The Wild-Duck Shooter.
THE charity of
the rich is much to be commended, but how beautiful is the charity
of the poor!
Call to mind the coldest day you ever experienced.
Think of the bitter wind and driving snow; think how you shook and
shivered—how the sharp white particles were driven up against your
face—how, within doors, the carpets were lifted like billows along
the floors, the wind howled and moaned in the chimneys, windows
creaked, doors rattled, and every now and then heavy lumps of snow
came thundering down with a dull weight from the roof.
Now, hear my story.
In one of the broad, open plains of Lincolnshire, there is a
long, reedy sheet of water, a favourite resort of wild ducks.
At its northern extremity stand two mud cottages, old, and out of
One bitter, bitter night, when the snow lay three feet deep
on the ground, and a cutting east wind was driving it about, and
whistling in the dry frozen reeds by the water's edge, and swinging
the bare willow trees till their branches swept the ice, an old
woman sat spinning in one of these cottages before a moderately
cheerful fire. Her kettle was singing on the coals; she had a
reed-candle, or home-made rushlight on her table, but the full moon
shone in, and was the brighter light of the two. These two
cottages were far from any road, or any other habitation; the old
woman was, therefore, surprised, as she sat drawing out her thread,
and crooning an old north-country song, to hear a sudden knock at
It was loud and impatient, not like the knock of her
neighbours in the other cottage; but the door was bolted, and the
old woman rose, and shuffling to the window, looked out, and saw a
shivering figure, apparently that of a youth.
"Trampers!" said the old woman, sententiously, "tramping folk
be not wanted here;" so saying, she went back to the fire without
deigning to answer the door.
The youth, upon this, tried the door and called to her to beg
admittance. She heard him rap the snow from his shoes against
her lintel, and again knock as if he thought she was deaf, and he
should gain admittance if he could only make her hear.
The old woman, surprised at his audacity, went to the
casement, and, with all pride of possession, opened it and inquired
"Good woman," the stranger began, "I only want a seat at your
"Nay," said the old woman, giving effect to her words by her
uncouth dialogue, "thoul't get no shelter here; I've nought to give
to beggars—a dirty, wet critter," she continued, wrathfully,
slamming to the window, "it's a wonder where he found any water,
too, seeing it freezes so hard, a body can get none for the kettle,
saving what's broken up with a hatchet."
On this the beggar turned hastily away.
And at this point in his narrative, the person who told it me
stopped and said, "Do you think the old woman was very much to
"She might have acted more kindly," I replied; "but why do
"Because," said he, "I have heard her conduct so much
reflected on by some who would have thought nothing of it if it had
not been for the consequences."
"She might have turned him away less roughly," I observed.
"That is true," he answered; "but, in any case, I think,
though we might give them food or money, we should hardly invite
beggars in to sit by the fire."
"Certainly not," I replied; "and this woman could not tell
that the beggar was honest."
"No," said he, "but I must go on with my narrative.—The
stranger turned very hastily from her door, and waded through the
deep snow towards the other cottage. The bitter wind helped to
drive him towards it. It looked no less poor than the first;
and, when he had tried the door, found it bolted, and knocked twice
without attracting attention, his heart sank within him. His
hand was so numbed with cold, that he had made scarcely any noise;
he tried again.
A rush candle was burning within, and a matronly-looking
woman sat before the fire. She held an infant in her arms, and
had dropped asleep; but his third knock roused her, and, wrapping
her apron round the child, she opened the door a very little way and
demanded what he wanted.
"Good woman," the youth began, "I have had the misfortune to
fall in the water this bitter night, and I am so numbed that I can
The woman gave him a sudden, earnest look, and then sighed.
"Come in," she said; "thou art so nigh the size of my Jem, I
thought at first it was him come home from sea."
The youth stepped across the threshold, trembling with cold
and wet; and no wonder, for his clothes were completely encased in
wet mud, and the water dripped from them with every step he took on
the sanded floor.
"Thou art in a sorry plight," said the woman, "and it be two
miles to the nighest housen; come and kneel down afore the fire; thy
teeth chatter so pitifully, I can scarce bear to hear them."
She looked at him more attentively, and saw that he was a
mere boy, not more than sixteen years of age. Her motherly
heart was touched for him. "Art hungry?" she asked, turning to
the table; "thou art wet to the skin. What hast been doing?"
"Shooting wild ducks," said the boy.
"Oh!" said his hostess, "thou art one of the keepers' boys,
then, I reckon?"
He followed the direction of her eyes, and saw two portions
of bread set upon the table, with a small piece of bacon upon each.
"My master be very late," she observed, for charity did not
make her use elegant language, and by her master she meant her
husband; "but thou art welcome to my bit and sup, for I was waiting
for him; maybe it will put a little warmth in thee to eat and
drink;" so saying, she took up a mug of beer from the hearth, and
pushed it towards him, with her share of the supper.
"Thank you," said the boy, "but I am so wet I am making quite
a pool before your fire with the drippings from my clothes."
"Ay, thou art wet, indeed," said the woman, and, rising
again, she went to an old box in which she began to search, and
presently came to the fire with a perfectly clean checked shirt in
her hand, and a tolerably good suit of clothes.
"There," said she, showing them with no small pride, "these
be my master's Sunday clothes, and if thou wilt be very careful
of them, I'll let thee wear them till thine be dry." She
then explained that she was going to put her "bairn" to bed, and
proceeded up a ladder into the room above, leaving the boy to array
himself in these respectable and desirable garments.
When she came down her guest had dressed himself in the
labourer's clothes; he had had time to warm himself, and he was
eating and drinking with hungry relish. He had thrown his
muddy clothes in a heap upon the floor, and, as she proceeded to
lift them up, she said, "Ah! lad, lad, I doubt thy head has been
under water; thy poor mother would have been sorely frightened if
she could have seen thee awhile ago."
"Yes," said the boy; and, in imagination, the cottage dame
saw this said mother, a care-worn, hard-working creature like
herself; while the youthful guest saw, in imagination, a beautiful
and courtly lady; and both saw the same love, the same anxiety, the
same terror at sight of a lonely boy struggling in the moonlight
through breaking ice, with no one to help him, catching at the
frozen reeds, and then creeping up, shivering and benumbed, to a
But even as she stooped the woman forgot her imagination, for
she had taken a waistcoat into her hands, such as had never passed
between them before; a gold pencil-case dropped from the pocket,
and, on the floor, among a heap of mud that covered the outer
garments, lay a white shirt sleeve, so white, indeed, and fine, that
she thought it could hardly be worn but by a squire!
She glanced from the clothes to the owner. He had
thrown down his cap, and his fair, curly hair, and broad forehead,
convinced her that he was of gentle birth; but while she hesitated
to sit down, he set a chair for her, and said, with boyish
frankness, "I say, what a lonely place this is; if you had not let
me in, the water would have all frozen on me before I reached home.
Catch me duck-shooting again by myself!"
"It's very cold sport that, sir," said the woman. The
young gentleman assented most readily, and asked if he might stir
"And welcome, sir," said the woman. She felt a
curiosity to know who he was, and he partly satisfied her by
remarking that he was staying at Deen Hall, a house about five miles
off, adding that, in the morning, he had broken a hole in the ice
very near the decoy, but it had iced over so fast, that in the dusk
he had missed it and fallen in, for it would not bear him. He
had made some landmarks, and taken every proper precaution, but he
supposed the sport had excited him so much that, in the moonlight,
he had passed them by.
He then told her of his attempt to get shelter in the other
"Sir," said the woman, "if you had said you were a
The boy laughed. "I don't think I knew it, my good
woman," he replied, "my senses were so benumbed; for I was some time
struggling at the water's edge among the broken ice, and then I
believe I was nearly an hour creeping up to your cottage door.
I remember it all rather indistinctly, but as soon as I had felt the
fire, and drank the warm beer, I was a different creature."
While they still talked the husband came in, and, while he
was eating his supper, they agreed that he should walk to Deen Hall,
and let its inmates know of the gentleman's safety; and when he was
gone they made up the fire with all the coal that remained to that
poor household, and the woman crept up to bed and left her guest to
lie down and rest before it.
In the grey of dawn the labourer returned, with a servant
leading a horse, and bringing a fresh suit of clothes.
The young gentleman took his leave with many thanks, slipping
three half-crowns into the woman's hand, probably all the money he
had about him. And I must not forget to mention that he kissed
the baby, for when she tells the story, the mother always adverts to
that circumstance with great pride, adding, that her child being as
"clean as wax, was quite fit to be kissed by anybody!"
"Missis," said her husband, as they stood together in the
doorway, looking after their guest, "who dost think that be?"
"I don't know," answered the missis.
"Then I'll just tell thee, that be young Lord W—; so thou
mayest be a proud woman, thou sits and talks with lords, and asks
them in to supper—ha, ha! So saying, her master shouldered his
spade and went his way, leaving her clinking the three half-crowns
in her hand, and considering what she should do with them. Her
neighbour from the other cottage presently stepped in, and when she
heard the tale and saw the money, her heart was ready to break with
envy and jealousy. "Oh! to think that good luck should have
come to her door, and she should have been so foolish as to turn it
away. Seven shillings and sixpence for a morsel of food and a
night's shelter; why, it was nearly a week's wages!"
So there, as they both supposed, the matter ended, and the
next week the frost was sharper than ever. Sheep were frozen
in the fenny fields, and poultry on their perches, but the good
woman had walked to the nearest town and bought a blanket. It
was a welcome addition to their bed-covering, and it was many a long
year since they had been so comfortable.
But it chanced, one day at noon, that, looking out at her
casement, she spied three young gentlemen skating along the ice
towards her cottage. They sprang on to the bank, took off
their skates, and made for her door. The young nobleman
informed her that he had had such a severe cold he could not come
and see her before. "He spoke as free and pleasantly," she
observed, in telling the story, "as if I had been a lady, and no
less! and then he brought a parcel out of his pocket, and 'I've been
over to B—,' he says, 'and bought you a book for a keepsake, and I
hope you will accept it.' And then they all talked as pretty
as could be for a matter of ten minutes, and went away. So I
waited till my master came home, and we opened the parcel, and there
was a fine Bible inside, all over gold and red morocco, and my name
and his name written inside; and, bless him! a ten-pound note
doubled down over the names. I'm sure, when I thought he was a
poor forlorn creature, he was kindly welcome. So my master
laid out part of the money in tools, and we rented a garden, and he
goes over on market days to sell what we grow; so now, thank God, we
want for nothing."
This is how she generally concludes the little history, never
failing to add that the young lord kissed her baby.
"But," said my friend, "I have not told you what I thought
the best part of the anecdote. When this poor Christian woman
was asked what had induced her to take in a perfect stranger, and
trust him with the best clothing her house afforded, she answered
simply, "Well, I saw him shivering and shaking, so I thought 'thou
shalt come in here for the sake of Him that had not where to lay His
Now I think we must all have read many times of such rewards
following upon little acts of kindness. Hundreds of tales are
founded on such incidents, but, in real life, they are not common.
Poetical justice is not the kind of justice that generally comes
about in the order of God's providence. We ought not to expect
such; and woeful, indeed, must be the disappointment of those who do
kind actions in the hope of receiving it.
The old woman in the other cottage may open cottage door
every night of her future life to some forlorn beggar, but it is all
but certain that she will never open it to a nobleman in disguise!
Therefore, let neither man, woman, nor child found false hopes upon
this story; for, let them entertain as many beggars as they will,
they need not expect that they have gold pencil-cases in their
pockets—Unless they stole them.
These stories are, as I said, very common, and their moral is
sufficiently obvious; it is, "Do good, and you shall have your
reward." I would not quarrel with the maxim, but I should like
to see it differently applied. I think it arises from a
feeling which has done harm rather than good. We are, indeed,
quite at liberty to use the Scriptural maxim: "He that watereth
shall be watered also himself," but then, we should give the term "watereth"
"its Scriptural sense—an extended and beautiful sense.
The act of charity is often highly valued, while the motive,
which alone can make it acceptable, is overlooked and forgotten; it
is not hope that should prompt it, but gratitude. Not
many, even of the Lord's people, can always say in simplicity, "I
did it for the sake of, Him that had not where to lay His head."
We have strangely reversed the order of things. We
sometimes act as if our feeling was, "Let us do good and give, that
God, who loveth a cheerful giver, may be good to us;" but our
feeling should be, "Christ has died, let us do good, for His sake,
to His poor brethren, as an evidence that we are grateful for His
Let us do good, not to receive more good in return, but as an
evidence of gratitude for what has been already bestowed. In
few words, let it be "all for love, and nothing for reward."
I Have a Right.
WE, as a nation,
are remarkably fond of talking about our rights. The
expression, "I have a right," is constantly in our mouths.
This is one reason, among some others, why it is fortunate for us
that we speak English, since this favourite phrase in more than one
continental tongue has no precise equivalent.
Whether the nation's phrase grew out of the nation's
character, or whether the happy possession of such a phrase has
helped to mould that character, it is scarcely now worth while to
inquire. Certain it is that those generations which make
proverbs, make thereby laws which govern their children's children,
and thus, perhaps, it comes to pass that this neat, independent,
Anglo-Saxon phrase helps to get and keep for us the very rights it
tells of. For, as under some governments it is true that the
dearest and most inalienable rights of the race go by the name of
privilege, indulgence, or immunity, a concession, and not an
inheritance; a gift, and not a birthright; while ancient rights, in
our sense of this word, merge into mere privileges held at the
ruler's will, and having been once called privileges, may be
exchanged by him for other privileges, which may amount to no more
than the sight of a glittering show; so in our case it is true that
privileges have a constant tendency to merge into rights. Let
any man grant his neighbours the privilege of walking through his
fields, his park, or his grounds, and then see how soon it will be
said that they have a right to traverse them; and in fact very soon
they will have a right by the law of the land; for, to prove the
right, they need only show that they have enjoyed the privilege
"time out of mind." And then, again, Right is very
unfair to his cousin Privilege, for, by the laws of England,
sixty years constitute "time out of mind."
By taking the trouble to investigate, any person may find
many parallel cases, and so we keep the path of liberty. First
we got that path as a sort of privilege which was winked at; then we
made out that we had a right to it! next we proved that it wanted
widening, and then we paved it handsomely, made a king's highway of
it, and took pains to have it constantly in repair.
Now, it being an acknowledged thing, my dear friends, that we
have rights, and that we like to have these facts well known to all
whom it may concern—how glad you will be if I can point out to you
certain rights which some of you have scarcely considered at all.
I have met with numbers of worshipful old gentlemen, industrious
young workmen, and women of all degrees, who knew well how to use
our favourite phrase in its common vulgar sense; but I knew a
worshipful old baker, in an old country town, who used it oftener
than any of them. To hear him hold forth about his rights did
one's heart good, and made one proud of one's country.
Everybody else's rights appeared flat and tame compared with his,
and the best of it was, that no one was ever heard to dispute them.
Dear old man, he is dead now, but some of his rights survive
him. I was on my way home to the neighbourhood of that little
country town wherein, for so many years, he might have been seen on
a summer evening, standing in his shop door, and exercising the
rights he loved, when it so happened that I heard some of my
countrymen also discoursing about their rights, and the more they
talked, the more petty and insignificant seemed their rights
compared with those of Mr. Bryce, the baker.
We took our tickets at the London terminus of the Great
Northern Railway, and entered an empty carriage; in a corner seat,
however, a gentleman's great-coat was lying; presently a lady got
in, and now the two vacant seats were, it so happened, as far as
The next arrivals were another lady with a little girl about
four years old. Without any hesitation she took up the coat,
and placing it in another corner seat, set her child in the division
Had she a right to do this? you inquire. Certainly not;
and she was soon reminded of that fact, for just at the last minute
a calm and rather supercilious-looking young man entered, glanced
coldly at her and said, "I must trouble you, madam, for that seat; I
laid my coat on it some time ago, and also turned the cushion; I
really must request you to leave it, as I have a right to it."
He laid as strong an emphasis on the must as if to turn her
out was a stringent duty. Perhaps she thought so, for as she
glanced, in rising, at the child, she said, with a smile at the
youth, who was quite young enough to be her son, "Certainly, you
have an undoubted right to this seat;" but then added, "but I
suppose no one would have disputed your right to give it up to me if
you had chosen."
Her easy self-possession, and perhaps her remark, made him
look a little awkward, but, as the lady rose, my brother changed
places with the child, and thus they still sat together; and while
the youth settled himself in the place he had a right to, our train
set off with one of those thrice horrible wavering and querulous
screeches of which the Great Northern has a monopoly.
While we went through the first tunnel, rending the air all
the time with terrific shrieks, the little girl held tightly by her
mother's hand, and two large tears rolled down her rosy face.
"We shall soon be at Hornsey," said her mother, and accordingly in a
few minutes we stopped, and while the lady and child disappeared
from our view, the owner of the seat ejaculated, "Cool!" and then
looking round the carriage, he continued, as appealing to those who
were sure to agree with him—When a man has a right to a thing, why,
he has a right; but to have a right to waive a right, is a dodge
that a man wouldn't expect to be told of."
This most lucid speech he closed with a general smile, and we
set off again with another shriek, longer and shriller than the
After an hour's travelling we were deserted by all our
fellow-passengers, and seemed to be waiting a very long time at a
little country station. At length two old gentlemen entered,
and, as the railway man opened the door for them, I said to him,
"Can you tell me why we are detained here so long?"
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, "there's an excursion train due
directly, and we're shunted off the line to let it pass."
"Horrid bore!" said one old gentleman.
"Disgraceful shame!" said the other; "but don't let that make
you uneasy, young lady," he added, politely addressing me,
"'shunted' means nothing dangerous."
I was about to ask what it did mean, when, with a whiz, and a
great noise of cheering, the excursion train shot past us,
displaying a long, long succession of second and third-class
carriages, every window garnished with pale faces of men and women,
besides numbers of delicate-looking children.
"Disgraceful shame!" repeated the stoutest of the old
gentlemen, "here's our train twenty minutes late, twenty minutes,
sir, by the clock."
"I should think," said my brother, "that this is not a
grievance of very frequent occurrence—mail trains are not often
obliged to give way to the convenience of the excursionists; but we
were behind time when we got up to this station, and as we must stop
a quarter of an hour shortly, we should have very much detained that
train if it had been on the same line, and behind us."
"Well, I can't make it out," was the reply; "and what does
their being detained matter to me; I paid for my ticket, and I've a
right to be taken on."
"Certainly," said the other; "no man has a right to interfere
with my business for the sake of his pleasure—such new-fangled
notions!—What's the good of a day's pleasure to the working
"They have it so seldom," my brother suggested, "that they
have plenty of time to consider that question between one day's
pleasure and the next."
"Horrid bore, these excursion trains!" repeated the first
speaker, "filling the country with holiday folk; what do they want
with holidays—much better stop at home, and work, and earn a little
more. What's the good of sending out a swarm of pale-faced,
knock-knee'd London artisans, and gaping children, that don't know a
kite from a jackdaw? If you must give 'em a treat, let it be a
good dinner. Country air, indeed! I don't find
London unhealthy; and I spend three or four months in it every
"To be sure," echoed his companion, "these London clergy and
ministers ought to know better than to spread such sentimental
nonsense among the people—duty comes before pleasure, doesn't it?
Why, a man had the assurance to write to me—a perfect stranger—to
know whether I'd open my park for a shoal of his Cockney
parishioners to dine and drink tea in! He knew it was closed,
forsooth, but he hoped for once, and in the cause of philanthropy,
I'd open it. I should like to know where my young coveys would
be when every inch in my wood had been overrun, and all the bracken
trod down in the cause of philanthropy? No, I wrote him a
piece of my mind―I said, 'Rev. Sir,
I do not fence and guard my grounds that paupers may make a
playground of them; and, though your request makes me question your
good taste a little, I trust to your good sense not to render your
people liable to be taken up as trespassers. I have a right to
prosecute all trespassers in my grounds, and, therefore, I advise
you to keep your people clear of them.'"
"And very proper, too," replied the other; there are plenty
of people that will receive them; there's your neighbour, Sir
Edward, who's happy and proud to entertain as many as they like to
pour into his domain."
Upon this they both laughed, as it appeared, in pity of the
said Sir Edward. "Well, well, every man has a right to his own
opinion." (N.B., is that a fact?) "Sir Edward wanted me, the
other day, to subscribe to some new baths and wash-houses. 'My
good fellow,' I said, 'when all the paupers in London can earn their
own living, it will be time enough to talk of washing their faces:
but for goodness' sake let 'em earn dinners before you offer 'em
Windsor soap, and hats before you find 'em pomatum.'"
"And may I know what Sir Edward said in reply?" I enquired,
addressing the old gentleman.
He seemed to consider. "Well," he said, after a puzzled
pause, "it was something of this sort—something about the decencies
of life being striven for with better heart, if a few of its
amenities were within reach."
This reminded me of a poor woman who lived in a particularly
dirty cottage, near my father's house, in the country. I one
day tapped at her door, and she opened it in a gown all spotted with
white-wash. "What! cleaning, Mrs. Matts?" I exclaimed in
surprise. "Why yes, miss," she replied, "for my husband's
brother has just been up from London, where he works, to see us, and
brought us a beautiful pictur of the Queen, all in a gilt
frame, miss; and when he'd hung it up, it made the walls look so
shocking dirty, that I couldn't abear the sight of 'em, so I'm
cleaning, you see."
But enough has been said about the rights of other people;
let us now turn to Mr. Bryce, the baker.
Bryce was working for a baker in the village near which my
grandfather lived. His master died suddenly, leaving a widow
and nine children. Bryce was an enterprising young man, and
had been thinking of setting up for himself. My grandfather,
however, heard that after his master's death he gave up this wish,
and continued to work at his former wages, trying to keep the
business together for the widow. Happening to meet him, he
asked him if this report were true?
"Why, yes, sir," said Bryce; "you see nobody else would
manage everything for her without a share of the profits; and nine
children—what a tug they are! so as I have nobody belonging to
me—nobody that has any claim on me—"
"But I thought you wanted to set up for yourself?"
"And so I did, sir; and if I'd a wife and family, I'd make a
push to get on for their sakes,—but I've none; and so, as I can live
on what I get, and hurt nobody by it, 'I have a right' to
help her, poor soul, as I've a mind to."
Soon after this the widow took to dressmaking, and did so
well that she wanted no help from Bryce, who now set up for himself,
and borrowed a sum of money from my grandfather to begin with.
At first he was so poor, and the weekly profits were so small, that
he requested my grandfather to receive the trifle of interest
monthly, and for the first two months he said it "completely cleared
him out" to pay it. My grandfather was, therefore, rather
surprised one Saturday evening, as he sauntered down the village
street, to see four decrepit old people hobbling down the steps of
his shop, each carrying a good-sized loaf, and loudly praising, the
generosity of Mr. Bryce. The sun was just setting, and cast a
ruddy glow on the young bakers face as he stood leaning against the
post of his door, but he started with some confusion when he saw my
grandfather, and hastily asked him to enter his shop. "I
reckon you are surprised, sir," he said, "to see me giving away
bread before I've paid my debt; but just look round, sir.
Those four loaves were all I had left, except what I can eat myself,
and they were stale; so think what they'd have been by Monday
"I don't wish to interfere with your charities," said my
"But, sir," said Bryce, "I want you to see that I'm as eager
to pay off that money as I can be but people won't buy stale
bread—they won't, indeed; and so I thought I had a right to
give away those four loaves, being they were left upon my hands."
"I think so too," said my grandfather, who was then quite a
young man, "and I shall think so next Saturday and the Saturday
"Thank you, sir, I'm sure," said the baker.
In course of time the debt was paid, though almost every
Saturday those old people hobbled from the door. And now Mr.
Bryce's rights were found to increase with his business and enlarge
with his family.
First he had only a right to give away the stale
loaves, "being he was in debt;" then, he had a right to give
away all that was left, "being he was out of debt." While he
was single, he had a right to bake dinners for nothing,
"being he had no family to save for." When he was married
he had a right to consider the poor, "being, as he was, so
prosperous as to have enough for his own, and something over."
When he had ten children, business still increasing, he found out
that he had a right to adopt his wife's little niece, "for,
bless you, sir," he observed, "I've such a lot of my own, that a
pudding that serves for ten shares serves for eleven just as well.
And, as for schooling, I wouldn't think of it, if my boys and girls
were not as good scholars as I'd wish to see; for I spare nothing
for their learning—but being they are, and money still in the till,
why, I've a right to let this little one share. In
fact, when a man has earned a jolly hot dinner for his family every
day, and seen 'em say their grace over it, he had a right to
give what they leave on't to the needy, especially if his wife's
And so Mr. Bryce, the baker, went on prospering, and finding
out new rights to keep pace with his prosperity. In due time
his many sons and daughters grew up; the latter married, and the
former were placed out in life. Finally, after a long and
happy life, Mr. Bryce, the baker, died, and in his will, after
leaving £500 apiece to all his sons and daughters, he concluded his
bequests with this characteristic sentence:—
"And, my dear children, by the blessing of God, having put
you out well in life, and left you all handsome, I feel (especially
as I have the hearty consent of you all) that I have a right to
leave the rest of my property, namely £700, for the use of those
that want it. First, the village of D—being very much in want
of good water, I leave £400, the estimated cost, for digging a well,
and making a pump over it, the same to be free to all; and the
interest of the remainder I leave to be spent in blankets every
winter, and given away to the most destitute widows and orphans in
So the well was dug, and the pump was made; and as long as
the village lasts, opposite his own shop door, the sparkling water
will gush out; the village mothers will gossip as they fill their
buckets there; the village fathers will cool their sunburnt
foreheads there, and the village children will put their ears to it
and listen to its purling down below; a witness to the rights, and a
proof of how his rights were used by Bryce the baker.
Can and Could.
ONCE upon a time,
Could went out to take a walk on a winterly morning; he was very
much out of spirits, and he was made more so by the necessity under
which he found himself to be frequently repeating his own name.
"Oh, if I could," and "Oh that I were rich and great, for then I
could do so and so."
About the tenth time that he said this, Can opened the door
of her small house, and set out on an errand. She went down a
back street and through a poor neighbourhood; she was not at all a
grand personage, not nearly so well dressed, or lodged, or educated,
as Could; and, in fact, was altogether more humble, both in her own
esteem and that of others. She opened her door and went down
the street, neither sauntering nor looking about her, for she was in
All on a sudden, however, this busy little Can stopped and
picked up a piece of orange peel. "A dangerous trick," she
observed, "to throw orange peel about, particularly in frosty
weather, and in such a crowded thoroughfare;" and she bustled on
till she overtook a tribe of little children who were scattering it
very freely; they had been bargaining for oranges at an open
fruit-stall, and were eating them as they went along. "Well,
it's little enough that I have in my power," thought Can, "but
certainly I can speak to these children, and try to persuade them to
leave off strewing orange peel."
Can stopped: "That's a pretty baby that you have in your arms," she
said to one of them, "how old is he?"
"He's fourteen months old," answered the small nurse, "and he
begins to walk; I teach him, he's my brother."
"Poor little fellow," said Can, "I hope you are kind to him; you
know if you were to let him fall he might never be able to walk any
"I never let him drop," replied the child, "I always take care of my
"And so do I;" "And so do I;" repeated other shrill voices, and two
more babies were thrust up for Can's inspection.
"But if you were to slip down yourselves on this hard pavement you
would be hurt, and the baby would be hurt in your arms. Look! how
can you be so careless as to throw all this peel about; don't you
know how slippery it is?"
"We always fling it down," said one.
"And I never slipped down but once on a piece," remarked another.
"But was not that once too often?"
"Yes; I grazed my arm very badly, and broke a cup that I was
"Well now, suppose you pick up all the peel you can find; and then
go down the streets round about and see how much you can get; and
to the one who finds most, when I come back, I shall give a penny."
So after making the children promise that they would never commit
this fault again, Can went on; and it is a remarkable circumstance,
that just at that very moment, as Could was walking in quite a
different part of London, he also came to a piece of orange peel
which was lying across his path.
"What a shame!" he said, as he passed on; "what a disgrace it is to
the city authorities, that this practice of sowing seed, which
springs up into broken bones, cannot be made a punishable offence;
there is never a winter that one or more accidents does not arise
from it. If I could only put it down, how glad I should be! If, for
instance, I could offer a bribe to people to abstain from it; or if
I could warn or punish; or if I could be placed in a position to
legislate for the suppression of this and similar bad habits. But,
alas my wishes rise far above my powers; my philanthropic
aspirations can find no—"
"By your leave," said a tall strong man, with a heavy coal sack on
Could, stepping aside, permitted the coal porter to pass him. "Yes,"
he continued, taking up his soliloquy where it had been interrupted,
"it is strange that so many anxious wishes for the welfare of his
species should be implanted in the breast of a man, who has no means
of gratifying them." The noise of a thundering fall, and the rushing
down as of a great shower of stones, made Could turn hastily round. Several people were running together, they stooped over something on
the ground, it was the porter; he had fallen on the pavement, and
the coals lay in heaps about his head; some people were clearing
them away, others were trying to raise him. Could advanced and saw
that the man was stunned, for he looked about him with a bewildered
expression, and talked incoherently. Could also observed, that a
piece of orange peel was adhering to the sole of his shoe.
"How sad!" said Could now, here is the bitter result of this abuse.
If I had been in authority I could have prevented this; how it
chafes the spirit to perceive, and be powerless. Poor fellow! he is
evidently stunned, and has a broken limb—he is lamed, perhaps, for
life. People are certainly very active and kind on these occasions:
they seem preparing to take him to the hospital. Such an accident as
this is enough to make a man wish he could be a king or a lawgiver;
what the poet says may be true enough:
"'Of all the ills that human kind endure,
Small is that part which laws can cause or cure.'
And yet I think I could have framed such a law, that this poor
fellow might now have been going about his work, instead of being
carried to languish for weeks on a sick-bed, while his poor family
are half starved, and must perhaps receive him at last a peevish,
broken-spirited cripple, a burden for life, instead of a support;
and all because of a pitiful piece of scattered orange peel!"
While Could was still moralising thus, he got into an omnibus, and
soon found himself drawing near one of the suburbs of London,
turning and winding among rows of new houses with heaps of bricks
before them, and the smell of mortar in their neighbourhood; then
among railway excavations and embankments, and at last among neat
villas and cottages standing in gardens, with here and there a field
behind them. Presently they passed a large building, and Could read
upon its front, "Temporary Home for Consumptive Patients." "An
excellent institution," he thought to himself; "here a poor man or
woman can have a few weeks of good air, good food, and good nursing,
the best things possible for setting them up, at least for a time. I
have often thought that these remedial institutions do more good, on
the whole, than mere hospitals; and, if I could afford it, I would
rather be the founder of one of them than of places with more
ambitious aims and names. It is sad to think how much consumption is
on the increase among the poor; bad air, and the heated places where
so many of them work, give these winterly blasts a terrible power
over them. But it is my lot to sigh over their troubles without
being able to soften them. A small competence, a fixed income, which
does no more than provide for my own wants, and procure those simple
comforts and relaxations which are necessary to me, is of all things
least favourable for the realising of my aspirations. I cannot
gratify my benevolent wishes, though their constant presence shows
how willingly I would if I could."
The omnibus stopped, and a man, in clean working clothes, inquired
whether there was an inside place.
"No, there is not one," said the conductor, and he looked in; most
of the passengers were women.
"Would any gentleman like to go outside?"
"Like!" thought Could, with a laugh; "who would like in such a wind
as this, so searching and wild? Thank Heaven, I never take cold; but
I don't want a blast like this to air the lining of my paletot, make
itself acquainted with the pattern of my handkerchief, and chill the
very shillings in my waistcoat pocket."
"Because," continued the conductor, "if any gentleman would like to
go outside, here is a person who has been ill, and would be very
glad of a place within."
He looked down, as he spoke, upon the man, whose clothes were not
well calculated to defend him against the weather, and who looked
sickly, and had a hollow cough. No answer came from within.
"I must get outside, then," said the man, "for I have not much time
for waiting," so he mounted, and the driver spread part of his own
wrapper over his legs, another passenger having lent a hand to help
"Thank you, sir," said the man; "I am but weak; but I'm sorry to
give you the trouble."
"No trouble, no trouble," answered the outside passenger; and he
muttered to himself, "You are not likely to trouble anyone long."
"That's where you come from, I suppose," said the driver, pointing
with his whip towards the house for consumptive patients.
"Yes," said the man, "I have been very ill indeed; but I'm better
now, wonderfully better. They say I may last for years with proper
attention, and they tell me to be very careful of weather; but what
can I do?"
"It's very cold and windy for you up here," said the driver.
The man shivered, but did not complain; he looked about him with a
bright glitter in his eyes, and every time he coughed he declared
that he was much better than he had been.
After telling you so much about Could, his kind wishes, projects,
and aspirations, I am almost ashamed to mention Can to you again;
however, I think I will venture, though her aspirations, poor little
thing, are very humble ones, and she scarcely knows what a project
So, you must know that having concluded most of her business, she
entered a shop to purchase something for her dinner; and, while she
waited to be served, a child entered, carrying a basket much too
heavy for her strength, and having a shawl folded up on her arm.
"What have you in your basket?" asked Can.
"Potatoes for dinner," said the child.
"It's very heavy for you," remarked Can, observing how she bent
under the weight of it.
"Mother's ill, and there's nobody to go to the shop but me," replied
the child, setting it down, and blowing her numbed fingers.
"No wonder you are cold," said Can; "why don't you put your shawl on
instead of carrying it so?"
"It's so big," said the child, in a piteous voice. "Mother put a pin
in it, and told me to hold it up; but I can't, the basket's so
heavy, and I trod on it and fell down."
"It's enough to give the child her death of cold," said the mistress
of the shop, "to go crawling home in this bitter wind, with nothing
on but that thin frock."
"Come," said Can, "I'm not very clever, but, at least, I know how to
tie a child's shawl so as not to throw her down." So she made the
little girl hold out her arms, and drawing the garment closely round
her, knotted it securely at her back. "Now, then," she said, having
inquired where she lived, "I am going your way, so I can help you to
carry your basket."
Can and the child then went out together, while Could, having
reached his comfortable home, sat down before the fire and made a
great many reflections; he made reflections on baths and
wash-houses, and wished he could advance their interests; he made
reflections on model prisons and penitentiaries, and wished he could
improve them; he made reflections on the progress of civilisation,
on the necessity for some better mode of educating the masses; he
thought of the progress of the human mind, and made grand projects
in his benevolent head whereby all the true interests of the race
might be advanced, and he wished he could carry them into practice;
he reflected on poverty, and made castles in the air as to how he
might mitigate its severity, and then having in imagination made
many people happy, he felt that a benevolent disposition was a great
blessing, and fell asleep over the fire.
Can only made two things. When she had helped to carry the child's
basket, she kindly made her sick mother's bed, and then she went
home and made a pudding.