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A SHIFTLESS BOOR.
"Well, Holzhacker," said Mr Harebell, "I'm come to see whether any of your sons would like to work with me?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," he replied, in a weak, tremulous voice, and at the same time making a sign to his son to give the visitors places on the bench, which, however, the other only did by moving nearer to the end, and so making room for them beside him. But the bench was not securely enough propped to bear the weight of the three, and fell to the floor. Whereupon, as the young man was propping it up again, Mr Harebell could not forbear saying to him, though having noticed, when he saw him stand, that he, too, was ill-formed and looked weak :
"I should think, youngster, you might easily mend this bench."
At first, instead of making any reply, he only stared stupidly; but, after an instant, said:
"Who'll give me anything if I mend it? Will you?"*
Mr Harebell again addressed the father, saying: "Where are your other sons; and how are they occupied now?"
"The two eldest, and one of the girls, are gone to fetch fire-wood from the forest. Have been gone since morning. We're waiting supper for them. It's a long way to where they went; but I think they might have returned by now," he said, in a fretful
* This conversation-as all others with the peasantry—was in provincial German.
But, just then, a loud rushing, scraping noise was heard, and such a cloud of dust arose in the road, as effectually to prevent Mr Harebell and Christopher from seeing from the open door of the house any object that might be approaching. But Holzhacker and his wife seemed to understand what the noise and dust betokened, for he said:
"They are coming now," whilst the woman left her watching at the door, turned inside, and began to stir the mess in the pan on the stove.
When the cloud of dust came nearer, however, what caused it was seen in the appearing of people dragging after them, with great labour, large bundles of wood and long trailing branches of trees bound together by ropes, and leaving them to scrape along the ground, thus causing the burden to be very heavy by the force of friction, and almost stifling themselves with dust. They were two young men, and a girl, a few years older than the one rocking the cradle. All three were haggard-looking, ragged and dirty, and seemed very much wearied, as, leaving their dusty burdens lying in the middle of the floor, nearly filling up the whole space having left only the longest branches in the yard outside they threw themselves on the bench, which had been vacated by Mr Harebell, Christopher, and Holzhacker's other son, and which again broke down, and was again set up.
"I will go now," said Mr Harebell, "for I should be sorry to interrupt you in your supper; but before I leave, I should like to know whether you and these young people would not think it better to have such
easy, regular employment as I could furnish them with, and to receive good pay, than to be toiling in this way for a mere trifle, or doing nothing?"
A silence of some seconds ensued, when the child in the cradle awoke and began to cry, very evidently wishing to be taken up; but the mother only told the girl to rock it more vigorously, which she accordingly did; and soon, apparently despairing of gaining its point, it ceased crying, and with its eyes wide open, fixed them in an idiotic stare on the black rafters of the ceiling.
"As to working for very little," at length said the father of the family, dejectedly, and with his feeble voice, "that's true, for we hardly get enough to buy salt to the potatoes.* The supper we are about to have consists only of bread-and-water soup, with a little grease in it; and we have hardly sufficient. Oh! dear, we're very poor people. If you would give us a trifle of money to help us, it would be doing us a great charity; it would, indeed!"
"Who is to fetch the wood, if the lads go to work in the factory?" said his wife, in a peevish tone; and then added, in a whining manner, "We're so badly off for clothes, sir, couldn't Mrs Harebell send me a dress? I'm sure I'd be much obliged for it—and a dress for each of the girls? and some clothes for the child in the cradle? I've scarcely anything to put on it; and that's one reason why it's left so long in bed. And we've scarcely any bedding; and if you would be so good as to send us a couple of mattresses, and
* A saying, expressive of poor and scanty diet.
"Well, well," exclaimed Mr Harebell, impatiently, "we'll see about assisting you in some way; but the first thing to decide now is, about furnishing your children with suitable employment, by which they may gain so much more than they do at present; and then, you know, when you will have more money, you may easily procure the wood in some other way, besides more clothing, and all other necessaries."
Both husband and wife, seeming to understand this reasoning, made no further opposition, and therefore it depended upon the children themselves to decide. The eldest son, called Bernard, came forward and boldly said he would like at once to be engaged; and Mr Harebell was on the point of taking him at his word, when one of the others, who seemed to have been consulting together, plucked him by his tattered sleeve, and whispered something in his ear, whereupon poor Bernard, becoming very red, and looking confused and ashamed, stammered out, "that he would rather not," and retreated into a corner.
"Ah! I knew how it would be," said his father; "it's of no use."
"The fact is," said his mother, "that he has no decent clothes to put on. No more have the others; and they're afraid of being sneered at in the factory. You see, sir, going to fetch wood from the forest makes sad work with the clothes."
A glance at the countenances of the young people convinced Mr Harebell that the mother had given the true reason for Bernard's sudden retractation, and probably also for the silence of the others; and, after
A SOTTISH PARENT.
some slight consideration, he offered to provide each of them who would come to work in the factory with a new suit of clothes on entering, the cost to be defrayed only by very slow instalments out of the ample wages that he intended to give them, and himself taking the risk that, when once possessed of the clothes, the young people would refuse to fulfil the engagement. They all now came forward and joyfully assented. But their father did not seem quite satisfied, and represented to Mr Harebell that it would be better were he to give him the money required for the clothing, so that he might procure it all ready, and ' spare him the trouble. This, however, the latter had his reasons for peremptorily refusing to do. And as he and Christopher were leaving the house, the mother followed them into the yard, on pretence of taking out of their way some of the long branches left there by the wood-carriers, and, coming close to Mr Harebell, she said:
"Oh! sir, don't give the money to my husband; pray, don't! Neither the children nor I would be the better for it if you did. He'd only go with it into a public-house until it was all spent."
With mingled feelings of pity and disgust, Mr Harebell and his son returned to Mossdale, discoursing, as they journeyed along, on the marked difference between the villagers of England, both as regards social position and good breeding, and those poor people they had just left.