Page images

of the joy, of other harvests. The husbandman, instead of carousing with his reapers, brooded, in the recesses of his cottage, over the ruin which awaited him; and the poor craftsman, though he had already secured his ordinary store of fish, launched his boat a second time to provide against the impending famine.

Towards the close of autumn not an ounce of meal was to be had in the market; and the housewives of Cromarty began to discover that the appetites of their children had becorne appallingly voracious. The poor things could not be made to understand why they were getting so much less to eat than usual, and the monotonous cry of “Bread, mammy, bread !” was to be heard in every house. Groups of the inhabitants might be seen on the beach below the town watching the receding tide, in the expectation of picking up a few shell-fish ; and the shelves and ledges of the bill were well-righ stripped by them of their weeds and tangle: but with all their industry they throve but ill. Their eyes receded, and their cheek-bones stuck out; they became sallow, and lank of jaw, and melancholy; and their talk was all about the price of corn, bad times, and a failing trade. Poor people! it was well for both themselves and the Government that politics had not yet come into fashion ;

for had they lived and been subjected to such misery eighty years later, they would have become Radicals to a man: they would have set themselves to reform the State ; and, as they were very hungry, no moderate reform would have served.

The winter was neither severe nor protracted, but to the people of Cromarty it was a season of much suffering; and with the first month of spring there came down upon them whole shoals of beggars from the upper part of the country, to implore that assistance which they were, alas ! unable to render them, and to share with them in the spoils of the sea. The unfortunate paupers, mostly elderly men and women, were so modest and unobtrusive, so unlike common beggars in their costume, which in most instances was entire and neat, and so much more miserable in aspect, for they were wasted by famine, that the hearts of the people of the town bled for them. It is recorded of one farmer of the parish, whose crops did not suffer quite so much as those of his neighbors, that he prepared every morning a pot of gruel, and dealt it out by measure to the famishing strangers, giving to each the full of a small ladle. There was a widow gentlewoman, too, of the town, who imparted to them much of her little, and yet, like the widow of Zarephath, found enough in what remained. On a morning of this spring, she saw a thin volume of smoke rising from beside the wall of a cornyard, which long before had been emptied of its last stack; and approaching it, she found it proceeded from a little fire, surrounded by four old women, who were anxiously watching a small pot suspended over a fire by a pin fixed in the wall. Curiosity induced her to raise the lid; and as she stretched out her hand the women looked up imploringly in her face. The little pot she found about half filled with fish entrails, which had been picked up on dunghills and the shore: her heart smote her, and hastening home for a cake of bread, she divided it among the women. And never till her dying day did she forget the look which they gave her when, breaking the cake, she doled out a portion to each.

Hugh Miller.


The new lodgers at first attracted our curiosity, and afterwards excited our interest. They were a young lad of eighteen or nineteen, and his mother, a lady of about fifty, or it might be less. The mother wore a widow's weeds, and the boy was also clothed in deep mourning. They were poor-very poor; for their only means of support arose from the pittance the boy earned by copying writings, and translating for booksellers.

They had removed from some country place, and settled in London, partly because it afforded better chances of employment for the boy, and partly, perhaps, with the natural desire to leave a place where they had been in better circumstances, and where their poverty was known. They were proud under their reverses, and above revealing their wants and privations to strangers. How bitter those privations were, and how hard the boy worked to remove them, no one ever knew but themselves. Night after night, two, three, four hours after midnight, could we hear the raking up of the scanty fire, or the hollow or half-stifled cough,

which indicated his being still at work; and day after day, could we see more plainly, that nature had set that unearthly light in his plaintive face which is the beacon of her worst disease.

Actuated, we hope, by a higher feeling than mere curiosity, we contrived to establish, first, an acquaintance, and then a close intimacy, with the poor strangers. Our worst fears were realised; the boy was sinking fast. Through a part of the winter, and the whole of the following spring and summer, his labors were unceasingly prolonged : and the mother attempted to procure needlework, embroidery—anything for bread.

A few shillings now and then were all she could earn. The boy worked steadily on; dying by minutes, but never once giving utterance to complaint or murmur.

One beautiful autumn evening, we went to pay our customary visit to the invalid. His little remaining strength had been decreasing rapidly for two or three days preceding, and he was lying on the sofa at the open window, gazing at the setting sun. His mother had been reading the Bible to him, for she closed the book as we entered, and advanced to meet us.

“I was telling William," said she, “that we must manage to take him into the country somewhere, so that he may get quite well. He is not ill, you know, but he is not very strong, and has exerted himself too much lately." Poor thing! the tears that streamed through her fingers as she turned aside, as if to adjust her close widow's cap, too plainly showed how fruitless was the attempt to deceive herself.

We sat down by the head of the sofa, but said nothing, for we saw that the breath of life was passing gentiy but rapidly from the young

form before us. At every respiration his heart beat more slowly.

The boy placed one hand in ours, grasped his mother's arm with the other, drew her hastily towards him, and fervently kissed her cheek. There was a pause. He sank back upon his pillow, and looked long and earnestly in his mother's face.

William, William!” murmured the mother after a long interval, “ don't look at me so—speak to me, dear!”

The boy smiled languidly, but an instant afterwards his features resolved into the same cold, solemn grace.

“William, dear William ! rouse yourself, dear ; don't look at me

[ocr errors]

so, love-pray don't! Oh! my God! what shall I do!” cried the widow, clasping her hands in agony—“my dear boy! he is dying !”

The boy raised himself by a violent effort, and folded his hands together—"Mother! dear, dear mother! bury me in the open fields-anywhere but in these dreadful streets. I should like to be where you can see—where the sun can shine upon my grave, but not in these close crowded streets: they have killed me! Kiss me again, mother; put your arm round my neck

He fell back, and a strange expression stole upon his features ; not of pain or suffering, but an indescribable fixing of every

line and muscle. The boy was dead.

Chas. Dickens.

[ocr errors]

OUR FIRST WHALE. We now came up and arranged ourselves on either side of the fast-boat, a little a-head, and at some distance, so as to be ready to pull in directly the whale should reappear at the surface. Away we all went, every nerve strained to the utmost-excitement and eagerness on every countenance—the water bubbling and hissing round the bows of the boats, as we clove our way onward.

“Hurrah, boys!" was the general shout. Up came the whale, more suddenly than we expected. A general dash was made at her by all the boats. “Stern, for your lives! stern of all !" cried some of the more experienced harpooners. “See, she's in a flurry.” First the monster flapped the water violently with its fins; then its tail was elevated aloft, lashing the ocean around into a mass of foam. This was not its death-flurry, for, gaining strength before many harpoons or lances could be struck into it, away it went again, heading towards the ice. Its course was now clearly discerned by a small whirling eddy, which showed that it was at no great distance under the surface; while, in its wake, was seen a thin line of oil and blood, which had exuded from its wound.

Wearied, however, with its former deep dive, it was again obliged to come to the surface to breathe. Again the eager

[ocr errors]

boats dashed in, alniost running on its back: and from every side it was plied with lances, while another harpoon was driven deeply into it, to make it doubly secure. Our boat was the most incautious, for we were right over the tail of the whale. The chief harpooner warned usm Back, my lads; back of all !” he shouted out, his own boat pulling away. “Now she's in her death-flurry, truly.”

The words were not out of his mouth, when I saw our harpooner leap from the boat, and swim as fast as he could towards one of the others. I was thinking of following his example, knowing he had good reasons for it,-for I had seen the fins of the animal flap furiously, and which had warned him,—when a violent blow, which I fancied must have not only dashed the boat to pieces, but have broken every bone in our bodies, was struck on the keel of the boat.

Up flew the boat in the air, seven or eight feet at least, with the remaining crew in her. Then, down we came-one flying on one side, one on the other, but none of us even hurt—all spluttering and striking out together ; while the boat came down keel uppermost, also not much the worse. Fortunately, we all got clear of the furious blows the monster continued dealing with his tail.

Never saw a whale in such a flurry," said old David, into whose boat I was taken. For upwards of two minutes the flurry continued, we all the while looking on, and no one daring to approach it ; at the same time a spout of blood, and mucus, and oil ascended into the air from its blow-holes, and sprinkled us all

[ocr errors]


“Hurrah! my lads; she spouts blood !" we shouted out to each other, though we all saw and felt it plain enough. There was a last lash of that tail, now fainter, and scarce rising above the water, but which a few minutes ago would have sent every boat round it flying into splinters. Then all was quiet. The mighty mass, now almost inanimate, turned slowly round upon its side, and then it floated belly up, quite dead.

Peter the Whaler.

« PreviousContinue »