Page images

cutting north wind had blown full in his face on his return home. Anyhow, Mr. Martin was glad when he had given up his horse to the stable-help, and was warming his halffrozen hands by the bright and blazing dining-room fire. Neither was he displeased to sit down, a quarter of an hour later, to the steaming hot dinner which awaited his return.

Squire Martin, of Martindale, was a well-to-do gentleman. That is, he had a fair estate of his own, consisting of three or four good farms in adjoining parishes, the largest of which he himself cultivated. His house was a large oldfashioned farm-house, or family mansion, too big by half for his needs; as his family—setting aside servants—consisted only of himself, his lady, and one delicate son (an only child), about seven or eight years old. The Squire was rather proud of his old-fashioned house, and of the equally old-fashioned furniture which adorned every room in it, and which had outlasted two or three generations of the oldfashioned family whose name he bore. He was yet more proud of his wife, who well merited all his admiration for her many good qualities, and especially for the earnest, ardent, and quiet Christian graces which adorned her, and made her husband's home, on the whole, a peaceful and happy one.

But as it is in some measure true that

• The kindest and the happiest pair

Will find occasion to forbear;
And something, every day they live,
To pity, and perhaps forgive;"

so it now and then happened that little jars momentarily ruffled the surface—though the surface only—of life at Martindale. It happened so on the day of which we are writing.

66 Our minister called to see you while you were out this morning, my dear," said Mrs. Martin, while dinner was in progress.

“Ah, I met him—that is to say, we met one another, and 'he began to say something or other about that man Smith and


his cottage ; but my horse wanted to get to his stable, and I wanted to get to my dinner; and, to tell the truth, I did not want to be bothered about Smith.

He said, ton, that he had left his message with you; the less need, therefore, that I should stop to hear it. Well, what is it?”

There was a small degree of sharpness in the tone in which the question was asked, that gave token of irritation. And, to tell the truth, the Squire pretty well guessed at what was to come.

Now, “ that man Smith was not a welcome subject to Mr. Martin. He was one of his workmen, and lived in one of his cottages. The Squire had taken him on rather unwillingly, and only at Mrs. Martin's earnest wish, some year or two ago; the plea on Smith's behalf being that he was “a good Christian brother,” just struggling out of a long illness, which had lost him his former place with one of the Squire's farmer tenants.

“ And suppose he should break down again, what is to come of it then? You would not wish me to be saddled with a man who can't work, and a tenant that can't pay his rent, my dear?"

Nevertheless, the Squire did take on “the man Smith,” for the argument, after all, weighed with him. Mr. Martin was a Christian, though he would have acknowledged, with becoming humility and self-reproach, that he came far short of the full standard of Christian gifts and graces which he so admired in his wife. It was thus that Smith entered the Squire's service, and occupied one of his cottages.

For a while all went on well, and the Squire had every reason to be satisfied with his new man, until, in the past haymaking time, Smith's health again broke down, and Mr. Martin's supposition came true: he had a servant who could do no work, and a tenant who could not pay his rent. In addition to this, he felt the annoyance of having brought a man into the parish who was becoming a serious burden upon the ratepayers in general. We return now to the dining-room and the minister's message.


“Mr. Harris came to speak to you about Smith and the roof oi his cottage,” said Mrs. Martin, rather reluctantly. “Smith is very ill, you know; and the parish doctor tells him that the poor man will never get better while he is in such a cold, damp place. The rain comes in through the old thatch and ceiling on to the beds in both upstairs rooms; and though Smith has been moved downstairs, it is as bad there, what with the brick floor and the draught from doors and windows.

“So Smith has been complaining, has he?" retorted the husband.

“I don't think he has complained. Mr. Harris was with him last night, and he himself noticed the state of the cottage, and spoke to Smith about it; and all the poor man said was that he was afraid you would not be willing to go to any expense.”

“It is not a question of willingness at all,” rejoined Mr. Martin, with more bitterness. “I should be willing enough to do it if the rent were paid. But I cannot afford to waste money on cottages that pay no rent.”

“But he did pay till he got ill, dear; and Mr. Harris says there is reason to believe it was going into a damp place that brought on his illness."

“I did not want him to take the cottage,” replied Mr. Martin, almost angrily. "I only wish I had had nothing to do with him. He has given me bother enough. As to the cottage being damp, it isn't damper than others, I suppose. At any rate, farmers can't afford to build palaces for their work-people."

Mrs. Martin probably knew more about Smith's cottage than her husband did, for since the beginning of his illness she had been a messenger of mercy to it in a small way, and with her husband's knowledge and consent, and, let it be said, with his secret co-operation too. The more therefore was it to be wondered at that the very mention of Smith's name and Smith's home should have been like the application of pepper to an open sore. Mrs. Martin, how

[ocr errors]

ever, knew her husband a little better, perhaps, than he knew himself, or she would not have persevered in her argument, surely, as she said, soothingly,

“Mr. Harris said he was convinced you could not know how much the cottage needs repairing, or you would have had it done before now. But that if Smith could only be kept tolerably warm till it suits you to have the place seen to, it might not so much signify. But it seems that the poor people are almost out of coal, though, to be sure, they have had some help given to them in that way by one or two of our friends; and—there, my dear, it must come out—and so I told Mr. Harris I would ask you to give them half a load. You do give a good many loads away, you know, every winter," the wife added, pleadingly.

“Do you know what the price of coal is now, Mrs. Martin ?"

“Not exactly, dear; but I know it is very high, because of the strike; and I mean to do without a fire in my little room—that is, I will gladly do without it, and not use the room,

if you will only let Smith“Pho, pho!” exclaimed the husband, interrupting her; as if I should allow that! Keep your fire, my love ; and I will see what can be done for the Smiths. There's that coal, for instance, that we had for our kiln, and didn't

[ocr errors][merged small]


“Because it was so bad-half slates, and the rest rubbish, you said, Henry,” interposed Mrs. Martin, with a half smile. Ah, well, it did not answer for the kiln; but it does well

2 enough for the kitchen, doesn't it?"

“Jane says she can't use it—there's so little heat in it, even when it burns at all, that everything she attempts to cook by it is sure to be spoiled.”

“The greater reason something else should be done with it,” said the Squire, peremptorily; "it won't do to waste it; so I'll send a cart-load of it to Smith to-morrow. It will be better than nothing. And, Edith,” added he, in the next

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

breath, to stop further remonstrance on his wife's part, maybe; "you say that Smith ought to be kept warm—he sits up in the daytime, I believe." “Oh, yes."

Well, there's that old over-coat of mine, that I shan't want again. You may send that to him, if you have a mind. It may help to keep him warm.” “ Oh, thank you.

Smith shall be sure to have it this evening. You mean that thick warm one you gave up wearing two winters ago, when you had your new one?”

“Not a bit of it," replied the Squire, testily. "I may want that again some day. At any rate, it is too good to give to a man that does not pay his rent

“ Because the hand of God is upon him, and although he is a Christian brother," interposed Mrs. Martin, with some feeling

My dear, you interrupt me; I mean that summer overcoat I bought when we were in London two or three years ago, and that I never liked.”

“Very well, Henry, Smith shall have that, then," said the lady, with a half sigh; but she prudently kept in the other half, for, thought she, half a loaf is better than no bread; and even that thin coat may do something to comfort poor Smith as he sits crouching over the embers of the “half-slate and half-rubbish” from his master's unused, because unuseable, stores.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

I must tell the remainder of my story in as few words as possible, because of my limited space. Here it is.

Any inhabitant of the village of Martindale, in passing down the long straggling street two or three weeks after the after-dinner conversation already recorded, would have seen some bustling work going on in and around and on the top of Smith's cottage. It was a fine, bright, and dry day, although cold, but not too cold for out-of-door work. on the roof of the cottage was James Grant, the thatcher, with all his appliances, putting on a new thick roof of the

And so

« PreviousContinue »