Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

night; such a wretched manager was Rachel ! Among her other articles of trade, one was to make and sell peppermint, and other distilled waters. These she had the cheap art of making without trouble and without expense, for she made them without herbs and without a still. Her way was, to fill so many quart bottles with plain water, putting a spoonful of mint water in the mouth of each ; these she corked down with rosin,

1; carrying to each customer a phial of real distilled water to taste by way of sample. This was so good, that her bottles were commonly bought up without being opened; but if any suspicion arose, and she was forced to uncork a bottle, by the few drops of distilled water lying at top, she even then escaped detection, and took care to get out of reach before the bottle was opened a second time. She was too prudent ever to go twice to the same house.

a

THE UPRIGIT MAGISTRATE.

There is hardly any petty mischief that is not connected with the life of a poacher. Mr. Wilson was aware of this; he was not only a pious clergyman, but an upright justice. He used to say, that people who were truly conscientious, must be so in small things as well as in great ones, or they would destroy the effect of their own precepts, and their example would not be of general use. For this reason he never would accept of a hare or a partridge from any unqualified person in his parish. He did not content himself with shuffling the thing off by asking no questions, and pretending to take it for granted in a general way that the game was fairly come at; but he used to say, that by receiving the booty he connived at a crime, made himself a sharer in it, and if he gave a present to the man who brought it, he even tempted him to repeat the fault.

One day poor Jack Weston, an honest fellow in the neighbourhood, whom Mr. Wilson had kindly visited and relieved in a long sickness, from which he was but just recovered, was brought before him as he was sitting on the justice's bench : Jack was accused of having knocked down a hare; and of all the birds in the air, who should the informer be, but Black Giles the poacher! Mr. Wilson was grieved at the charge; he had a great regard for Jack, but he had still a greater regard for the law. The poor fellow pleaded guilty. He did not deny the fact, but said he did not consider it as a crime, for he did not think game was private property, and he owned he had a strong temptation for doing what he had done, which he hoped would plead in his excuse. The justice desired to know what this temptation was. “Sir," said the poor fellow, "you know I was given over this spring in a bad fever. I had no friend in the world but

you, sir. Under God, you saved my life by your charitable relief; and I trust also you may have helped to save my soul by your prayers and your good advice ; for, by the grace of God, I have turned over a new leaf since that sickness.

“I know I can never make you amends for all your goodness, but I thought it would be some comfort to my full heart if I could but once give you some little token of my gratitude. So I had trained a pair of nice turtle-doves for Madamn Wilson ; but they were stolen from me, sir, and I do suspect Black Giles stole them. Yesterday morning, sir, as I was crawling out to my work, for I am still but very weak, a fine hare

a

ran across my path. I did not stay to consider whether it was wrong to kill a hare, but I felt it was right to show my gratitude ; so, sir, without a moment's thought I did knock down the hare, which I was going to carry to your worship, because I knew madam was fond of hare. I am truly sorry for my fault, and will submit to whatever punishment your worship may please to inflict."

Mr. Wilson was much moved with this honest confession, and touched with the poor fellow's gratitude. What added to the effect of the story, was the weak condition and pale sickly looks of the offender. But this worthy magistrate never suffered his feelings to bias his integrity; he knew that he did not sit on that bench to indulge pity, but to administer justice; and while he was sorry for the offender, he would never justify the offence. “John,” said he, “I am surprised that you could for a moment forget that I never accept any gift which causes the giver to break a law. On Sunday I teach you from the pulpit the laws of God, whose minister I am. At present I fill the chair of the magistrate, to enforce and execute the laws of the land. Between those and the others there is more connexion than you are aware. I thank you, John, for your affection to me, and I admire your gratitude ; but I must not allow either affection or gratitude to be brought as a plea for a wrong action. It is not your business nor mine, John, to settle whether the game laws are good or bad. Till they are repealed, we must obey them. Many, I doubt not, break these laws through ignorance ; and many, I am certain, who would not dare to steal a goose or a turkey, make no scruple of knocking down a hare or a partridge. You will hereafter think yourself happy, that this, your first attempt, has proved unsuccessful, as I trust you are too honest a fellow ever to intend to turn poacher. With poaching, much moral evil is connected ; a habit of nightly depredation ; a custom of prowling in the dark for prey produces in time a disrelish for honest labour. He whose first offence was committed without much thought or evil intention, if he happens to succeed a few times in carrying off his booty undiscovered, grows bolder and bolder; and when he fancies there is no shame attending it, he very soon gets to persuade himself that there is also no sin. While some people pretend a scruple about stealing a sheep, they partly live by plundering of warrens. But remember that the warrener pays a high rent, and that therefore his rabbits are as much his property as his sheep. Do not then deceive yourselves with these false distinctions. All property is sacred ; and as the laws of the land are intended to fence in that property, he who brings up his children to break down any of these fences, brings them up to certain sin and ruin. He who begins with robbing orchards, rabbit-warrens, and fish-ponds, will probably end with horse-stealing or highway robbery. Poaching is a regular apprenticeship to bolder crimes. He whom I may commit as a boy to sit in the stocks for killing a partridge, may be likely to end at the gallows for killing a man.

“Observe, you who now hear me, the strictness and impartiality of justice. I know Giles to be a worthless fellow, yet it is my duty to take his information ; I know Jack Weston to be an honest youth, yet I must be obliged to make him pay the penalty. Giles is a bad man, but he can prove this fact; Jack is a worthy lad, but he has committed this fault. I am sorry for you, Jack ; but do not let it grieve you that Giles has played

a

worse tricks a hundred times, and yet got off, while you were detected in the

very first offence; for that would be grieving because you are not so great a rogue as Giles. At this moment you think your good luck is very unequal; but all this will one day turn out in your favour. Giles is not the more a favourite of Heaven because he has hitherto escaped Botany Bay or the hulks ; nor is it any mark of God's displeasure against you, John, that you were found out in your very first attempt.”

Here the good justice left off speaking ; and no one could contradict the truth of what he had said. Weston humbly submitted to his sentence, but he was very poor, and knew not where to raise the money to pay his fine. His character had always been so fair, that several farmers present kindly agreed to advance a trifle each to prevent his being sent to prison, and he thankfully promised to work out the debt. The Justice himself, though he could not soften the law, yet showed Weston so much kindness, that he was enabled, before the year was out, to get out of this difficulty. He began to think more seriously that he had ever yet done, and grew to abhor poaching, not merely from fear but from principle.

We shall soon see whether Poaching Giles always got off so successfully. Here we have seen that worldly prosperity is no sure sign of goodness : and that the “ triumphing of the wicked is short,” will be made to appear in the Second Part of the Poacher, containing the entertaining story of the Widow Brown's Apple-tree.

[ocr errors]

a

PART II.—HISTORY OF WIDOW BROWN'S APPLE-TREE. I think my readers are so well acquainted with Black Giles the poacher, that they will not expect to hear any great good, either of Giles himself, his wife Rachel, or any of their family. I am sorry to expose their tricks; but it is their fault, not mine. If I pretend to speak about people at all, I must tell the truth. I am sure, if folks would but turn about and mend, it would be a thousand times pleasanter to me to write their histories; for it is no comfort to tell of anybody's faults. If the world would but grow good, I should be glad enough to publish it; but till it really becomes so, I must go on describing it as it is; otherwise, I should only mislead my readers, instead of instructing them. It is the duty of a faithful historian to relate the evil with the good.

As to Giles and his boys, I am sure old widow Brown has good reason to remember their dexterity. Poor woman ! she had a fine little bed of onions, in her neat and well-kept garden; she was very fond of her onions, and many a rheumatism has she caught by kneeling down to weed them in a damp day, notwithstanding the little flannel-cloak and the bit of an old mat which Madam Wilson gave her, because the old woman would needs weed in wet weather. Her onions she always carefully treasured up for her winter's store ; for an onion makes a little broth very relishing, and is indeed the only savoury thing poor people are used to get. She had also a small orchard, containing about a dozen apple-trees; with which, in a good year, she has been known to make a couple of barrels of cider, which she sold to her landlord towards paying her rent, besides having a little keg which she was able to keep back for her own drinking. Well !

a

would you believe it, Giles and his boys marked both onions and apples for their own ; indeed, a man who stole so many rabbits from the warren, was likely enough to steal orions for sauce. One day, when the widow was abroad on a little business, Giles and his boys made a clear riddance of the onion-bed; and when they had pulled up every single onion, they then turned a couple of pigs into the garden, who, allured by the smell, tore up the bed in such a manner, that the widow, when she came home, had not the least doubt but the pigs had been the thieves. To confirin this opinion, they took care to leave the little hatch half open at one end of the garden, and to break down a slight fence at the other end.

I wonder how anybody can find in his heart not to pity and respect poor old widows! There is something so forlorn and helpless in their condition, that methinks it is a call on everybody, men, women, and children, to do them all the kind services that fall in their way. Surely, their having no one to take their part, is an additional reason for kindhearted people not to hurt and oppress them. But it was this very reason which led Giles to do this woman an injury. With what a touching simplicity is it recorded in Scripture, of the youth whom our blessed Saviour raised from the dead, that he was the only son of his mother, “ and she was a widow !”

It happened unluckily for poor widow Brown, that her cottage stood quite alone. On several mornings together (for roguery gets up much earlier than industry) Giles and his boys stole regularly into her orchard, followed by their jackasses. She was so deaf, that she could not hear the asses if they had brayed ever so loud, and to this Giles trusted; for he was very cautious in his rogueries, since he could not otherwise have contrived so long to keep out of prison ; for though he was almost always suspected, he had seldom been taken up, and never convicted. The boys used to fill their bags, load their asses, and then march off; and if, in their way to the town where the apples were to be sold, they chanced to pass by one of their neighbours who might be likely to suspect them, they then all at once began to scream out, Buy my coal !-buy my sand!”

Besides the trees in her orchard, poor widow Brown had in her small garden one apple-tree particularly fine; it was a red-streak, so tempting and so lovely, that Giles's family had watched it with longing eyes, till at last they resolved on a plan for carrying off all this fine fruit in their bags. But it was a nice point to manage. The tree stood directly under her chamber-window, so that there was some danger that she might spy them at the work. They therefore determined to wait till the next Sunday morning, when they knew she would not fail to be at church. Sunday came, and during service Giles attended. It was a lone house, as I said before, and the rest of the parish were safe at church. In a trice the tree was cleared, the bags were filled, the asses were whipped, the thieves were off, the coast was clear, and all was safe and quiet by the time the

sermon was over.

Unluckily, however, it happened, that this tree was so beautiful, and the fruit so fine, that the people, as they used to pass to and from the church, were very apt to stop and admire widow Brown's red-streaks ; and some of the farmers rather envied her, that in that scarce season, when they hardly expected to make a pie out of a large orchard, she was

a

a

likely to make a cask of cider from a single tree. I am afraid, indeed, if I must speak ont, she herself rather set her heart too much upon this fruit, and had felt as much pride in her tree as gratitude to a good Providence for it; but this failing of hers was no excuse for Giles. The covetousness of this thief had for once got the better of his caution ; the tree was too completely stripped, though the youngest boy, Dick, did beg hard that his father would leave the poor old woman enough for a few dumplings; and when Giles ordered Dick in his turn to shake the tree, the boy did it so gently, that hardly any apples fell, for which he got a good stroke of the stick with which the old man was beating down the apples.

The neighbours on their return from church stopped as usual, but it was—not, alas ! to admire the apples, for apples there were none left, but to lament the robbery, and console the widow; meantime the redstreaks were safely lodged in Giles's hovel under a few bundles of new hay which he had contrived to pull from the farmer's mow the night before, for the use of his jackasses. Such a stir, however, began to be made about the widow's apple-tree, that Giles, who knew how much his character laid him open to suspicion, as soon as he saw the people safe in church again in the afternoon, ordered his boys to carry each a hatful of the apples, and thrust them in at a little casement-window which happened to be open in the house of Samuel Price, a very honest carpenter in that parish, who was at church with his whole family. Giles's plan, by this contrivance, was to lay the theft on Price's sons, in case the thing should come to be further inquired into. Here Dick put in a word, and begged and prayed his father not to force them to carry the apples to Price's. But all that he got by his begging was such a knock as had nearly laid hiin on the earth. “What, you cowardly rascal,” said Giles, "you will go and peach, I suppose, and get your father sent to gaol!”

I Poor widow Brown, though her trouble had made her still weaker than she was, went to church again in the afternoon; indeed, she rightly thought that her being in trouble was a new reason why she ought to go. During the service, she tried with all her might not to think of her redstreaks; and whenever they would come into her head, she took up er prayer-book directly, and so she forgot them a little ; and indeed she found herself much easier when she came out of the church than when she went in ; an effect so commonly produced by prayer, that methinks it is a pity people do not try it oftener. Now it happened oddly enough, that on that Sunday, of all the Sundays in the year, the widow should call in to rest a little at Samuel Price's, to tell over again the lamentable story of the apples, and to consult with him how the thief might be brought to justice. But, Oh, reader ! guess if you can, for I am sure I cannot tell you, what was her surprise, when, on going into Samuel Price's kitchen, she saw her own redstreaks lying in the window! The apples were of a sort too remarkable, for colour, shape, and size, to be mistaken. There was not such another tree in the parish. Widow Brown immediately screamed out, “ Alas-a-day! as sure as can be, here are my redstreaks! I could swear to them in any court.” Samuel Price, who believed his sons to be as honest as himself, was shocked and troubled at the sight. He knew he had no redstreaks of his own; he knew there

a

« PreviousContinue »