The Old Helmet. Volume II
Eleanor was silent, looking a little anxious, though not cast down. Mr.
Carlisle marked her.
"It is not safe for you, Eleanor," he said.
"It is perfectly safe," she answered with a smile that had a curious brightness in it. "I run no risk whatever."
"You are a bold creature," said her mother, "and always were; but that is no reason why you should be allowed to go your own crazy ways. I will have no more of this, Eleanor."
"Mamma, I am perfectly safe. I have nothing at all to fear. I would not fail of going for anything in the world." She spoke with an earnest and shadowed face now. She felt it.
"Who goes with you? or do you go alone?"
"No, ma'am – Thomas is with me always."
"How came you to get into such a strange place?"
"I heard of it – and there is sure to be more to do in such a work than there are hands for. I know one or two of the gentlemen that teach there also."
"Methodists, I suppose?" said Mrs. Powle sneeringly.
"One of them is, mamma; the other is a Churchman."
"And do you teach there?"
"Yes, ma'am – a large class of boys." Eleanor's smile came again – and went.
"I'll have no more of it, Eleanor. I will not. It is just absurdity and fanaticism, the whole thing. Why shouldn't those boys go to the regular schools, instead of your giving your time and risking your life to teach them Sundays? You indeed!"
"You do not know what sort of boys they are, mamma; or you would not ask that."
"I suppose they have learned some things too well already?" said Mr.
"Well, I'll have no more of it!" said Mrs. Powle. "I am disgusted with the whole thing. If they are not good boys, the House of Correction is the best place for them. Mr. Carlisle, do you not say so?"
Mr. Carlisle's knowledge of the limits of Houses of Correction and the number of boys in London who were not good boys, forbade him to give an affirmative answer; his character as a reformer also came up before him. More than all, Eleanor's face, which was somewhat sad.
"Mrs. Powle, I am going to petition you to suspend judgment, and reconsider the case of the Ragged schools. I confess to a selfish motive in my request – I have a desire to go there myself and see this lady with her scholars around her. The picturesque effect, I should say, must be striking."
Mrs. Powle looked at him as a very unwise and obstinate man, who was bewitched into false action.
"If you have a fancy for such effects," she said; "I suppose you must do as you please. To me the effect is striking and not picturesque. Just look at her!"
Mr. Carlisle did so, and the expression on his face was so unsatisfactory that Mrs. Powle gave up the matter; laughed, and went out of the room.
"I will be less striking," said Eleanor, "if you will excuse me." And she left the room to change her dress. But when she came back an hour after, Mr. Carlisle was still there.
"Eleanor," said he, coming and standing before her, "may I go with you the next time you go to Field Lane?"
"No, I think not. You would not know what to do in such a place, Mr.
"Do you think so?"
"They are a set of people whom you do not like; people who you think ought to be fined – and imprisoned – and transported; and all that sort of thing."
"And what do you think ought to be done with them?"
"I would try a different regimen."
"Pray what would it be?"
"I would tell them of the love of One who died for them. And I would shew them that the servants of that One love them too."
She spoke quietly, but there was a light in her eye.
"How, for heaven's sake, Eleanor?"
"Mr. Carlisle, I would never condemn a man or boy very severely for stealing, when I had left him no other way to live."
"So you would make the rest of the world responsible?"
"Are they not? These fellows never heard a word of right or of truth – never had a word of kindness – never were brought under a good influence, – until they found it in the Ragged school. What could you expect? May I illustrate?"
"There is a boy in a class neighbouring to mine in the room, whose teacher I know. The boy is thirteen or fourteen years old now; he came to the school first some four or five years ago, when he was a little bit of a fellow. Then he had already one brother transported for stealing, and another in prison for stealing – both only a little older than he. They had often no other way of getting food but stealing it. The father and mother were both of them drunkards and swallowed up everything in liquor. This little fellow used to come to the morning school, which was held every day, without any breakfast; many a time. Barefooted, over the cold streets, and no breakfast to warm him. But after what he heard at the school he promised he would never do as his brothers had done; and he had some very hard times in keeping his promise. At last he came to his teacher and asked him for a loan of threepence; if he had a loan of threepence he thought he could make a living."
Mr. Carlisle half turned on his heel, but instantly resumed his look and attitude of fixed attention.
"Mr. Morrison lent him threepence. And Jemmy has supported himself respectably ever since, and is now in honest employment as an errand boy."
"I hope you can tell me how he managed it? I do not understand doing business on such a capital."
"The threepence bought twelve boxes of matches. Those were sold for a halfpenny each – doubling his capital at once. So he carried on that business for two years. All day he went to school. In the end of the day he went out with twelve boxes of matches and hawked them about until they were disposed of. That gave him threepence for the next day's trade, and threepence to live upon. He spent one penny for breakfast, he said; another for dinner, and another for supper. So he did for two years; now he does better."