Imagens da página
[ocr errors]

the interest the people take in the stick! If it were any thing alive, the pony or Fanchon or little Henry, or we ourselves, they could not be more sorry.

Master Brent, Ma'am, at the top of the street, he promises to speak to every body; so does William Wheeler, who goes everywhere; and Mrs. Bromley, at the shop; and the carrier and the postman I dare say the whole parish knows it by this time! I have not been outside the gate to-day, but a dozen people have asked me if we had heard of our stick! It must turn up soon. If one had but the slightest notion where it was lost! I do declare, Ma’arn," continued she, interrupting her lamentations, “ that you don't seem to be so much troubled about the poor stick as I am!" And with all her regard for me, I think she was a little scandalized at my philosophy.

Why you and Sain seem to have done all that can be done,” replied I; and perhaps if we go into the lane we may hear some tidings of my poor staff, for I shall be sorry to lose such an old friend !''

'Ah !” said she, “ if one did but know where it dropped out of the chaise !"

And so we set forth, I with a new stick of Sam's purveying, a provisional stick, whose very roughness and imperfection proved that that faithful adherent by no means despaired of recovering my legitimate supporter.

My little damsel was not wrong in accusing me of being calmer than she thought quite becoming under so severe a calamity; but as her inquietude and nervousness proceeded mainly from the state of feverish and impatient expectation, the mixture of hope and fear, in which she had passed the last twenty hours, so the absence of suspense and expectation had much to do with my resignation. I had some suspicion as to the place in which the stick had dropped, and no great hope of finding it.

Day by day, as the sun went down, we had the habit of being taken up at the gate of the short avenue that leads to the old Manor House ; an abrupt turn, where the soft turf of the wide lane ends, and the gravel road begins. This road, not much frequented, in general is full of the harvest population during this harvest month : groups of reapers, men and women, full-grown girl and half-grown boy, and little child--the little child who watches by the baby in the cradle while the mother reaps. On that side, too, they had just begun to carry the yellow sheaves

which studded so richly the great open cornfields that bordered one edge of the winding road, as the grounds of the old mansion, with their tall elms and rustic paling, bordered the other. Just in front, crossing the road, and meandering after its own willful fashion, came the brook, traversed, at the choice of the wayfarer, by a low two-arched bridge, or a wide shallow ford, just below.

Now this has been a summer of great drought hereabout, and we suffer much from summer drought in the cottage which we are about to leave, as places that feel most the winter damp very frequently do ; the mud of one season baking into a brick-like clay at another; the ponds becoming dry under the same sunny influence, and the wells (for we have two) failing altogether just when they are most wanted. I think the thing of all others which has most reconciled me to quitting the poor old place—the old home with all its faults-is the contrast which the new cottage offers as to water. There we shall have a pump that is never dry; two springs to which the whole parish resorts ; the men with yokes and pails, the women with pitchers, almost classical ; two clear gushing springs, a pond and a river!

However, we have not yet moved, and this delicious wateriness to come has little profited us during this sultry August. The fourfooted part of our family has particularly felt, not the absolute want-for we fetch, and beg, and buy, and all but stealbut the limitation of that prime luxury of nature. So Sam always drives through the ford to cool the pony's feet, and commonly stops long enough in the middle to allow of his enjoying a good drink of the clear glittering pool ; while Fanchon, who during the rainy season is as tender of wetting her pretty paws as a cat, has latterly condescended to walk out of the little carriage, in which it is her delight to sit perched, to walk tremblingly and gingerly—something as a fine lady steps out of a bathing-machine, but still to walk down the steps, and drop into the water-drinking in the same slow, mincing, half-reluctant manner, but still drinking, and then pausing upon the brink to be taken home. Yesterday evening, I remembered that instead of walking gingerly down the steps, stopping half a minute upon one, and a whole minute upon the other, according to her usual mode, poor Fanchon, doubtless in a paroxysm of thirst, had fairly jumped out of the phaeton, giving to the whole vehicle such a jolt as her weight hardly seemed capable of producing. Then and there I suspected went the stick ; carried off by the slow current, until it became entangled by the sedges on the banks, or sank in one of the deep pools not unfrequent in the stream. So I gave up my poor old friend as drowned beyond all hope of resuscitation, and tried to comfort my little damsel by setting her a very creditable example of resignation.

It was hardly possible to be quite unhappy in a scene of so much healthy stir and bustle as this usually quiet lane exhibited.

My friends the gipsys had no less than three camps with fires glimmering under the hedge, looking beautiful in the dark shadow, as fire always does, or sending up wreaths of curling smoke among the trees, a thin blue vapor more beautiful still. There they were in every picturesque form of work or idleness, making saucepans, weaving baskets, lying on the grass : three camps at small but not unfriendly distance, with one movable house, a gray horse, and two donkeys.

Then the wheat-carrying, threatened yesterday, was in full activity to-day; and wagons, some loaded, some empty, passed up and down the lane, escorted by stalwart carters and shouting boys. Reapers, too, were there in abundance passing to and fro, and troops of children leasing in the cleared fields, and following the wagons along the lane. Most of these good people had heard of our loss; and questioned my little damsel as to its recovery. Our friends the gipsys were particularly interested in the subject; and there was one black-haired urchin, the laziest of the tribe, a musical genius whom I had never seen before without a fiddle in his hands, but whom we now found, by way of variety, twanging a jewsharp, who intermitted his melody to affirm with so much assurance that he had passed his whole day in the search, that it was utterly impossible not to give him sixpence.

Well! we at last sat down on our old turf seats, not far from the entrance of a field where an accident had evidently taken place; loaded

wagon must have knocked against the gate, and spilt some of its topmost sheaves. The sheaves were taken away, but the place was strewed with relics of the upset, and a little harvest of the long yellow straw and the rich brown ears remained to tempt the gleaners ; and as we were talking over this mischance, and our own, and I was detailing my reasons for believing that my poor stick had found a watery grave, we became aware of two little girls, who stole timidly and quietly up to the place, and began gladly and thankfully to pick up the scattered


Poor little things, we knew them well! we had known their father, dead of consumption scarcely a month ago"; and affecting it was to see these poor children, delicate girls of seven and five years old, already at work to help their widowed mother, and rejoicing over the discovery of these few ears of fallen wheat, as if it were the gold mines of California. A drove of pigs was looming in the distance ; and my little damsel flung down her work, and sprang up at once to help the poor children. She has a taste for helping people, has my little maid, and puts her whole heart and soul into such kindnesses. It was worth something to see how she pounced upon every straggling straw, clearing away all round outside, and leaving the space within for little girls. She even hinted to me that my new stick would be an efficient weapon against the pigs; and I might have found myself engaged in another combat, but that the ground was cleared before the drove came near.

Pleasant it was to see her zealous activity, and the joy and surprise of the little creatures, who, weak, timid and lonely, had till then only collected about a dozen ears, when they found themselves loaded with more than they could carry. Their faded frocks,—not mourning frocks, to wear black every day for a father is too great a luxury for the poor,—their frocks were by her contrivance pinned up about them, filled with the golden wheat-ears, and the children went home happy. That home had once been full of comfort and of plenty, for John Kemp, a gentleman's servant, had married the daughter of a small farmer, and had set up a little trade as a baker and shopkeeper. Civil, honest, sober and industrious, the world went well with them for a while, and the shop prospered. But children came many and fast, their largest debtor died insolvent, a showy competitor set up next door, and long before John Kemp was attacked by the fatal malady of England which finally carried him off, poverty had knocked hard at his door. The long illness, the death, the funeral had still farther exhausted their small means, and now little was left, except that which is best of all, strong family affection, an unstained name, an humble reliance upon Providence, and those habits of virtuous industry and courage to take the world as it is, which seldom fail to win an honest living. The mother and the elder brother undertook the baking and the shop, the eldest daughter carried round the bread, the two next brothers were working in the fields, and the youngest of all we have seen in their efforts to contribute to the general support. Well! it is a hard trial, but it is a good education, an education that can hardly fail to come to good. Many a rich mother might be proud of the two gleaners that we have seen this afternoon. They so pleased and so thankful to carry their poor store to that poor horne, they carried thither better things than wheat.

In the meanwhile where, amid all this harvest work, is the " Arcadia ?” Between asking questions and answering them, listening to condolences and thanking the condolers, talking to leasers and leasing ourselves, the afternoon has slipped away with little thought of the good knight, Sir Philip Sydney. The sun, which hardly showed his bright face until we reached the lane, is now setting in his glory, and we must wind our way to the avenue.gate, or we may chance to have a hue and cry sent forth about us as lost ourselves. So home we came.

About ten o'clock, after some riffling of the latch, a pattering of childish feet, and an eager consultation of childish voices, the front gate was tremblingly opened, and after a short pause another little sound of unassured footsteps, and another brief dialogue, a low knock was heard at the hall door; then the little feet advanced into the house, and the little tongues gained courage to tell their good news. Mary Kemp and her brother Tom had brought back the lost stick.

It appeared that the child had overheard my suspicion, that the missing wand had been dropped in the brook during Fanchon's immersion, and had confided the story to her brother Tom as soon as he returned from his labors in the harvest field. Tom, a bold urchin of ten years old, happened to be one of those boys who may be properly called amphibious ; pools, puddles, ponds, seemed to be his natural element, and paddling in the brook his prime enjoyment. Before he left off his petticoats, he haunted the water-side, angling with a bit of string tied on a willow-rod, and a crooked pin for a hook, and, what is more wonderful, contriving to catch with that artificial contrivance such small fry, roach and dace and minnows, as the stream afforded. Tom knew every inch of the brook, and, charmed at the very sound,

« AnteriorContinuar »