense, that he might be taught to occupy
himself in some slight way, such as netting or plaiting straw; and
she offered to come and try to teach him. The woman shook her
head, and said,
'I am very much obliged to you, ma'am, I am sure; but it is
not the want of sense that makes me afraid he could not learn, so
much as the weakness of his hands; and in cold weather they are so
numb that he is more helpless by far than you see him now.'
Still the visitor said she should like to try, and offered to
come the following day and begin; the woman thanked her, and
consented with gratitude, declaring that if once the boy could be
taught anything he never forgot it. The visitor then went
away, saying, as she passed the poor child, who was now basking idly
in the sun,
'The next time I come to see Matt I shall give him a penny.'
She said this partly to test his memory, partly to make him
anxious to see her again. His face brightened; and as she
walked home over the level sands, the consideration of how great a
contrast there was between his powers and her own occupied her mind,
and she thought of those words of serious meaning: 'To whom much is
given, of him shall much be required.'
There was a great deal of comfort in his humble home; his
grandfather seemed to be a quiet, sober man; his aunts were
industrious women; a healthful breeze came in at the open door, and
the two little casement windows supplied two such views as are not
often to be met with. From the front casement might be seen
the grand spectacle of the open sea; some heavy clouds had come up,
and their leaden gray hues were reflected on the shifting waves,
while vast flocks of sea-birds were wheeling in great circles, at
every turn the white of their wings flashing out; the tide was
rapidly coming in, and the wind rising, every beat of the breakers
on the soft sand sounding like low thunder. The other casement
looked inland, for the kitchen occupied all the lower floor of the
little cottage; the clouds hanging only over the sea, there was
still sunshine over the open fields and wide marsh of the brightest
green; church spires stood up here and there, but the district
seemed to be so thinly populated that it was wonderful how they
could gather congregations. Behind the cottage was a little
garden; its walls sheltered a few rose trees, a number of scented
flowers, and some apple trees, from the force of the wind; a
sweet-brier was trained to climb over one of the trees, and its
falling blossoms were wafted on to the ironing-table, and dropped
among the delicate laces which the woman was smoothing. But
the warmth of that day and its steady sunshine were all that gave
pleasure to the idiot boy the grand sea sweeping in, the wheeling
sea-birds, the luxuriant fields and towering cliffs, might all have
vanished away like a dream, and taken no part of his enjoyment from
The lady walked home; and some things that had been said of
poor Matt recurred to her mind, especially his own strange words,
'Matt was looking for God.' Alas, how few of us are looking
for God! 'although He be not far from any of us.' In His works
how few discern Him; but can look on the glorious sun and only
consider its warmth and brightness, and on the green earth and only
count up the harvest it yields, without thinking of Him who ordained
In the ways of His providence, also, how few look for God!
Even among those who desire to serve Him, how few 'search diligently
that they may find Him,' observing and pondering on the trials and
troubles as well as the mercies that he has ordained for them, and
considering what effect they were intended to produce on their minds
and characters; whether they have worked together for good; whether
impatience has caused the more painful dispensations to be merely
punishments; or whether submission has received them as discipline,
and found them to be blessings in the end!
The autumn sun was bright and hot upon the sand, and Matt was
basking in it under the cottage wall, when his new friend appeared
before him at noon the next day. Little Becca was seated
beside him, singing, and knitting a coarse fisherman's mitten; but
the boy was not noticing her; as before, his face, with its strange
look of awe, was fixed on the open sky; and it was not till Becca
touched him that he withdrew his eyes, and seeing the lady, said,
with outstretched hands,
'Please, give Matt a penny!'
The penny was ready for him; but the moment he received it,
he handed it over to the little girl.
'Does he mean to give it to you, Becca?' asked the lady.
'O, no, ma'am,' said the child, 'he means me to go and buy
apples with it; I always do when our folks give him money. He
knows how many apples you can buy for a penny; and if I was to hide
one, he would find it out directly.'
But the boy was not at all willing that his messenger should
wait to give all these explanations; and he now pulled her frock
'Becca, go Becca, fetch apples.'
The little girl shook back her long hair from her eyes, and
laying her knitting on the sand, ran to a neighbouring cottage, from
which she shortly returned, bringing five small apples, which she
gave to Matt; and he laid them on his knees, and after looking at
them, appeared satisfied, and began to eat.
'And now,' said the lady, 'I shall give you a penny also,
Becca, because I like to see you so kind to your poor neighbour.'
The happy child received the penny, and again ran away to the
shop, returning shortly with three apples in her hands.
'Why, what is the reason of this?' said the donor.
'It's a very dear apple year,' said the little creature, 'and
they can't afford more than three.'
'But they sent Matt five apples.'
The child then explained that Matt always expected to have
five apples for a penny: that if apples were only three a penny he
would cry, for he would know it was less than usual; but if there
were seven a penny he would give back two; so they always gave him
five all the year round, and they said it made very little
difference. She continued:
'Matt knows all about money, ma'am he knows a deal more
than you think. Sometimes they let him have a pennyworth of
apples at the shop when he has no penny; but then as soon as he gets
a penny he always remembers, and takes it; he knows he must pay.
I taught him that, ma'am; and I taught him to say, "Please," and
She then shook him by the sleeve, and said,
'Matt, good Matt, tell the lady what they do to folks that
'Put 'em in prison,' said Matt, readily.
'What does he know about a prison, my child?' said the lady,
amused at his sageness. 'You are only telling him to repeat
words that he does not know the meaning of.'
'O, no, ma'am,' answered the child, shrewdly, 'there is a
prison at ―― and he sees that very
often; he knows about bad men being put in there.'
The boy nodded assent very energetically, and began to show
by gestures and imperfect sentences how he had seen two men led in
there at a great door; and holding out his hands, explained that
their hands were tied together; at the same time he expressed
evident satisfaction in their punishment, saying,
'Bad men bad men shut 'em up; they eat other folks'
'O, yes,' said the child, 'his grandfather took him several
times to see the prison, because he used to go into the cottage when
the folks were at sea and take things to eat that wasn't his; and
when his grandfather was out a fishing, and they set his dinner by,
Matt used to get it whenever he had a chance; but he's a good boy
Matt had by this time finished his apples; and his friend had
been watching him to see how much strength he possessed. His
movements were weak and uncertain; and sometimes he dropped the
apple, but he always picked it up again, though not without
difficulty; and she felt sure that with patience something might be
She would not attempt to begin her lesson till he had done
eating; but as soon as this business was over, she brought out her
straws and began to plait them before him, holding one of his hands
in hers, and making him crease the straw with his soft white
At first he was patient and even amused, but he soon got
weary; and the unusual movements for his fingers tired them.
He pulled Becca by the pinafore, and patting her hand, cried out,
'Becca learn; Becca make haste and learn Matt stop now.'
'If Becca learns,' said the teacher, 'then Becca shall have a
penny; but if Matt learns, then Matt shall have a penny.'
This argument, used frequently, induced the boy to go on a
little longer, as much longer, indeed, as his instructress thought
desirable; and though he never once turned the straw the right way,
she was not discouraged, because his attention had evidently been
excited, and she knew that the process of teaching would be tedious.
When the lesson was over, she gave him the promised penny and
praised him, leaving him in a very good humour, and importunate with
her to come again.
Three more lessons were given, and no progress was made; the
fourth almost discouraged her; it seemed that he dropped the straws
from his listless fingers with no more understanding than at first
of the places they were meant to occupy. It was a whole week before
anything beyond a little more attention had
been gained; but this once done, Matt suddenly began to improve;
and at his ninth lesson he began to plait very tolerably.
His relations were now profuse in their thanks, and most urgent that
these lessons should be continued; they even seemed to hope that he
might one day be able to earn a little money by this simple art, and
relieve them of part of the burden of maintaining him.
But occupation to his mind was not the only good that the boy
derived from these instructions the unusual exercise of his hands,
though at first it fatigued him, made them sensibly warmer and less
when he had once mastered the lesson, he was constantly anxious to
be practising it.
Some persons may, perhaps, think it a remarkable thing that a
stranger, on whom the poor boy had no claim, should have devoted so
much time to his benefit, especially when she might have found soil
that would have brought her in a much more abundant harvest; but she
was utterly without occupation, and had private grounds for sorrow
which made her desire employment; and this boy's loneliness, and
absence of joy from his lot, drew her sympathies towards him;
besides which, many around her were willing to do more attractive
acts of kindness but who would follow her in this path if she
In less than three weeks the boy could make an even and tolerably
rapid plait, and would sit for four or five hours a day at this
work, only requiring a little attention in joining the straw, and
stopping him when he made
The weather was extremely hot, which was very much in his favour;
and all his friends agreed it was several years since they had seen
him so lively and so capable of exerting himself.
This was scarcely a greater pleasure to them than to his new
benefactress; for she had begun to take a warm interest in the boy,
and could already understand his signs and gestures as well as his
doubts, wonders, and fears.
One day, on entering the cottage, she found the old grandfather at
home ill; he had been ill, he said, for three days, though not so
bad but that he could get up and sit by the fire. Close at his side
sat poor Matt, and
both, though the day was hot, seemed to relish the warmth. Matt
could attend to but one thing at a time; and as his thoughts were
now occupied with his grandfather, the plaits of straw were laid
As soon as he saw her he greeted her with vehement delight, pointing
to two chairs successively, and saying,
'Lady, sit here; parson, sit there.'
She inquired if Mr. Green was coming.
'Yes, ma'am,' said the old man. 'I was taken very bad with a kind
of fit, and my daughters were frightened and went and told him; but
Matt calls every gentleman he sees "parson," and, indeed, every man
that is not
dressed like a fisherman. He has but three names for all men. He
calls our men "good men," at least such as have nets, for they let
him lie and bask on them, which he likes; then all them that have
no nets he calls "poor men;" and the rest o' the world he calls "parsons," for our
parson was the first gentleman he ever knew, and very good he has
always been to him.'
The clergyman shortly after came in, and poor Matt's teacher was
warmly thanked for her kindness to the boy; he was anxious to see
him plait, but Matt was pleased and excited by his presence, and not
willing to fix
his mind on his task; he accordingly turned to the grandfather, and
began to converse with him.
The old man's illness was of a very serious nature; and at his
great age it was not likely that he would get over it; yet he
talked of approaching death with all that strange apathy so common
among the poor, especially
the agθd poor: accordingly, the clergyman's remarks were all of a
nature to rouse him from this apathy; he wished to place the solemn
nature of death and judgment before his eyes, and to assure him that
so little afraid of dying was not in itself any proof that his soul
was in a safe condition.
The boy, who at first had sat by his grandfather, well pleased with
the warmth of the fire and the presence of the parson, kept up a
humming sound, expressive of comfort and contentment, till Mr. Green
took a Bible
from his pocket, and said, gravely,
'Matt must be quiet now, parson is going to read about God.'
Upon hearing this, Matt's attention was aroused; and when he looked
up and saw Mr. Green's serious face, his own assumed a look of awe;
for it is a well-known fact that feelings are communicated, with
ease, to those who are deficient in intellect, though ideas of a
complex nature are often beyond their comprehension. Matt folded his
hands and gazed fixedly at the 'parson.' The chapter he was reading
eighteenth of Matthew; probably he chose it as being one of the
lessons for the day; and if he had intended his lesson for Matt's
instruction, he would have selected something that appeared easier
to understand; but
so it was, that when he came to the parable of the king that would
take account of his servants, Matt's attention and interest became
so evident, that he read slowly and very distinctly.
When he had finished, the boy's face, overawed and anxious, and with
that look of painful perplexity so often seen in persons like
himself, was turned to him with breathless earnestness, and he said,
repeating the last
words addressed to him,
'Matt, Matt, sit you still; parson is going to read about God.'
'Goddard,' said the clergyman, 'this poor boy's eager attention
ought to be a very affecting thing to you, and, indeed, to us all. If he to whom so little sense has been given, desires to know all he
can, and to hear more
than he can understand of his Maker, surely we ought not to treat
the subject with indifference, but rather with interest and
'Ay, ay, sir,' said the old sailor, respectfully, but with no
appearance of particular interest.
'Parson, read some more,' said Matt.
'So I will, my boy,' replied the clergyman; and partly commenting
on the text, partly changing the words for others that he thought
would be better understood, he began to relate the parable thus:
'A great King said' and in speaking he pointed upwards 'a great
King said, Bring my servants to me, and I will make them pay me all
the pounds that they owe me.
'And they brought one servant that owed a
thousand pence, a great
many, a great many, a great many. And he had no pence to pay.
'And the King said, He shall be put in prison, and never come out
any more till he has paid all this money.'
He had got so far when he observed that tears were trickling down
the boy's cheeks, and that his countenance showed great alarm. He
stopped at once and patted him on the head, saying to his
grandfather that he
had not intended to distress him.
'Parson did not go for to make Matt cry,' said the old man; meaning,
did not do it on purpose.
But Matt was not to be comforted; he refused to listen; and
presently he broke away from his friends and hobbled out on to the
beach, where he threw himself down under the shelter of a fishing
boat, and continued to
weep piteously; but whether he had been merely frightened by the
solemn tone, whether his tears were shed from pity to the man who
owed so much money, or whether, having been told that parson was
going to read
about God, he had, more by impression than by reason, set himself in
the place of the debtor, it was quite beyond the power of any person
to discover. But it was evident, as in former cases, that so much as
understood had become perfectly real and true to him; and whether
what had cost him so many tears was a right or a false idea, it
would not easily be eradicated.
Poor Matt! they were obliged to leave him; and as he refused to
listen to his new friend when she spoke to him, all that could be
done was to desire little Becca to sit by him and try to divert him
from his grief.
The wind was rising when his friend reached her lodging, and by
nightfall it blew a gale. She looked out and saw the driving clouds
swept away from before the moon, leaving her alone in the bare
heavens till again they
were hurried up from the sea and piled before her face, blotting out
the bright path she had laid across the waters. The thundering noise
of the waves, as they flung themselves down hissing and foaming
rocks, and the roaring of the wind, kept her waking, and trembling
for the mariners out on that dangerous coast; and the thought of
that poor afflicted boy was present to her mind; for she had been
told that he was
always restless in a storm, and that at night, while the family sat
by the light of their one candle, he would stand, with his eager
face pressed against the little casement, muttering that God was
In the morning, gusts of wind and rain detained her in doors; but
towards afternoon, though the wind did not abate, it became clear
overhead, and she put on her bonnet and prepared to go out. Sea sand
in heaps lay
against the houses in the village street; it had been blown up
during the night. The poor were busy collecting drift wood from the
shore, as well as the vast heaps of dulse and other weeds which the
tide had brought in. She passed on till the cliffs afforded her some
shelter, and then crept into a cave and rested awhile; for she
intended to go on and see Matt that day, and discover, if possible,
the cause of his
Though the wind was now beginning to abate, it was not very easy to
stand against it, and the noise in the cave was like the sharp,
incessant report of guns. But she rose and determined to go on,
being encouraged by
the rapid subsiding of the wind, which seemed likely to go down in a
deluge of rain; for black clouds were gathering over the troubled
sea, which, excepting where a line of foam marked its breaking on
the beach, was
almost as black as themselves.
She pressed on; and shortly, as she had expected, she saw the
motionless figure of the boy, his white clothing fluttering in the
Wind, his face intent on the gloomy sky.
She called to him several times as she drew near, but the noise of
the wind and waves drowned her voice; it was not till she came
close and touched him, that he looked at her. His countenance was
full of awe and
'What is Matt doing?' she asked, in a soothing voice.
'Matt was talking to God,' said the boy.
'What did poor Matt say?' she inquired, compassionately.
The boy joined his hands, and looking up with a
piteous expression of submission and fear, said, 'God, God Matt has no money to
And then shaking his head, he told her, with a reality of fear most
strange to see, that was going to be put in prison; God was going to
put Matt in prison.
He was standing in the shelter of a fishing vessel which had been
drawn up above high-water mark; and as she turned away from him, not
knowing what to say, he again looked up and began his piteous
The lady stood awhile considering; it was evident that, whether from
the parable or the clergyman's words, or both together, acting on
what previous knowledge he had, he must have derived some
consciousness that punishment would follow his misdoings. He
had long known right from wrong; he knew that he had often done
wrong; now he had begun to look upon God as a judge. Now he
knew 'that he had nothing to pay.' In other words, he
knew, however dimly, that he could not make satisfaction for his
misdoings. What did it matter that he had derived this dim and
distorted knowledge in a figurative way, something now must be
done to quiet and comfort him. She resolved to venture on
taking up the figure; and when the boy again muttered, 'God, God,
Matt has no money to pay,' she turned towards him, and taking both
his hands, said, in a clear, cheerful voice, 'Jesus Christ has paid
for poor Matt.'
The boy looked helplessly at her; and pointing upwards with a
smile, she repeated slowly, 'God will not put Matt in prison now.
Jesus Christ has paid for poor Matt.'
The child repeated these words after her; and as their
meaning, helped by her reassuring face, gradually unfolded itself to
his mind, an expression of wonder and contentment overspread his
features. He sat down and wished again and again to hear these
good tidings, and as he conned them over he gradually became calm
He sat so long silent in the shelter of the boat that his
kind friend thought it possible that now his fears were removed he
might have forgotten their cause.
But it was not so: he arose at length, and walking a few
paces, lifted up his arms and face to heaven, and cried out, in a
loud, clear voice, 'Man that paid, man that paid, Matt says, thank
you, thank you.'
A strange sight this, and strange words to hear! Many
times the lady seemed to hear their echo during the silence that
followed; and the boy repeated them over again with the deepest
reverence, before she could decide whether to attempt any further
enlightening of his mind. That by means of some picture, or
the remembrance of something taught him by his first benefactress,
he had become aware that He whom he thus addressed was Man, became
evident from his words; but the reverence and awe of his manner were
such that she could not venture to undertake the hopeless task of
instructing him in a mystery so far beyond his comprehension.
It was sufficient, she thought, that he should pay to his Redeemer
the reverence due to God, while in the act of addressing Him as Man.
Matt came back under the shelter of the boat, and lay down,
and drew part of a sail over him, and fell into-a sound sleep;
perhaps he had slept little during the past night, and now that his
gloom and terror were melted away in the sunshine of hope and peace,
he could no longer sit waking under the cloudy sky.
The lady sat by him, partly sheltered also by the boat.
She looked out over the purple sea, still troubled, heaving and
bare, for not a boat rode at anchor near the dangerous rocky beach;
not a vessel ventured near enough to be seen from its sandy reaches.
At length the clouds broke; it began to rain hard; and not
without a great effort did she succeed in waking the boy. He
opened his eyes at last with a smile. The pouring rain and the
gloomy sky were nothing to him; the high but warm wind did not
trouble him; his thoughts, whatever they may have been, could not be
related to his benefactress; he was comforted, but be only showed it
by his face and by his tranquil movements.
They reached the cottage. There was trouble and sorrow
within; quite enough of both to account for the boy's having been
left to wander out by himself on that stormy day. The poor old
grandfather was worse; and Mary Goddard, the boy's aunt, came to the
door, her eyes red and her face disfigured with weeping. The
lady could not stay then; but in less than a week she came again and
inquired after the old man.
'Ah, dear heart! it seems hard to lose poor father! exclaimed
Mary, when her visitor was seated, and had asked a sympathizing
question as to the old man's health.
'Is he so very ill that there is no hope?' asked the lady.
'The doctor does not say,' replied the daughter, 'but when a
man is past eighty what can one expect? Would you like to see
The visitor assented, and was taken up a ladder into a
comfortable room in the roof.
The agθd fisherman, with his
rugged face and hard hands, lay helplessly on his clean bed; but his
eyes were still bright, and his voice strong.
'Put a chair, Polly,' he said to his daughter. 'I take
this kind, ma'am. Here I am, you see, a disabled old hulk.
I have made a many voyages in my time, when I was in the king's
service.' Here a fit of coughing forced him to stop.
When he had ceased to cough, the visitor said, 'Yes, you have
passed a busy life, my friend; and what a mercy it is that God gives
you a few days of quiet and leisure at the end of it, to think of
the last voyage, the entrance, we may hope, into an eternal
haven. Do you think of that last voyage? Do you pray to
God to have mercy on you for Christ's sake, and grant you an
entrance to that haven of rest?'
The old man assented reverently and heartily, and then said,
'Mary, the lady has never a chair; I told you to set the chair for
her. A good daughter she has always been to me, ma'am!
Her poor mother died when I was in the Atalante, Captain
Hickey; you've heard of him, ma'am? The discipline he
maintained! He was the finest captain in the service.'
'I never heard of him,' replied the visitor.
'He lost his ship in a sea fog off Halifax harbour. He
had despatches aboard, and he made up his mind they should be
delivered. He fired a fog-signal gun in hopes it would be
answered from the lighthouse on Cape Sambro, but by a sad mischance
it happened that the Barossa, that was likewise lost in this
fog, answered it; and the unfortunate Atalante was steered
according to that gun. She struck; and in less than a quarter
of an hour we was all out of her, every officer, man, and boy, many
on us not half clothed; and there wasn't a mast, nor a beam, nor a
bit of broken spar, to be seen of her. She filled and heeled
over; and almost before we could cut the pinnace from the boom, she
parted in two between the main and mizzen masts, and the swell
sucked her in, guns, and stores, and all.'
'That must have been an awful scene,' observed the visitor.
'It is a great mercy that you were preserved in such a danger.
Shall I read you a chapter in the Bible, now I am here?'
'I should take it kind if you would, ma'am, very kind indeed;
for Mr. Green said he would not be able to come to-day, and my
daughter has no time. I could spell a bit over myself, but my
eyes fail, and I feel strange and weak. There was a time when
I could "hand, reef, and steer" with the best of them. I was
rated "able seaman" in the Atalante, and for upwards of two
years I was "captain of the fore-top." '
The visitor sat down and read several chapters. The old
man listened with pleasure; his face, seamed and brown with long
exposure to the weather, showed no pallor, but there was a look
about his eyes that told of a great change, they were dim, and
'I take this visit very kind of you,' he repeated, when she
had done; 'and I like what you read, it did me good; and ma'am, I'm
much obliged to you, and thank you kindly for being so good to my
'How do you think he seems, ma'am?' asked Mary Goddard, when
they came down together.
'I think he is very much altered, Mary. He does not
look to me as if he would live many days.'
'Ah, dear heart!' said the daughter, 'I was afraid you would
say so; and though he be so old, it seems hard to lose him; for a
cheerfuller and honester man never walked this world!'
'He seems in a thankful frame of mind now, Mary, and was very
attentive while I was reading.'
'O yes, he is always pleased with whatever I do for him, and
says it is a great mercy he has time to think of his end; he is
vastly pleased now when Mr. Green comes to talk with him, though at
first he did not seem to care for it.'
The visitor went away. The rain came down all that
night and the next day. On the third day she went again to the
old fisherman's cottage, and found the old chintz curtain drawn
across the window in token of mourning. A neighbour came out
of the next cottage and told her that the old man had died that
morning at daybreak, and that his daughter had walked over to a
village some miles inland to tell her brother and his wife.
'Was the old man sensible to the last?' asked the lady.
'As sensible as you are now, ma'am; and often seemed to me to
be praying. Would you like to see Matt, ma'am? he is in my
'Yes, I wish to see him. What does he know about his
'Why, ma'am, when his aunt woke him and dressed him this
morning, she told him that he would not see his grandfather any
more, for that God had sent to fetch him.'
'He was not frightened, I hope?'
'O no, ma'am pleased, wonderfully pleased, and said he
wanted to go too. He is a very strange child.'
'Very strange, indeed! but in some respects I wish we were
more like him.'
When Matt saw his friend, it reminded him of the great news
about his grandfather; and he told her that God had sent for him,
adding, 'Matt wants to go too.'
'Matt shall go some day,' she answered, soothingly.
'Matt wants to go now,' replied the boy.
His friend took him out on to the sands, and sat down with
him. She tried to explain that some day God would certainly
send for him; for she could only convey to him the notion of a
change of place, not of death. When Matt was once convinced
that he should be sent for some day, he was very urgent to know
what day; and when, after a great deal of trouble, his friend
made him understand that she did not know what day, but that it
might be any day, he sat long silent on the sand as if
pondering, and then got up and began to move towards the cottage.
'What does Matt want?' asked his friend.
The boy looked at his hands, and replied with calm and
touching simplicity, 'Matt must have his hands washed.' Why?
the lady wondered why; but she said nothing she only rose and
followed him. He had found the woman of the house when she
entered, the mother of little Becca, and was explaining to her that
his hands must be washed; that God would send for Matt some day,
perhaps it would be that day, and that Matt must be ready.
The woman no sooner understood what he meant than she sat
down, threw her apron over her head, and began to cry bitterly; but
little Becca was willing to indulge the boy's fancy; she,
accordingly, fetched some water and some soap, and carefully washed
his hands. But that done, he yet stood still, as if expecting
something more, till she asked him what he wanted; then he answered,
with a kind of glad but solemn expectancy, 'Matt must have his new
cap on Matt wants his fur cap.'
'No, Matt must not have his best cap,' answered the child,
'except on Sundays to go to church in.' But Matt entreated in
his piteous way, and the tears rolled down his cheeks, till at last
the lady begged that his new cap might be fetched; and when it
appeared he was contented, and went gently out at the door, and
looked up between the clouds, softly repeating that God would send
for Matt some day; perhaps it would be to-day, and Matt must be
ready Matt must always be ready.
'His poor aunt should have managed better,' said Becca's
mother, who had followed them out of doors; 'she mighty have known
if she said God had sent for his grandfather that Matt would
take her exactly at her word. Howsoever, it's of no use trying
to explain it to him; and least of all trying to make out that it
was not that but something different. The boy must not be
contradicted; that would only confuse him more; but,' she added, 'it
does seem a gloomy thing that he should always be expecting his
death, and always keeping himself ready for it.'
'Does it seem a gloomy thing?' asked the lady.
'Why, yes, ma'am, I'm sure it would quite mope me to be so
frequently thinking about death.'
'Not if you felt that you were ready, and were always
desirous to keep yourself ready.'
'But why should one, ma'am,' answered the woman,
thoughtlessly, 'so long before the time?'
'Ah, Mrs. Letts, we cannot tell that it is long before
the time. Are we not told, "Be ye also ready, for in such an
hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh?"
'Yes, ma'am; and Mr. Green a very little time ago preached a
discourse on that text, a very beautiful discourse it was; but I
never thought people had to get ready for death just as they get
ready for paying their rent, or, as one may say, to lay up wood to
be ready for the winter.'
'Why not? Must we not all die, as surely as we must pay
our rent? Is not death as certain to come as winter?'
'Yes, sure, ma'am.'
'Then the only difference in our preparing should be, that
death being more important than those other things which you
mentioned, we should prepare for it much more earnestly, seriously,
'Yes, ma'am, that's what I meant. We should prepare at
proper solemn times, on Sundays, when we have time to think of these
solemn things, and not be mixing it up with our work every day.'
'Mrs. Letts, if you had earned no money as yet to pay your
rent, and knew it must be paid on a certain day, should you say to
yourself, "This is a very serious matter; I must not think of it now
that I am busy with my work, I must wait till I have a quiet hour;
for it is a very important thing, and not to be thought of excepting
at particular times?"'
'Why, no, ma'am; of course I should think of it early and
late! Well, ma'am, perhaps you are right; in short, I am sure
you are: but it is not very easy for poor folks to think about
religion and death, as much as those who have nothing to do.
However, poor Matt has few enough things to think about, and if it
pleases him to think of being fetched to a better world, why, let
him do it.'
'O yes, let him do it,' replied Matt's friend; 'I believe he
is ready whenever it may please the Almighty to summon him; and the
time may not be so long that he will become impatient.'
'I'm sure a long life is not to be desired for him,' observed
the woman; 'for he suffers a great deal in the cold weather.'
So saying, she brought the boy into her cottage, and the lady took
The sun was shining pleasantly across the level sands as she
walked homewards, and each cliff cast a clear reflection of its
figure at her feet, the soft and shining waves broke gently on the
shore, and the sky was peaceful and cloudless, only a flock of white
gulls were wheeling about in it, serving thus to increase its
resemblance to its 'twin deep,' the blue sea, that was adorned, not
far from the horizon, with a fleet of small fishing vessels, whose
white sails were lovely in the sunshine.
The lady walked till she came to a large cave in the cliff,
about half a mile from the poor old fisherman's cottage: here she
had sometimes sat with Matt, teaching him his plaiting; and here she
now entered and sat down to rest after her long walk.
It was a strange place, more a cleft in the rock than an
ordinary cave, for it narrowed up above to a mere crack, which crack
was strangely and beautifully festooned with hanging ferns of the
brightest green; for they were constantly kept moist by the drops of
water that filtered through the stone.
The sun was now low enough to shine into the dark cavern and
make it warm and cheerful, and to show with clear distinctness the
limpets that stuck to the rocks which here and there protruded from
the soft sand which floored it, and the little pools of sea-water
that lay about in stony basins. These basins were rugged, and
covered without with green weeds, and within fringed with red and
brown dulse and sea-weeds, and the tiny little fish were impatiently
swimming about in them, and small crabs of the hermit tribe were
dragging their bright shell houses along the slippery margins.
She sat down beside one of these little rocky reservoirs and
enjoyed the sunshine and shelter, thinking, meanwhile, how she could
further help and teach the poor child who had now so large a share
of her sympathy. She decided that it was as well he should be
out of the way of his relations on the day of the funeral, both for
their sake and his own; and she accordingly resolved to ascertain
when it was to take place, and bring him there to sit with her till
it should be over.
Accordingly, she made her appearance at the cottage on the
morning of the funeral, and took away the boy.
She found him still 'ready,' still prepared and expectant,
still occupied with the belief that God would fetch him, and that
perhaps it might be 'today.'
She took him to the cave, that he might not see the mournful
cavalcade proceed from the cottage door; and when he was tired of
plaiting straw and of looking at the little imprisoned fishes
swimming about in their brown basins of rock, she opened her basket
and gave him a nice dinner, such as she knew he would like.
Matt was very happy; and when he had done eating, he sat basking in
the entrance of the cavern, pleased with watching the numerous
rock-pigeons that flew about among the cliffs and brushed past with
their opalized wings and glossy necks, to peck at the seed-corn
which his friend threw out to them.
He made her wash his hands when be had finished his meal, and
he had put on his cap, his best cap, and was sitting ready. In
spite of all his amusement in watching the blue pigeons, he was
still ready, still conscious of an expected summons; and when the
last grain of corn had been carried up to the young birds in the
nest, and all the sand was imprinted with the feet of the pretty
parents, he withdrew his eyes from the place where they had
fluttered and striven, and fixed them once more on the open heavens.
'Is Matt sorry that his grandfather is gone?' asked his
Matt answered; 'No;' and said he wanted to go too; and then
in his imperfect way, partly in words and partly by signs, he
inquired what kind of a place it was where God lives.
'It was never cold,' she replied; 'always warm and pleasant.
Matt would never cry when he got there.'
'Would nobody beat Matt there?' asked the child, wistfully;
'wouldn't Rob beat him?'
'No; when Matt went to be with God, nobody would beat him any
A gleam of joy stole over the boy's face as he sat pondering
over these good tidings; then, with a sorrowful sigh, he said, 'Rob
often beats Matt now.' But at that moment the soft sound of a
tolling bell was heard in the cave, and he turned his head to
listen. It was the bell for his grandfather's funeral; and it
was touching to see him amused and pleased with it, unconscious what
They staid a long time in the cave: the boy being amused and
diverted by the various things his friend found for him to look at,
and by a grotto that she had made for him with loose scallop shells;
but in the midst of his pleasure that gleam of joy would often
return to his face, and he would exultingly repeat that 'some day he
should go to God, and nobody should beat him any more.'
At last, when the sound of the bell had long ceased, and the
sun was shining full in at the mouth of the cavern, his friend took
him home again; and finding the mourners already returned, left him
with them, and took her leave little thinking, as she walked
across the cliffs to her residence, that in this life she was to
behold him no more.
Matt got up the next morning, and felt for the first time the
difference made in the cottage by the absence of his grandfather.
Every change affected his imperfect mind, and made him restless.
He was curious to know why his grandfather had not taken his oars
and his fishing-tackle with him; and when his aunt told him there
was no sea where he was gone, the boy was at first greatly
surprised, and then said it must be a very good place, 'No sea, no
'Ay,' said his aunt, 'no high winds such as frighten Matt in
the winter.' So the boy was satisfied for the present, and
went out to the beach to wait for his friend, but she did not come;
and after a while her absence and that of his grandfather made Matt
restless and uneasy.
Becca was sure she would come; the lady had said she would
come; and, accordingly, the careful little girl led Matt to the
cavern; and then the sight of the grotto and the place where they
had sat the day before, reminded the poor boy of the conversation
held there, and for a while he was contented; but the lady did not
come that day, nor for many days; and at last, though Matt went to
the cave every day to look for her, he scarcely expected to find
her, though always satisfied with little Becca's assurance that she
would 'be sure to come to-morrow.'
At length, wondering at her protracted absence, Mary Goddard
walked to the little watering-place where she had been staying; and
then the people of the house told her that their lodger was gone.
She had been sent for suddenly the same night that the old fisherman
was buried. A near relation, living more than fifty miles
away, was taken extremely ill, likely to die, and he had sent for
her. The woman added, when she saw Mary Goddard's look of
disappointment, 'but she has left what ought to reconcile you to
losing her; she is a good friend of the boy's, certainly. She
told me to give you this the first time I saw you; and if I had not
been so busy you should have had it before, for I would have walked
over with it.' So saying, she put into Mary Goddard's hand a
sovereign; and very gratefully was it received: for the expenses of
the old fisherman's illness and funeral had pressed heavily on his
industrious daughter, and she now hardly knew how she could earn
enough money to maintain herself and the boy.
Poor Matt! when his aunt came home she did not conceal from
him the truth that he had lost his friend, but told him abruptly
that she was gone, and was not coming back any more.
He did not take the news so well as she had expected; for
though he said little at the time, he evidently pined and moped
after 'his lady,' and it seemed as if in departing she had taken all
the sunshine with her; for no sooner was she gone than the sweet
warm days of October gave way to a succession of raw, boisterous
weather, when the foam from the rough troubled sea was blown into
the cottage door, and when the gusty winds shook the frail little
tenement, waving its ineffectual curtains, blowing its smoke down
the chimney, and making it difficult to keep the candle lighted on
Matt could only sit and shiver. His pale hands, cramped
with cold, forgot the art that had beguiled so many listless hours;
his feeble feet, chilblained and benumbed, could no longer support
him to the sands; his mysterious searchings of the heavens took
place no more. He sat from day to day asking for 'his lady;'
sometimes crying with the cold, and sometimes from a sharper evil;
for the lonely child was often left with the neighbour's boy, Rob,
whom he so much dreaded; and then, when he peevishly cried, he was
beaten. But he seldom had sense to tell this to his aunt when
she returned, though sometimes he made her wonder at the fervency
with which he would repeat, 'Matt shall go to God some day, and Matt
shall never be beaten any more.'
She did not understand half the significance of those words.
She was obliged often to go out washing and charing; and during her
absence this Rob was most frequently left with Matt; and at her
return received a penny having given him his dinner and taken care
of him. Sometimes Becca had this charge instead of Rob, and
then the day went cheerily. If the sun shone, Becca would lead
him, sadly lame and helpless now, to the cave; and there the two
children would talk together on the one subject that Matt could
understand; and every day came the never-wearying assurance, that
when Matt went to God he should never be cold, and he should never
be beaten any more.
And now came a time of great trouble and distress to the
inhabitants of the little fishing hamlet. There was very bad
weather; the men could not go out with the boats, and unwholesome
food and over-hard work brought the fever, and Becca's mother and
poor Mary Goddard both sickened at the same time. The
neighbours in the two other cottages did what they could for them;
and Rob's mother a kind-hearted, bustling woman, who had many
children of her own to attend to, and a sickly, bed-ridden mother to
nurse, constantly came in to keep Mary's fire, and to give her drink
and make her bed for her. Many a time did this poor creature
spare a crust for the poor idiot boy from her own miserable store;
for she had compassion on his helplessness, and could not bear to
see his blue lips and trembling limbs, as he sat on his little
wooden stool by the small fire, within hearing of his aunt's
The weather grew colder and colder, till the very sea-water
was half solid with spongy ice, and broke crisply on the frozen
shore; the north wind howled in the rents and crevices of the lofty
cliffs; and them poverty of the hamlet was so great that there was
little fire inside to keep its force from being felt. The
fishermen said the fever would surely be starved out soon; but it
seized on Rob's father next; and the same day that he sickened, the
doctor said Mary Goddard was past hope. Mary Goddard had lived
alone with the poor boy almost ever since her father's death; for
her sister had taken a service, and gone with her master's family to
London, and the married brother and his wife did not act a friendly
part by her.
Mr. Green was frequently in and out of the cottages during
this time of disaster, but he could not effectually relieve the
distress; it was too deep and complete. The poor people had
been improvident in their times of prosperity, and now all their
misfortunes seemed to have come at once fearfully cold weather,
illness, and a bad fishing season.
He walked down to the little hamlet about an hour after the
doctor had paid his visit. There was now one person ill in
each of the four cottages; but, cold as it was, smoke was only
rising from the chimney of one. He opened Mary Goddard's door;
she, unconscious of the cold, lay quietly on her bed, her bright
eyes open and glazed with the glitter of approaching death; little
Becca stood over her, fanning her, and feebly crying from sheer
hunger and fatigue. And Matt sat by the empty grate, too much
overpowered with cold to observe his presence.
'My poor child,' he asked of Becca, 'is there no fire-wood?'
Becca shook her head, and sobbed out, that the doctor had
said 'it was of no consequence; the cold could not hurt Mary now.'
'No, she will die; but don't cry so, my dear; she was a good
woman, and I believe God will take her to himself. Is there
nobody to attend on her but you?'
'Mother's too weak to come out yet,' said the poor little
girl; 'and father, he came in, and he said I was to stop, and be
sure and not to leave her till he came back; but I'm so frightened,
and Matt and me, we haven't had anything to eat.'
'Well, I have brought something that you and Matt shall have;
here, open my basket, and sit down by Matt, and eat while I fan poor
Little Becca did as she was bidden; and she and Matt tasted
food for the first time that day. In the mean time Rob's
mother came in; and seeing Mary's state, went away, and presently
returned with her grown-up daughter.
'It is not much that can be done for her now, poor soul,' she
remarked to the clergyman; 'but she must not be left alone, and my
husband being a trifle better this morning, I can leave him for a
Matt and Becca were then sent out of the cottage to Becca's
house; and there, a bright fire being alight on the hearth, the boy
revived, and little Becca had an hour or two of quiet rest.
Becca's mother was getting better; but she was still lying in
her bed up stairs, with one of her daughters attending on her.
It was now snowing hard, but the wind had somewhat abated, and the
sea was calmer than it had been for some days.
Accordingly, the fishermen were preparing to go out in their
boats, and everything looked more cheerful than usual; the hope of
something being earned revived the spirits of the women; and the
men, once occupied, forgot their gloomy fears of the fever.
The two children, thus left alone, sat quietly by the fire;
Matt, cowering over the bright flames, recovered his spirits, and
began to crow the same inarticulate song that he had often sung when
he was comfortable and had eaten a good dinner. And Becca, who
had been roused before daybreak to wait on her mother, and then to
go to Mary Goddard, fell quietly asleep before the fire, after
watching the thickly-falling flakes of snow.
The little girl, when questioned afterwards, said that she
thought she might have slept an hour, when awaking she found the
fire slowly gone out, and Matt earnestly gazing out of the window.
The snow was falling faster than ever, and the tide rapidly coming
in washed it away at the edge of the waves as fast as it reached the
ground. Matt had been told that morning that God would soon
send for his aunt also, but at the time he took little notice, his
always torpid faculties being rendered more than ever dull by the
cold; but now the warmth of the cottage had done him good, and as
Becca mended the fire, he inquired whether his aunt was gone.
Becca did not know. The boy, still gazing upwards, said
he wanted to go out of doors, and ask the great God to take him too;
Matt wanted to go away. Becca tried to calm him; but he was
urgent in his desire to go out, and at last she was obliged to lock
the door. Matt upon this wept, and begged to be allowed to go
out. 'Would God never send for poor Mat?' he piteously
inquired. 'Would not God send for Matt, if Matt begged him
very hard? Matt did not wish to stay if his aunt was going
Becca could say nothing to all this: but in the midst of her
attempts to quiet the boy, some one tried the door, and she opened
it. It was Rob's mother; she was come to tell Becca that she
must go into the town to fetch a nurse; and when she had given the
message, she turned to Matt, and gently and slowly told him that his
aunt was gone.
Matt said nothing; he was looking at the flakes of snow as
they fell from the gloomy heaven so thickly, and were whirled about
by the winds, and heaved against the frozen threshold, or swallowed
up in the gloomy sea.
'Matt, your poor aunt is gone to God,' said the woman kindly,
and she brought him near to the fire and chafed his cold hands;
then, having left a good fire, she went away with little Becca,
charging her boy, whom she left behind, to stay with Matt, and be
good to him.
Poor Matt! some dreamy hours passed between him and his rough
guardian; but we do not know how they passed; we only know that the
snow fell faster than ever, and the wind roared in the chimney, and
the waves rose and thundered upon the dreary beach; and that when
after several hours the brief winter day began to close, and poor
little Becca came in again, tired and almost exhausted with the
force of the wind, Matt had evidently been crying very bitterly, and
Becca felt very sure that Rob had beaten him.
Rob, as soon as Becca came in, got up, and said he supposed
he need not stay there any more. If it had not been for his
mother's telling him to stop with Matt, he might have gone out with
his father in the boat, he said; and he now left the cottage in a
very surly humour.
Becca crept up stairs to hear how her mother was, and saw her
lying still, and evidently better; her sister, who was exhausted
with many nights of watching, was sound asleep at the foot of the
bed, and she and her patient had both slept through all the noise of
the storm and of Matt's crying. Becca's mother woke as the
child entered, and asked for a drink of cold tea, telling Becca to
step quietly that she might not wake her sister. The little
girl held the cup to her mother's lips; the fever had subsided, but
the poor woman was very weak; and when a rush-candle had been
lighted, and her medicine given to her, she said she wished to be
left alone again that she might sleep.
So Becca went down and gave Matt his supper, and ate her own.
It was now quite dark, and Becca strained her eyes in looking out to
sea to try and discover whether the boats were coming home.
The children had no candle, and the fire gave but little light; so
Becca sat down and Matt beside her; and the little girl was so weary
that at length she sunk on the floor, gathered the thin cloak about
her that she had worn on her walk to the town, and fell into a weary
A glowing log, in its fall upon the hearth, suddenly roused
her after a short slumber, and she started up. Matt was still
sitting beside her, but frightened and trembling, for the noise of
the wind and waves was fearful. She tried and every time a
louder gust than usual shook the cottage, he would start up and
hurry to the door, trying the lock, and begging that he might go out
'and talk to God.' Becca gave him another piece of bread, and
brought him back to the fire; but at length finding that he could
not rest, and feeling sure that the door was securely bolted, she
lay down again and stink into a deep sleep, forgetting her troubles
and fatigue, and dreaming that the wind went down, and that she saw
her father stepping ashore from the boat, and telling her he had
brought in a fine haul of mackerel.
From hour to hour the child slept on, and the roaring winds
moaned without, and the clouds raced across the dreary heavens, and
the desolate sea was rough with foam, and the snow fell and fell,
and the wind blew it away from the cliff's, and swept it into the
tumbling waves. But poor little Becca did not dream of any of
these things; she slept sweetly in the warmth and glow of the
drift-wood fire, with her little weary head upon a furled-up sail,
which she was reclining on by way of a pillow; and she dreamed that
she and Matt were walking in a field, a large field full of yellow
buttercups, that the sun was shining pleasantly, and she was
gathering handfuls of the buttercups for Matt to play with.
It was a very pretty field, she thought; and even in her
dream she knew that she had been sadly tired, and that sitting in
this quiet field was a very welcome rest.
What a long, sweet dream that was the sweetest perhaps,
that little Becca had ever known, because came after such great
sorrow and such long wakefulness. At last, in the very dead of
the night, she awoke, and the embers were just dying out on the
hearth, and the room above was very still, and through the
uncurtained casement the large white moon was shining above the edge
of a black cloud; it shone upon the brick floor and upon the little
stool upon which Matt had been sitting, but Matt was not there!
Becca was alone.
The little girl started up in a fright. Who could have
taken Matt away? No one; for she remembered that she had
bolted the door. She slipped off her shoes and stole softly up
the stairs, to see if he might have found his way to her mother's
chamber. No he was not to be seen; her mother and sister
were soundly sleeping, and the dim rush-candle was giving light
enough to show that no Matt was there. She went down again and
tried the door, full of a vague terror. O, if Matt, by long
trying, had found out how to open it, and had wandered out in the
snow to look up on that bitter night between the clouds, what would
become of him! She laid her hand upon the bolt it was drawn
back; then Matt had opened the door and pulled it after him.
Becca was but a little girl; and when she found that Matt was
gone, and that the men had none of them returned from fishing, and
that her mother and sister were asleep, she sat down on the floor
and cried there a long time before she could make up her mind what
was to be done; and then she put on her shoes again, and tied on her
shawl and bonnet, and opened the door softly, resolving to follow
It was very dark, but it had ceased to snow. Becca
waited a few minutes, hoping the moon would soon come out; and when
it did so, she saw distinctly the print of footsteps; they led away
from the other cottages, and seemed to wander towards the direction
of the cave.
But still Becca could not rest till she had run on to the
cottage where Matt had lived. She tried the door; it was
locked; and peeping in, she was sure that no one was inside; so she
turned away, and, as well as she could in the sweeping storm and
raging wind, she made her way towards the cave, which she knew was
the likeliest place for Matt to go to.
Sometimes running, sometimes groping in the darkness,
sometimes wading through deep snowdrifts, and again cowering under a
rock till the force of a stronger gust than usual had spent itself,
the child went on, now full of hope that she should find Matt safe
in the shelter of the cavern, now sick at heart for fear of what
might have happened.
She felt the rocks with her hands, and went slowly on; she
surely must be near the place; impatience to reach it made her too
hasty, and she struck her face against a projecting ledge, and was
compelled to wait for the coming out of the moon. A heavy wall
of cloud was moving on all the heavens behind it were quite bare;
Becca watched them; the moon drew near its edges, and turned them of
a silvery whiteness, then shone out cold and clear, and Becca found
she was not far from the cavern; she ran and stumbled on; she was
very near; the voice she was longing for arrested her on her way:
'God! God!' it said, 'O send for poor Matt! let Matt go away!'
In the entrance of the cavern, with the moon shining on his
white face, and the bitter wind blowing about his thin clothing and
uncovered hair, and driving the frozen snow over his feet, stood the
boy. Great must have been the efforts that he had used to get
there, and now he did not see Becca nor answer; his woe-begone voice
and awe-struck face were directed only to the now cloudless sky, and
all his thoughts were given to that great Being whom in the midst of
darkness he was seeking after.
The little girl touched him; he was as a stone; she shook his
sleeves, but could not rouse him from his deep abstraction.
'God! God!' he uttered more perfectly still, 'and Man that paid, O
take poor Matt away!'
The little girl, trembling and shivering with the cold, and
faint with running against the wind, sank down upon the snow; and
still Matt stood upright, and held up his beseeching hands, till
exerting all her strength, she pulled him away, and got him to lie
down farther in where the snow had not yet penetrated, and where the
cavern floor was dry. Then she took off the shawl that formed
her own scanty covering; and as she lapped it over him, he said,
faintly, 'Matt shall see God some day, and Matt shall never be cold
She heaped some drift-wood between him and the entrance of
the cave to keep the wind away, and then she set off to run home
again for help; but before her exhausted feet, in the gray of the
winter morning, had reached the cottage threshold, the fishermen,
after their perilous voyage, landed a mile or two higher up, and
going into the cavern for rest and shelter, found Matt on his frozen
bed. They took him up and chafed his stiffened limbs with
their rough hands; they said he was frozen to death, and they laid
him down again on his desolate bed, and mourned and lamented over
him. Happy Matt! the summons had been sent to him to go, and
join that God whom he had sought so long. The days of his
darkness and feebleness are over, he will never be cold any more.
Matt was buried in the village churchyard, and on his
gravestone was written 'They that seek me early shall find me.'
If any of us, knowing God better, have loved Him less, and
needing God's grace as much, have turned from His face, instead of
seeking it, let us think on the history of this simple, poor child
'Let us seek the Lord while He may be found, let us call upon Him
while He is near.'
WIDOW MACLEAN; OR, LENDING
TO THE LORD.
IN a little two-roomed cottage, which stood in a dingle apart from
other habitations, an old woman lay fast asleep one Sunday morning.
There was a brook a little below the cottage; a wooden bridge
crossed it, and a great many elm and ash trees grew near, giving
shelter to a colony of rooks; but their cheerful clamour, and the
beams of the sun, which shot athwart the dingle and came in between
the openings of her window-curtain, did not rouse her, for she was
daily accustomed to waken when her cuckoo clock struck six (and even
in sleep we wait for a sound habitually heard); but that morning
the old woman slept out her sleep till she was satisfied, and woke
of her own accord, for her clock had run down. When she had risen
and had made her fire, she said, "How bright the sun is this morning! It seems almost as if it hung higher than usual!" And when, after
leisurely preparation, she had eaten her breakfast, washed her cup
and put it by, and shaken out her best Sunday shawl from its folds,
she opened her door and said, "Lucky is it that the walk to church
is such a shady one, for I never knew a hotter day at nine o'clock
in the morning."
So she put on her decent black bonnet and her other Sunday apparel,
and set forth to church across the wooden bridge over the brook.
The dingle was a long one, and when she emerged from it she came out
on a common; but she did not hear the distant church bells. So the
walk being long, she took it leisurely, for she thought herself
early. What then was her surprise when she at last entered the open
church door, to find the sermon just over, and the clergyman about
to give the blessing.
She went to her seat notwithstanding, for she was tired and
bewildered; she hardly knew indeed at first whether she had
overslept herself, or the rest of the world had risen at cockcrow. As the people rose from their knees, however, she observed the clean
white cloth on the communion-table, and thought to herself that she
had not come for nothing, for she could stay for the sacrament,
though she had not been in time for the service.
Just as she had quite decided this point, and the children and all
those persons who did not intend to receive the sacrament had
withdrawn from the church, it suddenly flashed into her mind that
she had but one piece of money in her pocket, and that was a two-
"And two shillings is a vast deal of money for such as I am to lay
in the plate for charity to the poor," she thought; "I am but a poor
woman myself, though, to be sure, I have no more to save for since I
lost my Pamela."
She felt uncomfortable about this money. There were several
improvident, dirty, and idle families in the parish, and Mr. Dixon,
the clergyman, sometimes let the sacrament money go their way,
because they were so importunate in begging, and yet the sickness
and want that they complained of were often the result of their own
faults, and when that was not the case, thought the widow, "their
sickness and want are no worse to bear than what is borne silently
by honester and more decent folk." The widow on this looked round to
see if there was any neighbour close at hand who would change her
two-shilling piece into lesser coins; but, before she could make
up her mind to ask this favour, the clergyman had begun to read, and
shortly her wandering attention was arrested by the beautiful words:
"He that hath pity on the poor, lendeth to the Lord."
The widow put her hand into her pocket.
"The Lord is welcome to it," she thought. "I am willing to give it
to Him, let alone lending."
"And look," proceeded the reader, "What he layeth out it shall be
paid him again."
"In heaven," thought the old woman, and put it in the plate. "I
ought to have been ashamed to grudge it, ―
I, that have money in
the savings bank, and that have nobody to save for, now my poor
Pamela's gone. Ah, dear child! the Lord forgive her, and bless her,
if she's living yet; for I shall never see her more!"
The widow had lived nearly twelve years in the
little cottage in the dingle, and when first she had come to it she
was bowed down with sickness and sorrow.
None of the farmers' wives knew much of her, and the labourers' wives
did not presume to be familiar, for Widow Maclean "held herself
rather high," that is, she hated dirt, disorder, and all manner of
improvidence; she always kept herself neat and her cottage tidy. Moreover, she could live without going out to work; and, though she
added to her small means by knitting stockings for sale, she had an
annuity which her husband had left her, and which was more than half
enough to support her. Out of this and her earnings (being of a
saving turn, and anxious to make things go as far as possible) she
had laid up no less a sum than eleven pounds in a neighbouring
savings bank. This was well known in the neighbourhood, for Mr.
Dixon's housekeeper was often entrusted by the widow to convey her
book and a few extra shillings to be added to her credit, when she
went shopping for her master to the market town and she, being
pleased with the commission, took care that her friends should know
of it, and boasted of the widow's money with almost as much
complaisance as if it had been her own.
Now it chanced that, the day following this long morning slumber,
Mrs. Anderson, the housekeeper, stepped in about tea-time to say
that she was going to the town the next morning. "And if I can do
anything for you, ma'am," she proceeded, "it will be with the
greatest pleasure; for Mr. Dixon is gone out, and has left orders
that the lad shall drive me over in the gig. I am going to see about
a new drugget that
is wanted for his study, so I shall have plenty of time on my hands,
if I suit myself at Higgins's; and I suppose it's no use going
elsewhere, for he always has the best patterns."
"Thank you kindly, ma'am," said Mrs. Maclean; but I never like to
trouble the gentleman at the savings bank with less than five
shillings at a time; and I have not as much as that to spare, just
now. And so Mr. Dixon wants a new drugget? Dear, dear," she
continued; "it seems but a few days since I went over the house with
you, when he came to us, and everything was fresh and new."
"True enough, ma'am," replied the housekeeper; "but druggets are
awful wear. It's the cheap things that empties one's pockets in the
end. Then, I think that gentlemen wear thicker boots than they used
to do. In my young days, Mr. Dixon's father never wore nails in his
shoes never thought of such a thing, unless he was going out
shooting; and then he knew what was expected of him, and kept out
of the drawing-room till he had changed them. Carpets were thicker
then, and boots were thinner. Put these two things together, and
you'll not be surprised at the bad wearing of our study drugget. In
short, the hob-nails that are marched about over all the carpets are
enough to beat them down into felt, though the pile might have been
an inch thick."
Mrs. Anderson appeared hurt, as if it had been hinted that the
wearing out of Mr. Dixon's carpets lay at her door. The widow,
therefore, observed that it was lucky he had somebody to look after
his furniture, and that, being a rich man's son, he could afford
whatever he wanted. She also pressed her visitor to take tea, and
proceeded to make it.
"Yes, ma'am," replied the housekeeper; "a rich man, 'tis true;
but, Mrs. Maclean, I may say, a saving, careful gentleman, with a
wife who never let so much as a candle-end be wasted in the house,
if she knew it."
"It's not young Mr. Dixon's bringing up, then," observed the widow,
"that makes him extravagant."
"It's not exactly that he's extravagant," said the housekeeper; "but
young people don't think enough, sometimes, about the future. I'm
not the woman to take liberties; but I first came into the family
as his nurse, and in one place or another I've been with them ever
since. I don't say but that, sometimes, when he's ordering out
bottles of his best port wine for such of the bedridden old
pauper-men as would be better in the workhouse by half, or when he's
sending out dinner after dinner (soup, and jelly, and slices off the
best end of a loin of veal, yesterday, and almost half a fowl, the
day before) to snuffy old crones, that are no better than they
should be, I don't say but that, now and then, I observe, 'Sir,
you'll not be able to afford all this when you're married, and have
a family of your own to think about.' 'That's a good reason,' said
he, the last time I named it, 'that's a good reason why I should do
it now. Beside,' said he, 'Nurse, (for he sometimes forgets, and
calls me Nurse still,) I don't intend to marry. I'm very comfortable
as I am. I don't want a lady
"Ah," said the widow, shaking her head, "they're so confident, young
men are; but his time will come, Mrs. Anderson, his time will
Mrs. Anderson passed her cup for more tea.
"That's just my opinion," she observed; "and therefore I have done
my best, ma'am, to keep things handsome about him, that I may not be
blamed, nor the family put to expense, when he brings a wife home.
In short, it's more than a year ago now that I wrote to Mrs. Dixon
about the drawing-room carpet, and she sent me their second-best
linen floor-cloth. I made one up out of the best parts of it, and
boiled it in hay-tea, to make it a good brown-holland colour. Very
neat it looked, and I got it laid down when he was out of the way. I
hoped that, being used to the ways of his mother, it might come
natural to him to see it. Instead of that, 'What's this?' said he,
coming in; 'I hate to see rooms with pinafores on.' 'It's to save
the carpet, sir,' said I; 'it won't last much longer at this rate.' 'Won't it?' said he, considering. 'No, sir,' said I, very firmly,
'it won't.' 'Then,' says he, 'take the pinafore off; let it
last as long as it will, and after that I'll walk on the boards.'"
"I call that rather aggravating," said the widow.
"He does not mean it," replied the housekeeper; but I may say that
it all comes from not caring enough about outsides, and the way of
putting things. If I had a handsome shawl, and carried it with me to
church tied up in an old duster, instead of on my shoulders, who
would believe I had it? We ought to put the best on the outside,
that is the way to be true to ourselves. And yet, dear me, Mrs.
Maclean, there is nothing like living with a real good, religious,
and, as one may say, innocent young man, to make an old woman feel
"We're all sinners, Mrs. Anderson," observed the widow, as if she
would convey to her friend her own conviction, that beyond her being
a partaker in this universal fault of our nature, there was no call
for her to appropriate special wickedness to herself.
"And that's Bible truth, ma'am," said the housekeeper; "but a
straight stick may shame a crooked one, that never knew how crooked
it was till the other was laid beside it. I have wished to be a
manager, Mrs. Maclean, to as one may say to go to heaven, doing
a little business for myself by the way. That's what puts me out
"Indeed, ma'am," said the widow, doubtfully; for though she felt it
to be a compliment to herself that her friend should thus make
confession to her of her faults, she did not see the whole drift of
"I am as I was made," proceeded the housekeeper, and I am not to
quarrel with the Almighty, and say, 'Why hast Thou made me thus?' I've got a managing head, and why am I not to manage? Why, because
Mr. Dixon won't let me. I've no encouragement to labour: he wastes
all. Fruit was very plentiful last year, as you know. I made a
quantity of jam, and my jams are never a discredit to me. Now, I
thought, there'll be plenty of preserves in the house for puddings,
and to appear at breakfast, and what not, when his college friends
come to stay with him. If you'll believe me, ma'am, not half a dozen
pots out of the sixty have I had the pride of seeing on his table. The measles broke out among those families by the
gravel pits, and then there were fevers down by the mere; and
between the two my jams were all taken from me, pots and all, they
might have given me back the pots. I don't deny that black currant
drink is a comfort to the sick; but that they want the best of
preserves, made with loaf sugar, to take their powders in, I never
will believe; treacle would do just as well, and many of them never
heard of preserve; therefore they would not have thought they
wanted it, unless he had put it into their heads that such things
were good for them."
By this time the widow had begun to think that her friend was hardly
treated, and she remarked that Mr. Dixon did not seem to know his
"Ma'am," remarked the housekeeper, significantly,
"fruit is not so plentiful this year, and if I make but little jam
it will be partly
because I have so few pots to put it in. I am not complaining far
be it from me but I ask this, does not the Scripture declare that
we are to be wise as serpents? It does. It says in another place,
'He that hath two coats let him impart to him that hath none.' Well, if I took that text literally, which I don't, I would use the
wisdom of the serpent, as I am told to do, and I would take care to
give away that coat which was of least use to me. But what Mr. Dixon
does is the clean contrary. If it was put before him that he must
give away one of two coats, and if one of the two was threadbare and
shabby, and the other was handsome and a good fit, ten to one that
he would put the shabby one on his own back; and I should not be in
a proper mind to receive the sacrament the next time it was given in
of not being in charity with the man that was wearing out the better
one. I never did approve of selling old clothes, Mrs. Maclean. I
consider that they are the rights of the poor when we are done with
them; but to wear the shabby and give away the good is to turn
everything upside down and that, so to speak, is my Mr. Dixon's
"Perhaps," said the widow humbly, for this allusion to the sacrament
had reminded her of the two-shilling piece; "perhaps he considers
that in giving to the poor he is lending to the Lord."
"No doubt, no doubt," said the housekeeper "those words are often in
his mouth; but, Mrs. Maclean, I put it to you as to a sincere woman
who does as others do, and has no reason to be ashamed of it, don't
you, when you feel that you ought to give away something in
charity, don't you consider what you can best spare?"
"To be sure, to be sure," replied the poor woman, it is not much
that I have to give; but when I give it is chiefly what I have done
with, what I don't want, or anything that won't keep, such as a
drink of milk to a beggar's child, or windfall apples that I cannot
"And very right too, and very prudent. Prudence is a virtue, isn't
"Yes," said the widow doubtfully, "and yet if I really felt that it
was giving to the Lord, I should wish to give of the best."
"Ah, but that is only a figure, ma'am; we are not to take the
Scriptures too literally. I've often heard so in sermons, and yet,"
proceeded the housekeeper, "and yet, as I said before, to live with
a man like Mr. Dixon, often makes me feel that I am a wicked old
woman. Not but what there is a natural carelessness about him, too,
which makes it easier for him than for many others to give away his
things. Now, that which I told you about the carpet had nothing to
do with his religion, but it has to do with his not caring how
things look, which is such a trouble to me. When he has a shabby
dinner, and folks come in and see him at it, he feels nothing, and I
feel a great deal."'
"Well, Mrs. Anderson," said her hostess, "you should consider that
whatever folks may think about his furniture and his dinners, any
one may see with half a eye that he is a perfect gentleman, and they
may perhaps think that it's his way to go on as he does; just a
singularity, you know, and not a notion that it's his duty. They may
think he does it to save
"They may," replied the housekeeper, much comforted by this speech. "Well, well, I hope they do! For I've noticed that people don't
think the worse of those that are a little singular, if they see
that they are studying their own advantage in what they do. It's
singularity that is not for advantage, but that comes, from an over
religious mind, or an over tender conscience, that people dislike.
There was old Sir Henry Lofton, when he had the misfortune to turn
teetotaller, how everybody laughed at him, and said he did it to
save his wine, and said he need not have troubled himself, for it
was none of the best. There is ten times as much said about him as
about Squire Hillary of Castle Casey, who is so mean with his wine. The
worst I've heard of him was, that his son would inherit a fine
cellar full when he came into the property, and that he had the
finest taste in old port of any one in the county."
"But," said the widow, "Mr. Hillary is a very hard man to the poor. I don't think, Mrs. Anderson, that the Almighty has much money of
his to pay him again. He hasn't lent much to the Lord."
"Well, ma'am, we must not judge him," replied the housekeeper; "he
has had a very expensive family. They do say that his son, who ran
away for a sailor, has cost him a great deal; and you know a man
that has an old property to keep up, and several sons to put out, in
the world, cannot spend as an old bachelor might."
"You are best off to be with Mr. Dixon, ma'am," said the widow. "It
will all come back to him one way or another. I've heard of a man of
whom it was said that he transported his goods into heaven before
him, and was sent for there to enjoy them. Perhaps Mr. Dixon is one
of this sort."
"No doubt, ma'am," replied the housekeeper; but there are many good
Christians that are every bit as fit for this world as they are for
the next. And I wish he was one of them. I must be going now; and I
thank you kindly for a good cup of tea."
"Don't mention it," said the widow; "I thank you kindly for your
good company. It's a great thing for a lone woman to have a friend
now and then to speak to."
"Ay, indeed. So, you have nothing for me to do at the savings bank?"
"Well, no, I thank you," said Mrs. Maclean; and she felt the
rise in her face, for she thought of the two-shilling piece.
This money having been lent to the Lord, she could not at present
send any to the savings bank; but, though she was glad it was where
it was, she hoped Mrs. Anderson would not find out anything about
it, or she might think her less fit for this world than even the young
So, Mrs. Anderson, having hurried on her shawl and taken leave of
her friend, pursued her way through the dingle alone. Her mind was
full of love for the young clergyman, whom she had nursed and tended
in his childhood; but she gave way to a little feeling of wrath
also against him, when she reflected how he stood, as she thought,
in his own light, and neglected his own interest.
She was a little, stout body, with a determined month and a keen,
shining eye. All the people in the parish feared her, she was so
quick at finding out imposture.
If the united desires of most of the poor could
have prevailed to turn her out from among them, Mrs. Anderson would
not have held her own in the hamlet for a day; as it was, she ruled
and reigned in a certain sense, because she had Mr. Dixon's ear.
It was she, when Mr. Dixon had visited a poor woman for some weeks,
and had been much touched by her habit of shedding tears when he
read to her it was she who, coming in once with a pudding that he
had desired her to make, had looked about her with significant shrewdness, and
finally had put her hand under the pillow and drawn out a bottle of
while the patient scolded, had remarked to her that tears sometimes
came of drinking, and that she had better not deceive herself into
thinking them a proof of piety. She was much too discreet at the
time to say any more; but while Mr. Dixon sat by, discomfited, she
fed the old woman, and setting the gin bottle on a table, went her
Afterwards, while Mr. Dixon dined, and she waited on him, he said to
her, "How came you, Anderson, to think of feeling under the pillow?"
"I smelt gin, sir, as plain as possible," she answered; "and I knew
Molly was bedridden; so, where could it be but close to her hand?"
"You smelt it?"
"Bless you, sir, yes. Those sprigs of mint that lay on her bed could
not disguise it."
"Well," said the parson, with a sigh, "I really did think the old
soul was a sincere penitent."
Charity believeth all things Mrs. Anderson knew that; yet, she was
a little astonished when he added, "Perhaps she takes it as a
"Perhaps she does," answered the housekeeper, after a pause; for,
with the quick instinct of affection, she was willing to spare her
sometime nursling the pain of thinking that he had been
ignominiously cheated by an ignorant, vicious old woman, taking
her drunken sobs for the blessed tears of repentance. "But, sir,
might I inquire whether you are in the habit of giving her money?"
"Yes; I often give her a shilling or two," was his answer; "and I
generally see that she has her share of all the parish charities."
"I should think, on the whole, sir," said the housekeeper, with such
an air of cogitation, as if she would have had him think that her
forthcoming remark had that moment entered her mind, "I should
think, on the whole, sir, that if you could get in the habit of
spending the money for her, say in bread, or in tea, or rice, it
might be a good thing; for, if she requires gin as a medicine, the
parish doctor is bound to provide it. What is he paid for, indeed,
but for attending to her, and to such as she is?"
"I will not give her any more money," said the young clergyman. "I
should not like her to learn any bad habits through me."
When Mrs. Anderson heard the words, "learn any bad habits through
me," she cast up her eyes to the ceiling behind his back, as one who
was taken with a mild fit of despair. But she contented herself for
the present with this little demonstration, for she knew that her
time would come, and Mr. Dixon did not take kindly to a lesson of
distrust, unless it was administered with a candid, dispassionate
air, and without any apparent desire to make a deep impression.
He was a very sincere person. Hypocrisy seemed to him one of the
most unbearable of sins. He could recognize it in certain glaring
cases; but he was not prepared to find a little spice of it
flavouring the discourse of most people who had anything to gain by
"She seems always very glad to see you, when you call, sir," said
the artful housekeeper.
"Yes, yes," replied Mr. Dixon; "she is certainly very much
impressed. Her tears cannot always be result of gin."
This last part of the sentence was said rather severely.
"Certainly not, sir," answered Mrs. Anderson. "Of course, it's
ridiculous to think that you would mistake the sort of foolish,
maudlin way she had, this morning, for her usual manner that I
suppose she has when she's crying over her past life."
Mr. Dixon coughed rather doubtfully. He had not observed any great
difference between that day and former days, as regarded the tears. The old woman had said she was crying about her sins, and he had
"It seems a pity she goes on telling fortunes so," observed Mrs.
Anderson, with an indifferent air; "but then, it's a temptation, no
doubt, and, dear me, we're all weak when temptation comes."
"Does she?" cried Mr. Dixon.
"Dear me, yes, sir; of course she does. But should you think that a
proof she was not a sincere penitent?"
"I should, indeed!"
"She told our own housemaid's fortune, this day week; but then, the
girl went to her and asked her. And besides, how else is she to
live, sir? for she won't take the parish pay, for fear of having to
go into the house."
"There, you evil old hypocrite," she thought, as she quietly cleared
away the dinner; "I don't think your light pudding will be baked in
our oven again for some time."
She then retired, cheerful at heart; and presently, looking up from
her sewing as she sat by the clean kitchen window, she saw Mr. Dixon
thoughtfully walking about in the garden, and frowning as if his
cogitations were not agreeable.
"If I have made him uncomfortable," she thought, "it's all for his
good, and for hers too, for the matter of that! Not that I would
have interfered just now, if new laid eggs were not so difficult to
get, and our fowls had not left off laying. There is nothing that
suits him so well as new laid eggs for his breakfast, and it
aggravates me past bearing (when I've taken the trouble to walk
miles to get them at the farm) it does aggravate me past bearing,
to be told to make them into puddings for that drunken old
hypocrite. Some folks are fond of saying, 'What a blessing it will
be to recognize one another in heaven!' For my part, if I ever get
there, I wish none of the paupers here may recognize me. What tales
they'll have to tell him! It's not in nature that they can like me. But we must take the bad with the good. I should not like to know
him in heaven, so I must make up my mind to shut my eyes to their
doings here, or to his knowing of my ways up there."
THIS tale, which concerns a chosen friend of mine, has to be so told
that if she still lived she would not disapprove that is, the
places, the names, and circumstances have some of them been veiled
How I came to know the Widow Maclean so well I will not avow, nor
how it was that almost to me alone she gave so complete a confidence; but I have now come to a point in my narration which must be
carefully and distinctly told, though it is the only part that many
people would hesitate to tell, or would be desirous to explain away.
On the night following that evening during which she had entertained
the housekeeper at tea, she could not make up her mind to go to bed;
she felt as if she was waiting for something; but she was in very
good spirits and very wakeful, so she lighted a fresh candle about
ten o'clock, and far into the night she sat up, knitting.
Such an unwillingness to go to bed had never happened to her before; there was nothing in that, perhaps, but by degrees there came into
her mind an impression that she ought to sit up, and whatever we
may think as to its nature or reality hearing of it afterwards,
it is at least certain that she was still awake, and still burning
the candle after two o'clock in the morning.
At that time, the very dead time of the night, and when the moon had
gone down, she heard footsteps, and then she heard a sound as of
some one feeling in the dark for the handle of her door. She got up
without hesitation, flung it open, and there walked, or rather
staggered in, a sailor.
He seemed dazzled with the light, though it was but of one candle,
and reeled with difficulty into a chair, where he sat down and gazed
"Boy;" said the widow, for he was but a youth,"what did you come
into my garden for?"
He answered, naturally enough, "Because I saw the light in your
"What is your business?" she next inquired; and while still speaking
she recognized him.
"I've no business," he replied, spreading out his hands forlornly;
"I've no place, and I've no home."
Upon this, he laid his head against the wall as he sat, and burst
into tears, crying out and weeping most passionately.
"Sir," said the widow, "why should you make such ado! What is the
matter with you? I know who you are. You'll soon be at home; you
are going to Castle Casey."
"No," said the youth, shuddering; " I'm coming from it."
"Coming from it?" exclaimed the widow, aghast; "coming from it? Why, arn't you the young gentleman that ran away for a sailor?"
"I thought he would take me in again," said the youth, sobbing like
a child. "I thought he would forgive me."
"Your father, do you mean?" said the widow, in a low voice; for she
was awe-struck at the terrible notion that the youth had been
In reply, he made a sign of assent, and seemed to be relating
something, but his whispers were so faint and low that she came and
leaned over him, when she was shocked to hear the words, "He said I
After this he said, "Let me lie down on the
floor;" which he did, and fainted.
The widow was a good deal alarmed, but she soon found her
vinegar bottle, and wetting his forehead and the palms of his hands,
fanned him with her apron till he recovered his consciousness, when
he stared about him, saying drearily, "It's quite true what he said.
I've made my own bed, and I must lie on it."
"Did the old Squire say that?" thought Widow Maclean.
"Ah, my poor Pamela! my dearest dear! I wish I might have such
a chance of taking you home again."
She then lighted a fire, and bestirred herself to get
something hot to eat and drink for her poor guest; but it was not
till everything was ready, and a chair set by the decently spread
table, that the youth would lift his head from the floor.
When, however, he did so, he opened his hungry eyes, and sat down
thankfully to eat what she had provided. He was so eager over
the meal that she could not help feeling surprised, for there was
that in his whole manner which seemed to tell of extreme need.
"You're hungry, sir," she observed, and then went to her
cupboard and brought out some cheese to add to the meal.
"How should I be otherwise?" he replied, bitterly. "I
had only threepence in my pocket, and it's two hundred miles."
The widow would like to have asked a few questions when had
the poor youth landed, and how came he to be so destitute.
"One thing seems certain," she thought, "that wicked old man gave
him not even a crust."
"Well, sir," she said, cheerfully, "you're kindly welcome, I
am sure, to what you see before you."
"Thank you very much," he answered; and then the hysterical
feeling coming again, he sobbed, and exclaimed, "I was always
working, and toiling, and starving myself to get home. I
thought if I could only get home I should be all right; but I wasn't
"Don't fret yourself, just now," said the poor widow, "we
must see what can be done in the morning ―
perhaps it was a mistake."
"It's not a mistake," he replied, passionately; "I tell you
he said I was a disgrace, and so I am; but since I got out of that
prison I have tried to do well, indeed I have, and I worked my
way home before the mast."
"Sir, I have heard nothing against you, excepting that you
ran away from home, and I don't want to hear anything. You're
young, you have most of your time before you, and if you repent and
do well, you will be forgiven, and folks about you will forget;
but," said the widow, "when I talked of a mistake, I meant that I
thought your father had made one in thinking he was best without you
when you had asked to be forgiven; depend on it, that by this time
he wishes he had not sent you away."
"I can't go to him again," said the young man.
"But I can, sir; I shall set off as soon as it's broad day,
and I'll warrant he will be glad to find that he can have you home
after all. Parents have very tender feelings. Your
father was in a passion at first, no doubt."
"If he means to insult me again as he did this evening
―" began the youth
"Sir, sir," said the widow, "do you mean to say that you
could not forgive his anger, if he could forgive what you did to
The youth hung his head. "You may try him if you will,
and say that I hope he will take me in. I did ask his pardon."
"Of course I shall try him, and don't you be afraid.
Its now nearly four o'clock. I am strong and hearty enough for
my age. I shall be over at Castle Casey by nine, for I shall
set off as soon as I have had something to eat."
"You are a good friend to me," said the young sailor, "and I
think you are right. He cannot well help forgiving me if you
go to him, and he is asked the second time; but when I asked him
what I was to do, he said I could work my way to Australia, and take
to sheep farming, anything, he said, so that he never saw me
"Well, we must not think of that, sir," interrupted the
widow. "What we have to think of, you and me, is, that he
"I said I was so destitute," continued the youth, "that I
could not do even that unless he would help me with a few pounds.
I have no clothes whatever but these that you see me in, and they
are almost in rags."
The first early sunbeams were beginning to shine into the
casement as the youth spoke, and the widow sat down to eat, saying
to him: "Keep up your spirits, sir, and believe nothing but good,
unless I come and tell it to you myself, which I shall not do,
please God. I know what the feelings of parents are."
"Ten pounds," continued the poor fellow, in a desponding
tone, "even ten pounds, if you could get it for me, would be enough
to enable me to earn my living. It would get me a good outfit,
and I could work my way before the mast, as he said."
The widow paused in her meal when she heard him say this;
"Perhaps he knows his father better than I do," she thought.
"What if he should deny to have any compassion, after all? But
I must not think of it it's enough to take away my strength; and I
shall want all I've got left after being up all night, and the
fright of seeing him faint before my eyes with misery and hunger.
I'll think, instead, of my poor Pamela, and that will make me sure
that this hard-hearted squire will feel as if he had a knife in the
only soft part of his heart, by the time I reach him. He'll be
glad enough I'll warrant, to forgive."
"You'll try to get me the ten pounds, anyhow," said the young
man, with wistful earnestness.
"La bless you, my dear," answered the widow, impatiently,
"for you talk so like a child that I must answer according, of
course I'll get you the ten pounds, if I get you nothing better.
I PROMISE YOU THAT."
She then finished her meal, dressed for her walk, and
directed the young sailor to go to bed and rest till her return,
which she thought might be about one o'clock in the day. "If I
am not in by that time," she said, "you can get up, sir, and eat
what you find in the cupboard." So saying, she shut the door
behind her, and stepped out into the sunshine of the early morning.
"It is a very strange thing," she thought, as she walked,
"that I should have felt that sort of wish to sit up; and there
cannot be a bit of doubt in the world, that it was in order that I
might go and ask the old squire to forgive Master Roger. I
feel as sure as possible that he will relent. And I wonder
where he would have been by this time, poor fellow, if he had not
seen by the candle that somebody was up."
So she walked on, brave and excited, and got over half the
distance before she sat down to rest. Then, after a short
pause, she proceeded again, cheerful, full of hope, and conning over
to herself the speech she intended to make to the father.
She rang at the bell of the back entrance, and was admitted.
What occurred in the house, however, she never told: she did not
even make it known whether she ever obtained an audience with the
old squire. All I know is, that about one o'clock she found
herself again on the outside of that door hungry, weary, and
Failure, complete and final, she had never anticipated; she
had been prepared for anger, for argument, for delay; she had even
made up her mind that the poor youth might have to endure a period
of probation before he was received and forgiven; but to have to go
back to him and confirm his own belief to tell him that he had
been right and she had been wrong was as surprising to her as it
was terrible. And why was it so surprising? Why, because
she had persuaded herself that she was sure to succeed, in
consequence of the impression which kept her waking, and kept the
candle alight that had drawn him to her door.
She had a tender conscience; and now, as she plodded on in
the noonday heat, a fear that she had been presumptuous, and had
mistaken her own wish and will for the leading of Providence, took
possession of her heart. She sat down in the shade of a tree,
spent with fatigue, and shed a few tears, and trembled a little,
wondering whether the young outcast was expecting her by that time,
and considering how she should break these evil tidings to him, and
what she should do.
As she rested she became calm, and considered within herself,
"Why do I make this ado? I've had a blessing bestowed on me.
I've been let to take in this poor boy, and do him good; perhaps
I've kept him from harm, or from going back into those bad ways that
I think he must have walked in. Is not that enough for me?
Why am I so shocked and disappointed, because God had not bestowed
this other blessing that I wanted for him?
"He never promised that Mr. Roger should be taken home
at my request. Perhaps to go back into that wicked house would
not be really a blessing for him; but how strange that his own flesh
and blood can turn from him, when my heart bleeds so for him for my
poor Pamela's sake."
After resting about half an hour, and during that time
deciding what to do, she got up and walked to the railway station,
which was a quarter of a mile from that place, and which would put
her down in the town about three miles beyond her cottage. In
this town was the savings bank. She always carried her book
about with her, and she meant to go to the bank and draw out her
Her heart beat with agitation as she walked to the little
station. "The way to look at this is, that I'm going to lend
it to the Lord," she said; and as she walked, she repeated over and
over again, "to lend it to the Lord."
Her spirits rose as she reached the station, and during the
short journey she felt excited, but happy. Her only fear was,
lest Mrs. Anderson might be in the town, and meet with her.
She felt a cowardly dread lest Mrs. Anderson should find out,
somehow, what she was going to do with the money; and though she
reflected within herself that it was her own, and she had a right to
do as she pleased with it, yet the light in which such an act would
appear to her friend the imprudence, as most people would consider
it, of giving away all she possessed, stared her in the face.
She longed, she desired, above all things, to do it; but, "Oh," she
thought, "that it was but done, and that no one but the Lord might
know of it!"
With stealthy steps and anxious looking about her, she went
through the streets of the town. It was market-day. She
met one or two acquaintances, and among others a farmer's wife, who
offered her a seat home in her cart. This she gladly accepted,
for she was to the last degree tired, and so hungry that she stepped
into a baker's shop which was opposite to the savings bank, and
spent one of the few pence she had left in buying a penny roll.
Then she walked a few minutes, eating the bread, and watching up and
down the street, till she could slip into the bank unperceived.
She accomplished this feat. She came out with ten pounds in
her pocket, and sought her friend, the farmer's wife, who was just
ready to start homewards. The slow drive home, under the shade
of wayside trees, was very pleasant. She felt as light-hearted
as if some great good had happened to her.
"I've got something in my pocket that I'm going to lend to
the Lord," she thought. "I hope He'll accept of it. I
hope I shall not find, when I get home, that it is not wanted."
WHEN Mrs. Maclean
entered her door she found that something more was wanted of her
besides the ten pounds that she had so generously brought for the
poor young sailor. The fire was out, the curtain was drawn as
she had left it in the dawn of the morning, and he was lying on the
bed she had prepared for him in her little inner room, with dry
lips, glazed eyes, and a burning face.
She tried to rouse him to attention by talking of what a long
walk she had had, and then she hinted at disappointment, and want of
success; but he took scarcely any notice of her, and as soon as she
had eaten a little food, she was obliged to step out again to her
nearest neighbour for help. "He is a poor, destitute young
man, if ever there was one, and friendless, excepting that I am
willing to stand by him. So, I shall not tell my neighbour
whose son he is. It would make a great deal of talk, and might
get me into trouble." Such thoughts as these passed through
her mind as she walked; and when the neighbour had undertaken to let
her lad apply to the parish doctor on behalf of the poor wayfarer,
and also to sit up with him that night for the sake of a good
supper, the widow came home again, with no thought of doing
otherwise than nursing him through the illness that was coming on,
however severe it might be.
It was not very long nor very severe; yet, by the time he was
able to sit up again, and had sufficiently recovered his strength to
talk over his affairs with her, she had drawn out all that had
remained to her in the savings bank, for the ten pounds reserved for
his outfit and expenses she was determined not to touch.
When a man who is utterly destitute meets with a friend, it
is hard for him to reject the help that stands between him and ruin.
This young sailor, with all his faults, was not ungrateful; and he
sorely felt, also, that the poor widow, in taking him, and nursing
him, and proposing to him that he should take her earnings, was
laying him under an obligation such as he never might be able to
repay. She was old; and, even if he lived to reach his
destination, could he hope that she would live till he had scraped
together ten pounds?
The affair, however, ended as might have been expected.
The money was accepted; and, one dark, rainy morning, the young man,
decently clad, and fed, and recovered from his illness, took leave
of his benefactress, with deep gratitude and many promises that he
would try to do well.
After he was gone the widow cleaned her little house,
gathered her apples and sold them, and took her knitted stockings
home to the farmer's wife who had bespoken them. She had a
sort of fear in her mind, which she did not wish to turn into a
certainty; and as she did the work of her house and garden, she kept
saying to herself, "There, I can see well enough to do this thing
and that, and the other; what ails me, that I should fancy I can't
see to work?" At last, when all was done, she dressed hastily,
one sunny afternoon, and took up her little red work-box, intending
to darn her stockings.
"Somehow, I can't help thinking that there's a mistiness,"
she thought, while looking for her needles, "a sort of fog before
my eyes; but if I can thread my needle, I shall know that it's all
She had put on her spectacles. They did not seem to
make matters much better.
"Why, there are no needles in the book!" she exclaimed aloud.
"I could have declared that I had plenty. No needles!
But I know I had some; for Mr. Roger asked me for a few, and I got
out my old 'housewife' for him, and he took four."
As she spoke she moved her hand over the flannel in the
needle-book, and the points of needles pricked her. There were
several needles there, but she could not see them.
"It's rather sudden," she said gravely, to herself. "A
fortnight ago, when Mr. Roger first came, I'd only just begun to
remark that my eyesight was bad;" and she began slowly to roll up
her needle-case and put her little matters away in the box.
A few days after this, while Mrs. Anderson was waiting at
table, she said to Mr. Dixon, "Did you know, sir, that Mrs. Maclean
was in trouble about her eyes? She got a lift last market-day
into the town, and spoke to Dr. W., and he says she is likely to be
dark altogether, and he can do nothing for her at present."
"That looks as if she was threatened with cataract," observed
the young clergyman.
"I don't know, sir; but, though it's a misfortune, she is not
like many, she has saved money; and the young man who lodged with
her lately, and was ill, paid her well, no doubt, for her trouble.
He must be well off, for several people met him as he was going
away, and they said he was in excellent good clothes, and looked
almost like a gentleman."
"She spoke to me of him, when he was ill, as if he were a
poor, destitute young fellow," observed Mr. Dixon. "I fancied
that she had taken him in for charity."
"Charity!" exclaimed the housekeeper; "a lone widow, and a
poor woman, one that works for her bread in great measure, how
could she afford such a thing, sir?"
"She did not say that she got nothing for her trouble,"
answered the clergyman; "but I certainly acquired the notion
"I assure you, sir, that Mrs. Maclean is a very prudent,
saving woman," observed the housekeeper, warmly.
"Very," he replied; "I am sure of it. I sometimes
think, from what I have noticed, that she is one of those who are
prudent enough to lay up treasure in heaven."
"But, sir, you would not commend a person, surely, for
spending money in charity, and then coming upon charity herself."
"I don't see that it is such a very dreadful thing to come
upon charity," said the young clergyman carelessly. "People
risk it for all sorts of things; why not, then, in order that they
may be charitable themselves? Many people seem rather to like
it. No, I do not see that it is to be so much dreaded."
"Not when a woman has kept herself so respectable, sir, as
Mrs. Maclean has done, and her husband, a gentleman's butler, left
her thirteen pounds a year?"
"Not even then."
"Well, sir, you would if you were she, and you would if you
Mr. Dixon perhaps found this reply unanswerable, for he said
"People that take charity, sir, can never get it by itself.
They always have to take something else with it. They are like
the young man that borrowed a hundred pounds of a Jew, and the Jew
made him take thirty of it out in a four-post bed, and a second-hand
light-cart, and a mangle. Sometimes, what they have with the
charity is scolding, and sometimes good advice; but they never get
it neat. I've known a woman have to take such a quantity of
good advice with sixpence, that she said, 'Oh, if it were but greens
and potatoes, I could open shop again with it.' I've seen
advice given to that extent, with twopenny worth of oatmeal, that
the water cooled in the wash-tub before the woman had done listening
to it; but she was a religious woman, and she had that control over
herself, that she used no bad language, even when the visitor was
Mr. Dixon, on hearing this speech, laughed, and replied
pointedly, that he had never met with anything yet that, being worth
the having, could be had for nothing; and Mrs. Anderson was so keen
and quick of apprehension, that she instantly perceived some
reference to herself.
"Ay, indeed he is right," she thought afterwards, when she
had time to reflect on the matter. "Look at myself, now I give
him all my time, I scheme for his housekeeping, and look after his
interest, but I give him a world of clack besides, and I make him
put up with an amount of cleaning that is anything but pleasant to
him. No he doesn't get me for nothing, let alone my wages."
Sometimes a long period passes over us and we can scarcely
recall it afterwards; no events have marked it, and no changes have
divided it off into portions.
But no such period was in store for Mrs. Maclean. On
the contrary, she passed (during the ten months following the
departure of young Hillary), through several changes, both of mind
and estate; yet there were times when she felt both peaceful and
happy, though, at the end of those months, she could not distinguish
night from day, and was the inmate of a hospital.
There may have been moments during those dark months when she
half regretted having "lent" that would have made her comfortable,
and money, which enabled her to have a doctor at home to perform the
operation on her eyes, instead of taking a long journey, that she
might get aid at this hospital; but if there were, they must have
been few. Charity is truly its own reward, and Faith is quite
as much a joy as a duty. She felt as if the constant hope that
she had saved her young sailor from ruin was in itself a precious
return for what she had done. The last action which she had
done, and the last face she had seen clearly had been his, and she
said afterwards that her thoughts dwelt on those days continually.
Daylight and candle-light had become remote and exquisite things;
she remembered them best as she last saw them. She thought how
the candles burnt on that eventful night; how she drew back her thin
curtain and saw the new day; how she used to sit by young Roger,
knitting when he was ill; and how he used to watch the falling of
her ripe apples when he got better, and persuade her to go out and
pick them up for him from among the yellow leaves.
To those who looked on she seemed much to be pitied, for, as
she could do very little for herself, she was obliged to have a girl
to come in and cook her simple meals, and clean her cottage.
In order to meet this expense, she parted, first with all her
furniture excepting her bed and two chairs, and then with nearly all
her clothing. She could not see the change this produced in
her once well-plenished house, that was one comfort; and she found a
true friend in Mr. Dixon, that was another; for he came regularly to
see her three times a week, and many a pleasant discourse she had
with him. But Widow Maclean was now not so much respected as
she had been. It was discovered that she had no money.
This was all drawn out, and it did not appear how she had spent it.
She was silent on that point, which looked bad. Her best
things were all either sold or in the pawn-shop. Mrs. Anderson
herself, who had been one of her most constant friends and
champions, did not now know what to think of her. She bought
the widow's Sunday shawl of her, and made a better bargain for
herself on the occasion than she would have thought of doing if she
had not felt that she must have been deceived, somehow, as to the
former circumstances of her friend. She also administered
charity to her from Mr. Dixon, and likewise from herself. It
is noticeable that she bestowed largely with it the advice and the
insinuations which she had spoken of as being so unpleasant.
She even exceeded her own description, for she bestowed much with
Mr. Dixon's charity also. This she could hardly have regarded
as her duty. We must, therefore, consider that she looked on
it as a pleasure.
As for Mrs. Maclean, she took all meekly; and strange to say,
however worn and pinched her poor face looked, the easiest way to
call a look of contentment and peace into it was to make some
allusion to her savings.
So from comfort she came down to poverty, and then to
charity, and then she came down to the asking for it, and finally a
subscription had to be made to pay for her journey to the hospital.
At first, when she reached this dreaded place, having had to
part with Mr. Dixon, who had encouraged her, read with her, and
prayed with her, she was very low and apprehensive; but as the day
approached which was to decide whether she would ever see daylight
again, she became calm, and was able to put her trust in God.
The surgeons had done their best, but for several days no
light was to be admitted to the eyes; the case was still doubtful,
and they let her have so little food, and kept her so cold, that she
was very faint and feeble.
There was often a lady in the ward, a visitor, who spoke very
kindly to her, and to the other patients. She liked to hear
her voice, and learned to recognize her step. Sometimes a
gentleman came with her, whom she did not like so well, but she
could hardly tell why. He was extremely kind to the patients,
reading to them, and comforting them. He often sat by the
widow, and repeated to her any little piece of news concerning her
fellow sufferers that he thought might encourage her. By
degrees, therefore, she lost the first feeling of dislike that she
had felt towards him, and was sorry one day to hear him remark that
his fortnight for visiting the hospital was over, and that he should
not come again for some time.
While he still sat by her bed that day, and she felt very
weak and low, some one came in, who said in a clear voice, "Is there
any one in this room of the name of Maclean?"
"Yes," she answered faintly, "that is my name."
"Why, your name is written on your card M. Lane, widow,"
said the nurse, examining the card at the head of the bed; "why have
you let yourself be called Mrs. Lane?"
"What did it signify?" she answered. "I noticed that
they called me so, but I did not know why."
Then followed a discussion between the gentleman who had
spoken and the nurse. They said hers was a Scotch name, and
she wondered why they troubled themselves about it; they looked
again at her card, and said that perhaps the subscriber who had
recommended her had written it M'Lane, "for that," said one, "is how
she pronounces it, and it is very commonly spelt so in Scotland."
"I pronounce it as my husband did, of course," said the
widow, a little fretfully.
"Well, Mrs. Lane Mrs. Maclean, I mean a foreign letter
has been sent on here from some village; if it is for you, you will
know the name of the post town."
The widow mentioned it.
"You have come a long way for advice," said the gentleman;
"yes, the letter is certainly yours; so you lived seventy miles off.
Well, I hope it will prove that you have not come for nothing."
Saying this he took up one of her thin hands and put the letter into
it. "Perhaps you have a son at sea," he observed; "this is a
"No, sir, I have not," said the widow; "but true it is that
there is a lad at sea who is very dear to me." She took the
letter in her hand and felt it all over with eager interest.
She had heard that other gentleman, the visiting gentleman, who
still sat by her bed, reading letters in a low voice for the
patients, and her desire to know what was in this one overcame her
wish to keep its contents to herself; so she asked him to read it.
The nurse withdrew; he took the letter from her hand; she
noticed that his trembled and was very cold, and when he began to
read his voice was so husky that for the moment she thought more of
that than of the reading. But she soon gathered that a
misfortune had occurred, for the letter was from a shipmate of poor
Roger Hillary, and was to tell her that he was dead. She was
too much agitated to notice how the brief story was told, but the
manner in which the letter was read it was impossible not to notice,
for the reader had the greatest difficulty possible in getting
through with his task.
Yes, the young man was dead; there was no doubt of that; but
his shipmate in a rough way gave an excellent account of him, and
said that his only sorrow was that he was not to live to repay her,
for she had been the saving of him, and he owed her everything.
Some simple expressions concerning his faith and hope then followed,
and finally the exact latitude and longitude of the spot in which
his body had been committed to the deep.
A long, dead silence followed, then the nurse came near and
said, "If you're in trouble, ma'am, give it words: I have had losses
myself, and can feel for you."
"I want my letter," said the poor woman; and the cold
trembling hand put it into hers it was so very cold and it
trembled so much, that even in the moment of her sorrow her
observation was attracted. The gentleman got up silently and
went away, and when she became calmer she asked the nurse his name.
The nurse's sympathy had become slight now she knew that this
young sailor was no relation to her patient, only an acquaintance
whom she had nursed when he was ill. "Well, to be sure," she
answered; "you seem to take as little notice what other people are
called, as of what you're called yourself. Why, that's Mr.
Smith, to be sure, our Mr. Smith; he's a life governor; he gave
fifty pounds this spring to the hospital. It's seldom, indeed,
that he goes away without paying some sort of a compliment to the
nurses on the place being so clean, and the patients being well
nursed; but to-day he looked ill, and he is ill, I'm sure, or
something has put him out."
"I wish I could see him," thought the widow; "he showed as
much feeling about Mr. Roger as if he'd been his brother."
And then she got the nurse to read over again the precious
letter, and though she was sad, it did seem such a blessed thing
that she should have been instrumental in saving the young man from
going back to evil ways, as she was then told was the case; such a
blessed thing that her poor advice should have been taken, and her
humble prayers answered for him, that though this world was then
quite dark to her, a light seemed to break in her heart. "It's
true enough," she thought; "I lent to the Lord, and in what a
blessed way I am paid it, and over-paid it again."
"Mrs. Maclean," said the nurse, the next day, "Mr Smith has
sent to know how you feel yourself, and he would have come himself,
only he's ill, and he's sent you these grapes."
The nurse spoke with a certain respect of manner, and the
patient listened with surprise. A suitable message was
returned, and the next day Mr. Smith came himself.
"How do you feel to-day?" he inquired.
The widow expressed herself much better, said the doctors
gave a very good account of her, and returned him may thanks for his
"Don't mention it," he replied, with some perturbation.
"My wife has sent you some new-laid eggs. She would have come
herself, but she is ill; in short, she was confined three days ago.
We have a large family; this is our eighth, our eighth living, I
He said this rather hurriedly, and the widow listened with
such surprise that she could not keep her thoughts to herself.
"Sir," she exclaimed, "did you know young Mr. Roger Hillary?"
He paused for a moment, then he answered, "I did not know
"Then what does it all mean?" thought the widow; but she did
not venture to ask any more questions, though she remained perfectly
certain that somehow or other this Mr. Smith must be connected with
the Hillary family. "I only wish I could see him," she
thought. And one day, one happy day, she did see him.
The operation was declared to be successful; light came again to her
eyes, and with one of them she could see as well as ever. To
describe her rapture would be impossible. She quite forgot Mr.
Smith; she even forgot for several days to observe that he did not
come to see her; and she forgot how much she had been surprised at
his kindness, when one day a tall dark man came and stood before
her, and the nurse said it was Mr. Smith.
"I'm told that you are to leave the hospital tomorrow," he
said, "and I'm going I'm thinking of taking you to-day for a short
"He doesn't look more than forty," thought Mrs. Maclean, "or
I should think he might be a brother of poor Mrs. Hillary's; he is
dark, and not so very unlike what she was."
She put on her bonnet, and he took her down stairs and got
into a fly, and drove away with her.
It was not till after they had reached a pretty house some
way out of the town, and he had taken her into a well furnished room
and shut the door, that she found the continued silence intolerable,
and broke it by saying:
"Well, sir, what is it that you have to say to me?"
"In the first place," he answered, "I ask your pardon."
And, as he spoke, he took off his hat and came nearer.
"Richard!" exclaimed the widow; "is this you?"
"Some men," said he, "would think that having done all they
could to make reparation to the woman they had injured, and having
brought her to a good home where nobody knew, or could know anything
against her, and having been true to her these fifteen years, there
was no occasion to ask forgiveness; that is not my feeling. I
humbly ask forgiveness of you."
"Oh, my Pamela!" exclaimed the widow; "Oh my dear, dear
child!" And in the confusion of the moment, she knew not what
to think or what to do.
"My wife," proceeded the visiting gentleman, "my wife, mind,
is very anxious to see you. I did not know you till I heard
your name, and then I recognized you directly."
The widow trembled, put her hands before her eyes, and there
flashed into her mind a never-forgotten scene of misery that had
chastened her for many long years. She saw again her beautiful
child at her feet, and heard the poor father making moan over her.
"I don't understand," she said, pitifully. "Shall I see
my poor child again? Oh, I cannot understand."
"I was a coward," said the visiting gentleman, bitterly;
"that is what you have to understand. I was afraid of my
uncle; he wanted me to marry above me, as he was so rich, and she
was beneath me in some measure, though you had educated her well.
"I thought he would never forgive me; but when she ran away,
poor child, and hid herself from us, I was to the full as much to be
pitied as she was. I had never meant that it should come to
that. I got into a melancholy way, as you know, and after your
poor husband's death and your going away I told my uncle all.
I said I must find her and marry her, and he was in a great rage,
and desired me to choose between him and her, and I did. I
felt that I cared very little, with that thorn in my heart, about
his money, or the shop, or the grocery business, and I went off, and
he told me I should see him no more. It does not matter now to
tell you how and where I found her. I did find her, thank God,
at last; she was in the very depths of poverty; and if any man or
woman in this world ever repented, it was ourselves. We had
made a bad beginning, and spoilt our lives for nothing at all; but
we met over a little coffin, and I took her to church before it was
laid in the ground. It was a miserable wedding for me, and she
cried all the time. I had lost my best friend, she had lost
all hers, what more could have happened if I had married like better
"We struggled on for three years and then went to Canada; but
I was barely maintaining my family when I got a letter to say that
my uncle was dead and had left me everything. I sold the
business and came here, far from any one that ever knew us; we have
been settled five years, and you are not to think that we have made
no efforts to find you, for we have."
"Only let me see my child," said the widow, "and I thankfully
"He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that
which he heath given will he pay to him again." Here we have a
direct assertion, and a most singular challenge to the world.
I wonder whether we believe that assertion. Let us
consider. We certainly believe that a loving, charitable
spirit is pleasing to God, and that upon those who cultivate it He
bestows a blessing. Is that enough?
It is not enough if we have a right to believe and expect
something more. Let us consider further. It would not be
right to bestow one's goods as loans to the Lord, and expect to have
them paid back in kind that is agreed.
It would not be right to expect in every case to know how
the loan was returned, and whether it was to be returned in this
world or in the next. That is also agreed
But are we agreed as to whether this woman's case was
exceptional, or what might naturally have been expected under the
circumstances? This question is less easy to answer; we have
not many recorded instances of such joyful, conscious lending by one
who all the time was perfectly content to make the loan a gift.
And we have no experience of our own to go by. We cannot say
what the GREAT ACCEPTOR of the loan would do
in such a case, for we never tried. I never tried, and you