“I stay ma’am, I’ll do anything you give me, cut wood go after water, do all your errands.” The troubled eyes of the speaker were filled with tears. It was a lad that stood at the outer door, pleading with a kindly-looking woman who still seemed to doubt the reality of his good intentions. The cottage sat by itself on a bleak moor, or what in Scotland would have been called such. The time was near the latter end of September, and a fierce wind rattled the boughs of the only two naked trees near the house, and fled with a shivering sound into the the narrow doorway as if seeking for warmth at the blazing fire within. Now and then a snowflake touched with its soft chill the cheek of the listener, or whitened the angry redness of the poor boy’s benumbed hands. The woman was evidently loath to grant the boy’s request, and the peculiar look stamped upon his features would have suggested to any mind an idea of depravity far beyond his years. But her woman’s heart could not resist the sorrow in those large, but by no means handsome, grey eyes. “Come in at any rate till the good man comes home. There, sit down by the fire, you look perishing with cold.” And she drew a rude chair up to the warmest corner; then suspiciously glancing at the child from the corner of her eyes, she continued setting the table for supper. Presently was heard the tramp of heavy shoes; the door was swung open with a quick jerk, and the “good man” presented himself wearied with labor.
A look of intelligence passed between his wife and himself; he too scanned the boys face with an expression not evincing satisfaction, but, nevertheless, made him come to the table, and then enjoyed the zest with which he dispatched his supper. Day after day passed, and yet the boor begged to be kept, only till tomorrow;” so the good couple, after due consideration, concluded that as long as he was so docile, and worked so heartily, they would retain him.
One day in the middle of the winter, a peddler, long accustomed to trade at the cottage, made his appearance and disposed his goods readily, as if he had been waited for.
“You have a boy out there splitting wood, I see.” he said, pointing to the yard.
“Yes, do you know him?”
“I have seen him,” replied the paddler, evasively:
“And, where? Who is he? What is he?
“A jail-bird;” and the peddler swung his pack over his shoulder.
“That boor, young as he looks, I saw him in court myself, and heard his sentence myself, ‘ten months’ he’s a hard one. You’d do well to look carefully after him.”
Oh, there was something so horrible about that word jail the woman trembled as she laid away her purchases; nor could she be easy till she called the boy in, and assured him that she knew that dark part of his history.
Ashamed, distressed, the boy hung down his head; his cheeks seemed bursting with the hot blood; his lips quivered and anguish was painted as vividly on his forhead as if the word was branded into his flesh.
“Well, he muttered, his whole frame relaxing, as if a burden of guilt or joy had suddenly rolled off.
“I may as well go to ruin at once there’s no use in trying to do better everybody hates and despises me nobody cares about me I may as well go to ruin at once.”
“Tell me,” said the woman, who stood off, far enough for flight, if that should be necessary, “how came you to go so young to that dreadful place? Where was your mother then?
“Oh,” exclaimed the boy, with a burst of grief, that was terrible to behold. “Oh, I haven’t a mother!” I Haint had no mother since I was a baby! If I’d only had a mother,” he continued, his anguish growing vehement, and the tears gushing out from his strange-looking grey eyes, “I wouldn’t ha’ been bound out, and kicked and cuffed, an’ laid onto with whips. I wouldn’t ha’ been saucy, and got knocked down, and run away, and then stole because I was hungry. Oh! I haint got no mother, I haint got no mother I haven’t had no mother since I was a baby.”
The strength was all gone from the poor boy and he sank on his knees, sobbing great choking sobs and rubbing the hot tears away with his poor knuckles.
And did that woman stand there unmoved? and did she coldly bid him pack up and be off, the jail-bird? No, no; she had been a mother, and though all her children slept under the cold sod in the churchyard, she was a mother still.
She went up to that poor boy, not to hasten him away, but to lay her fingers kindly, softly on his head, to tell him to look up, find in her a mother. Yes, and from henceforth. She even put her arm about the neck of that forsaken, deserted child; she poured from her mother’s heart sweet, womanly words of counsel and tenderness. Oh! how sweet was her sleep that night; how soft her pillow! She had linked a poor suffering heart to hers, by the most silken, the strongest bands of love; she had plucked some thorns from the path of a little sinning, but striving mortal. None but the angels could witness her holy joy and not envy. Did the boy leave her? Never! He is with her still; a vigorous, manly, promising youth. The once poor outcast is her only dependence, and nobly does he repay the trust.
My father my mother, I know
I cannot your kindness repay
I hope that as older I grow
I shall learn your commands to obey
You loved me before I could tell
Who on me so tenderly smiled
But now that I know it so well
I should be a dutiful child.