Chapter 6

The happiness of a country fire-side

As we carried on the former dispute with some degree of warmth, in order to accommodate matters, it was universally agreed, that we should have a part of the venison for supper, and the girls undertook the task with alacrity. “I am sorry,” cried I, “that we have no neighbour or stranger to take a part in this good cheer: feasts of this kind acquire a double relish from hospitality.”—“Bless me,” cried my wife, “here comes our good friend, Mr. Burchell, that saved our Sophia, and that run you down fairly in the argument.” “Confute me in argument, child!” cried I. “You mistake there, my dear, I believe there are but few that can do that: I never dispute your abilities at making a goose-pie, and I beg you’ll leave argument to me.”—As I spoke, poor Mr. Burchell entered the house, and was welcomed by the family, who shook him heartily by the hand, while little Dick officiously reached him a chair.

I was pleased with the poor man’s friendship for two reasons: because I knew that he wanted mine, and I knew him to be friendly as far as he was able. He was known in our neighbourhood by the character of the poor Gentleman that would do no good when he was young, though he was not yet thirty. He would at intervals talk with great good sense; but in general he was fondest of the company of children, whom he used to call harmless little men. He was famous, I found, for singing them ballads, and telling them stories; and seldom went out without something in his pockets for them; a piece of gingerbread, or a halfpenny whistle. He generally came for a few days into our neighbourhood once a year, and lived upon the neighbours’ hospitality. He sate down to supper among us, and my wife was not sparing of her gooseberry wine. The tale went round; he sung us old songs, and gave the children the story of the Buck of Beverland, with the history of Patient Grissel, the adventures of Catskin, and then Fair Rosamond’s Bower. Our cock, which always crew at eleven, now told us it was time for repose; but an unforseen difficulty started about lodging the stranger—all our beds were already taken up, and it was too late to send him to the next alehouse. In this dilemma, little Dick offered him his part of the bed if his brother Moses would let him lie with him; “and I,” cried Bill, “will give Mr. Burchell my part, if my sisters will take me to theirs.”—“Well done, my good children,” cried I, “hospitality is one of the first Christian duties. The beast retires to its shelter, and the bird flies to its nest; but helpless man can only find refuge from his fellow-creature. The greatest stranger in this world was He that came to save it. He had never had a house, as if willing to see what hospitality was left remaining amongst us. Deborah, my dear,” cried I, to my wife, “give those boys a lump of sugar each, and let Dick’s be the largest, because he spoke first.”

In the morning early I called out my whole family to help at saving an after-growth of hay, and our guest offering his assistance, he was accepted among the number. Our labours went on lightly; we turned the swath to the wind. I went foremost, and the rest followed in due succession. I could not avoid, however, observing the assiduity of Mr. Burchell in assisting my daughter Sophia in her part of the task. When he had finished his own, he would join in her’s, and enter into a close conversation; but I had too good an opinion of Sophia’s understanding, and was too well convinced of her ambition, to be under any uneasiness from a man of broken fortune. When we were finished for the day, Mr. Burchell was invited as on the night before; but he refused, as he was to lie that night at a neighbour’s, to whose child he was carrying a whistle. When gone, our conversation at supper turned upon our late unfortunate guest. “What a strong instance,” said I, “is that poor man of the miseries attending a youth of levity and extravagance. He by no means wants sense, which only serves to aggravate his former folly. Poor forlorn creature, where are now the revellers, the flatterers, that he could once inspire and command! Gone, perhaps, to attend the bagnio pander, grown rich by his extravagance. They once praised him, and now they applaud the pander: their former raptures at his wit are now converted into sarcasms at his folly: he is poor, and perhaps deserves poverty; for he has neither the ambition to be independent, nor the skill to be useful.” Prompted perhaps by some secret reasons, I delivered this observation with too much acrimony, which my Sophia gently reproved. “Whatsoever his former conduct may have been, papa, his circumstances should exempt him from censure now. His present indigence is a sufficient punishment for former folly; and I have heard my papa himself say, that we should never strike our unnecessary blow at a victim over whom Providence holds the scourge of its resentment.”—“You are right, Sophy,” cried my son Moses, “and one of the ancients finely represents so malicious a conduct, by the attempts of a rustic to flay Marsyas, whose skin, the fable tells us, had been wholly stripped off by another. Besides, I don’t know if this poor man’s situation

  By PanEris using Melati.

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