Page images

reaper's scythe, the slender figure of a little old woman in a black bonnet, and with one hand supporting her aching back, while the other gathered up the scattered ears of corn, might be seen gliding gently after the merry harvesters. The farmer himself was sure to be there too, and by his direction many a handful was allowed to fall on purpose, that, without hurting her feelings of honest independence, the widow's scanty store might be increased. For every one knew that she had seen better days; and, indeed, it was a source of general surprise that she was able to support herself and her orphan grandchild Betsy, without the aid of parish relief, which she always thankfully but firmly refused.

In days gone by Mrs. Neal had kept a little shop in the village, and had scraped together a few pounds by selling a great variety of trifling articles there, always making it a matter of principle to give as good weight and value to the child who came to spend his halfpenny, as to the grown-up customer who, perhaps, laid out a whole shilling in the purchase of a quarterpound of tea. But things were altered now, for larger shops had sprung up all around, and even the widow's tempting sugar-sticks and penny tarts failed to bring purchasers; and, at the very time when the early death of her only son left her the added burden of his motherless child, she was obliged to dispose of the little grocery and withdraw to a still humbler cottage on the edge of a broad common that lay outside the village. Here Betsy and her grandmother had lived for some years at the time our story begins.

During those years Betsy had grown up from a little

baby into a tall, slight girl, with pale cheeks and sharp features. Those who knew how gentle and unselfish she was, loved her better than many a prettier child. Poor Betsy's cheeks had grown paler than usual lately, for her grandmother had been seized with fever early in the winter, and was unable ever since to cross the threshold of her door; so that the new duties of nurse and housekeeper were added to the ordinary ones of a. little school-girl. Indeed, it was almost the heaviest part of her trial to be obliged to leave school altogether, for neither money nor time was plenty now; but her grandmother knew that heart-lessons were better than head-lessons, and she felt sure her Betsy was learning many of them-lessons of trust, and hope, and love. And when she saw the little girl so patient, humble, and self-forgetful, she used often to clasp her aged hands and silently thank God for having himself taught that without which earth's best teaching is valueless.

"Betsy, dear," said the old woman, one evening, towards the end of August, "you must be ready to start in good time to-morrow, for the gleaning at Farmer Burns'; for, though I cannot go this year, we cannot afford to lose his offered kindness." It required a great inner struggle for Betsy to reply in a pleasant tone, "I shall try to be ready, grandmother," because she had a particular reason for disliking the prospect of gleaning this year in Farmer Burns' fields; but then, almost forgetting her own trouble in her care for others, she inquired: "But, dear gran, how will you manage while I am away; will not you be lonely ?" "Oh no, my child, for, though this fever has so weak

ened me that I can scarcely walk, you know I can still turn over the leaves of our large Bible and find good company there, and I shall be thinking that if my Betsy has not her poor old grandmother gleaning by her side, she has a better friend always at hand, and that no enemy can hurt her while He is near."

If there was any person in the world whom Betsy considered her enemy it was Tommy Burns, the farmer's little son. Tommy was the only boy in the farmer's family, the long-wished-for son; and ever since his birth each member of the household seemed to unite in gratifying every whim, and supplying every wish, of the wayward child. As might be expected, this conduct did not make Tommy either very happy himself, or serve to train him for making others happy; and at ten years old he was such a thoroughly selfish boy, that, outside the white walls of the farm-house there were few who had a good word to say for him. Inside, indeed, he was the idol of the house, and what is more, his own idol; for, though he loved his father, mother, and sisters a good deal, he loved Tommy Burns far more than all put together. Among Tommy's various methods of amusing himself, one of his favourite was what he called having a joke, which, in reality, was laughing at and teasing any person who happened to come in his way. Poor Betsy had often been the subject of Tommy's jokes; many a cutting remark had been made about her dress, which, though clean and whole, was always poor and old-fashioned; and many a shout of laughter had he raised among his companions by mimicking her grave face or sober step. But Sunday was always the time for a grand attack,

and as the village children returned from the afternoon school their attention was sure to be directed to Betsy's white sun-bonnet, so funnily turned up in front, which, winter and summer, formed the covering for her little brown head, and which, though much worn in Mrs. Neal's early days, certainly did look strange to modern eyes. These things, of course, did not make the little boy a favourite with Betsy; and though she tried to forgive him from her heart, still she dreaded meeting him; and her chief reason for disliking the gleaning at Farmer Burns' this autumn was that her grandmother's absence would give Tommy more than usual occasion of annoying her.

The sun had not been long risen before Betsy, having attended to every little thing she thought might add to her grandmother's comfort during the day, might be seen crossing the common in the direction of the farm-house. The reapers had been there an hour before, so she found plenty of ears waiting for her to pick up; and, indeed, work as she would, it was impossible to keep time with the strong-armed men who cut down, and the nimble-fingered women who bound the corn in sheaves. But when the harvesters went into the empty barn to get their breakfast, Betsy had decidedly the advantage, for, as she had taken hers at home, she could work while they ate, and so by the time they returned her bundle had grown quite large. Not, however, by the addition of one ear that was not the gleaner's right, for she would as soon have put her fingers into the farmer's pocket, as have taken a handful of wheat from one of his sheaves. All day long she worked diligently, though it was hot, and she was

growing tired-so tired that when the afternoon came she now and then lifted her head just to see if the sun was getting weary of shining, or was thinking of retiring to rest behind that bright curtain of cloud. But no, the sun, "rejoicing as a strong man to run a race," showed no sign of fatigue. At length the wished-for evening came, and with it some one Betsy had not wished for. Tommy, who had lain under the shade of a thick hedge with his dog Foss during the greater part of the day, made his appearance just at the moment when Betsy, having gathered the results of her work into one large heap, was quietly looking at it, thankful to think how pleased her grandmother would be with her success. All on a sudden Tommy jumped into the middle of the heap, and calling Foss to follow, flung the ears about with hands and feet in every direction.

For some minutes he had it all his own way, while Betsy looked on with tearful eyes and burning anger in her heart, which was fast forming itself into words, bitter words, that the tightened little lips would not allow to escape. It was soon, however, Tommy's turn to cry, for his father, who had seen the whole affair, came up, and in a stern tone asked what he was doing. "Oh, 'tis only a joke," said the little boy, trying to seem brave, though he was really frightened by his father's voice. "Well, then, I shall give you another joke, my lad; pick up every bit of that corn, and then carry it home for Betsy; let me see that you are smart, for you shall get no supper till you return."

Tommy, not daring to disobey, began to collect the scattered heap, a work which Betsy would much have

« PreviousContinue »