Black Giles the Poacher by
CONTAINING SOME ACCOUNT OF A FAMILY
WHO HAD RATHER LIVE BY THEIR WITS THAN THEIR WORK[A]
BY HANNAH MORE.
This story exhibits an accurate picture of that part of
the country where the author then resided; and where, by her
benevolent zeal, a great reformation was effected among the poor
inhabitants of at least twenty parishes, within a circle of thirty
Poaching Giles lives on the borders of one of those great moors in
Somersetshire. Giles, to be sure, has been a sad fellow in his time;
and it is none of his fault if his whole family do not end their
career either at the gallows, or at Botany Bay. He lives at that mud
cottage, with the broken windows stuffed with dirty rags, just beyond
the gate which divides the upper from the lower moor. You may know the
house at a good distance by the ragged tiles on the roof, and the
loose stones which are ready to drop out from the chimney; though a
short ladder, a hod of mortar, and half an hour's leisure time would
have prevented all this, and made the little dwelling tight enough.
But as Giles had never learned any thing that was good, so he did not
know the value of such useful sayings as, that "a tile in time saves
Besides this, Giles fell into that common mistake, that a
beggarly looking cottage, and filthy, ragged children, raised most
compassion, and of course drew most charity. But as cunning as he was
in other things, he was out in his reckoning here; for it is neatness,
housewifery, and a decent appearance, which draws the kindness of the
rich and charitable, while they turn away disgusted with filth and
laziness: not out of pride, but because they see that it is next to
impossible to mend the condition of those who degrade themselves by
dirt and sloth; and few people care to help those who will not help
The common on which Giles' hovel stands is quite a deep marsh in a wet
winter, but in summer it looks green and pretty enough. To be sure, it
would be rather convenient, when one passes that way in a carriage, if
one of the children would run out and open the gate; but instead of any
one of them running out as soon as they hear the wheels, which would be
quite time enough, what does Giles do but set all his ragged brats, with
dirty faces, matted locks, and naked feet and legs, to lie all day upon
a sand-bank hard by the gate, waiting for the slender chance of what may
be picked up from travellers. At the sound of a carriage, a whole covey
of these little scarecrows start up, rush to the gate, and all at once
thrust out their hats and aprons; and for fear this, together with the
noise of their clamorous begging, should not sufficiently frighten the
horses, they are very apt to let the gate slap full against you, before
you are half way through, in their eager scuffle to snatch from each
other the halfpence which you may have thrown out to them. I know two
ladies who were one day very near being killed by these abominable tricks.
Thus five or six little idle creatures, who might be earning a trifle
by knitting at home, who might be useful to the public by working in
the field, and who might assist their families by learning to get
their bread twenty honest ways, are suffered to lie about all day in
the hope of a few chance halfpence, which, after all, they are by no
means sure of getting. Indeed, when the neighboring gentlefolks found
out that opening the gate was the family trade, they soon left off
giving any thing. And I myself, though I used to take out a penny
ready to give, had there been only one to receive it, when I saw a
whole family established in so beggarly a trade, quietly put it back
again into my pocket, and gave nothing at all. And so few travellers
pass that way, that sometimes, after the whole family have lost a day,
their gains do not Amount to two-pence.
As Giles had a far greater taste for living by his wits than his work,
he was at one time in hopes that his children might get a pretty penny
by tumbling for the diversion of travellers, and he set about
training them in that indecent practice; but, unluckily, the moors
being level, the carriages travelled faster than the children tumbled.
He envied those parents who lived on the London road, over the
Wiltshire downs, which downs being very hilly, it enables the tumbler
to keep pace with the traveller, till he sometimes extorts from the
light and the unthinking a reward instead of a reproof. I beg leave,
however, to put all gentlemen and ladies in mind, that such tricks are
a kind of apprenticeship to the trades of begging and thieving; and
that nothing is more injurious to good morals than to encourage the
poor in any habits which may lead them to live upon chance.
Giles, to be sure, as his children grew older, began to train them to
such other employments as the idle habits they had learned at the gate
very properly qualified them for. The right of common, which some of
the poor cottagers have in that part of the country, and which is
doubtless a considerable advantage to many, was converted by Giles
into the means of corrupting his whole family; for his children, as
soon as they grew too big for the trade of begging at the gate, were
promoted to the dignity of thieving on the moor.
Here he kept two or three asses, miserable creatures, which, if they
had the good fortune to escape an untimely death by starving, did not
fail to meet with it by beating. Some of the biggest boys were sent
out with these lean and galled animals to carry sand or coals about
the neighboring towns. Both sand and coals were often stolen before
they got them to sell; or if not, they always took care to cheat in
selling them. By long practice in this art, they grew so dexterous
that they could give a pretty good guess how large a coal they could
crib out of every bag before the buyer would be likely to miss it.
All their odd time was taken up under the pretence of watching these
asses on the moor, or running after five or six half-starved geese;
but the truth is, these boys were only watching for an opportunity to
steal an odd goose of their neighbor's, while they pretended to look
after their own. They used also to pluck the quills or the down from
these poor live creatures, or half milk a cow before the farmer's maid
came with her pail. They all knew how to calculate to a minute what
time to be down in a morning to let out their lank, hungry beasts,
which they had turned over night into the farmer's field to steal a
little good pasture. They contrived to get there just time enough to
escape being caught in replacing the stakes they had pulled out for
the cattle to get over. For Giles was a prudent, long-headed fellow;
and wherever he stole food for his colts, took care never to steal
stakes from the hedges at the same time. He had sense enough to know
that the gain did not make up for the danger; he knew that a loose
fagot, pulled from a neighbor's pile of wood after the family were
gone to bed, answered the end better, and was not half the trouble.
Among the many trades which Giles professed, he sometimes practised
that of a rat-catcher; but he was addicted to so many tricks, that he
never followed the same trade long, for detection will sooner or later
follow the best-concerted villany. Whenever he was sent for to a
farm-house, his custom was to kill a few of the old rats, always
taking care to leave a little stock of young ones alive sufficient to
keep up the breed; "for," said he, "if I were to be such a fool as to
clear a house or a barn at once, how would my trade be carried on?"
And where any barn was overstocked, he used to borrow a few rats from
thence, just to people a neighboring granary which had none; and he
might have gone on till now, had he not unluckily been caught one
evening emptying his cage of young rats under parson Wilson's
This worthy minister, Mr. Wilson, used to pity the neglected children
of Giles, as much as he blamed the wicked parents. He one day picked
up Dick, who was far the best of Giles' bad boys. Dick was loitering
about in a field behind the parson's garden, in search of a hen's
nest, his mother having ordered him to bring home a few eggs that
night, by hook or by crook, as Giles was resolved to have some
pancakes for supper, though he knew that eggs were a penny apiece. Mr.
Wilson had long been desirous of snatching some of this vagrant family
from ruin; and his chief hopes were bent on Dick, as the least
hackneyed in knavery. He had once given him a new pair of shoes, on
his promising to go to school next Sunday; but no sooner had Rachel,
the boy's mother, got the shoes into her clutches, than she pawned
them for a bottle of gin, and ordered the boy to keep out of the
parson's sight, and to be sure to play his marbles on Sunday, for the
future, at the other end of the parish, and not near the churchyard.
Mr. Wilson, however, picked up the boy once more; for it was not his
way to despair of any body. Dick was just going to take to his heels,
as usual, for fear the old story of the shoes should be brought
forward; but finding he could not get off, what does he do but run
into a little puddle of muddy water which lay between him and the
parson, that the sight of his naked feet might not bring on the
dreaded subject. Now, it happened that Mr. Wilson was planting a
little field of beans, so he thought this a good opportunity to employ
Dick; and he told him he had got some pretty easy work for him. Dick
did as he was bid; he willingly went to work, and readily began to
plant his beans with dispatch and regularity, according to the
directions given him.
While the boy was busily at work by himself, Giles happened to come
by, having been skulking round the back way, to look over the parson's
garden wall, to see if there was any thing worth climbing over for on
the ensuing night. He spied Dick, and began to scold him for working
for the stingy old parson; for Giles had a natural antipathy to
whatever belonged to the church.
"What has he promised thee a day?" said he; "little enough, I dare
"He is not to pay me by the day," said Dick, "but says he will give me
so much when I have planted this peck, and so much for the next."
"Oh, oh, that alters the case," said Giles. "One may, indeed, get a
trifle by this sort of work. I hate your regular day-jobs, when one
can't well avoid doing one's work for one's money. Come, give me a
handful of the beans; I will teach thee how to plant when thou art
paid for planting by the peck. All we have to do in that case is to
dispatch the work as fast as we can, and get rid of the beans with all
speed; and as to the seed coming up or not, that is no business of
ours; we are paid for planting, not for growing. At the rate thou
goest on, thou wouldst not get sixpence to-night. Come along, hurry
So saying, he took his hat-full of the seed, and where Dick had been
ordered to set one bean, Giles buried a dozen; so the beans were soon
out. But though the peck was emptied, the ground was unplanted. But
cunning Giles knew this could not be found out till the time when the
beans might be expected to come up; "and then, Dick," said he, "the
snails and mice may go shares in the blame; or we can lay the fault on
the rooks or the blackbirds." So saying, he sent the boy into the
parsonage to receive his pay, taking care to secure about a quarter of
the peck of beans for his own colt. He put both bag and beans into his
own pocket to carry home, bidding Dick tell Mr. Wilson that he had
planted the beans and lost the bag.
In the meantime Giles' other boys were busy in emptying the ponds and
trout-streams in the neighboring manor. They would steal away the carp
and tench when they were no bigger than gudgeons. By this untimely
depredation they plundered the owner of his property, without
enriching themselves. But the pleasure of mischief was reward enough.
These and a hundred other little thieveries they committed with such
dexterity, that old Tom Crib, whose son was transported last assizes
for sheep-stealing, used to be often reproaching his boys, that Giles'
sons were worth a hundred of such blockheads as he had; for scarce a
night passed but Giles had some little comfortable thing for supper
which his boys had pilfered in the day, while his undutiful dogs never
stole any thing worth having. Giles, in the meantime, was busy in his
way; but as busy as he was in laying nets, starting coveys, and
training dogs, he always took care that his depredations should not be
confined merely to game.
Giles' boys had never seen the inside of a church, and the father
thought he knew his own interest better than to force them to it; for
church-time was the season of their harvest. Then the hens' nests were
searched, a stray duck was clapped under the smockfrock, the tools
which might have been left by chance in a farm-yard were picked up,
and all the neighboring pigeon-houses were thinned; so that Giles used
to boast to tawny Rachel, his wife, that Sunday was to them the most
profitable day in the week.
With her it was certainly the most laborious day, as she always did
her washing and ironing on Sunday morning, it being, as she said, the
only leisure day she had; for on the other days she went about the
country telling fortunes, and selling dream-books and wicked songs.
Neither her husband's nor her children's clothes were ever mended, and
if Sunday, her idle day, had not come about once in every week, it is
likely they would never have been washed either. You might, however,
see her as you were going to church smoothing her own rags on her best
red cloak, which she always used for her ironing-cloth on Sundays, for
her cloak when she travelled, and for her blanket at 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, carrying to each customer a
vial 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
THE UPRIGHT 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 neighborhood, whom
Mr. Wilson had kindly visited and relieved in a long sickness, from
which he had 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 a still greater regard for
the law. The poor fellow pleaded guilty. He did not deny the fact, but
said he did not consider it 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 turtledoves for Madam 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
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 these and the others there is
more connection 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 more evil is connected: a habit of
nightly depredation, a custom of prowling in the dark for prey,
produces in time a disrelish for honest labor. 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 horsestealing, 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 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 favor. Giles is not the more a favorite 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 than
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 appear in the second part of the Poacher, containing the
entertaining story of the Widow Brown's Apple-tree.
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; as it is no comfort to tell of any
body's faults. If the world would but grow good, I should be glad
enough to tell of 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 savory 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, 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 onions 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 confirm this opinion, they took care to leave the little
hatch half open at one end of the garden, and to break down a bit of a
fence at the other end.
I wonder how any body 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 every body, 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 kind-hearted 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 it is 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 neighbors
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 redstreak, so
tempting and so lovely that Giles' 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; it was a lone house, as I said before, and
most 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
church, were very apt to stop and admire widow Brown's redstreaks; 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 likely to make a cask of cider from a single tree. I am afraid,
indeed, if I must speak out, 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 neighbors, 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' hovel, under a few bundles of
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' 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 him on the earth.
"What, you cowardly rascal," said Giles, "you will go and peach, I
suppose, and get your father sent to jail."
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 her 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 O,
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 color, shape, and size, to be mistaken. There was not
such another tree in the parish.
Widow Brown immediately screamed out, "'Las-a-day! as sure as can be,
here are my redstreaks; I can 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 were no apples in the window when he went to church; he did
verily believe these apples to be the widow's. But how they came there
he could not possibly guess. He called for Tom, the only one of his
sons who now lived at home. Tom was at the Sunday-school, which he had
never once missed since Mr. Wilson the minister had set one up in the
parish. Was such a boy likely to do such a deed?
A crowd had by this time got about Price's door, among which was Giles
and his boys, who had already taken care to spread the news that Tom
Price was the thief. Most people were unwilling to believe it. His
character was very good, but appearances were strongly against him.
Mr. Wilson now came in. He was much concerned that Tom Price, the best
boy in his school, should stand accused of such a crime. He sent for
the boy, examined, and cross-examined him. No marks of guilt appeared.
But still, though he pleaded not guilty, there lay the redstreaks in
his father's window.
All the idle fellows in the place, who were most likely to have
committed such a theft themselves, fell with great vengeance on poor
Tom. The wicked seldom give any quarter. "This is one of your
sanctified ones!" cried they. "This was all the good that
Sunday-schools did! For their parts, they never saw any good come by
religion. Sunday was the only day for a little pastime; and if poor
boys must be shut up with their godly books, when they ought to be out
taking a little pleasure, it was no wonder they made themselves amends
by such tricks."
Another said he should like to see parson Wilson's righteous one well
whipped. A third hoped he would be clapped in the stocks for a young
hypocrite as he was; while old Giles, who thought it was the only way
to avoid suspicion by being more violent than the rest, declared,
that "he hoped the young dog would be transported for life."
Mr. Wilson was too wise and too just to proceed against Tom without
full proof. He declared the crime was a very heavy one, and he feared
that heavy must be the punishment. Tom, who knew his own innocence,
earnestly prayed to God that it might be made to appear as clear as
the noonday; and very fervent were his secret devotions on that night.
Black Giles passed his night in a very different manner. He set off as
soon as it was dark, with his sons and their jackasses laden with
their stolen goods. As such a cry was raised about the apples, he did
not think it safe to keep them longer at home, but resolved to go and
sell them at the next town; borrowing without leave a lame colt out of
the moor to assist in carrying off his booty.
Giles and his eldest sons had rare sport all the way in thinking, that
while they were enjoying the profit of their plunder, Tom Price would
be whipped round the market-place at least, if not sent beyond sea.
But the younger boy, Dick, who had naturally a tender heart, though
hardened by his long familiarity with sin, could not help crying when
he thought that Tom Price might perhaps be transported for a crime
which he himself had helped to commit. He had had no compunction about
the robbery, for he had not been instructed in the great principles of
truth and justice; nor would he, therefore, perhaps have had much
remorse about accusing an innocent boy. But, though utterly devoid of
principle, he had some remains of natural feeling and of gratitude.
Tom Price had often given him a bit of his own bread and cheese; and
once, when Dick was like to be drowned, Tom had jumped into the pond
with his clothes on, and saved his life, when he was just sinking: the
remembrance of all this made his heart heavy. He said nothing; but, as
he trotted, barefoot, after the asses, he heard his father and
brothers laugh at having outwitted the godly ones; and he grieved to
think how poor Tom would suffer for his wickedness, yet fear kept him
silent: they called him sulky dog, and lashed the asses till they
In the meantime, Tom Price kept up his spirits as well as he could. He
worked hard all day, and prayed heartily night and morning.
"It is true," said he to himself, "I am not guilty of this sin; but
let this accusation set me on examining myself, and truly repenting
of all my other sins; for I find enough to repent of, though I thank
God I did not steal the widow's apples."
At length Sunday came, and Tom went to school as usual. As soon as he
walked in, there was a great deal of whispering and laughing among the
worst of the boys; and he overheard them say, "Who would have thought
it? This is master's favorite! This is parson Wilson's sober Tommy! We
sha'n't have Tommy thrown in our teeth again, if we go to get a
birdsnest, or gather a few nuts on a Sunday." "Your demure ones are
always hypocrites," says another. "The still sow sucks all the milk,"
says a third.
Giles' family had always kept clear of the school. Dick, indeed, had
sometimes wished to go: not that he had much sense of sin, or desire
after goodness, but he thought if he could once read, he might rise in
the world, and not be forced to drive asses all his life. Through this
whole Saturday night he could not sleep. He longed to know what would
be done to Tom. He began to wish to go to school, but he had not
courage—sin is very cowardly: so, on the Sunday morning, he went and
sat himself down under the church-wall. Mr. Wilson passed by. It was
not his way to reject the most wicked, till he had tried every means
to bring them over; and even then he pitied and prayed for them. He
had, indeed, long left off talking to Giles' sons; but, seeing Dick
sitting by himself, he once more spoke to him, desired him to leave
off his vagabond life, and go with him into the school. The boy hung
down his head, but made no answer. He did not, however, either rise up
and run away, or look sulky, as he used to do. The minister desired
him once more to go.
"Sir," said the boy, "I can't go; I am so big I am ashamed."
"The bigger you are, the less time you have to lose."
"But, sir, I can't read."
"Then it is high time you should learn."
"I should be ashamed to begin to learn my letters."
"The shame is not in beginning to learn them, but in being contented
never to know them."
"But, sir, I am so ragged."
"God looks at the heart, and not at the coat."
"But, sir, I have no shoes and stockings."
"So much the worse; I remember who gave you both." Here Dick colored.
"It is bad to want shoes and stockings; but still, if you can drive
your asses a dozen miles without them, you may certainly walk a
hundred yards to school without them."
"But, sir, the good boys will hate me, and wont speak to me."
"Good boys hate nobody; and as to not speaking to you, to be sure they
will not keep you company while you go on in your present evil
courses; but as soon as they see you wish to reform, they will help
you, and pity you, and teach you; so come along." Here Mr. Wilson took
this dirty boy by the hand, and gently pulled him forward, kindly
talking to him all the way.
How the whole school stared to see Dick Giles come in! No one,
however, dared to say what he thought. The business went on, and Dick
slunk into a corner, partly to hide his rags, and partly to hide his
sin; for last Sunday's transactions sat heavy on his heart, not
because he had stolen the apples, but because Tom Price had been
accused. This, I say, made him slink behind. Poor boy, he little
thought there was One saw him who sees all things, and from whose
eye no hole or corner can hide the sinner; for he is about our bed,
and about our paths, and spieth out all our ways.
It was the custom in that school for the master, who was a good and
wise man, to mark down in his pocketbook all the events of the week,
that he might turn them to some account in his Sunday evening
instructions: such as any useful story in the newspaper, any account
of boys being drowned as they were out in a pleasure-boat on Sundays,
any sudden death in the parish, or any other remarkable visitation of
Providence; insomuch, that many young people in the place, who did not
belong to the school, and many parents, also, used to drop in for an
hour on a Sunday evening, when they were sure to hear something
profitable. The minister greatly approved this practice, and often
called in himself, which was a great support to the master, and
encouragement to the people.
The master had taken a deep concern in the story of widow Brown's
apple-tree. He could not believe Tom Price was guilty, nor dared he
pronounce him innocent; but he resolved to turn the instructions of
the present evening to this subject. He began thus: "My dear boys,
however light some of you may make of robbing an orchard, yet I have
often told you there is no such thing as a little sin, if it be
wilful or habitual. I wish now to explain to you, also, that there is
hardly such a thing as a single solitary sin. You know I teach you
not merely to repeat the commandments as an exercise for your memory,
but as a rule for your conduct. If you were to come here on a Sunday
only to learn to read and spell, I should think that was not employing
God's day for God's work; but I teach you to read, that you may, by
this means, so understand the Bible and the catechism, as to make
every text in the one, and every question and answer in the other, to
be so fixed in your hearts, that they may bring forth the fruits of
MASTER. "How many commandments are there?"
MASTER. "How many did that boy break who stole widow Brown's apples?"
BOY. "Only one, master; the eighth."
MASTER. "What is the eighth?"
BOY. "Thou shalt not steal."
MASTER. "And you are very sure that this was the only one he broke?
Now, suppose I could prove to you that he probably broke, not less
than six out of those ten commandments, which the great Lord of heaven
himself stooped down from his eternal glory to deliver to men, would
you not then think it a terrible thing to steal, whether apples or
BOY. "Yes, master."
MASTER. "I will put the case. Some wicked boy has robbed widow Brown's
orchard." Here the eyes of every one were turned on poor Tom Price,
except those of Dick Giles, who fixed his on the ground. "I accuse no
one," continued the master; "Tom Price is a good boy, and was not
missing at the time of the robbery: these are two reasons why I
presume he is innocent; but whoever it was, you allow that by stealing
these apples he broke the eighth commandment?"
BOY. "Yes, master."
MASTER. "On what day were these apples stolen?"
BOY. "On Sunday."
MASTER. "What is the fourth commandment?"
BOY. "Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath-day."
MASTER, "Does that person keep holy the Sabbath-day, who loiters in an
orchard on Sunday when he should be at church, and steals apples when
he ought to be at prayer?"
BOY. "No, master."
MASTER. "What command does he break?"
BOY. "The fourth."
MASTER. "Suppose this boy had parents, who had sent him to church, and
that he had disobeyed them by not going; would that be keeping the
BOY. "No, master; for the fifth commandment says, 'Thou shalt honor
thy father and thy mother.'"
This was the only part in the case in which poor Dick Giles' heart did
not smite him; for he knew he had disobeyed no father—for his father,
alas, was still more wicked than himself, and had brought him up to
commit the sin. But what a wretched comfort was this. The master went
MASTER. "Suppose this boy earnestly coveted this fruit, though it
belonged to another person; would that be right?"
BOY. "No, master; for the tenth commandment says, 'Thou shalt not
MASTER. "Very well. Here are four of God's positive commands already
broken. Now, do you think thieves ever scruple to use wicked words?"
BOY. "I am afraid not, master."
Here Dick Giles was not so hardened but that he remembered how many
curses had passed between him and his father while they were filling
the bags, and he was afraid to look up. The master went on.
"I will now go one step further. If the thief to all his other sins
has added that of accusing the innocent to save himself—if he should
break the ninth commandment, by bearing false witness against a
harmless neighbor, then six commandments are broken for an apple!
But if it be otherwise, if Tom Price should be found guilty, it is not
his good character shall save him. I shall shed tears over him, but
punish him I must, and that severely."
"No, that you sha'n't," roared out Dick Giles, who sprung from his
hiding-place, fell on his knees, and burst out a crying. "Tom Price is
as good a boy as ever lived; it was father and I who stole the
It would have done your heart good to have seen the joy of the master,
the modest blushes of Tom Price, and the satisfaction of every honest
boy in the school. All shook hands with Tom, and even Dick got some
portion of pity. I wish I had room to give my readers the moving
exhortation which the master gave. But while Mr. Wilson left the
guilty boy to the management of the master, he thought it became him,
as a minister and a magistrate, to go to the extent of the law in
punishing the father.
Early on Monday morning, he sent to apprehend Giles. In the meantime,
Mr. Wilson was sent for to a gardener's house, two miles distant, to
attend a man who was dying. This was a duty to which all others gave
way, in his mind. He set out directly; but what was his surprise, on
his arrival, to see, on a little bed on the floor, poaching Giles
lying, in all the agonies of death! Jack Weston, a poor young man,
against whom Giles had informed for killing a hare, was kneeling by
him, offering him some broth, and talking to him in the kindest
manner. Mr. Wilson begged to know the meaning of all this; and Jack
Weston spoke as follows:
"At four this morning, as I was going out to mow, passing under the
high wall of this garden, I heard a most dismal moaning. The nearer I
came, the more dismal it grew. At last, who should I see but poor
Giles, groaning and struggling under a quantity of bricks and stones,
but not able to stir. The day before, he had marked a fine large net
on this old wall, and resolved to steal it; for he thought it might do
as well to catch partridges as to preserve cherries: so, sir, standing
on the very top of this wall, and tugging with all his might to loosen
the net from the hooks which fastened it, down came Giles, net, wall,
and all; for the wall was gone to decay. It was very high, indeed, and
poor Giles not only broke his thigh, but has got a terrible blow on
his brain, and is bruised all over like a mummy.
"On seeing me, sir, poor Giles cried out, 'Oh, Jack, I did try to ruin
thee by lodging that information, and now thou wilt be revenged by
letting me lie here and perish.'
"'God forbid, Giles,' cried I; 'thou shalt see what sort of revenge a
Christian takes.' So, sir, I sent off the gardener's boy to fetch a
surgeon, while I scampered home, and brought, on my back, this bit of
a hammock, which is indeed my own bed, and put Giles upon it: we then
lifted him up, bed and all, as tenderly as if he had been a gentleman,
and brought him in here. My wife has just brought him a drop of nice
broth; and now, sir, as I have done what I could for his poor
perishing body, it was I who took the liberty to send to you to come
and try to help his poor soul, for the doctor says he can't live."
Mr. Wilson could not help saying to himself, "Such an action as this
is worth a whole volume of comments on that precept of our blessed
Master, 'Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you.'"
Giles' dying groans confirmed the sad account Weston had just given.
The poor wretch could neither pray himself, nor attend to the
minister. He could only cry out, "Oh, sir, what will become of me? I
don't know how to repent. O my poor wicked children! Sir, I have bred
them all up in sin and ignorance. Have mercy on them, sir; let me not
meet them in the place of torment to which I am going. Lord, grant
them that time for repentance which I have thrown away!" He languished
a few days, and died in great misery—a fresh and sad instance, that
people who abuse the grace of God, and resist his Spirit, find it
difficult to repent when they will.
Except the minister and Jack Western, no one came to see poor Giles,
besides Tommy Price, who had been so sadly wronged by him. Tom often
brought him his own rice and milk or apple-dumpling; and Giles,
ignorant and depraved as he was, often cried out that "he thought now
there must be some truth in religion, since it taught even a boy to
deny himself, and to forgive an injury." Mr. Wilson, the next
Sunday, made a moving discourse on the danger of what are called
"petty offences." This, together with the awful death of Giles,
produced such an effect, that no poacher has been able to show his
head in that parish ever since.
OR, THE FORTUNE-TELLER.
WITH SOME ACCOUNT OF DREAMS, OMENS, AND CONJURERS
BY HANNAH MORE.
Tawney Rachel was the wife of poaching Giles. There seemed to be a
conspiracy in Giles' whole family to maintain themselves by tricks and
pilfering. Regular labor and honest industry did not suit their idle
habits. They had a sort of genius at finding out every unlawful means
to support a vagabond life. Rachel travelled the country with a basket
on her arm. She pretended to get her bread by selling laces,
cabbage-nets, ballads, and history-books, and used to buy old rags and
rabbit skins. Many honest people trade in these things, and I am sure
I do not mean to say a word against honest people, let them trade in
what they will. But Rachel only made this traffic a pretence for
getting admittance into farmers' kitchens, in order to tell fortunes.
She was continually practising on the credulity of silly girls; and
took advantage of their ignorance to cheat and deceive them. Many an
innocent servant has she caused to be suspected of a robbery, while
she herself, perhaps, was in league with the thief. Many a harmless
maid has she brought to ruin by contriving plots and events herself,
and then pretending to foretell them. She had not, to be sure, the
power of really foretelling things, because she had no power of seeing
into futurity; but she had the art sometimes to bring them about
according as she had foretold them. So she got that credit for her
wisdom which really belonged to her wickedness.
Rachel was also a famous interpreter of dreams, and could distinguish
exactly between the fate of any two persons who happened to have a
mole on the right or the left cheek. She had a cunning way of getting
herself off when any of her prophecies failed. When she explained a
dream according to the natural appearance of things, and it did not
come to pass, then she would get out of that scrape by saying, that
"this sort of dreams went by contraries." Now, of two very opposite
things the chance always is, that one of them may turn out to be true;
so in either case she kept up the cheat.
Rachel, in one of her rambles, stopped at the house of farmer Jenkins.
She contrived to call when she knew the master of the house was from
home, which indeed was her usual way. She knocked at the door. The
maids being out haymaking, Mrs. Jenkins went to open it herself.
Rachel asked her if she would please to let her light her pipe. This
was a common pretence, when she could find no other way of getting
into a house. While she was filling her pipe, she looked at Mrs.
Jenkins, and said she could tell her some good fortune. The farmer's
wife, who was a very inoffensive, but a weak and superstitious woman,
was curious to know what she meant. Rachel then looked about very
carefully, and shutting the door with a mysterious air, asked her if
she was sure nobody would hear them. This appearance of mystery was at
once delightful and terrifying to Mrs. Jenkins, who, with trembling
agitation, bade the cunning woman speak out.
"Then," said Rachel in a solemn whisper, "there is to my certain
knowledge a pot of money hid under one of the stones in your cellar."
"Indeed," said Mrs. Jenkins, "it is impossible; for now I think of it,
I dreamed last night I was in prison for debt."
"Did you indeed?" said Rachel, "that is quite surprising. Did you
dream before twelve o'clock, or after?"
"O, it was this morning, just before I awoke."
"Then I am sure it is true, for morning dreams always go by
contraries," cried Rachel. "How lucky it was you dreamed it so late."
Mrs. Jenkins could hardly contain her joy, and asked how the money was
to be come at.
"There is but one way," said Rachel; "I must go into the cellar. I
know by my art under which stone it lies, but I must not tell."
Then they both went down into the cellar, but Rachel refused to point
at the stone, unless Mrs. Jenkins would put five pieces of gold into a
basin, and do as she directed. The simple woman, instead of turning
her out of doors for a cheat, did as she was bid. She put the guineas
into a basin, which she gave into Rachel's hand. Rachel strewed some
white powder over the gold, muttered some barbarous words, and
pretended to perform the black art. She then told Mrs. Jenkins to put
the basin quietly down within the cellar; telling her, that if she
offered to look into it, or even to speak a word, the charm would be
broken. She also directed her to lock the cellar-door, and on no
pretence to open it in less than forty-eight hours.
"If," added she, "you closely follow these directions, then, by the
power of my art, you will find the basin conveyed to the very stone
under which the money lies hid, and a fine treasure it will be." Mrs.
Jenkins, who believed every word the woman said, did exactly as she
was told, and Rachel took her leave with a handsome reward.
When farmer Jenkins came home, he desired his wife to draw him a cup
of cider; this she put off doing so long that he began to be
displeased. At last she begged he would drink a little beer instead.
He insisted on knowing the reason, and when at last he grew angry, she
told him all that had passed; and owned that as the pot of gold
happened to be in the cider-cellar, she did not dare to open the
door, as she was sure it would break the charm. "And it would be a
pity, you know," said she, "to lose a good fortune for the sake of a
draught of cider."
The farmer, who was not so easily imposed upon, suspected a trick. He
demanded the key, and went and opened the cellar-door; there he found
the basin, and in it five round pieces of tin covered with powder.
Mrs. Jenkins burst out a crying; but the farmer thought of nothing but
getting a warrant to apprehend the cunning woman. Indeed, she well
proved her claim to that name, when she insisted that the cellar-door
might be kept locked till she had time to get out of the reach of all
Poor Sally Evans. I am sure she rued the day that ever she listened to
a fortune-teller. Sally was as harmless a girl as ever churned a pound
of butter; but Sally was ignorant and superstitious. She delighted in
dream-books, and had consulted all the cunning women in the country to
tell her whether the two moles on her cheek denoted that she was to
have two husbands, or only two children. If she picked up an old
horseshoe going to church, she was sure that would be a lucky week.
She never made a black-pudding without borrowing one of the parson's
old wigs to hang in the chimney, firmly believing there were no other
means to preserve them from bursting.
She would never go to bed on Midsummer-eve without sticking up in her
room the well-known plant called Midsummer-men, as the bending of the
leaves to the right or to the left, would not fail to tell her whether
Jacob, of whom we shall speak presently, was true or false. She would
rather go five miles about than pass near a churchyard at night. Every
seventh year she would not eat beans, because they grew downward in
the pod, instead of upward; and she would rather have gone with her
gown open than have taken a pin of an old woman, for fear of being
Poor Sally had so many unlucky days in her calendar, that a large
portion of her time became of little use, because on these days she
did not dare set about any new work. And she would have refused the
best offer in the country if made to her on a Friday, which she
thought so unlucky a day, that she often said what a pity it was that
there was any Friday in the week. Sally had twenty pounds left her by
her grandmother. She had long been courted by Jacob, a sober lad, with
whom she lived a fellow-servant at a creditable farmer's. Honest
Jacob, like his namesake of old, thought it little to wait seven years
to get this damsel to wife, because of the love he bore her, for Sally
had promised to marry him when he could match her twenty pounds with
another of his own.
Now, there was one Robert, a rambling, idle young gardener, who,
instead of sitting down steadily in one place, used to roam about the
country, and do odd jobs where he could get them. No one understood
any thing about him, except that he was a down-looking fellow, who
came nobody knew whence, and got his bread nobody knew how, and never
had a penny in his pocket. Robert, who was now in the neighborhood,
happened to hear of Sally Evans and her twenty pounds. He immediately
conceived a longing desire for the latter. So he went to his old
friend Rachel, told her all he had heard of Sally, and promised if she
could bring about a marriage between them, she should go shares in the
Rachel undertook the business. She set off to the farm-house, and fell
to singing one of her most enticing songs just under the dairy
window. Sally was so struck with the pretty tune, which was unhappily
used, as is too often the case, to set off some very loose words, that
she jumped up, dropped the skimming dish into the cream, and ran out
to buy the song.
While she stooped down to rummage the basket for those songs which had
the most tragical pictures—for Sally had a most tender heart, and
delighted in whatever was mournful—Rachel looked steadfastly in her
face, and told her she knew by her art that she was born to good
fortune, but advised her not to throw herself away. "These two moles
on your cheek," added she, "show you are in some danger."
"Do they denote husbands or children?" cried Sally, starting up, and
letting fall the song of the Children in the Wood.
"Husbands," muttered Rachel.
"Alas, poor Jacob," said Sally mournfully; "then he will die first,
"Mum for that," quoth the fortune-teller; "I will say no more."
Sally was impatient, but the more curiosity she discovered, the more
mystery Rachel affected. At last she said, "If you will cross my hand
with a piece of silver, I will tell you your fortune. By the power of
my art, I can do this three ways: by cards, by the lines of your hand,
or by turning a cup of tea-grounds; which will you have?"
"O, all, all," cried Sally, looking up with reverence to this sunburnt
oracle of wisdom, who knew no less than three different ways of diving
into the secrets of futurity. Alas, persons of better sense than Sally
have been so taken in; the more is the pity.
The poor girl said she would run up stairs to her little box, where
she kept her money tied up in a bit of an old glove, and would bring
down a bright queen Anne's sixpence very crooked. "I am sure," added
she, "it is a lucky one, for it cured me of a very bad ague last
spring, by only laying it nine nights under my pillow, without
speaking a word. But then you must know what gave virtue to this
sixpence was, that it had belonged to three young men of the name of
John; I am sure I had work enough to get it. But true it is, it
certainly cured me. It must be the sixpence you know, for I am sure I
did nothing else for my ague, except indeed taking some bitter stuff
every three hours, which the doctor called bark. To be sure, I lost
my ague soon after I took it, but I am certain it was owing to the
crooked sixpence, and not to the bark. And so, good woman, you may
come in if you will, for there is not a soul in the house but me."
This was the very thing Rachel wanted to know, and very glad she was
to learn it.
While Sally was above stairs untying her glove, Rachel slipped into
the parlor, took a small silver cup from the beaufet, and clapped it
into her pocket. Sally ran down lamenting that she had lost her
sixpence, which she verily believed was owing to her having put it
into a left glove, instead of a right one. Rachel comforted her by
saying, that "if she gave her two plain ones instead, the charm would
work just as well."
Simple Sally thought herself happy to be let off so easily, never
calculating that a smooth shilling was worth two crooked sixpences.
But this skill was a part of the black art in which Rachel excelled.
She took the money, and began to examine the lines of Sally's left
hand. She bit her withered lip, shook her head, and bade her, poor
dupe, beware of a young man, who had black hair.
"No, indeed," cried Sally, all in a fright, "you mean black eyes, for
our Jacob has got brown hair; 'tis his eyes that are black."
"That is the very thing I was going to say," muttered Rachel; "I meant
eyes, though I said hair; for I know his hair is as brown as a
chesnut, and his eyes as black as a sloe."
"So they are, sure enough," cried Sally; "how in the world could you
know that?" forgetting that she herself had just told her so. And it
is thus that these hags pick out of the credulous all which they
afterwards pretend to reveal to them.
"Oh, I know a pretty deal more than that," said Rachel, "but you must
be aware of this man."
"Why so?" cried Sally with great quickness.
"Because," answered Rachel, "you are fated to marry a man worth a
hundred of him, who has grey eyes, light hair, and a stoop in the
"No, indeed, but I can't," said Sally; "I have promised Jacob, and
Jacob I will marry."
"You cannot, child," returned Rachel, in a solemn tone; "it is out of
your power; you are fated to marry the grey eyes and light hair."
"Nay, indeed," said Sally, sighing deeply, "if I am fated, I must; I
know there is no resisting one's fate." This is a common cant with
poor deluded girls, who are not aware that they themselves make their
fate by their folly, and then complain there is no resisting it.
"What can I do?" said Sally.
"I will tell you that too," said Rachel. "You must take a walk next
Sunday afternoon to the churchyard, and the first man you meet in a
blue coat, with a large posy of pinks and southernwood in his bosom,
sitting on the churchyard wall, about seven o'clock, he will be the
"Provided," said Sally, much disturbed, "that he has grey eyes, and
"O, to be sure," said Rachel; "otherwise it is not the right man."
"But if I should mistake," said Sally; "for two men may happen to have
a coat and eyes of the same color."
"To prevent that," replied Rachel, "if it is the right man, the two
first letters of his name will be R.P. This man has got money beyond
"Oh, I do not value his money," said Sally, with tears in her eyes,
"for I love Jacob better than house or land; but if I am fated to
marry another, I can't help it; you know there is no struggling
against my fate."
Poor Sally thought of nothing and dreamed of nothing all the week but
the blue coat and the grey eyes. She made a hundred blunders at her
work. She put her rennet into the butter-pan, and her skimming dish
into the cheese-tub. She gave the curds to the hogs, and put the whey
into the vats. She put her little knife out of her pocket, for fear it
should cut love; and would not stay in the kitchen, if there was not
an even number of people, lest it should break the charm. She grew
cold and mysterious in her behavior to faithful Jacob, whom she truly
loved. But the more she thought of the fortune-teller, the more she
was convinced that brown hair and black eyes were not what she was
fated to marry, and therefore, though she trembled to think it, Jacob
could not be the man.
On Sunday she was too uneasy to go to church; for poor Sally had never
been taught, that her being uneasy was only a fresh reason why she
ought to go thither. She spent the whole afternoon in her little
garret, dressing in all her best. First she put on her red ribbon,
which she had bought at last Lammas fair; then she recollected that
red was an unlucky color, and changed it for a blue ribbon, tied in a
true lover's knot; but suddenly calling to mind that poor Jacob had
bought this knot for her of a pedlar at the door, and that she had
promised to wear it for his sake, her heart smote her, and she laid it
by, sighing to think she was not fated to marry the man who had given
it to her.
When she had looked at herself twenty times in the glass—for one vain
action always brings on another—she set off, trembling and quaking
every step she went. She walked eagerly towards the churchyard, not
daring to look to the right or left, for fear she should spy Jacob,
who would have offered to walk with her, and so have spoiled all. As
soon as she came within sight of the wall, she spied a man sitting
upon it. Her heart beat violently. She looked again; but alas, the
stranger not only had on a black coat, but neither hair nor eyes
answered the description. She now happened to cast her eyes on the
church-clock, and found she was two hours before her time. This was
some comfort. She walked away and got rid of the two hours as well as
she could, paying great attention as she went not to walk over any
straws which lay across, and carefully looking to see if there were
never an old horseshoe in the way, that infallible symptom of good
While the clock was striking seven, she returned to the churchyard,
and, O the wonderful power of fortune-tellers, there she saw him!
there sat the very man: his hair as light as flax, his eyes as blue as
buttermilk, and his shoulders as round as a tub. Every tittle agreed,
to the very nosegay in his waistcoat buttonhole. At first, indeed, she
thought it had been sweet-briar, and glad to catch at a straw,
whispered to herself, It is not he, and I shall marry Jacob still; but
on looking again, she saw it was southernwood plain enough, and that
of course all was over. The man accosted her with some very
nonsensical, but too acceptable compliments. Sally was naturally a
modest girl, and but for Rachel's wicked arts, would not have had
courage to talk with a strange man; but how could she resist her fate,
you know? After a little discourse, she asked him with a trembling
heart, what might be his name.
"Robert Price, at your service," was the answer.
"Robert Price! that is R.P. as sure as I am alive, and the
fortune-teller was a witch. It is all out; it is all out! O the
wonderful art of fortune-tellers!"
The little sleep she had that night was disturbed with dreams of
graves, and ghosts, and funerals; but as they were morning dreams, she
knew those always went by contraries, and that a funeral denoted a
wedding. Still, a sigh would now and then heave, to think that in that
wedding Jacob could have no part. Such of my readers as know the power
which superstition has over the weak and credulous mind, scarcely need
be told, that poor Sally's unhappiness was soon completed. She forgot
all her vows to Jacob; she at once forsook an honest man whom she
loved, and consented to marry a stranger, of whom she knew nothing,
from a ridiculous notion that she was compelled to do so by a decree
which she had it not in her power to resist. She married this Robert
Price, the strange gardener, whom she soon found to be very worthless,
and very much in debt. He had no such thing as "money beyond sea," as
the fortune-teller had told her; but, alas, he had another wife there.
He got immediate possession of Sally's £20. Rachel put in for her
share, but he refused to give her a farthing, and bade her get away,
or he would have her taken up on the vagrant act. He soon ran away
from Sally, leaving her to bewail her own weakness; for it was that
indeed, and not any irresistible fate, which had been the cause of her
ruin. To complete the misery, she herself was suspected of having
stolen the silver cup which Rachel had pocketed. Her master, however,
would not prosecute her, as she was falling into a deep decline, and
she died in a few months of a broken heart, a sad warning to all
Rachel, whenever she got near home, used to drop her trade of
fortune-telling, and only dealt in the wares of her basket. Mr.
Wilson, the clergyman, found her one day dealing out some very wicked
ballads to some children. He went up with a view to give her a
reprimand; but had no sooner begun his exhortation than up came a
constable, followed by several people.
"There she is, that is she, that is the old witch who tricked my wife
out of the five guineas," said one of them. "Do your office,
constable; seize the old hag. She may tell fortunes and find pots of
gold in Taunton jail, for there she will have nothing else to do."
This was that very farmer Jenkins, whose wife had been cheated by
Rachel of the five guineas. He had taken pains to trace her to her own
parish: he did not so much value the loss of the money, but he thought
it was a duty he owed the public to clear the country of such vermin.
Mr. Wilson immediately committed her. She took her trial at the next
assizes, when she was sentenced to a year's imprisonment.
In the meantime the pawnbroker to whom she had sold the silver cup,
which she had stolen from poor Sally's master, impeached her; and as
the robbery was fully proved upon Rachel, she was sentenced for this
crime to Botany Bay; and a happy day it was for the county of
Somerset, when such a nuisance was sent out of it. She was transported
much about the same time that her husband Giles lost his life, in
stealing the net from the garden wall, as related in the second part
of Poaching Giles.
I have thought it my duty to print this little history, as a kind of
warning to all young men and maidens, not to have any thing to say to
cheats, impostors, cunning women, fortune-tellers, conjurers, and
interpreters of dreams. Listen to me, your true friend, when I assure
you that God never reveals to weak and wicked women those secret
designs of his providence, which no human wisdom is able to foresee.
To consult these false oracles is not only foolish, but sinful. It is
foolish, because they are themselves as ignorant as those whom they
pretend to teach; and it is sinful, because it is prying into that
futurity which God, in mercy as well as wisdom, hides from men.
God indeed orders all things; but when you have a mind to do a
foolish thing, do not fancy you are fated to do it. This is tempting
Providence, and not trusting him. It is, indeed, "charging God with
folly." Prudence is his gift, and you obey him better when you make
use of prudence under the direction of prayer, than when you madly run
into ruin, and think you are only submitting to your fate. Never fancy
that you are compelled to undo yourself, or to rush upon your own
destruction, in compliance with any supposed fatality. Never believe
that God conceals his will from a sober Christian who obeys his laws,
and reveals it to a vagabond gypsy, who runs up and down, breaking
the laws both of God and man. King Saul never consulted the witch till
he had left off serving God. The Bible will direct us what to do,
better than any conjurer; and no days are unlucky but those which we
make so by our own vanity, folly, and sin.