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THE PEDLAR'S STORY.
Here's more matter for a bot brain. Every lane's end, every shop, church, session, hanging, yields a careful man work.
SHAKSPEARE.— Winter's Tale. MR. Handcock commenced his recital thus :
“ I told you I was not born to carry a pack; nor indeed to do many things which (God help me !) I have done.”
Here he gave a sort of sigh, which, however, soon vanished.
“And yet,” continued he, “my birth had not much to boast of; though it was a high birth too, for it was in the loftiest garret in the good town of Reading, where
mother enacted the part and profession of a midwife, while my father sold coals and potatoes in a cellar below. You will be surprised, therefore, at my appearing to disdain my pack ; but the truth is, I was, as you called me, a gentleman of education, if reading a great quantity of trash, and worse than trash, be education. It corrupted me, indeed, to the backbone, but it gave me much knowledge of the differences of the lots of men.
“ You may suppose that my father could not defray
the charge of thus schooling me; and, in fact, till twelve or thirteen, I could neither write nor read, but was employed in helping my father in weighing out coals, in which I fear the weights were not always so true as they ought to liave been. I would willingly have helped my mother, too, in her vocation, if she had permitted ; for I was a handy lad, ready for any and all work, and noticed by everybody for the smartness with which I ran of errands, and carried notes and messages between the officers in our country quarters and their sweethearts, by which I got many a sixpence.
“ I also helped the journeyman of a neighbouring apothecary, in delivering bottles of doctor's stuff without breaking them.
“Nobody of my inches could be compared with me at foot-ball, and when not employed in any of these ways, I rambled about the fields and lanes with other blackguards, with whom I am afraid I was guilty of robbing a few orchards; but that's a trifle—I wish I could say that was the worst thing I ever did in my life.”
Here Mr. Handcock began to look serious again; so, to comfort him, I said, I dared to say these were only a few youthful pranks, which might easily be forgiven.
“ Well,” said he, “it's no use thinking; what is done is done, and so I shall go on, by telling you that, among other things for which I was remarkable, I had an excellent voice and ear for music, and a good memory, and took to learning by heart and singing songs, so as to attract the notice of our parish clerk, who, being in want of just such a voice as mine, enlisted me in his
music gallery, and gave me a few coppers every Sunday for singing psalms."
< Psalms !” exclaimed I.
“ Yes; and well sung too; for my voice was a finer treble than any one's else, and I became admired by the whole congregation, and the parson himself, who, wanting just such a boy to clean knives and shoes, bargained with my father to keep me in board and give me a suit of clothes once in two years, for which I was to do every thing he and the maids desired me."
“ Had he many maids ?”
“ To do him justice, he was very pious and good, upon the whole, though there was very little meat in the potatoe pies on which he used to feed us. But he was really a religious person, prayed a great deal, and made us pray too, which first opened my mind to the notion that there was such a thing as religion.”
“Good !” said I, “ and I hope good came of it.” “ Not much, I fear, for I soon forgot it.”
Here the pedlar once more looked grave, but proceeded.
“My master, who, as I said, was really good-natured, finding me, though so sharp, utterly ignorant, made his clerk, who kept a day school, take me among his scholars, without charging any thing for it, though he docked me of the Sunday coppers which he used to give me for singing. I made progress, however, and could soon read, and became so fond of it, that my mas
ter presented me with a Bible, which he got cheap from the Bible Society, and which, together with the
Whole Duty of Man,' he used to make me read to him by the hour, till I own I was tired, and it was a relief to me to clean knives.
“Not content with this, he used to make me read one, two, or three sermons a day, upon true faith, and things about mysteries, as they were called, to be believed but not understood, and which, for not understanding, he punished me by mulcting me of my scanty dinner.
“This drove me to schemes of retribution, and as Mrs. Biddy, the cook, always locked up the pantry, I own I thought it but fair to right myself, and by the help of a friend a year or two older, a blacksmith's apprentice, I got a false key to the pantry, which I visited, not only when I was unjustly deprived of my dinner, but whenever I found myself hungry, which was not seldom, after having had it.
“ This did not go on long; for the frequent defalcations could not escape Mrs. Biddy, who taxed me with it, and though I denied it stoutly when she complained to the doctor, he would not believe me, but turned me away in disgrace. What was worse, he would not believe me either when I denounced the cook in return, for having, as was true, given a plate of cold beef to a man with whom she kept company. I was called a wicked dog, who would certainly come to the gallows in this world, and go to the devil in the next. For the sake of my voice, however, I was allowed still to sing in the church, notwithstanding my delinquencies.
“I returned again to be an errand-boy, only with more accomplishments, for I could now read and write; though I know not if that did me good, for it got me the place of shop-boy at a circulating library, much resorted to by both sexes in the town, and the gentry in the neighbourhood.”
“Could that do you harm ?” asked I.
“ In point of comfort, no; in its consequences, yes; for in the intervals of serving books to the shop visitors, I read them myself; and as they were all novels, I am loth to say what damage they did to my mind. . The very best of them filled me with notions of intrigue, swindling, corrupt pleasures, and successful profligacy. Not one word about religion : indeed, in those I read, there did not seem to be such a thing in the world, so that I soon forgot what little the doctor had forced into me. It is certain I never thought afterwards of sermons, or the 'Whole Duty of Man.'
“ This was the more dangerous, because from the fascinations thrown about these pictures in the books I read, by style, wit, and glowing description, my virtue was gone before I knew it was in danger.”
“ Your virtue,” said I, laughing," which you had acquired in delivering coals with false weights, robbing orchards and pantries, and carrying on intrigues between officers and their sweethearts ! But pray, may I ask who the authors were who so delighted and so corrupted you ? "
“ Those that most engaged me,” replied he, “were Guzman – Alfarache, or the Spanish Rogue ; Lazarillo di Tormes, not much better; and the histories of