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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand
eight hundred and fifty-nine, by
HARPER & BROTIIERS,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Southern District
of New York.
* GET out o' Mr. Fletcher's road, ye idle, lounging, little--"
“Vagabond," I think the woman (Sally Watkins, once my nurse), was going to say, but she changed her mind.
My father and I both glanced round, surprised at ner unusual reticence of epithets; but when the lad addressed turned, fixed his eyes on each of us for a moment, and made way for us, we ceased to wonder. Ragged, muddy, and miserable as he was, the poor boy looked anything but a “ vagabond."
“ Thee need not go into the wet, my lad. Keep close to the wall, and there will be shelter enough both for us and thee,” said my father, as he pulled my little hand-carriage into the alley, under cover, from the pelting rain. The lad, with a grateful look, put out a hand likewise, and pushed me further in. A strong hand it was—roughened and browned with labor-though he was scarcely as old as I. What would I not have given to have been so stalwart and so tall:
Sally called from her house-door, “ Wouldn't Master Phineas come in and sit by the fire a bit ?»—But it was always a trouble to me to move, or walk; and I liked stay. ing at the mouth of the alley, watching the autumnal shower come sweeping down the street ; besides, I wanted to look again at the stranger-lad. He had scarcely stirred, but remained leaning against the
wall-either through weariness, or in order to be out of our way. He took little or no notice of us, but kept his eyes fixed on the pavement—for we actually boasted pavemont in the High Street of our town of Norton Bury-watching the eddying rain-drops, which, each as it fell, threw up a little mist of spray. It was a serious, haggard face for a boy of only fourteen or so. Let me call it up before me—I can easily, even after more than fifty years.
Brown eyes, deep-sunken, with strongly-marked brows, a aose like most other Saxon noses, nothing particular; lips well-shaped, lying one upon the other, firm and close; a square, sharply outlined, resolute chin, of that type which gives character and determination to the whole physiog. nomy, and without which, in the fairest features, as in the best dispositions, one is always conscious of a certain want,
As I have stated, in person the lad was tall, and strongly, built ; and I, poor puny wretch! so reverenced physical strength. Everything in him seemed to indicate that which I had not: his muscular limbs, his square, broad shoulders, his healthy cheek, though it was sharp and thin-even to his crisp curls of bright thick hair.
Thus he stood, principal figure in a picture which is even yet as clear to me as yesterday—the narrow, dirty alley leading out of the High Street, yet showing a glimmer of green field at the farther end ; the open house-doors on eithe) side, through which came the drowsy burr of many a stock. ing-loom, the prattle of children paddling in the gutter, and sailing thereon a fleet of potato parings. In front, the High Street, with the mayor's house opposite, porticoed and grand; and beyond, just where the rain-clouds were breaking, rose up out of a nest of trees, the square tower of our ancient abbey–Norton Bury's boast and pride. On it, from a break in the clouds, came a sudden stream of light, The stranger-lad lifted up his head to look at it.
" The rain will be over soon,” I said, but doubted if he heard me. What could he be thinking of so intently?-a poor working lad, whom few would have given credit for thinking at all.
I do not suppose my father cast a single glance or thought on the boy, whom from a sense of common justice he bad made take shelter beside us. In truth, worthy man, he had no lack of matter to occupy his mind, being sole architect of
a long uphill but now thriving trade. I saw, by the hardening of his features, and the restless way in which he poked nis stick into the little waterpools, that he was longing to be in his tan-yard close by.
He pulled out his great silver watch—the dread of our house, for it was a watch which seemed to have imbibed something of its master's character; remorseless as justice ir fate, it never erred a moment.
“Twenty-three minutes lost by this shower. Phineas, my son, how am I to get thee safe home? unless thee wilt go with me to the tan-yard—”
I shook my head. It was very hard for Abel Fletcher to have for his only child such a sickly creature as I, now, at sixteen, as helpless and useless to him as a baby.
“Well, well, I must find some one to go home with thee.” For though my father had got me a sort of carriage, in which, with a little external aid, I could propel myself, so as to be his companion occasionally in his walks between our house, the tan-yard, and the Friends' meeting-house-still, he never trusted me anywhere alone. “Here, Sally, Sally
, Watkins! do any o'thy lads want to earn an honest penny ?”
Sally was out of earshot; but I noticed that as the lad near us heard my father's words, the color rushed over his face, and he started forward involuntarily. I had not before perceived how wasted and hungry-looking he was.
"Father!" I whispered. But here the boy had mustered up his courage and voice.
“Sir, I want work; may I earn a penny?”
He spoke in tolerably good English-different from ow coarse, broad, G-shire drawl; and taking off his tat tered old cap, looked right up into my father's face. The old man scanned him closely.
" What is thy name, lad ?” “ John Halifax.” 16 Where dost thee come from ?" “ Cornwall,” “Hast thee any parents living ?” "No." I wished my father would not question thus; but possibly e had his own motives, which were rarely harsh, though his actions often appeared so.
“How old might thee be, John Halifax ?”
Anything that I can get to do." I listened nervously to this catechism, which went on le hind my back.
Well,” said my father, after a pause, “thee sball tak my son home, and I'll give thee a groat. Let me see ;-art thee a lad to be trusted?” And holding him at arm's length, regarding him meanwhile with eyes that were the terror of all the rogues in Norton Bury, Abel Fletcher jingled temptingly the silver money in the pockets of his long flapped brown waistcoat. “I say, art thee a lad to be trusted ?” John Halifax neither answered nor declined his eyes.
He seemed to feel that this was a critical moment, and to have gathered all his mental forces into a serried square, to meet the attack. He met it, and conquered in silence.
“Lad, shall I give thee the groat now ?” “Not till I've earned it, sir.”
So, drawing his hand back, my father slipped the money into mine, and left us.
I followed him with my eyes, as he went sturdily plashing down the street; his broad, comfortable back, which owned a coat of true Quaker cut, but spotless, warm, and fine: his ribbed hose and leathern gaiters, and the widebrimmed hat, set over a fringe of grey hairs, that crowned the whole with respectable dignity. He looked precisely what he was,-an honest, honorable, prosperous tradesmai.. I watched him down the street-my good father, whom I respected perhaps even more than I loved him. The Cornish lad watched him likewise.
It still rained slightly, so we remained under cover. John Halifax leaned in his old place, and did not attempt to talk
Once only, when the draught through the alley made mo shiver, he pulled my cloak round me carefully.
“You are not very strong, I'm afraid ?" Then he stood idly looking up at the opposite—the mayor's house, with its steps and portico, and its fourteen windows, one of which was open, and a cluster of little heads visible there.