western part of the Vale was without regular means of moving on, and certainly didn't seem to want them. There was the canal, by the way, which supplied the country-side with coal, and up and down which continually went the long barges, with the big black men lounging by the side of the horses along the towing-path, and the women in bright coloured handkerchiefs standing in the sterns, steering. Standing, I say, but you could never see whether they were standing or sitting, all but their heads and shoulders being out of sight in the cozy little cabins which occupied some eight feet of the stern, and which Tom Brown pictured to himself as the most desirable of residences. His nurse told him that those goodnatured-looking women were in the constant habit of enticing children into the barges, and taking them up to London and selling them, which Tom wouldn't believe, and which made him resolve as soon as possible to accept the oft-proffered invitation of these sirens to "young master,” to come in and have a ride. But as yet the nurse was too much for Tom.

Yet why should I, after all, abuse the gad-about propensities of my countrymen? We are a vagabond nation now, that's certain, for better for worse. I am a vagabond; I have been away from home no less than five distinct times in the last year. The Queen sets us the example - we are moving on from top to bottom. Little dirty Jack, who abides in Clement's Inn gateway, and blacks my boots for a penny, takes his month's hop-picking every year as a matter of course. Why shouldn't he? I'm delight



ed at it. I love vagabonds, only I prefer poor to rich ones ; - couriers and ladies' maids, imperials and travelling carriages are an abomination unto me, I cannot away with them. But for dirty Jack, and every good fellow who, in the words of the capital French song, moves about,

“ Comme le limaçon

Portant tout son.bagage,

Ses neubles, sa maison,' on his own back, why, good luck to them, and many a merry road-side adventure, and steaming supper in the chimney-corners of road-side inns, Swiss chalets, Hottentot kraals, or wherever else they like to go. So having succeeded in contradicting myself in my first chapter, (which gives me great hopes that you will all go on, and think me a good fellow notwithstanding my crotchets,) I shall here shut up for the present, and consider my ways; having resolved to “sar it out," as we say in the Vale,“ holus-bolus” just as it comes, and then you'll probably get the truth out of me.



“ And the King commandeth and forbiddeth, that from henceforth neither fairs nor markets be kept in Church-yards, for the honour of the Church.” — STATUTES : 13 Edw. I. Stat. U. cap. VI.


As that venerable and learned poet (whose voluminous works we all think it the correct thing to

Imire and talk about, but don't read often,) most truly says, “ the child is father to the man;" à fortiori, therefore, he must be father to the boy. So, as we are going at any rate to see Tom Brown through his boyhood, supposing we never get any further, (which, if you show a proper sense of the value of this history, there is no knowing but what we may,) let us have a look at the life and environments of the child, in the quiet country village to which we were introduced in the last chapter.

Tom, as has been already said, was a robust and combative urchin, and at the age of four began to struggle against the yoke and authority of his nurse. That functionary was a good-hearted, tearful, scatter-brained girl, lately taken by Tom's mother, Madam Brown as she was called, from the village school to be trained as nurserymaid. Madam Brown was a rare trainer of servants, and spent herself freely in the profession; for profession it was, and gave her more trouble by



half than many people take to earn a good income. Her servants were known and sought after for miles round. Almost all the girls who attained a certain place in the village school were taken by her, one or two at a time, as housemaids, laundry maids, nurserymaids, or kitchenmaids, and after a year or two's drilling, were started in life amongst the neighbouring families, with good principles and wardrobes. One of the results of this system was the perpetual despair of Mrs. Brown's cook and own maid, who no sooner had a notable girl made to their hands, than Missus was

to find a good place for her and send her off, taking in fresh importations from the school. Another was, that the house was always full of young girls, with clean shining faces, who broke plates and scorched linen, but made an atmosphere of cheerful homely life about the place, good for every one who came within its influence. Mrs. Brown loved young people, and in fact human creatures in general, above plates and linen. They were more like a lot of elder children than servants, and felt to her more as a mother or aunt than as a mistress.

Tom's nurse was one who took in her instruction very slowly, — she seemed to have two left hands and no head; and so Mrs. Brown kept her on longer than usual, that she might expend her awkwardness and forgetfulness upon those who would not judge and punish her too strictly for them.

Charity Lamb was her name. It had been the immemorial habit of the village, to christen children either by Bible names, or by those of the



cardinal and other virtues ; so that one was forever hearing in the village-street, or on the green, shrill sounds of, “ Prudence! Prudence! thee cum out o' the gutter;" or, “ Mercy! d’rat the girl, wnat bist thee a doin' wi' 'little Faith?” and there were Ruths, Rachels, Keziahs, in every corner.

The same with the boys; they were Benjamins, Jacobs, Noahs, Enochs. I suppose the custom has come down from Puritan times, there it is at any rate, very strong still in the Vale.

Well, from early morn till dewy eve, when she had it out of him in the cold tub before putting him to bed, Charity and Tom were pitted against one another. Physical power was as yet on the side of Charity, but she hadn't a chance with him wherever head-work was wanted. This war of independence began every morning before breakfast, when Charity escorted her charge to a neighbouring farm-house which supplied the Browns, and where, by his mother's wish, Master Tom went to drink whey before breakfast. Tom had no sort of objection to whey, but he had a decided liking for curds, which were forbidden as unwholesome, and there was seldom a morning that he did not manage to secure a handful of hard curds, in defiance of Charity and of the farmer's wife. The latter, good soul, was a gaunt angular woman, who, with an old black bonnet on the top of her head, the strings dangling about her shoulders, and her gown tucked through her pocket-holes, went clattering about the dairy, cheese-room, and yard, in high pattens. Charity was some sort of

« VorigeDoorgaan »