« AnteriorContinuar »
“The people in towns,' said Helen, 'would think it a great hardship to be out a-milking at this time of day.'
• They are better off than we :' replied Mary, to whom the idea of a long morning nap was by no means unpleasing.
• Better off in some things, Mary,' said her companion thoughtfully : 'but to see the sickly looks of the ladies who come down this way on their road to the bathings, I am not sure I would change wit them.'
• What! not to ride in your own coach ?' inquired Mary with a stare of astonishment.
I don't know: I havn't yet had more walking than agreed with me. Somehow too, the morning is so pleasant, and the fresh air does make one feel so hearty and alive, that if I was in a coach I think I'd be tempted to jump out and take a run.'
Mary laughed loudly at the idea of a lady racing against her own.coach and horses, but admitted that she should not like to be forced to ride at all timesonly when she felt sleepy or lazy. Thus merrily discoursing, the girls approached the gate of what might be called a farm-yard on a small scale ; within the limits of which stood a cottage with a very steep pointed roof, well thatched, walls of snowy whiteness, long, narrow casements, and a porch recently added to its entrance; and there stood a stout elderly man, leaning his folded arms on the lower half of the door.
“There's old Buckle,' whispered Mary,' and looking as cross as two sticks.'
He certainly did not wear an aspect of much sweetness, when, flinging the little partition open,
he advanced, and reached the gate before the girls could lay a hand on its fastenings.
• You needn't come any farther,' growled Mr. Buckle, taking the pail from Helen, and swinging it over the gate in a pettish way. It's a wonder you'd take the trouble of fetching it at all, and only keep me waiting three quarters of an hour.'
• Please, sir, I'm very sorry indeed,' said Helen, dropping a curtsey. I didn't think it was so late as that.'
“The sun must have overslept himself, sir,' added Mary, ' or else I'm sure we are in time to five minutes or so.'
* Hold your tongue, sauce-box! Sad girls-lay in bed half the morning, play about t'other half; keep me fasting all the while, and then give me impertinence. All the work of the farm at a stand still. No, I'll not employ such idle baggages any longer. You may tell your granny that from me.'
Please sir - Mary began.
Off with you, Miss Pert: no two-pence to-day I'll promise you. Get ye gone; I'll not trouble you much longer to milk my cows. Off with ye!'.
The girls, intimidated by the stamp that accompanied the words, turned to depart, Helen with a cortsey, Mary with something more resembling a shrug than an obeisance. Before they had proceeded many yards, the old gentleman's voice was heard again:
*Stop, can't ye? What a hurry the little toads are in to go and punish an honest old woman for their own bad doings ! Here, you Nelly, take that with you, not that you've earned it this time, but it doesn't become a respectable farmer like me to stop the wages that honest people set you to earn.' And three broad penny-pieces fell at her feet.
Another low cartsey from Helen and a farther progress of a few steps were followed by a louder sboat from the farmer: •Mind, you may, tell old Mrs. Green to send in the evening for a jug of stale milk, and a handful of oatmeal for the ailing boy. So now be off with you, you idlers'!'
• What a funny old fellow he is,' observed Mary, when far enough to give utterance to the laugh sbe she had with difficulty suppressed: 'but it's a shame to let him scold at us in that fashion.'
Old Buckle,' observed Helen, “is never in right earnest but when he does a good-natured thing. All his hard words go for nothing.'
• Then why do you look frightened, and be so humble to him?'
He speaks so loud, and looks so angry, it does half frighten me at the time: and as for being humble, Mary, it's the duty of such as we to shew respect to our betters.'
Oh, we are as good as old Buckle any day; only he's getting up in the world, and we are getting down you know,' observed the little girl skipping backwards before ber companion, as gaily as if she had announced the reverse of this proposition. Helen sighed; for sbe knew there were hearts growing heavy under the consciousness of what gave poor little Mary no concern.
Helen Fleetwood was the orphan child of one who, being tempted by a fine morning sky to launch upon the waves his worldly all-bis boat and implements of fishing—was with them engulfed by the surges that a sudden storm lashed into fury. Helen, who was
four years old at the time, retained a distinct recollection of the crowds that pressed to one spot on the shore, near which stood her paternal cottage, and the shrieks and wailings that burst forth when the few survivors of that party who together started before sunrise, returned at the twilight hour of eve with sad tales of their companions' fate. Fleetwood was but one among five or six whose widows were pacing the beach in wild distraction, or sitting stupified beneath the blow. Helen could also remember the day when, some time after this, a corpse, decomposed beyond the possibility of recognition, was cast ashore on a sandbank just above low-water mark, and identified by some fragment of wearing apparel as that of her father. She saw him not: but too well did her memory retain the impression of that moment when the Widow Green, holding her by the hand, directed her gaze into a coffin, where lay the heart-broken mother and her new-born babe peacefully shrouded together. Of these things the girl never spoke, and it was kindly hoped that they had faded from her naturally cheerful mind : but it was far otherwise.
The Widow Green had experienced affliction in another form; of all the children whom she had reared, her son William best repaid the maternal cares bestowed on him; and when he married, the first act of his independence as master of a comfortable cottage, was to place his mother in the choicest of its rooms. His wife, a kind-hearted young woman, heartily concurred in the proceeding, and reaped her reward when the rapid increase of a young family gave full scope to the valuable services of a judicious grandmother. All went well with them; and the readiness with which poor little Helen
was adopted into the domestic party on the old woman's suggestion, more closely cemented their mutual confidence and love. But, alas! William's third cbild sickened of small-pox; the eldest caught the infection, then the mother, and all three died. Poor Green struggled hard to bear up, for the sake of those who remained ; but a violent cold taken through continual transitions from the close heated atmosphere of a sick room to the keen night air of February, in his walks across the common to the doctor's shop, fell on his langs; and consumption soon laid him beside those whom he had dearly loved and deeply mourned.
The widow was a woman of vigorous mind, doubly armed in the panoply of faith, and enabled to cast herself, with the children committed to her, on Him whom she had found to be a stronghold in the day of trouble. Her charge consisted of three boys and a girl, the survivors of William's family, and Helen Fleetwood. Richard Green was a year older than Helen ; James three years younger ; and Mary his junior by nearly two years. The little Willy was but eight at the period when this story commences; and Richard was seventeen. Their father held his cottage, with a field and small garden, on a lease of lives, and bequeathed them to his mother in trust for Richard, should the lease remain good until be came of age. The landlord indeed, who had granted it on exceedingly favourable terms, promised a renewal; but he died soon after his tenant, and his verbal engagement could not bind the heir at law-a gentleman residing at a distance, and leaving every thing in the hands of his trusty agent.
Mrs. Green proved herself a wise and faithful