Page images
PDF
EPUB

money might have got there by some means he did not know of.

The lady noticed the movement, and smiled. "I know there's no money there," said she; "but,” taking up the portrait, "I owe you for this. I did not, of course, intend you should work for me without payment. All the others were for your own improvement, but this is for me; and, as it's very nicely done, I shall pay you two guineas.”

Tom was quite taken aback by the announcement. He had never seen such a sum in his life.

"Oh, but, please Ma'am," in confused amazement," I didn't think to be paid.' "I

"No, I know you didn't; but, nevertheless, I intend to pay, that is, I shall not give you the money, but it shall go towards your schooling. Meantime, you must do your best to earn more.

[ocr errors]

Tom began to stammer out thanks, but the lady stopped him, saying: "You owe me no thanks, my child. I do not give you the money, you have earned it, and it is fairly yours."

Tom was sorely perplexed; he did not know what to do, and so he said again: "But please Ma'am, I did not think to be paid."

"Tom," said she, earnestly, "never refuse what your honest industry has earned."

And so Tom went to the village evening-school.

In a few days he had mastered the letters; and in a few weeks could read any book which was put into his hands. In writing, too, Tom soon became a proficient; but arithmetic was little to his mind; and although, if necessary, he could cipher as well as any boy in the school, still he did not take to it kindly, and never practised in private. All the school-books were soon read through, as well as his kind patroness's library; and, in a very short time, Tom's mind was well stored with a very respectable stock of miscellaneous knowledge.

Months and years went swiftly by. Tom had frequent employment from the gentlefolks around in portrait and landscape painting; but still, at other times, he kept to his shop as a last resource. He enjoyed considerable fame as a provincial artist, and had, besides, accumulated a little hoard of £50.

One day, when Tom was going to pay his usual visit to his kind patroness, he saw, to his terror, that the door-knocker was tied up. His limbs trembled beneath him, and, hurrying round to the back of the house, asked a servant he met if her mistress were ill.

66

"Yes," said the girl, with large tears coursing down her cheeks," very!"

"Very?" repeated Tom, staring at her wildly.

"Taken ill all of a sudden," said the girl. "All hope given up."

Tom heard no more; he felt sick, staggered a few paces, and fell heavily on his face. There he lay senseless.

When consciousness returned, he found himself in his mother's cottage. The old woman was bathing his temples, her face full of selfish fear, lest the days of her comfort were at an end.

Starting up, he stared around him, and then recollection returned, and he said, sharply, "Mother, how long have I laid here?"

"Ever since yesterday, Child," she answered.

"Ever since yesterday?" he almost screamed. "And she was dying. She is dead, she is dead, I know she is! Something tells me she is. Let me go, Mother, I say," breaking loose from the old woman, who tried to hold him, and hastily dragging on his clothes. "Great God, that I should be here, and not have seen her, not even one last time !"

He darted violently out of the cottage, without his hat, and, with the speed of a hunted hare, made for his patroness's house, his face pale as death, and his eyes glaring with feverish anxiety.

His forebodings were true; she had died on the previous night.

Hers was

For several days Tom was delirious. the only face which had ever smiled on him. She was his only friend. His grief was such as they only can know who had but one treasure in the universe, and that now lost.

Luckily, Tom had several very pressing engagements on hand, and so, when he rose from a sickbed, constant and forced application to his brush and pencil stifled thought.

In some sort the sudden death of his friend was a good thing for Tom. The spirit of independence, which her teaching had aroused within him, partly slumbered while she lived; but now she was dead, and Tom had no longer to expect her friendly smile and helping hand, the spirit awoke in all its vigour. "Look to yourself, Tom, to yourself only. Do not depend upon friendship. Do not expect the good things of life from a friend's hand. Be your own friend." These words rung in his ears. During her life he had understood but half their sense; but now she was gone, their full meaning stood out clear and defined before him. Even should we enjoy the rare blessing of a faithful friend, one hour may lay him stiff and stark, a corpse before us. Oh, friendship, friendship, is there one other thing in God's whole universe so fragile as thou art?

Four more years Tom laboured steadily on, painting during the day, and reading and writing at night.

One day, as he sat at his easel, the postman brought a letter, informing him that a country patron had recommended him to a friend in town, and requiring him to repair forthwith to London. Tom was beside himself with joy. To see the great world of art and learning! To lay his skill, yard arm to yard arm, with the talent of his brother artists, and struggle for mastery! Oh, how Tom felt the spur of honest ambition plunge into his soul, and the curb of poverty and obscurity slacken! He bounded up like a gallant animal, and longed for the race.

To London Tom went, and gave his employer all the satisfaction he had been led to expect. The portrait he had painted brought him in a good sum of money, and, what was better, several other engagements; so that Tom found it would be very much to his advantage to remain where he was. He accordingly sent for the old woman, and took a cottage in Finchley, a little village several miles from town. He loved the blue sky and open country. He loved them not only because they are so beautiful, but because they were his first teachers.

« PreviousContinue »