Read STORY ONE - CHAPTER 13 of Freaks on the Fells Three Months' Rustication , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

VISITING THE POOR.

For some time after this the Sudberry Family were particularly careful not to wander too far from their mountain home.  Mr Sudberry forbade everyone, on pain of his utmost displeasure, to venture up among the hills without McAllister or one of his lads as a guide.  As a further precaution, he wrote for six pocket compasses to be forwarded as soon as possible.

“My dear,” said his wife, “since you are writing home, you may as well ­”

“My dear, I am not writing ­”

“You’re writing to London for compasses, are you not?”

“No,” said Mr Sudberry with a smile.  “I believe they understand how to manufacture the mariner’s compass in Scotland ­I am writing to my Edinburgh agent for them.”

“Oh! ah well, it did not occur to me.  Now you mention it, I think I have heard that the Scotch have sort of scientific tendencies.”

“Yes, they are `feelosophically’ inclined, as our friend McAllister would say.  But what did you want, my love?”

“I want a hobby-horse to be sent to us for Jacky; but it will be of no use writing to Edinburgh for one.  I suppose they do not use such things in a country where there are so few real horses, and so few roads fit for a horse to walk on.”

Mr Sudberry made no reply, not wishing to incur the expense of such a useless piece of furniture, and his wife continued her needlework with a sigh.  From the bottom of her large heart she pitied the Scottish nation, and wondered whether there was the remotest hope of the place ever being properly colonised by the English, and the condition of the aborigines ameliorated.

“Mamma, I’m going with Flora Macdonald to visit her poor people,” said Lucy, entering at the moment with a flushed face, ­for Lucy was addicted to running when in a hurry, ­and with a coquettish little round straw hat.

“Very well, my love, but do take that good-natured man to guide you ­Mr What’s-his-name, I’ve such a memory!  Ah!  McCannister; do take him with you, dear.”

“There is no need, mamma.  Nearly all the cottages lie along the road-side, and Flora is quite at home here, you know.”

“True, true, I forgot that.”

Mrs Sudberry sighed and Lucy laughed gaily as she ran down the hill to meet her friend.  The first cottage they visited was a little rough thatched one with a low roof; one door, and two little windows, in which latter there were four small panes of glass, with a knot in each.  The interior was similar to that of old Moggy’s hut, but there was more furniture in it, and the whole was pervaded by an air of neatness and cleanliness that spoke volumes for its owner.

“This is Mrs Cameron’s cottage,” whispered Flora as they entered.  “She was knocked over by a horse while returning from church last Sunday, and I fear has been badly shaken. ­Well, Mrs Cameron, how are you to-day?”

A mild little voice issued from a box-bed in a corner of the room.  “Thankee, mem, I’m no that ill, mem.  The Lord is verrà kind to me.” ­ There was a mild sadness in the tone, a sort of “the world’s in an awfu’ state, ­but no doot it’s a’ for the best, an’ I’m resigned to my lot, though I wadna objec’ to its being a wee thing better, oo-ay,” ­feeling in it, which told of much sorrow in years gone by, and of deep humility, for there was not a shade of complaint in the tone.

“Has the doctor been to see you, my dear granny?” inquired Flora, sitting down at the side of the box-bed, while Lucy seated herself on a stool and tried to pierce the gloom within.

“Oo, ay, he cam’ an’ pood aff ma mutch, an’ feel’d ma heed a’ over, but he said nothin’ ­only to lie quiet an’ tak a pickle water-gruel, oo-ay.”

As the voice said this its owner raised herself on one elbow, and, peering out with a pair of bright eyes, displayed to her visitor the small, withered, yet healthy countenance of one who must have been a beautiful girl in her youth.  She was now upwards of seventy, and was, as Lucy afterwards said, “a sweet, charming, dear old woman.”  Her features were extremely small and delicate, and her eyes had an anxious look, as if she were in the habit of receiving periodical shocks of grief, and were wondering what shape the next one would take.

“I have brought you a bottle of wine,” said Flora; “now don’t shake your head ­you must take it; you cannot get well on gruel.  Your daughter is at our house just now:  I shall meet her on my way home, and will tell her to insist on your taking it.”

The old woman smiled, and looked at Lucy.

“This is a friend whom I have brought to see you,” said Flora, observing the glance.  The old woman held out her hand, and Lucy pressed it tenderly.  “She has come all the way from London to see our mountains, granny.”

“Ay?” said the old woman with a kind motherly smile:  “it’s a lang way to Lunnon, a lang way, ay.  Ye’ll be thinkin’ we’re a wild kind o’ folk here-away; somewhat uncouth we are, no doot.”

“Indeed, I think you are very nice people,” said Lucy, earnestly.  “I had no idea how charming your country was, until I came to it.”

“Oo-ay! we can only get ideas by seein’ or readin’.  It’s a grawnd thing, travellin’, but it’s wonderfu’ what readin’ ’ll do.  My guid-man, that’s deed this therteen year, ­ay, ­come Marti’mas, he wrought in Lunnon for a year before we was marrit, an’ he sent me the newspapers reglar once a month ­ay, the English is fine folk.  My guid-man aye said that.”

Lucy expressed much interest in this visit of the departed guid-man, and, having touched a chord which was extremely sensitive and not easily put to rest after having been made to vibrate, old Mrs Cameron entertained her with a sweet and prolix account of the last illness, death, and burial of the said guid-man, with the tears swelling up in her bright old eyes and hopping over her wrinkled cheeks, until Flora forbade her to say another word, reminding her of the doctor’s orders to keep quiet.

“Oo-ay, ye’ll be gawin’ to read me a bit o’ the book?”

“I thought you would ask that; what shall it be?”

“Oo, ye canna go wrang.”

Flora opened the Bible, and, selecting a passage, read it in a slow, clear tone, while the old woman lay back and listened with her eyes upturned and her hands clasped.

“Isn’t it grawnd?” said she, appealing to Lucy with a burst of feeling, when Flora had concluded.

Lucy was somewhat taken aback by this enthusiastic display of love for the Bible, and felt somewhat embarrassed for an appropriate answer; but Flora came to her rescue: 

“I have brought you a book, granny; it will amuse you when you are able to get up and read.  There now, no thanks ­you positively must lie down and try to sleep.  I see your cheek is flushed with all this talking.  Good-day, granny!”

“The next whom we will visit is a very different character,” said Flora, as they walked briskly along the road that followed the windings of the river; “he dwells half a mile off.”

“Then you will have time to tell me about old Moggy,” said Lucy.  “You have not yet fulfilled your promise to tell me the secret connected with her, and I am burning with impatience to know it.”

“Of course you are; every girl of your age is set on fire by a secret.  I have a mind to keep you turning a little longer.”

“And pray, grandmamma,” said Lucy, with an expressive twinkle in her eyes, “at what period of your prolonged life did you come to form such a just estimate of character in girls of my age?”

“I’ll answer that question another time,” said Flora; “meanwhile, I will relent and tell you about old Moggy.  But, after all, there is not much to tell, and there is no secret connected with her, although there is a little mystery.”

“No secret, yet a mystery! a distinction without a difference, it seems to me.”

“Perhaps it is.  You shall hear: ­

“When a middle-aged woman, Moggy was housekeeper to Mr Hamilton, a landed proprietor in this neighbourhood.  Mr Hamilton’s gardener fell in love with Moggy; they married, and, returning to this their native hamlet, settled down in the small hut which the old woman still occupies.  They had one daughter, named Mary, after Mr Hamilton’s sister.  When Mary was ten years old her father died of fever, and soon afterwards Moggy was taken again into Mr Hamilton’s household in her old capacity; for his sister was an invalid, and quite unfit to manage his house.  In the course of time little Mary became a woman and married a farmer at a considerable distance from this neighbourhood.  They had one child, a beautiful fair-haired little fellow.  On the very day that he was born his father was killed by a kick from a horse.  The shock to the poor mother was so great, that she sank under it and died.  Thus the little infant was left entirely to the care of his grandmother.  He was named Willie, after his father.

“Death seemed to cast his shadow over poor Moggy’s path all her life through.  Shortly after this event Mr Hamilton died suddenly.  This was a great blow to the housekeeper, for she was much attached to her old master, who had allowed her to keep her little grandson beside her under his roof.  The sister survived her brother about five years.  After her death the housekeeper returned to her old hut, where she has ever since lived on the interest of a small legacy left her by her old master.  Little Willie, or wee Wullie, as she used to call him, was the light of old Moggy’s eyes, and the joy of her heart.  She idolised and would have spoiled him, had that been possible; but the child was of a naturally sweet disposition, and would not spoil.  He was extremely amiable and gentle, yet bold as a young lion, and full of fun.  I do not wonder that poor old Moggy was both proud and fond of him in an extraordinary degree.  The blow of his removal well-nigh withered her up, body and soul ­”

“He died?” said Lucy, looking up at Flora with tearful eyes.

“No, he did not:  perhaps it would have been better if the poor child had died; you shall hear.  When Willie was six years old a gang of gypsies passed through this hamlet, and, taking up their abode on the common, remained for some time.  They were a wild, dangerous set, and became such a nuisance that the inhabitants at last took the law into their own hands, and drove them away.  Just before this occurred little Willie disappeared.  Search was made for him everywhere, but in vain.  The gypsies were suspected, and their huts examined.  Suspicion fell chiefly on one man, a stout ill-favoured fellow, with an ugly squint and a broken nose; but nothing could be proved either against him or the others, except that, at the time of the child’s disappearance, this man was absent from the camp.  From that day to this, dear little Willie has never been heard of.

“At first, the poor old grandmother went about almost mad with despair and anxiety, but, as years passed by, she settled down into the moping old creature you have seen her.  It is five years since that event.  Willie will be eleven years old now, if alive; but, alas!  I fear he must be dead.”

“What a sad, sad tale!” said Lucy.  “I suppose it must be because our Jacky is about the age that Willie was when he was stolen, that the poor woman has evinced such a fondness for him.”

“Possibly; and, now I think of it, there is a good deal of resemblance between the two, especially about the hair and eyes, though Willie was much more beautiful.  You have noticed, no doubt, that Moggy wears a clean plaid ­”

“Oh, yes,” interrupted Lucy; “I have observed that.”

“That was the plaid that Willie used to wear in winter.  His grandmother spends much of her time in washing it; she takes great pains to keep it clean.  The only mystery about the old woman is the old chest in one corner of her hut.  She keeps it jealously locked, and no one has ever found out what is in it, although the inquisitive folk of the place are very anxious to know.  But it does not require a wizard to tell that.  Doubtless it contains the clothing and toys of her grandson.  Poor old Moggy!”

“I can enlighten you on that point,” said Lucy, eagerly opening the lid of a small basket which hung on her arm, and displaying the small suit of Highland clothing in which Jacky had been conveyed home on the night when the Sudberrys were lost on the hills.  “This suit came out of the large chest; and as I knew you meant to visit Moggy to-day, I brought it with me.”

The two friends reached the door of a small cottage as Lucy said this, and tapped.

“Come in!” gruffly said a man’s voice.  This was one of Flora’s difficult cases.  The man was bed-ridden, and was nursed by a grand-daughter.  He was quite willing to accept comfort from Flora, especially when it took the shape of food and medicine; but he would not listen to the Bible.  Flora knew that he liked her visits, however; so, with prayers in her heart and the Bible in her hand, she persevered hopefully, yet with such delicacy that the gruff old man became gruffer daily, as his conscience began to reprove him for his gruffness.

Thus, from hut to hut she went, with love to mankind in her heart and the name of Jesus on her lip; sometimes received with smiles and sent away with blessings, occasionally greeted with a cold look, and allowed to depart with a frigid “good-day!”

Lucy had often wished for some such work as this at home, but had not yet found courage to begin.  She was deeply sympathetic and observant.  Old Moggy was the last they visited that day.  Flora was the only female she would tolerate.

“I’ve been tryin’ to say’t a’ night an’ I canna do’t!” she said stoutly, as the ladies entered.

“You forget the words, perhaps, dear Moggy ­`The Lord gave, and the Lord hath ­’”

Na, na, I dinna forget them, but I canna say them.”  So Flora sat down on a stool, and gently sought, by means of the Bible, to teach the old woman one of the most difficult lessons that poor human nature has got to learn in this world of mingled happiness and woe.