Black & White on White paper
Near the ruins of the castle of Rossmore, in Ireland, is a small cabin, in which there once lived a widow and her four children. As long as she was able to work, she was very industrious, and was accounted the best spinner in the parish; but she overworked herself at last, and fell ill, so that she could not sit to her wheel as she used to do, and was obliged to give it up to her eldest daughter, Mary.
Mary was at this time about twelve years old. One evening she was sitting at the foot of her mother’s bed spinning, and her little brothers and sisters were gathered round the fire eating their potatoes and milk for supper. “Bless them, the poor young creatures!” said the widow, who, as she lay on her bed, which she knew must be her deathbed, was thinking of what would become of her children after she was gone. Mary stopped her wheel, for she was afraid that the noise of it had wakened her mother, and would hinder her from going to sleep again.
“No need to stop the wheel, Mary, dear, for me,” said her mother, “I was not asleep; nor is it that which keeps me from sleep. But don’t overwork yourself, Mary.”
“Oh, no fear of that,” replied Mary; “I’m strong and hearty.”
“So was I once,” said her mother.
“And so you will be again, I hope,” said Mary, “when the fine weather comes again.”
“The fine weather will never come again to me,” said her mother. “’Tis a folly, Mary, to hope for that; but what I hope is, that you’ll find some friend—some help—orphans as you’ll soon all of you be. And one thing comforts my heart, even as I am lying here, that not a soul in the wide world I am leaving has to complain of me. Though poor I have lived honest, and I have brought you up to be the same, Mary; and I am sure the little ones will take after you; for you’ll be good to them—as good to them as you can.”
Here the children, who had finished eating their suppers, came round the bed, to listen to what their mother was saying. She was tired of speaking, for she was very weak; but she took their little hands, as they laid them on the bed and joining them all together, she said, “Bless you, dears; bless you; love and help one another all you can. Good night!—good-bye!”
Mary took the children away to their bed, for she saw that their mother was too ill to say more; but Mary did not herself know how ill she was. Her mother never spoke rightly afterwards, but talked in a confused way about some debts, and one in particular, which she owed to a schoolmistress for Mary’s schooling; and then she charged Mary to go and pay it, because she was not able to go in with it. At the end of the week she was dead and buried, and the orphans were left alone in their cabin.
The two youngest girls, Peggy and Nancy, were six and seven years old. Edmund was not yet nine, but he was a stout-grown, healthy boy, and well disposed to work. He had been used to bring home turf from the bog on his back, to lead cart-horses, and often to go on errands for gentlemen’s families, who paid him a sixpence or a shilling, according to the distance which he went, so that Edmund, by some or other of these little employments, was, as he said, likely enough to earn his bread; and he told Mary to have a good heart, for that he should every year grow able to do more and more, and that he should never forget his mother’s words when she last gave him her blessing, and joined their hands all together.
As for Peggy and Nancy, it was little that they could do; but they were good children, and Mary, when she considered that so much depended upon her, was resolved to exert herself to the utmost. Her first care was to pay those debts which her mother had mentioned to her, for which she left money done up carefully in separate papers. When all these were paid away, there was not enough left to pay both the rent of the cabin and a year’s schooling for herself and sisters which was due to the schoolmistress in a neighbouring village.
Mary was in hopes that the rent would not be called for immediately, but in this she was disappointed. Mr. Harvey, the gentleman on whose estate she lived, was in England, and, in his absence, all was managed by a Mr. Hopkins, an agent, who was a hard man.  The driver came to Mary about a week after her mother’s death, and told her that the rent must be brought in the next day, and that she must leave the cabin, for a new tenant was coming into it; that she was too young to have a house to herself, and that the only thing she had to do was to get some neighbour to take her and her brother and her sisters in for charity’s sake.
The driver finished by hinting that she would not be so hardly used if she had not brought upon herself the ill-will of Miss Alice, the agent’s daughter. Mary, it is true, had refused to give Miss Alice a goat upon which she had set her fancy; but this was the only offence of which she had been guilty, and at the time she refused it her mother wanted the goat’s milk, which was the only thing she then liked to drink.
Mary went immediately to Mr. Hopkins, the agent, to pay her rent; and she begged of him to let her stay another year in her cabin; but this he refused. It was now September 25th, and he said that the new tenant must come in on the 29th, so that she must quit it directly. Mary could not bear the thoughts of begging any of the neighbours to take her and her brother and sisters in for charity’s sake; for the neighbours were all poor enough themselves. So she bethought herself that she might find shelter in the ruins of the old castle of Rossmore where she and her brother, in better times, had often played at hide and seek. The kitchen and two other rooms near it were yet covered in tolerably well; and a little thatch, she thought, would make them comfortable through the winter. The agent consented to let her and her brother and sisters go in there, upon her paying him half a guinea in hand, and promising to pay the same yearly.
Into these lodgings the orphans now removed, taking with them two bedsteads, a stool, chair and a table, a sort of press, which contained what little clothes they had, and a chest in which they had two hundred of meal. The chest was carried for them by some of the charitable neighbours, who likewise added to their scanty stock of potatoes and turf what would make it last through the winter.
These children were well thought of and pitied, because their mother was known to have been all her life honest and industrious. “Sure,” says one of the neighbours, “we can do no less than give a helping hand to the poor orphans, that are so ready to help themselves.” So one helped to thatch the room in which they were to sleep, and another took their cow to graze upon his bit of land on condition of having half the milk; and one and all said they should be welcome to take share of their potatoes and buttermilk if they should find their own ever fall short.
The half-guinea which Mr. Hopkins, the agent, required for letting Mary into the castle, was part of what she had to pay to the schoolmistress, to whom above a guinea was due. Mary went to her, and took her goat along with her, and offered it in part of payment of the debt, but the schoolmistress would not receive the goat. She said that she could afford to wait for her money till Mary was able to pay it; that she knew her to be an honest, industrious little girl, and she would trust her with more than a guinea. Mary thanked her; and she was glad to take the goat home again, as she was very fond of it.
Being now settled in their house, they went every day regularly to work; Maud spun nine cuts a day, besides doing all that was to be done in the house; Edmund got fourpence a day by his work; and Peggy and Annie earned twopence apiece at the paper-mills near Navan, where they were employed to sort rags, and to cut them into small pieces.
When they had done work one day, Annie went to the master of the paper-mill and asked him if she might have two sheets of large white paper which were lying on the press. She offered a penny for the paper; but the master would not take anything from her, but gave her the paper when he found that she wanted it to make a garland for her mother’s grave. Annie and Peggy cut out the garland, and Mary, when it was finished, went along with them and Edmund to put it up. It was just a month after their mother’s death.
It happened, at the time the orphans were putting up this garland, that two young ladies, who were returning home after their evening walk, stopped at the gate of the churchyard to look at the red light which the setting sun cast upon the window of the church. As the ladies were standing at the gate, they heard a voice near them crying, “O, mother! mother! are you gone for ever?” They could not see anyone, so they walked softly round to the other side of the church, and there they saw Mary kneeling beside a grave, on which her brothers and sisters were hanging their white garlands.
The children all stood still when they saw the two ladies passing near them; but Mary did not know anybody was passing, for her face was hid in her hands.
Isabella and Caroline (so these ladies were called) would not disturb the poor children; but they stopped in the village to inquire about them. It was at the house of the schoolmistress that they stopped, and she gave them a good account of these orphans. She particularly commended Mary’s honesty, in having immediately paid all her mother’s debts to the utmost farthing, as far as her money would go. She told the ladies how Mary had been turned out of her house, and how she had offered her goat, of which she was very fond, to discharge a debt due for her schooling; and, in short, the schoolmistress, who had known Mary for several years, spoke so well of her that these ladies resolved that they would go to the old castle of Rossmore to see her the next day.
When they went there, they found the room in which the children lived as clean and neat as such a ruined place could be made. Edmund was out working with a farmer, Mary was spinning, and her little sisters were measuring out some bogberries, of which they had gathered a basketful, for sale. Isabella, after telling Mary what an excellent character she had heard of her, inquired what it was she most wanted; and Mary said that she had just worked up all her flax, and she was most in want of more flax for her wheel.
Isabella promised that she would send her a fresh supply of flax, and Caroline bought the bogberries from the little girls, and gave them money enough to buy a pound of coarse cotton for knitting, as Mary said that she could teach them how to knit.
The supply of flax, which Isabella sent the next day, was of great service to Mary, as it kept her in employment for above a month; and when she sold the yarn which she had spun with it, she had money enough to buy some warm flannel for winter wear. Besides spinning well, she had learned at school to do plain work tolerably neatly, and Isabella and Caroline employed her to work for them; by which she earned a great deal more than she could by spinning. At her leisure hours she taught her sisters to read and write; and Edmund, with part of the money which he earned by his work out of doors, paid a schoolmaster for teaching him a little arithmetic. When the winter nights came on, he used to light his rush candles for Mary to work by. He had gathered and stripped a good provision of rushes in the month of August, and a neighbour gave him grease to dip them in.
One evening, just as he had lighted his candles, a footman came in, who was sent by Isabella with some plain work to Mary. This servant was an Englishman, and he was but newly come over to Ireland. The rush candles caught his attention; for he had never seen any of them before, as he came from a part of England where they were not used. Edmund, who was ready to oblige, and proud that his candles were noticed showed the Englishman how they were made, and gave him a bundle of rushes. 
The servant was pleased with his good nature in this trifling instance, and remembered it long after it was forgotten by Edmund. Whenever his master wanted to send a messenger anywhere, Gilbert (for that was the servant’s name) always employed his little friend Edmund, whom, upon further acquaintance, he liked better and better. He found that Edmund was both quick and exact in executing commissions.
One day, after he had waited a great while at a gentleman’s house for an answer to a letter, he was so impatient to get home that he ran off without it. When he was questioned by Gilbert why he did not bring an answer, he did not attempt to make any excuse; he did not say, “There was no answer, please your honour,” or, “They bid me not to wait,” etc.; but he told exactly the truth; and though Gilbert scolded him for being so impatient as not to wait, yet his telling the truth was more to the boy’s advantage than any excuse he could have made. After this he was always believed when he said, “There was no answer,” or, “They bid me not wait”; for Gilbert knew that he would not tell a lie to save himself from being scolded.
The orphans continued to assist one another in their work according to their strength and abilities; and they went on in this manner for three years. With what Mary got by her spinning and plain work, and Edmund by leading of cart-horses, going on errands, etc., and with little Peggy and Anne’s earnings, the family contrived to live comfortably. Isabella and Caroline often visited them, and sometimes gave them clothes, and sometimes flax or cotton for their spinning and knitting; and these children did not expect, that because the ladies did something for them, they should do everything. They did not grow idle or wasteful.
When Edmund was about twelve years old, his friend Gilbert sent for him one day, and told him that his master had given him leave to have a boy in the house to assist him, and that his master told him he might choose one in the neighbourhood. Several were anxious to get into such a good place: but Gilbert said that he preferred Edmund before them all, because he knew him to be an industrious, honest, good natured lad, who always told the truth. So Edmund went into service at the vicarage; and his master was the father of Isabella and Caroline. He found his new way of life very pleasant; for he was well fed, well clothed, and well treated; and he every day learned more of his business, in which at first he was rather awkward. He was mindful to do all that Mr. Gilbert required of him; and he was so obliging to all his fellow-servants that they could not help liking him. But there was one thing which was at first rather disagreeable to him: he was obliged to wear shoes and stockings, and they hurt his feet. Besides this, when he waited at dinner he made such a noise in walking that his fellow-servants laughed at him. He told his sister Mary of his distress, and she made for him, after many trials, a pair of cloth shoes, with soles of platted hemp.  In these he could walk without making the least noise; and as these shoes could not be worn out of doors, he was always sure to change them before he went out; and consequently he had always clean shoes to wear in the house.
It was soon remarked by the men-servants that he had left off clumping so heavily, and it was observed by the maids that he never dirtied the stairs or passages with his shoes. When he was praised for these things, he said it was his sister Mary who should be thanked, and not he; and he showed the shoes which she had made for him.
Isabella’s maid bespoke a pair immediately, and sent Mary a piece of pretty calico for the outside. The last-maker made a last for her, and over this Mary sewed the calico vamps tight. Her brother advised her to try platted packthread instead of hemp for the soles; and she found that this looked more neat than the hemp soles, and was likely to last longer. She platted the packthread together in strands of about half an inch thick, and these were served firmly together at the bottom of the shoe. When they were finished they fitted well, and the maid showed them to her mistress.
Isabella and Caroline were so well pleased with Mary’s ingenuity and kindness to her brother, that they bespoke from her two dozen of these shoes, and gave her three yards of coloured fustian to make them of, and galloon for the binding. When the shoes were completed, Isabella and Caroline disposed of them for her amongst their acquaintance, and got three shillings a pair for them. The young ladies, as soon as they had collected the money, walked to the old castle, where they found everything neat and clean as usual. They had great pleasure in giving to this industrious girl the reward of her ingenuity, which she received with some surprise and more gratitude. They advised her to continue the shoemaking trade, as they found the shoes were liked, and they knew that they could have a sale for them at the Repository in Dublin.
Mary, encouraged by these kind friends, went on with her little manufacture with increased activity. Peggy and Anne platted the packthread, and basted the vamps and linings together ready for her. Edmund was allowed to come home for an hour every morning, provided he was back again before eight o’clock. It was summer time, and he got up early, because he liked to go home to see his sisters, and he took his share in the manufactory. It was his business to hammer the soles flat: and as soon as he came home every morning he performed his task with so much cheerfulness and sang so merrily at his work, that the hour of his arrival was always an hour of joy to the family.
Mary had presently employment enough upon her hands. Orders came to her for shoes from many families in the neighbourhood, and she could not get them finished fast enough. She, however, in the midst of her hurry, found time to make a very pretty pair, with neat roses, as a present for her schoolmistress, who, now that she saw her pupil in a good way of business, consented to receive the amount of her old debt. Several of the children who went to her school were delighted with the sight of Mary’s present, and went to the little manufactory at Rossmore Castle, to find out how these shoes were made. Some went from curiosity, others from idleness; but when they saw how happy the little shoemakers seemed whilst busy at work, they longed to take some share in what was going forward. One begged Mary to let her plat some packthread for the soles; another helped Peggy and Anne to baste in the linings; and all who could get employment were pleased, for the idle ones were shoved out of the way. It became a custom with the children of the village to resort to the old castle at their play hours; and it was surprising to see how much was done by ten or twelve of them, each doing but a little at a time.
One morning Edmund and the little manufacturers were assembled very early, and they were busy at their work, all sitting round the meal chest, which served them for a table.
“My hands must be washed,” said George, a little boy who came running in; “I ran so fast that I might be in time, to go to work along with you all, that I tumbled down, and look how I have dirtied my hands. Most haste worst speed. My hands must be washed before I can do anything.”
Whilst George was washing his hands, two other little children, who had just finished their morning’s work, came to him to beg that he would blow some soap bubbles for them, and they were all three eagerly blowing bubbles, and watching them mount into the air, when suddenly they were startled by a noise as loud as thunder. They were in a sort of outer court of the castle, next to the room in which all their companions were at work, and they ran precipitately into the room, exclaiming, “Did you hear that noise?”
“I thought I heard a clap of thunder,” said Mary, “but why do you look so frightened?”
As she finished speaking, another and a louder noise, and the walls round about them shook. The children turned pale and stood motionless; but Edmund threw down his hammer, and ran out to see what was the matter. Mary followed him, and they saw that a great chimney of the old ruins at the farthest side of the castle had fallen down, and this was the cause of the prodigious noise.
The part of the castle in which they lived seemed, as Edmund said, to be perfectly safe; but the children of the village were terrified, and thinking that the whole would come tumbling down directly, they ran to their homes as fast as they could. Edmund, who was a courageous lad, and proud of showing his courage, laughed at their cowardice; but Mary, who was very prudent, persuaded her brother to ask an experienced mason, who was building at his master’s, to come and give his opinion, whether their part of the castle was safe to live in or not. The mason came, and gave it as his opinion that the rooms they inhabited might last through the winter but that no part of the ruins could stand another year. Mary was sorry to leave a place of which she had grown fond, poor as it was, having lived in it in peace and contentment ever since her mother’s death, which was now nearly four years; but she determined to look out for some other place to live in; and she had now money enough to pay the rent of a comfortable cabin. Without losing any time, she went to the village that was at the end of the avenue leading to the vicarage, for she wished to get a lodging in this village because it was so near to her brother, and to the ladies who had been so kind to her. She found that there was one newly built house in this village unoccupied; it belonged to Mr. Harvey, her landlord, who was still in England; it was slated, and neatly fitted up inside; but the rent of it was six guineas a year, and this was far above what Mary could afford to pay. Three guineas a year she thought was the highest rent for which she could venture to engage. Besides, she heard that several proposals had been made to Mr. Harvey for this house, and she knew that Mr. Hopkins, the agent, was not her friend; therefore she despaired of getting it. There was no other to be had in this village. Her brother was still more vexed than she was, that she could not find a place near him. He offered to give a guinea yearly towards the rent out of his wages; and Mr. Gilbert spoke about it for him to the steward, and inquired whether, amongst any of those who had given in proposals, there might not be one who would be content with a part of the house, and who would join with Mary in paying the rent. None could be found but a woman, who was a great scold, and a man who was famous for going to law about every trifle with his neighbours. Mary did not choose to have anything to do with these people. She did not like to speak either to Miss Isabella or Caroline about it, because she was not of an encroaching temper; and when they had done so much for her, she would have been ashamed to beg for more. She returned home to the old castle, mortified that she had no good news to tell Anne and Peggy, who she knew expected to hear that she had found a nice house for them in the village near their brother.
“Bad news for you, Peggy,” cried she, as soon as she got home. “And bad news for you, Mary,” replied her sisters, who looked very sorrowful.
“What’s the matter?”
“Your poor goat is dead,” replied Peggy. “There she is, yonder, lying under the great corner stone; you can just see her leg. We cannot lift the stone from off her, it is so heavy. Betsy [one of the neighbour’s girls] says she remembers, when she came to us to work early this morning, she saw the goat rubbing itself, and butting with its horns against that old tottering chimney.”
“Many’s the time,” said Mary, “that I have driven the poor thing away from that place; I was always afraid she would shake that great ugly stone down upon her at last.”
The goat, who had long been the favourite of Mary and her sisters, was lamented by them all. When Edmund came, he helped them to move the great stone from off the poor animal, who was crushed so as to be a terrible sight. As they were moving away this stone in order to bury the goat, Anne found an odd-looking piece of money, which seemed neither like a halfpenny, nor a shilling, nor a guinea.
“Here are more, a great many more of them,” cried Peggy; and upon searching amongst the rubbish, they discovered a small iron pot, which seemed as if it had been filled with these coins, as a vast number of them were found about the spot where it fell. On examining these coins, Edmund thought that several of them looked like gold, and the girls exclaimed with great joy—“Oh, Mary! Mary! this is come to us just in right time—now you can pay for the slated house. Never was anything so lucky!”
But Mary, though nothing could have pleased her better than to have been able to pay for the house, observed that they could not honestly touch any of this treasure, as it belonged to the owner of the castle. Edmund agreed with her, that they ought to carry it all immediately to Mr. Hopkins, the agent. Peggy and Anne were convinced by what Mary said, and they begged to go along with her and their brother, to take the coins to Mr. Hopkins. On their way they stopped at the vicarage, to show the treasure to Mr. Gilbert, who took it to the young ladies, Isabella and Caroline, and told them how it had been found.
It is not only by their superior riches, but it is yet more by their superior knowledge, that persons in the higher rank of life may assist those in a lower condition.
Isabella, who had some knowledge of chemistry, discovered, by touching the coins with nitric acid, that several of them were of gold, and consequently of great value. Caroline also found out that many of the coins were very valuable as curiosities. She recollected her father’s having shown to her the prints of the coins at the end of each king’s reign, in “Rapin’s History of England;” and upon comparing these impressions with the coins found by the orphans, she perceived that many of them were of the reign of Henry the Seventh, which, from their scarcity, were highly appreciated by numismatic collectors.
Isabella and Caroline, knowing something of the character of Mr. Hopkins, the agent, had the precaution to count the coins, and to mark each of them with a cross, so small that it was scarcely visible to the naked eye, though it was easily to be seen through a magnifying glass. They also begged that their father, who was well acquainted with Mr. Harvey, the gentleman to whom Rossmore Castle belonged, to write to him, and tell him how well these orphans had behaved about the treasure which they had found. The value of the coins was estimated at about thirty or forty guineas.
A few days after the fall of the chimney at Rossmore Castle, as Mary and her sisters were sitting at their work, there came hobbling in an old woman, leaning on a crab stick, that seemed to have been newly cut. She had a broken tobacco-pipe in her mouth; her head was wrapped up in two large red and blue handkerchiefs, with their crooked corners hanging far down over the back of her neck, no shoes on her broad feet, nor stockings on her many-coloured legs. Her petticoat was jagged at the bottom, and the skirt of her gown turned up over her shoulders, to serve instead of a cloak, which she had sold for whisky. This old woman was well known amongst the country people by the name of Goody Grope: [12a] because she had, for many years, been in the habit of groping in old castles, and in moats, [12b] and at the bottom of a round tower [12c] in the neighbourhood, in search of treasure. In her youth she had heard someone talking, in a whisper, of an old prophecy, found in a bog, which said that before many
“St. Patrick’s days should come about,
There would be found
A treasure under ground,
By one within twenty miles round.”
This prophecy made a deep impression upon her. She also dreamed of it three times: and as the dream, she thought, was a sure token that the prophecy was to come true, she, from that time forwards, gave up her spinning-wheel and her knitting, and could think of nothing but hunting for the treasure, that was to be found by one “within twenty miles round.”
Year after year St. Patrick’s day came about, without her ever finding a farthing by all her groping; and as she was always idle, she grew poorer and poorer. Besides, to comfort herself for her disappointments, and to give her spirits for fresh searches, she took to drinking. She sold all she had by degrees; but still she fancied that the lucky day would come sooner or later, that would pay for all.
Goody Grope, however, reached her sixtieth year, without ever seeing this lucky day; and now, in her old age, she was a beggar, without a house to shelter her, a bed to lie on, or food to put into her mouth, but what she begged from the charity of those who had trusted more than she had to industry and less to luck.
“Ah, Mary, honey! give me a potato and a sup of something, for the love o’ mercy; for not a bit have I had all day, except half a glass of whisky and a halfpenny worth of tobacco!”
Mary immediately set before her some milk, and picked a good potato out of the bowl for her. She was sorry to see such an old woman in such a wretched condition. Goody Grope said she would rather have spirits of some kind or other than milk; but Mary had no spirits to give her; so she sat herself down close to the fire, and after she had sighed and groaned and smoked for some time, she said to Mary, “Well, and what have you done with the treasure you had the luck to find?” Mary told her that she had carried it to Mr. Hopkins, the agent.
“That’s not what I would have done in your place,” replied the old woman. “When good luck came to you, what a shame to turn your back upon it! But it is idle talking of what’s done—that’s past; but I’ll try my luck in this here castle before next St. Patrick’s day comes about. I was told it was more than twenty miles from our bog or I would have been here long ago; but better late than never.”
Mary was much alarmed, and not without reason, at this speech; for she knew that if Goody Grope once set to work at the foundation of the old castle of Rossmore, she would soon bring it all down. It was in vain to talk to Goody Grope of the danger of burying herself under the ruins, or of the improbability of her meeting with another pot of gold coins. She set her elbow upon her knees, and stopping her ears with her hands bid Mary and her sisters not to waste their breath advising their elders; for that, let them say what they would, she would fall to work the next morning, “barring you’ll make it worth my while to let it alone.”
“And what will make it worth your while to let it alone?” said Mary; for she saw that she must either get into a quarrel or give up her habitation, or comply with the conditions of this provoking old woman.
Half a crown, Goody Grope said, was the least she could be content to take. Mary paid the half-crown, and was in hopes that she had got rid for ever of her tormentor, but she was mistaken, for scarcely was the week at an end before the old woman appeared before her again, and repeated her threats of falling to work the next morning, unless she had something given to her to buy tobacco.
The next day and the next, and the next, Goody Grope came on the same errand, and poor Mary, who could ill-afford to supply her constantly with halfpence, at last exclaimed, “I am sure the finding of this treasure has not been any good luck to us, but quite the contrary; and I wish we never had found it.”
Mary did not yet know how much she was to suffer on account of this unfortunate pot of gold coins. Mr. Hopkins, the agent, imagined that no one knew of the discovery of this treasure but himself and these poor children; so, not being as honest as they were, he resolved to keep it for his own use. He was surprised some weeks afterwards to receive a letter from his employer, Mr. Harvey, demanding from him the coins which had been discovered at Rossmore Castle. Hopkins had sold the gold coins, and some of the others; and he flattered himself that the children, and the young ladies, to whom he now found they had been shown, could not tell whether what they had seen were gold or not, and he was not in the least apprehensive that those of Henry the Seventh’s reign should be reclaimed from him as he thought they had escaped attention. So he sent over the silver coins and others of little value, and apologized for his not having mentioned them before, by saying that he considered them as mere rubbish.
Mr. Harvey, in reply, observed that he could not consider as rubbish the gold coins which were amongst them when they were discovered; and he inquired why these gold coins, and those of the reign of Henry the Seventh, were not now sent to him.
Mr. Hopkins denied that he had ever received any such; but he was thunderstruck when Mr. Harvey, in reply to this falsehood, sent him a list of the coins which the orphans had deposited with him, and exact drawings of those that were missing. He informed him that this list and these drawings came from two ladies who had seen the coins in question.
Mr. Hopkins thought that he had no means of escape but by boldly persisting in falsehood. He replied, that it was very likely such coins had been found at Rossmore Castle, and that the ladies alluded to had probably seen them; but he positively declared that they never came to his hands; that he had restored all that were deposited with him; and that, as to the others, he supposed they must have been taken out of the pot by the children, or by Edmund or Mary on their way from the ladies’ house to his.
The orphans were shocked and astonished when they heard, from Isabella and Caroline, the charge that was made against them. They looked at one another in silence for some moments. Then Peggy exclaimed—“Sure! Mr. Hopkins has forgotten himself strangely. Does not he remember Edmund’s counting the things to him upon the great table in his hall, and we all standing by! I remember it as well as if it was this instant.”
“And so do I,” cried Anne. “And don’t you recollect, Mary, your picking out the gold ones, and telling Mr. Hopkins that they were gold; and he said you knew nothing of the matter; and I was going to tell him that Miss Isabella had tried them, and knew that they were gold? but just then there came in some tenants to pay their rent, and he pushed us out, and twitched from my hand the piece of gold which I had taken up to show him the bright spot which Miss Isabella had cleaned by the stuff that she had poured on it? I believe he was afraid I should steal it; he twitched it from my hand in such a hurry. Do, Edmund; do, Mary—let us go to him, and put him in mind of all this.”
“I’ll go to him no more,” said Edmund, sturdily. “He is a bad man—I’ll never go to him again. Mary, don’t be cast down—we have no need to be cast down—we are honest.”
“True,” said Mary; “but is not it a hard case that we, who have lived, as my mother did all her life before us, in peace and honesty with all the world, should now have our good name taken from us, when—” Mary’s voice faltered and stopped.
“It can’t be taken from us,” cried Edmund, “poor orphans though we are, and he a rich gentleman, as he calls himself. Let him say and do what he will, he can’t hurt our good name.”
Edmund was mistaken, alas! and Mary had but too much reason for her fears. The affair was a great deal talked of; and the agent spared no pains to have the story told his own way. The orphans, conscious of their own innocence, took no pains about the matter; and the consequence was, that all who knew them well had no doubt of their honesty; but many, who knew nothing of them, concluded that the agent must be in the right and the children in the wrong. The buzz of scandal went on for some time without reaching their ears, because they lived very retiredly. But one day, when Mary went to sell some stockings of Peggy’s knitting at the neighbouring fair, the man to whom she sold them bid her write her name on the back of a note, and exclaimed, on seeing it—“Ho! ho! mistress; I’d not have had any dealings with you, had I known your name sooner. Where’s the gold that you found at Rossmore Castle?”
It was in vain that Mary related the fact. She saw that she gained no belief, as her character was not known to this man, or to any of those who were present. She left the fair as soon as she could; and though she struggled against it, she felt very melancholy. Still she exerted herself every day at her little manufacture; and she endeavoured to console herself by reflecting that she had two friends left who would not give up her character, and who continued steadily to protect her and her sisters.
Isabella and Caroline everywhere asserted their belief in the integrity of the orphans, but to prove it was in this instance out of their power. Mr. Hopkins, the agent, and his friends, constantly repeated that the gold coins were taken away in coming from their house to his; and these ladies were blamed by many people for continuing to countenance those that were, with great reason, suspected to be thieves. The orphans were in a worse condition than ever when the winter came on, and their benefactresses left the country to spend some months in Dublin. The old castle, it was true, was likely to last through the winter, as the mason said; but though the want of a comfortable house to live in was, a little while ago, the uppermost thing in Mary’s thoughts, now it was not so.
One night as Mary was going to bed, she heard someone knocking hard at the door. “Mary, are you up? let us in,” cried a voice, which she knew to be the voice of Betsy Green, the postmaster’s daughter, who lived in the village near them.
She let Betsy in, and asked what she could want at such a time of night.
“Give me sixpence, and I’ll tell you,” said Betsy; “but waken Anne and Peggy. Here’s a letter just come by post for you, and I stepped over to you with it; because I guessed you’d be glad to have it, seeing it is your brother’s handwriting.”
Peggy and Anne were soon roused, when they heard that there was a letter from Edmund. It was by one of his rush candles that Mary read it; and the letter was as follows:—
“Dear Mary, Nancy, and Little Peg,—
“Joy! joy!—I always said the truth would come out at last; and that he could not take our good name from us. But I will not tell you how it all came about till we meet, which will be next week, as we are (I mean, master and mistress, and the young ladies—bless them!—and Mr. Gilbert and I) coming down to the vicarage to keep Christmas; and a happy Christmas ’tis likely to be for honest folks. As for they that are not honest, it is not for them to expect to be happy, at Christmas, or any other time. You shall know all when we meet. So, till then, fare ye well, dear Mary, Nancy, and little Peg.
“Your joyful and affectionate brother,
To comprehend why Edmund is joyful, our readers must be informed of certain things which happened after Isabella and Caroline went to Dublin. One morning they went with their father and mother to see the magnificent library of a nobleman, who took generous and polite pleasure in thus sharing the advantages of his wealth and station with all who had any pretensions to science or literature. Knowing that the gentleman who was now come to see his library was skilled in antiquities, the nobleman opened a drawer of medals, to ask his opinion concerning the age of some coins, which he had lately purchased at a high price. They were the very same which the orphans had found at Rossmore Castle. Isabella and Caroline knew them again instantly; and as the cross which Isabella had made on each of them was still visible through a magnifying glass, there could be no possibility of doubt.
The nobleman, who was much interested both by the story of these orphans, and the manner in which it was told to him, sent immediately for the person from whom he had purchased the coins. He was a Jew broker. At first he refused to tell them from whom he got them, because he had bought them, he said, under a promise of secrecy. Being further pressed, he acknowledged that it was made a condition in his bargain that he should not sell them to anyone in Ireland, but that he had been tempted by the high price the present noble possessor had offered.
At last, when the Jew was informed that the coins were stolen, and that he would be proceeded against as a receiver of stolen goods, if he did not confess the whole truth, he declared that he had purchased them from a gentleman, whom he had never seen before or since; but he added, that he could swear to his person, if he saw him again.
Now, Mr. Hopkins, the agent, was at this time in Dublin, and Caroline’s father posted the Jew, the next day, in the back-parlour of a banker’s house, with whom Mr. Hopkins had, on this day, appointed to settle some accounts. Mr. Hopkins came—the Jew knew him—swore that he was the man who had sold the coins to him; and thus the guilt of the agent and the innocence of the orphans were completely proved.
A full account of all that happened was sent to England to Mr. Harvey, their landlord, and a few posts afterwards there came a letter from him, containing a dismissal of the dishonest agent, and a reward for the honest and industrious orphans. Mr. Harvey desired that Mary and her sisters might have the slated house, rent free, from this time forward, under the care of ladies Isabella and Caroline, as long as Mary or her sisters should carry on in it any useful business. This was the joyful news which Edmund had to tell his sisters.
All the neighbours shared in their joy, and the day of their removal from the ruins of Rossmore Castle to their new house was the happiest of the Christmas holidays. They were not envied for their prosperity; because everybody saw that it was the reward of their good conduct; everybody except Goody Grope. She exclaimed, as she wrung her hands with violent expressions of sorrow—“Bad luck to me! bad luck to me!—Why didn’t I go sooner to that there castle? It is all luck, all luck in this world; but I never had no luck. Think of the luck of these childer, that have found a pot of gold, and such great, grand friends, and a slated house, and all: and here am I, with scarce a rag to cover me, and not a potato to put into my mouth!—I, that have been looking under ground all my days for treasure, not to have a halfpenny at the last, to buy me tobacco!”
“That is the very reason that you have not a halfpenny,” said Betsy. “Here Mary has been working hard, and so have her two little sisters and her brother, for these five years past; and they have made money for themselves by their own industry—and friends too—not by luck, but by—”
“Phoo! phoo!” interrupted Goody Grope; “don’t be prating; don’t I know as well as you do, that they found a pot of gold, by good luck? and is not that the cause why they are going to live in a slated house now?”
“No,” replied the postmaster’s daughter; “this house is given to them as a reward—that was the word in the letter; for I saw it. Edmund showed it to me, and will show it to anyone that wants to see. This house was given to them ‘as a reward for their honesty.’”
Categories: English Literature