"You are the most troublesome boy in the village, Reuben
Whitney, and you will come to a bad end."
The words followed a shower of cuts with the cane. The speaker
was an elderly man, the master of the village school of Tipping,
near Lewes, in Sussex; and the words were elicited, in no small
degree, by the vexation of the speaker at his inability to wring a
cry from the boy whom he was striking. He was a lad of some
thirteen years of age, with a face naturally bright and
intelligent; but at present quivering with anger.
"I don't care if I do," he said defiantly. "It won't be my
fault, but yours, and the rest of them."
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," the master said, "instead
of speaking in that way. You, who learn easier than anyone here,
and could always be at the top of your class, if you chose. I had
hoped better things of you, Reuben; but it's just the way, it's
your bright boys as mostly gets into mischief."
At this moment the door of the school room opened, and a lady
with two girls, one of about fourteen and the other eleven years of
"What is the matter now?" the lady asked, seeing the
schoolmaster, cane in hand, and the boy standing before him.
"Reuben Whitney! What, in trouble again, Reuben? I am afraid you
are a very troublesome boy."
"I am not troublesome, ma'm," the boy said sturdily. "That is, I
wouldn't be if they would let me alone; but everything that is done
bad, they put it down to me."
"But what have you been doing now, Reuben?"
"I have done nothing at all, ma'm; but he's always down on me,"
and he pointed to the master, "and when they are always down on a
fellow, it's no use his trying to do right."
"What has the boy been doing now, Mr. White?" the lady
"Look there, ma'm, at those four windows all smashed, and the
squire had all the broken panes mended only a fortnight ago."
"How was it done, Mr. White?"
"By a big stone, ma'm, which caught the frame where they joined,
and smashed them all."
"I did not do it, Mrs. Ellison, indeed I didn't."
"Why do you suppose it was Reuben?" Mrs. Ellison asked the
"Because I had kept him in, half an hour after the others went
home to dinner, for pinching young Jones and making him call out;
and he had only just gone out of the gate when I heard the smash;
so there is no doubt about it, for all the others must have been in
at their dinner at that time."
"I didn't do it, ma'm," the boy repeated. "Directly I got out of
the gate, I started off to run home. I hadn't gone not twenty yards
when I heard a smash; but I wasn't going for to stop to see what it
was. It weren't no business of mine, and that's all I know about
"Mamma," the younger of the two girls said eagerly, "what he
says is quite true. You know you let me run down the village with
the jelly for Mrs. Thomson's child, and as I was coming down the
road I saw a boy come out of the gate of the school and run away;
and then I heard a noise of broken glass, and I saw another boy
jump over the hedge opposite, and run, too. He came my way and,
directly he saw me, he ran to a gate and climbed over."
"Do you know who it was, Kate?" Mrs. Ellison asked.
"Yes, mamma. It was Tom Thorne."
"Is Thomas Thorne here?" Mrs. Ellison asked in a loud voice.
There was a general turning of the heads of the children to the
point where a boy, somewhat bigger than the rest, had been
apparently studying his lessons with great diligence.
"Come here, Tom Thorne," Mrs. Ellison said.
The boy slouched up with a sullen face.
"You hear what my daughter says, Tom. What have you to say in
"I didn't throw the stone at the window," the boy replied. "I
chucked it at a sparrow, and it weren't my fault if it missed him
and broke the window."
"I should say it was your fault, Tom," Mrs. Ellison said
sharply—"very much your fault, if you throw a great stone at a bird
without taking care to see what it may hit. But that is nothing to
your fault in letting another boy be punished for what you did. I
shall report the matter to the squire, and he will speak to your
father about it. You are a wicked, bad boy.
"Mr. White, I will speak to you outside."
Followed by her daughters, Mrs. Ellison went out; Kate giving a
little nod, in reply to the grateful look that Reuben Whitney cast
towards her, and his muttered:
"Thank you, miss."
"Walk on, my dears," Mrs. Ellison said. "I will overtake you, in
a minute or two.
"This will not do, Mr. White," she said, when she was alone with
the master. "I have told you before that I did not approve of your
thrashing so much, and now it is proved that you punish without any
sufficient cause, and upon suspicion only. I shall report the case
at once to the squire and, unless I am greatly mistaken, you will
have to look out for another place."
"I am very sorry, Mrs. Ellison, indeed I am; and it is not often
I use the cane, now. If it had been anyone else, I might have
believed him; but Reuben Whitney is always in mischief."
"No wonder he is in mischief," the lady said severely, "if he is
punished, without a hearing, for all the misdeeds of others. Well,
I shall leave the matter in the squire's hands; but I am sure he
will no more approve than I do of the children being ill
Reuben Whitney was the son of a miller, near Tipping. John
Whitney had been considered a well-to-do man, but he had speculated
in corn and had got into difficulties; and his body was, one day,
found floating in the mill dam. No one knew whether it was the
result of intention or accident, but the jury of his neighbours who
sat upon the inquest gave him the benefit of the doubt, and brought
in a verdict of "accidental death." He was but tenant of the mill
and, when all the creditors were satisfied, there were only a few
pounds remaining for the widow.
With these she opened a little shop in Tipping, with a
miscellaneous collection of tinware and cheap ironmongery; cottons,
tapes, and small articles of haberdashery; with toys, sweets, and
cakes for the children. The profits were small, but the squire, who
had known her husband, charged but a nominal rent for the cottage;
and this was more than paid by the fruit trees in the garden, which
also supplied her with potatoes and vegetables, so that she managed
to support her boy and herself in tolerable comfort.
She herself had been the daughter of a tradesman in Lewes, and
many wondered that she did not return to her father, upon her
husband's death. But her home had not been a comfortable one,
before her marriage; for her father had taken a second wife, and
she did not get on well with her stepmother. She thought,
therefore, that anything would be better than returning with her
boy to a home where, to the mistress at least, she would be most
She had, as a girl, received an education which raised her
somewhat above the other villagers of Tipping; and of an evening
she was in the habit of helping Reuben with his lessons, and trying
to correct the broadness of dialect which he picked up from the
other boys. She was an active and bustling woman, managed her
little shop well, and kept the garden, with Reuben's assistance, in
Mrs. Ellison had, at her first arrival in the village three
years before, done much to give her a good start, by ordering that
all articles of use for the house, in which she dealt, should be
purchased of her; and she highly approved of the energy and
independence of the young widow. But lately there had been an
estrangement between the squire's wife and the village shopkeeper.
Mrs. Ellison, whose husband owned all the houses in the village, as
well as the land surrounding it, was accustomed to speak her mind
very freely to the wives of the villagers. She was kindness itself,
in cases of illness or distress; and her kitchen supplied soups,
jellies, and nourishing food to all who required it; but in return,
Mrs. Ellison expected her lectures on waste, untidiness, and
mismanagement to be listened to with respect and reverence.
She was, then, at once surprised and displeased when, two or
three months before, having spoken sharply to Mrs. Whitney as to
the alleged delinquencies of Reuben, she found herself decidedly,
though not disrespectfully, replied to.
"The other boys are always set against my Reuben," Mrs. Whitney
said, "because he is a stranger in the village, and has no father;
and whatever is done, they throw it on to him. The boy is not a bad
boy, ma'm—not in any way a bad boy. He may get into mischief, like
the rest; but he is not a bit worse than others, not half as bad as
some of them, and those who have told you that he is haven't told
you the truth."
Mrs. Ellison had not liked it. She was not accustomed to be
answered, except by excuses and apologies; and Mrs. Whitney's
independent manner of speaking came upon her almost as an act of
rebellion, in her own kingdom. She was too fair, however, to
withdraw her custom from the shop; but from that time she had not,
herself, entered it.
Reuben was a source of anxiety to his mother, but this had no
reference to his conduct. She worried over his future. The receipts
from the shop were sufficient for their wants; and indeed the widow
was enabled, from time to time, to lay by a pound against bad
times; but she did not see what she was to do with the boy. Almost
all the other lads of the village, of the same age, were already in
the fields; and Mrs. Whitney felt that she could not much longer
keep him idle. The question was, what was she to do with him? That
he should not go into the fields she was fully determined, and her
great wish was to apprentice him to some trade; but as her father
had recently died, she did not see how she was to set about it.
That evening, at dinner, Mrs. Ellison told the squire of the
scene in the school room.
"White must go," he said, "that is quite evident. I have seen,
for some time, that we wanted a younger man, more abreast of the
times than White is; but I don't like turning him adrift
altogether. He has been here upwards of thirty years. What am I to
do with him?"
Mrs. Ellison could make no suggestion; but she, too, disliked
the thought of anyone in the village being turned adrift upon the
"The very thing!" the squire exclaimed, suddenly "We will make
him clerk. Old Peters has long been past his work. The old man must
be seventy-five, if he's a day, and his voice quavers so that it
makes the boys laugh. We will pension him off. He can have his
cottage rent free, and three or four shillings a week. I don't
suppose it will be for many years. As for White, he cannot be much
above sixty. He will fill the place very well.
"I am sure the vicar will agree, for he has been speaking to me,
about Peters being past his work, for the last five years. What do
you say, my dear?"
"I think that will do very well, William," Mrs. Ellison replied,
"and will get over the difficulty altogether."
"So you see, wife, for once that boy of Widow Whitney's was not
to blame. I told you you took those stories on trust against him
too readily. The boy's a bit of a pickle, no doubt; and I very near
gave him a thrashing, myself, a fortnight since, for on going up to
the seven-acre field, I found him riding bare backed on that young
pony I intended for Kate."
"You don't say so, William!" Mrs. Ellison exclaimed, greatly
shocked. "I never heard of such an impudent thing. I really wonder
you didn't thrash him."
"Well, perhaps I should have done so, my dear; but the fact is,
I caught sight of him some time before he saw me, and he was really
sitting her so well that I could not find it in my heart to call
out. He was really doing me a service. The pony had never been
ridden, and was as wild as a wild goat. Thomas is too old, in fact,
to break it in, and I should have had to get someone to do it, and
pay him two or three pounds for the job.
"It was not the first time the boy had been on her back, I could
see. The pony was not quite broken and, just as I came on the
scene, was trying its best to get rid of him; but it couldn't do
it, and I could see, by the way he rode her about afterwards, that
he had got her completely in hand; and a very pretty-going little
thing she will turn out."
"But what did you say to him, William? I am sure I should never
stop to think whether he was breaking in the pony, or not, if I saw
him riding it about."
"I daresay not, my dear," the squire said, laughing; "but then
you see, you have never been a boy; and I have, and can make
allowances. Many a pony and horse have I broken in, in my time; and
have got on the back of more than one, without my father knowing
anything about it."
"Yes, but they were your father's horses, William," Mrs. Ellison
persisted. "That makes all the difference."
"I don't suppose it would have made much difference to me," the
squire laughed, "at that time. I was too fond of horse flesh, even
from a boy, to be particular whose horse it was I got across.
However, of course, after waiting till he had done, I gave the
young scamp a blowing up."
"Not much of a blowing up, I am sure," Mrs. Ellison said; "and
as likely as not, a shilling at the end of it."
"Well, Mary, I must own," the squire said pleasantly, "that a
shilling did find its way out of my pocket into his."
"It's too bad of you, William," Mrs. Ellison said indignantly.
"Here is this boy, who is notoriously a scapegrace, has the
impertinence to ride your horse, and you encourage him in his
misdeeds by giving him a shilling."
"Well, my dear, don't you see, I saved two pounds nineteen by
"Besides," he added more seriously, "I think the boy has been
maligned. I don't fancy he's a bad lad at all. A little mischief
and so on, but none the worse for that. Besides, you know, I knew
his father; and have sat many a time on horseback chatting to him,
at the door of his mill; and drank more than one glass of good ale,
which his wife has brought out to me. I am not altogether easy in
my conscience about them. If there had been a subscription got up
for the widow at his death, I should have put my name down for
twenty pounds; and all that I have done for her is to take eighteen
pence a week off that cottage of theirs.
"No, I called the boy to me when he got off, and pretty scared
he looked when he saw me. When he came up, I asked him how he dared
to ride my horses about, without my leave. Of course he said he was
sorry, which meant nothing; and he added, as a sort of excuse, that
he used from a child to ride the horses at the mill down to the
ford for water; and that his father generally had a young one or
two, in that paddock of his by the mill, and he used often to ride
them; and seeing the pony one day, galloping about the field and
kicking up its heels, he wondered whether he could sit a horse
still, and especially whether he could keep on that pony's back.
Then he set to, to try.
"The pony flung him several times, at first; and no wonder, as
he had no saddle, and only a piece of old rope for a bridle; but he
mastered him at last, and he assured me that he had never used the
stick, and certainly he had not one when I saw him. I told him, of
course, that he knew he ought not to have done it; but that, as he
had taken it in hand, he might finish it. I said that I intended to
have it broken in for Kate, and that he had best get a bit of
sacking and put it on sideways, to accustom the pony to carry a
lady. Then I gave him a shilling, and told him I would give him
five more, when he could tell me the pony was sufficiently broken
and gentle to carry Kate."
Mrs. Ellison shook her head in disapprobation.
"It is of no use, William, my talking to the villagers as to the
ways of their boys, if that is the way you counteract my
"But I don't always, my dear," the squire said blandly. "For
instance, I shall go round tomorrow morning with my dog whip to
Thorne's; and I shall offer him the choice of giving that boy of
his the soundest thrashing he ever had, while I stand by to see it,
or of going out of his house at the end of the quarter.
"I rather hope he will choose the latter alternative. That beer
shop of his is the haunt of all the idle fellows in the village. I
have a strong suspicion that he is in league with the poachers, if
he doesn't poach himself; and the first opportunity I get of laying
my finger upon him, out he goes."
A few days later when Kate Ellison issued from the gate of the
house, which lay just at the end of the village, with the basket
containing some jelly and medicine for a sick child, she found
Reuben Whitney awaiting her. He touched his cap.
"Please, miss, I made bold to come here, to thank you for having
"But I couldn't help clearing you, Reuben, for you see, I knew
it wasn't you."
"Well, miss, it was very kind, all the same; and I am very much
obliged to you."
"But why do you get into scrapes?" the girl said. "If you
didn't, you wouldn't be suspected of other things. Mamma said, the
other day, you got into more scrapes than any boy in the village;
and you look nice, too. Why do you do it?"
"I don't know why I do it, miss," Reuben said shamefacedly. "I
suppose it's because I don't go into the fields, like most of the
other boys; and haven't got much to do. But there's no great harm
in them, miss. They are just larks, nothing worse."
"You don't do really bad things?" the girl asked.
"No, miss, I hope not."
"And you don't tell stories, do you?"
"No, miss, never. If I do anything and I am asked, I always own
it. I wouldn't tell a lie to save myself from a licking."
"That's right," the girl said graciously.
She caught somewhat of her mother's manner, from going about
with her to the cottages; and it seemed quite natural, to her, to
give her advice to this village scapegrace.
"Well, try not to do these sort of things again, Reuben; because
I like you, and I don't like to hear people say you are the worst
boy in the village, and I don't think you are. Good-bye," and Kate
Ellison proceeded on her way.
Reuben smiled as he looked after her. Owing to his memory of his
former position at the mill, and to his mother's talk and teaching,
Reuben did not entertain the same feeling of respect, mingled with
fear, for the squire's family which was felt by the village in
general. Instead of being two years younger than himself, the girl
had spoken as gravely as if she had been twenty years his senior,
and Reuben could not help a smile of amusement.
"She is a dear little lady," he said, as he looked after her;
"and it's only natural she should talk like her mother. But Mrs.
Ellison means well, too, mother says; and as for the squire, he is
a good fellow. I expected he would have given it to me the other
"Well, now I will go up to the pony. One more lesson, and I
think a baby might ride it."
As he walked along, he met Tom Thorne. There had been war
between them, since the affair of the broken window. Reuben had
shown the other no animosity on the subject as, having been
cleared, he had felt in no way aggrieved; but Tom Thorne was very
sore over it. In the first place, he had been found out; and
although Reuben himself had said nothing to him, respecting his
conduct in allowing him to be flogged for the offence which he
himself had committed, others had not been so reticent, and he had
had a hard time of it in the village. Secondly, he had been
severely thrashed by his father, in the presence of the squire; the
former laying on the lash with a vigour which satisfied Mr.
Ellison, the heartiness of the thrashing being due, not to any
indignation at the fault, but because the boy's conduct had excited
the squire's anger; which Thorne, for many reasons, was anxious to
deprecate. He was his landlord, and had the power to turn him out
at a quarter's notice; and as there was no possibility of obtaining
any other house near, and he was doing by no means a bad trade, he
was anxious to keep on good terms with him.
Tom Thorne was sitting on a gate, as Reuben passed.
"You think you be a fine fellow, Reuben, but I will be even with
you, some day."
"You can be even with me now," Reuben said, "if you like to get
off that gate."
"I bain't afeared of you, Reuben, don't you go to think it; only
I ain't going to do any fighting now. Feyther says if I get into
any more rows, he will pay me out; so I can't lick you now, but
some day I will be even with you."
"That's a good excuse," Reuben said scornfully. "However, I
don't want to fight if you don't, only you keep your tongue to
yourself. I don't want to say nothing to you, if you don't say
nothing to me. You played me a dirty trick the other day, and you
got well larrupped for it, so I don't owe you any grudge; but mind
you, I don't want any more talk about your getting even with me,
for if you do give me any more of it I will fetch you one on the
nose, and then you will have a chance of getting even, at
Tom Thorne held his tongue, only relieving his feelings by
making a grimace after Reuben, as the latter passed on. In the
various contests among the boys of the village, Reuben had proved
himself so tough an adversary that, although Tom Thorne was heavier
and bigger, he did not care about entering upon what would be, at
best, a doubtful contest with him.
Contenting himself, therefore, with another muttered, "I will be
even with you some day," he strolled home to his father's ale
The change at the school was very speedily made. The squire
generally carried out his resolutions while they were hot and, on
the very day after his conversation with his wife on the subject,
he went first to the vicar and arranged for the retirement of the
clerk, and the instalment of White in his place; and then went to
the school house, and informed the master of his intention. The
latter had been expecting his dismissal, since Mrs. Ellison had
spoken to him on the previous day; and the news which the squire
gave him was a relief to him. His emoluments, as clerk, would be
smaller than those he received as schoolmaster; but while he would
not be able to discharge the duties of the latter for very much
longer, for he felt the boys were getting too much for him, he
would be able to perform the very easy work entailed by the
clerkship for many years to come. It was, too, a position not
without dignity; and indeed, in the eyes of the village the clerk
was a personage of far greater importance than the schoolmaster. He
therefore thankfully accepted the offer, and agreed to give up the
school as soon as a substitute could be found.
In those days anyone was considered good enough for a village
schoolmaster, and the post was generally filled by men who had
failed as tradesmen, and in everything else they put their hands
to; and whose sole qualification for the office was that they were
able to read and write. Instead of advertising, however, in the
county paper, the squire wrote to an old college friend, who was
now in charge of a London parish, and asked him to choose a man for
"I don't want a chap who will cram all sorts of new notions into
the heads of the children," the squire said. "I don't think it
would do them any good, or fit them any better for their stations.
The boys have got to be farm labourers, and the girls to be their
wives; and if they can read really well, and write fairly, it's
about as much as they want in the way of learning; but I think that
a really earnest sort of man might do them good, otherwise. A
schoolmaster, in my mind, should be the clergyman's best assistant.
I don't know, my dear fellow, that I can explain in words more
exactly what I mean; but I think you will understand me, and will
send down the sort of man I want.
"The cottage is a comfortable one, there's a good bit of garden
attached to it, and I don't mind paying a few shillings a week more
than I do now, to get the sort of man I want. If he has a wife so
much the better. She might teach the girls to sew, which would be,
to nine out of ten, a deal more use than reading and writing; and
if she could use her needle, and make up dresses and that sort of
thing, she might add to their income. Not one woman in five in the
village can make her own clothes, and they have to go to a place
three miles away to get them done."
A week later the squire received an answer from his friend,
saying that he had chosen a man, and his wife, whom he thought
"The poor fellow was rather a cripple," he said. "He is a wood
engraver by trade, but he fell downstairs and hurt his back. The
doctor who attended him at the hospital spoke to me about him. He
said that he might, under favourable circumstances, get better in
time; but that he was delicate, and absolutely needed change of air
and a country life. I have seen him several times, and have been
much struck with his intelligence. He has been much depressed at
being forbidden to work, but has cheered up greatly since I told
him of your offer. I have no doubt he will do well.
"I have selected him, not only for that reason, but because his
wife is as suitable as he is. She is an admirable young woman, and
was a dressmaker before he married her. She has supported them both
ever since he was hurt, months ago. She is delighted at the idea of
the change for, although the money will be very much less than he
earned at his trade, she has always been afraid of his health
giving way; and is convinced that fresh air, and the garden you
speak of, will put new life into him."
The squire was not quite satisfied with the letter; but, as he
told himself, he could not expect to get a man trained specially as
a schoolmaster to accept the post; and at any rate, if the man was
not satisfactory his wife was likely to be so. He accordingly
ordered his groom to take the light cart and drive over to Lewes,
the next day, to meet the coach when it came in; and to bring over
the new schoolmaster, his wife, and their belongings.
Mrs. Ellison at once went down to the village, and got a woman
to scrub the cottage from top to bottom, and put everything tidy.
The furniture went with the house, and had been provided by the
squire. Mrs. Ellison went over it, and ordered a few more things to
be sent down from the house to make it more comfortable for a
married couple and, driving over to Lewes, ordered a carpet,
curtains, and a few other little comforts for it.
James Shrewsbury was, upon his arrival, much pleased with his
cottage, which contrasted strongly with the room in a crowded
street which he had occupied in London; and his wife was still more
"I am sure we shall be happy and comfortable here, James," she
said, "and the air feels so fresh and pure that I am convinced you
will soon get strong and well again. What is money to health? I am
sure I shall be ten times as happy, here, as I was when you were
earning three or four times as much, in London."
The squire and Mrs. Ellison came down the next morning, at the
opening of the school; and after a chat with the new schoolmaster
and his wife, the squire accompanied the former into the school
"Look here, boys and girls," he said, "Mr. Shrewsbury has come
down from London to teach you. He has been ill, and is not very
strong. I hope you will give him no trouble, and I can tell you it
will be the worse for you, if you do. I am going to look into
matters myself; and I shall have a report sent me in, regularly, as
to how each of you is getting on, with a special remark as to
conduct; and I can tell you, if any of you are troublesome you will
find me down at your father's, in no time."
The squire's words had considerable effect, and an unusual quiet
reigned in the school, after he had left and the new schoolmaster
opened a book.
They soon found that his method of teaching was very different
to that which they were accustomed to. There was no shouting or
thumping on the desk with the cane, no pulling of ears or cuffing
of heads. Everything was explained quietly and clearly; and when
they went out of the school, all agreed that the new master was a
great improvement on Master White, while the master himself
reported to his wife that he had got on better than he had