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J. COLE

By Emma Gellibrand



[Illustration: "'WHO ARE YOU, MY CHILD?' I SAID' - Page 3
(_Frontispiece_)]




J. COLE.

"HONNERD MADAM,

"Wich i hav seed in the paper a page Boy wanted, and begs to say J. Cole
is over thertene, and I can clene plate, wich my brutther is under a
butler and lernd me, and I can wate, and no how to clene winders and
boots. J. Cole opes you will let me cum. I arsks 8 and all found. if you
do my washin I will take sevven. J. Cole will serve you well and opes to
giv sattisfaxshun. i can cum tomorrer. J. COLE.

"P.S. - He is not verry torl but growin. My brutther is a verry good
hite. i am sharp and can rede and rite and can hadd figgers if you
like."

* * * * * * *




CHAPTER I.


I had advertised for a page-boy, and having puzzled through some dozens
of answers, more or less illegible and impossible to understand, had
come to the last one of the packet, of which the above is an exact copy.

The epistle was enclosed in a clumsy envelope, evidently home-made,
with the aid of scissors and gum, and was written on a half-sheet of
letter-paper, in a large hand, with many blots and smears, on pencilled
lines.

There was something quaint and straightforward in the letter, in spite
of the utter ignorance of grammar and spelling; and while I smiled at
the evident pride in the "brutther" who was a "verry good hite," and
the offer to take less wages if "I would do his washin," I found myself
wondering what sort of waif upon the sea of life was this not very tall
person, over thirteen, who "would serve me well."

I had many letters to answer and several appointments to make, and
had scarcely made up my mind whether or not to trouble to write to my
accomplished correspondent, who was "sharp, and could rede and rite, and
hadd figgers," when, a shadow falling on the ground by me as I sat by
the open window, I looked up, and saw, standing opposite my chair, a
boy, - the very smallest boy, with the very largest blue eyes I ever saw.
The clothes on his little limbs were evidently meant for somebody almost
double his size, but they were clean and tidy.

In one hand he held a bundle, tied in a red handkerchief, and in the
other a bunch of wild-flowers that bore signs of having travelled far in
the heat of the sun, their blossoms hanging down, dusty and fading, and
their petals dropping one by one on the ground.

"Who are you, my child?" I said, "and what do you want?"

At my question the boy placed his flowers on my table, and, pulling off
his cap, made a queer movement with his feet, as though he were trying
to step backwards with both at once, and said, in a voice so deep that
it quite startled me, so strangely did it seem to belong to the size of
the clothes, and not the wearer, -

"Please'm, it's J. Cole; and I've come to live with yer. I've brought
all my clothes, and every think."

For the moment I felt a little bewildered, so impossible did it seem
that the small specimen of humanity before me was actually intending to
enter anybody's service; he looked so childish and wistful, and yet with
a certain honesty of purpose shining out of those big, wide-open eyes,
that interested me in him, and made me want to know more of him.

"You are very small to go into service," I said, "and I am afraid you
could not do the work I should require; besides, you should have waited
to hear from me, and then have come to see me, if I wanted you to do
so."

"Yes, I know I'm not very big," said the boy, nervously fidgeting with
his bundle; "leastways not in hite; but my arms is that long, they'll
reach ever so 'igh above my 'ed, and as for bein' strong, you should
jest see me lift my father's big market basket when it's loaded with
'taters, or wotever is for market, and I hope you'll not be angry
because I come to-day; but Dick - that's my brutther Dick - he says, 'You
foller my advice, Joe,' he says, 'and go arter this 'ere place, and
don't let no grass grow under your feet. I knows what it is goin' arter
places; there's such lots a fitin' after 'em, that if you lets so much
as a hour go afore yer looks 'em up, there's them as slips in fust gets
it; and wen yer goes to the door they opens it and sez, "It ain't no
use, boy, we're sooted;" and then where are yer, I'd like to know? 'So,'
sez he, 'Joe, you look sharp and go, and maybe you'll get it.' So I
come, mum, and please, that's all."

"But about your character, my boy," I said. "You must have somebody to
speak for you, and say you are honest, and what you are able to do. I
always want a good character with my servants; the last page-boy I had
brought three years' good character from his former situation."

"Lor!" said Joe, with a serious look, "did he stay three years in a
place afore he came to you? Wotever did he leave them people for, where
he were so comfortable? If I stay with you three years, you won't catch
me a leavin' yer, and goin' somewheres else. Wot a muff that chap was!"

I explained that it did not always depend on whether a servant wanted to
stay or not, but whether it suited the employers to keep him.

"'Praps he did somethin', and they giv' 'im the sack," murmured Joe; "he
was a flat!"

"But about this character of yours," I said; "if I decide to give you a
trial, although I am almost sure you are too small, and won't do, where
am I to go for your character? Will the people where your brother lives
speak for you?"

"Oh, yes!" cried the little fellow, his cheeks flushing; "I know Dick'll
ask 'em to give me a caricter. Miss Edith, I often cleaned 'er boots.
Once she come 'ome in the mud, and was a-goin' out agin directly; and
they was lace-ups, and a orful bother to do up even; and she come into
the stable-yard with 'er dog, and sez: 'Dick, will you chain Tiger up,
and this little boy may clean my boots if he likes, on my feet?' So I
cleaned 'em, and she giv' me sixpence; and after that, when the boots
come down in the mornin', I got Dick always to let me clean them little
boots, and I kep 'em clean in the insides, like the lady's maid she told
me not to put my 'ands inside 'em if they was black. Miss Edith, she'll
giv me a caricter, if Dick asks 'er."

Just then the visitors' bell rang; and I sent my would-be page into the
kitchen to wait until I could speak to him again, and told him to ask
the cook to give him something to eat.

"Here are your flowers," I said; "take them with you."

He looked at me, and then, as if ashamed of having offered them,
gathered them up in his hands, and with the corner of the red
handkerchief wiped some few leaves and dust-marks off my table, then
saying in a low voice, "I didn't know you 'ad beauties of yer own, like
them in the glass pots, but I'll giv' 'em to the cook." So saying, he
went away into the kitchen, and my visitors came in, and by and by some
more friends arrived.

The weather was very warm, and we sat chattering and enjoying the
shade of the trees by the open French window. Presently, somebody being
thirsty, I suggested lemonade and ice, and I offered strawberries,
and (if possible) cream; though my mind misgave me as to the latter
delicacy, for we had several times been obliged to do without some of
our luxuries if they entailed "_fetching_," as we had no boy to run
errands quickly on an emergency and be useful. However, I rang the
bell; and when the housemaid, whose temper, since she had been what is
curiously termed in servants'-hall language "single-handed," was most
trying, entered, I said, "Make some lemonade, Mary, and ask cook to
gather some strawberries quickly, and bring them, with some cream."

Mary looked at me as who should say, "Well, I'm sure! and who's to do it
all? You'll have to wait a bit." And I know we should have to wait, and
therefore resigned myself to do so patiently, keeping up the ball of
gossip, and wondering if a little music later on would perhaps while
away the time.

Much to my amazement, in less than a quarter of an hour Mary entered
with the tray, all being prepared; and directly I looked at the
strawberry-bowl I detected a novel feature in the table decoration. A
practised hand had evidently been at work; but whose? Mary was far too
matter-of-fact a person. Food, plates, knives and forks, glasses, and a
cruet-stand were all she ever thought necessary; and even for a centre
vase of flowers I had to ask, and often to insist, during the time she
was single-handed.

But here was my strawberry-bowl, a pretty one, even when unadorned,
with its pure white porcelain stem, intwined with a wreath of blue
convolvulus, and then a spray of white, the petals just peeping over
the edge of the bowl, and resting near the luscious red fruit; the
cream-jug, also white, had twining flowers of blue, and round the
lemonade-jug, of glass, was a wreath of yellow blossoms.

"How exquisite!" exclaimed we all. "What fairy could have bestowed such
a treat to our eyes and delight to our sense of the beautiful?"

I supposed some friend of the cook's or Mary's had been taking lessons
in the art of decoration, and had given us a specimen.

Soon after, my friends having gone, I thought of J. Cole waiting to be
dismissed, and sent for him.

Cook came in, and with a preliminary "Ahem!" which I knew of old meant,
"I have an idea of my own, and I mean to get it carried out," said,
"Oh, if you please 'm, if I might be so bold, did you think serious of
engagin' the boy that's waitin' in the kitchen?"

"Why do you ask, Cook?" I said.

"Well, ma'am," she replied, trying to hide a laugh, "of course it's not
for me to presume; but, if I might say a word for him, I think he's the
very handiest and the sharpest one we've ever had in this house, and
we've had a many, as you know. Why, if you'd only have seen him when
Mary come in in her tantrums at 'aving to get the tray single-handed,
and begun a-grumblin' and a-bangin' things about, as is her way, being
of a quick temper, though, as I tells her, too slow a-movin' of herself.
As I were a-sayin', you should have seen that boy. If he didn't up and
leave his bread and butter and mug of milk, as he was a-enjoyin' of as
'arty as you like, and, 'Look 'ere,' says he, 'giv' me the jug. I'll
make some fine drink with lemons. I see Dick do it often up at his
place. Giv' me the squeezer. Wait till I washes my 'ands. I won't be
a minnit.' Then in he rushes into the scullery, washes his hands, runs
back again in a jiffy. 'Got any snow sugar? I mean all done fine like
snow.' I gave it him; and, sure enough, his little hands moved that
quick, he had made the lemonade before Mary would have squeezed a lemon.
'Where do yer buy the cream?' he says next. 'I'll run and get it while
you picks the strawberries.' Perhaps it wasn't right, me a trustin' him,
being a stranger, but he was that quick I couldn't say no. Up he takes
the jug, and was off; and when I come in from the garden with the
strawberries, if he hadn't been and put all them flowers on the things.
He begs my pardon for interfering like, and says, 'I 'ope you'll excuse
me a-doin' of it, but the woman at the milk-shop said I might 'ave 'em;
and I see the butler where Dick lives wind the flowers about like that,
and 'ave 'elped 'im often; and, please, I paid for the cream, because
I'd got two bob of my own, Dick giv' me on my birthday. Oh, I do 'ope,
Mrs. Cook,' he says, 'that the lady'll take me; I 'll serve 'er well, I
will, indeed;' and then he begins to cry and tremble, poor little chap,
for he'd been running about a lot, and never eaten or drank what I
gave him, because he wanted to help, and it was hot in the kitchen, I
suppose, and he felt faint like, but there he is, crying; and just now,
when the bell rung, which was two great big boys after the place, he
says, 'Oh, please say "We're sooted," and ask the lady if I may stay.'
So, I've taken the liberty, ma'am," said Cook, "for somehow I like that
little chap, and there's a deal in him, I do believe."

So saying, Cook retired; and, in a moment, J. Cole was standing in her
place, the blue eyes brimming over with tears, and an eager anxiety as
to what his fate would be making his poor little hands clutch at his
coat-sleeves, and his feet shuffle about so nervously, that I had not
the courage to grieve him by a refusal.

"Well, Joseph," I said, "I have decided to give you a month's trial. I
shall write to the gentleman who employs your brother; and if he speaks
well of you, you may stay."

"And may I stay now, please?" he said. "May I stay before you gets any
answer to your letter to say I'm all right? I think you'd better let me;
there ain't no boy; and Mrs. Cook and Mary'll 'ave a lot to do. I can
stay in the stable, if you don't like to let me be in the house, afore
you writes the letter."

"No, Joe," I replied: "you may not be a good, honest boy, but I think
you are; and you shall stay here. Now go back to Mrs. Wilson, and finish
your milk, and eat something more if you can, then have a good rest and
a wash; they will show you where you are to sleep, and at dinner, this
evening, I shall see if you can wait at table."

"Thank you very kindly," said the boy, his whole face beaming with
delight, "and I'll be sure and do everythink I can for you." Then he
went quickly out of the room; for I could see he was quite overcome, now
that the uncertainty was over.

Alone once more, I reasoned with myself, and felt I was doing an unwise
thing. Just at that time my husband was away on business for some
months; and I had no one to advise me, and no one to say me nay either.
My conscience told me my husband would say, "We cannot tell who this boy
is, where he has lived, or who are his associates; he may be connected
with a gang of thieves for what we know to the contrary. Wait, and have
proper references before trusting him in the house."

And he would be right to say so to me, but not every one listens to
conscience when it points the opposite way to inclination. Well, J. Cole
remained; and when I entered the dining-room, to my solitary dinner, he
was there, with a face shining from soap and water, his curls evidently
soaped too, to make them go tidily on his forehead. The former page
having left his livery jacket and trousers, Mary had let Joe dress in
them, at his earnest request.

She told me afterwards that he had sewn up the clothes in the neatest
manner wherever they could be made smaller; and the effect of the
jacket, which he had stuffed out in the chest with hay, as we discovered
by the perfume, was very droll. He had a great love of bright colors,
and the trousers being large, showed bright red socks; the jacket
sleeves being much too short for the long arms, of which he was so
proud, allowed the wristbands of a vivid blue flannel shirt to be seen.

I was alone, so could put up with this droll figure at my elbow; but
the seriousness of his face was such a contrast to the comicality of the
rest of him, that I found myself beginning to smile every now and then,
but directly I saw the serious eyes on me, I felt obliged to become
grave at once.

The waiting at table I could not exactly pronounce a success; for,
although Joe's quick eyes detected in an instant if I wanted anything,
his anxiety to be "first in the field," and give Mary no chance of
instructing him in his duties, made him collide against her more than
once in his hasty rushes to the sideboard and back to my elbow with the
dishes, which he generally handed to me long before he reached me, his
long arms enabling him to reach me with his hands while he was yet some
distance from me, and often on the wrong side. I also noticed when I
wanted water he lifted the water-bottle on high, and poured as though
it was something requiring a "head." Mary nearly caused a catastrophe
at that moment by frowning at him, and saying, sotto voce, "Whatever are
you doing? Is that the way to pour out water? It ain't hale, stoopid!"

Joe's face became scarlet; and to hide his confusion he seized a
dish-cover, and hastily went out of the room with it, returning in a
moment pale and serious as became one who at heart was every inch a
family butler with immense responsibilities.

Joe was quiet and sharp, quick and intelligent; but I could see he was
quite new to waiting at table. To remove a dish was, I could see, his
greatest dread; and it amused me to see the cleverness with which he
managed that Mary should do that part of the duty.

When only my plate and a dish remained to be cleared away, he would
slowly get nearer as I got towards the last morsel, and before Mary had
time, would take my plate, and go quite slowly to the sideboard with it,
leisurely remove the knife and fork, watching meanwhile in the mirror
if Mary was about to take the dish away; if not he would take something
outside, or bring a decanter, and ask if I wanted wine.

I was, however, pleased to find him no more awkward, as I feared he
would have been, and when, having swept the grate and placed my solitary
wineglass and dessert-plate on the table, he retired, softly closing the
door after him, I felt I should make something of J. Cole, and hoped his
character would be good.




CHAPTER II.


The next morning a tastefully arranged vase of flowers in the centre of
the breakfast-table, and one magnificent rose and bud by my plate, were
silent but eloquent appeals to my interest on behalf of my would-be
page; and when Joe himself appeared, fresh from an hour's self-imposed
work in my garden, I saw he had become quite one of the family; for
Bogie, my little terrier, usually very snappish to strangers, and who
considered all boys as his natural enemies, was leaping about his
feet, evidently asking for more games, and our old magpie was perched
familiarly on his shoulder.

"Good-morning, Joe," I said. "You are an early riser, I can see, by the
work you have already done in the garden."

"Why, yes," replied Joe, blushing, and touching an imaginary cap; "I'm
used to bein' up. There was ever so much to do of a mornin' at 'ome; and
I 'ad to 'elp father afore I could go to be with Dick, and I was with
Dick a'most every mornin' by seven, and a good mile and a arf to walk to
'is place. Shall I bring in the breakfust, mum? Mary's told me what to
do."

Having given permission, Joe set to work to get through his duties, this
time without any help, and I actually trembled when I saw him enter with
a tray containing all things necessary for my morning meal, he looked so
over-weighted; but he was quite equal to it as far as landing the tray
safely on the sideboard. But, alas! then came the ordeal; not one thing
did poor Joe know where to place, and stood with the coffeepot in his
hand, undecided whether it went before me, or at the end of the table,
or whether he was to pour out my coffee for me.

I saw he was getting very nervous, so took it from him, and in order to
put him at his ease, I remarked, -

"I think, perhaps, I had better show you, Joe, just for once, how I like
my breakfast served, for every one has little ways of their own, you
know; and you will try to do it my way when you know how I like it,
won't you?"

Thereupon I arranged the dishes, etc., for him, and his big eyes
followed my every movement. The blinds wanted pulling down a little
presently, and then I began to realize one of the drawbacks in having
such a very small boy as page. Joe saw the sun's rays were nearly
blinding me, and wanted to shut them out; but on attempting to reach the
tassel attached to the cord, it was hopelessly beyond his reach. In vain
were the long arms stretched to their utmost, till the sleeves of the
ex-page's jacket retreated almost to Joe's elbows, but no use.

I watched, curious to see what he would do.

"Please 'm, might I fetch an 'all chair?" said Joe; "I'm afraid I'm
not big enuf to reach the tossle, but I won't pull 'em up so 'igh
to-morrow."

I gave permission, and carefully the chair was steered among my tables
and china pots. Then Joe mounted, and by means of rising on the tips of
his toes he was able to accomplish the task of lowering the blinds.

I noticed at that time that Joe wore bright red socks, and I little
thought what a shock those bright-colored hose were to give me later on
under different circumstances.

That evening I had satisfactory letters regarding Joe's character, and
by degrees he became used to his new home, and we to him. His quaint
sayings and wonderful love of the truth, added to extreme cleanliness,
made him welcome in the somewhat exclusive circle in which my
housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, reigned supreme.

Many a hearty burst of laughter came to me from the open kitchen-window
across the garden in the leisure hour, when, the servants' tea being
over, they sat at work, while Joe amused them with his stories and
reminiscences of the sayings and doings of his wonderful brother Dick.

This same Dick was evidently the one being Joe worshipped on earth, and
to keep his promises to Dick was a sacred duty.

"You don't know our Dick, Mrs. Wilson," said Joe, to the old
housekeeper; "if you did, you'd understand why I no more dare go agen
wot Dick told me, than I dare put my 'and in that 'ere fire. When I were
quite a little chap, I took some big yaller plums once, out of one of
the punnits father was a-packin' for market, and I eat 'em. I don't know
to this hour wot made me take them plums; but I remember they were such
prime big uns, big as eggs they was, and like lumps of gold, with a sort
of blue shade over 'em. Father were very partikler about not 'avin' the
fruit 'andled and takin' the bloom off, and told me to cover 'em well
with leaves. It was a broilin' 'ot day, and I was tired, 'avin' been
stoopin' over the baskits since four in the morning, and as I put the
leaves over the plums I touched 'em; they felt so lovely and cool, and
looked so juicy-like, I felt I must eat one, and I did; there was just
six on 'em, and when I'd bin and eat one, there seemed such a empty
place left in the punnit, that I knew father'd be sure to see it, so I
eat 'em all, and then threw the punnit to one side. Just then, father
comes up and says, "Count them punnits, Dick! there ought to be forty
on 'em. Twenty picked large for Mr. Moses, and twenty usuals for
Marts!" - two of our best customers they was. Well, Dick, he counts 'em,
and soon misses one. 'Thirty-eight, thirty-nine,' he sez, and no more;
'but 'ere's a empty punnit,' he sez. I was standing near, feelin' awful,
and wished I'd said I'd eat the plums afore Dick begun to count 'em, but
I didn't, and after that I couldn't. 'Joe!' sez Dick, 'I wants yer! 'Ow
come this empty punnit 'ere, along of the others? there's plums bin
in it, I can see, 'cos it's not new. Speak up, youngster!' I looked
at Dick's face, Mrs. Wilson, and his eyes seemed to go right into my
throat, and draw the truth out of me. 'Speak up,' he sez, a-gettin'
cross; 'if you've prigged 'em, say so, and you'll get a good hidin'
from me, for a-doin' of it; but if you tells me a lie, you'll get such a
hidin' for that as 'll make you remember it all your life; so speak up,
say you did it, and take your hidin' like a brick, and if you didn't
prig 'em, say who did, 'cos you must 'av' seen 'em go.'

"I couldn't do nothin', Mrs. Wilson, but keep my 'ed down, and blubber
out, 'Please, Dick, I eat 'em.'

"'Oh, you did, yer young greedy, did yer,' he sez; 'I'm glad yer didn't
tell me a lie. I've got to giv' yer a hidin', Joe; but giv' us yer 'and,
old chap, first, and mind wot I sez to yer: "_Own up to it, wotever you
do_," and take your punishment; it's 'ard to bear, but when the smart
on it's over yer forgets it; but if yer tells a lie to save yerself, yer
feels the smart of _that_ always; yer feels ashamed of yerself whenever
yer thinks of it.' And then Dick give me a thrashin', he did, but I
never 'ollered or made a row, tho' he hit pretty 'ard. And, Mrs. Wilson,
I never could look in Dick's face if I told a lie, and I never shall
tell one, I 'ope, as long as ever I live. You should just see Dick, Mrs.
Wilson, he is a one-er, he is."

"Lor' bless the boy," said Mary, the housemaid; "why, if he isn't
a-cryin' now. Whatever's the matter? One minnit you're makin' us larf
fit to kill ourselves, and then you're nearly makin' us cry with your
Dick, and your great eyes runnin' over like that. Now get away, and take
the dogs their supper, and see if you can't get a bit of color in your
cheeks before you come back."

So off Joe went, and soon the frantic barking in the stable-yard showed
he had begun feeding his four-footed pets.


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