Uncle Jacob, Part 2
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: “Uncle Jacob” was published anonymously in 1869 in Aunt Judy’s Magazine, a magazine aimed at middle-class children which published a variety of didactic fiction, poetry and educational non-fiction. “Uncle Jacob” is a morality story about a young boy, Tom, the heir to Uncle Jacob’s fortune. As the only son, Tom’s parents and seven sisters spoil him, but he is unappreciative and finds girls useless. However, after an adventurous day on a train and getting lost in the woods with his sister, a chance encounter with a stranger helps Tom to see things in a new light.
This entry was published as the second of two parts:
It wanted more than two hours to the time when the next train would pass, but with his mind relieved, Tom began to recover his spirits and to enjoy his adventure. His happiness was complete when a goods train came up, was loaded with hops, and went on again. Now it takes a long time to start a goods train. Perhaps you have sometimes been kept at a level crossing while one was crawling backwards and forwards, the engine snorting and puffing, giving out clouds of steam, the heavy-laden trucks all fastened to it—then a shrill whistle and off they set. Oh, dear no! nothing of the kind; they go snorting up the line only to come crawling back again, and this time, perhaps, the engine stops just opposite the gate, and the horses prick their ears and look at it as if they did not like it, not all as if they were grateful to the wonderful steam power which has saved so much hard work for so many weary horses. And so the monster crawls backwards and forwards for ever so long, until suddenly it seems to take it into its head to go straight on, and they are really off at last.
This is just what Tom’s goods train did, and during all the going up and down where do you suppose the happy boy was? Why actually on the engine. With his usual sociability he had made friends not only with Ruth and her father and the men with the hops, but even with his old enemy the porter and with the fireman: it was a very grimy, but also a very satisfied, delighted little boy who stood upon the platform when the goods train had really crawled quite away. After that Ruth suggested that he should wash his face and hands, and get the dust and ashes brushed off him, and also share her tea before his own train was due. He was nothing loth, and though she had only a very stale loaf to offer him, because the baker had forgotten to call, and there was no milk in the tea because it was not yet milking time, he enjoyed the meal very much. By this time one or two people began to collect—people who were going by the train. There were not many passangers; only two or three farmers, a servant girl, and a boy a year or two older than Tom, who came on foot to the station, and asked for a first-class ticket to Lindhurst Road. Tom, quite himself now, in tiptop spirits, was loitering up and down the platform, his hands in his pockets, his straw hat very much on one side of his curly head, where it always did contrive to get, however nicely it was put on at first, whistling, and nodding to Ruth, who was busy in the house, but came to the window every two minutes to look at him. At the sight of the new comer Tom ceased whistling to stare at him. The boy was a tall boy; his jacket was too short in the sleeves, and his trousers not quite long enough in the legs; he had white hair and eyebrows, and looked delicate, but Tom was chiefly stuck by his height, for he did not look very much older than himself.
“Halloa!” says Tom, “you’re going to Lindhurst Road?”
“Well, I know that.”
“Let’s go together.”
“All right.” So that matter was settled.
“What’s your name?” was Tom’s next question.
“Abel Short,” answered the tall boy.
“What are you grinning for?” said the stranger, rather fiercely. “Let’s hear the joke if there is one.”
“I thought you were chaffing, calling yourself Abel Short,” said poor Tom, humbly enough, “you’re such a long fellow, you know.”
They got on together pretty well after that: Tom told all his adventures of that day, and heard, in return, that Abel was on his way to spend his holidays at his uncle’s, who lived in the same neighborhood as that in which Tom’s father had hired a house.
The train came up in due time and the boys bolted in hot haste into the first carriage they saw, Tom immediately bolting out again to say good-bye to Ruth, the station-master, who was too busy to attend to him, to the porter, who was explaining all about him to the guard, and then once more to Ruth, thereby all but losing his place, and being left behind again.
The carriage was occupied by two old ladies and a young man, and during the journey Tom made himself very agreeable to the whole party. Perhaps he was showing off before Abel Short, perhaps the young man amused himself by leading the boy on, perhaps the old ladies praises—flattery would be a better word—encouraged him; certain it is that he was good enough to sing his best comic songs, to go through all his tricks of mimicking his acquaintance, and to give a very detailed and animated account of his whole adventure. He made himself out a very fine fellow, quite able to take care of himself; truthful as he had ever been, he was carried away by the spirit of boasting, and made every one believe that he had never felt afraid at all. Did he forget how he had sat there in the hot sun on an old basket feeling ready to cry? However, every one was very much pleased with him; Abel looked upon him as a hero; the old ladies were delighted; and in spite of fun he contrived to be courteous and polite all the journey. The sun was setting when they reached Lindhurst Road; Tom saw his father watching for him. When the door was opened, and he pushed his way across the carriage towards it, one of the ladies called out cheerfully to the grave, silent gentleman who stood there waiting—
“Here he is, sir; here is your charming little boy, and we are quite sorry to lose him.”
Out jumped Tom; but what a fall his pride had! Then and there on the platform, before all eyes, papa boxed the ears of his “charming little boy.” Before the old ladies, before the young man who looked laughing from the carriage window, and, worse than all, before Abel Short, who had also left the train, and was staring at Tom and his papa. Poor King Tom! he followed his father silently, choking down his tears, and without the comfort of seeing that his father had almost as much trouble to suppress his smiles. He knew so exactly how conceited his little son had been, what a fine fellow he thought himself, and could not help being amused at his sudden downfall. It was not till they had passed over an open tract of forest, gone across a little bridge over a running stream, and were walking along by a hedgerow in sight of a pretty house with green balcony and gay garden, that papa held out his hand.
“Well,” he said, “what did I box your ears for?”
“Because I disobeyed Miss Pinner,” said Tom, humbly, glancing up to see if he were forgiven.
“Of course,” said papa, squeezing the hot little hand tight in his own. “You are to mind every one set over you exactly as you mind me, and you know it.”
Tom trudged along by his side, feeling tired and subdued, but not unhappy, for papa had forgiven him; but as they stopped at the garden gate he asked in a very low voice:
“Has mamma a headache?”
“Ah, my boy!” said papa, kindly, “I am glad you can think of your mother. She is better now, and will be quite well when she sees you. Only next time try and remember her before you get into mischief.”
WHAT happy holidays those were! The children thought that they had never enjoyed any others so much. Papa was with them, to begin with; he took them long rambles in the forest, where one day they had a picnic and boiled the kettle for tea under the trees. Even Fanny went, Fan who was always tired in London, and up to very little besides telling stories to the little ones. A great tall girl she was who had outgrown all her strength; but her gentle ways and loving words kept Tom out of more mischief than anything else did, and indeed mamma was often comforted by seeing how much influence for good Fanny had over all the younger ones. Here, in the fresh country air, she began to get a little colour in her cheeks, and to feel able to join in her sisters’ out-of-door amusements. They had not far to go to the real forest, for if they crossed their own tiny lawn and one field that lay beyond it, they found themselves at once under the beautiful trees; it could not tire mamma herself to walk that little distance. Abel Short came now and then to see Tom, but the boys were not very good friends; Abel was unkind and ungenerous enough to laugh at poor King Tom for that unlucky box on the ear, and the boy could stand it; but then Abel knew the forest well, or he said that he did so, and it was very convenient to have a guide, for it is the easiest place in the world in which to lose oneself. Tom’s father gave him a little compass one morning, and promised to show him, some time or other, how to find his way by that; the little that he did say on the subject the impatient boy thought quite enough to make him understand the matter thoroughly, and he only hoped that they might soon get lost so as to test it at once. Miss Pinner and the girls, however, did not share his love for adventure, and only went so far as to be quite sure of the road home, so that Tom was really glad one afternoon when he saw Abel looking over the garden rail, which was his way of offering a visit instead of coming up like a gentleman to the front door.
“Come a walk?” sang out Tom.
Abel nodded, and leave obtained, the boys set off, but were only halfway across the meadow, when May ran after them. “Take me, do!” she begged.
“Nonsense! don’t let’s be bothered with a baby,” said Abel, crossly.
And for the sake of contradicting him, and also because he was always angry when any one but himself snubbed his sisters, Tom took hold of her hand and said, “Yes.” He did hesitate half a moment, for he knew May also ought to ask leave before going out of sight of the house, but only half a moment, and then—without remembering mamma!—Tom plunged into his second piece of mischief those holidays.
For some time all went well; the boys did not quarrel themselves, or hurry May when she saw treasures of acorns and moss, with which she thought it necessary to fill her pockets, or lovely heath bells which it was impossible to pass, or even tempting banks, on which she should so like to rest. By-and-by too, Abel began to tell the most interesting stories of “last half” at school, without thinking it at all necessary to say that his last half had also been his first, and though May did not understand much of these Tom was charmed. So they roamed on through the forest under the glorious old trees, now and then out into an open glade where the sun was too hot to be pleasant, making, however, the plunge into the cool shade on the other side even more enjoyable. They had long rests, too, and even refreshment, in the shape of two pieces of gingerbread which May produced, a whole handful of nuts, found in Tom’s pocket, and a very warm apple which emerged from Abel’s. But at last May’s perfect happiness was rudely interrupted; as they sat themselves down at the foot of a tree, a slight rustle was heard in the grass, and a snake glided away.
“Oh, let’s go home!” cried the little girl in sudden terror: the whole forest changed at once for her, from the beautiful playground it had been an instant before into a terrible wilderness, full of unknown horrors. But the boys were already in hot pursuit; of course they did not kill the snake, and of course poor May was doubly terrified at having been left a few minutes alone. When they rejoined her she was crying.
“Cry babby!” said Abel, rudely. “I told you how it would be.”
Tom took his sister’s part; it must be time to go home, he said; which was the way? Abel pointed confidently to the right, and they set off.
“Is there any sorts more of live beasts in the wood?” asked May
“Plenty of cattle,” Abel answered; “I wonder we haven’t come across any bulls.”
“Oh!” said May, coming very close to Tom, “I don’t like bulls.”
“Well, pigs then; there’s lots of them too; they turn them loose here to eat acorns.”
“I don’t think I like pigs either,” said May; “but they’re not so bad as bulls.”
“There were deer once,” remarked Tom; papa said so; they used to come quite up to the palings by our house.”1Palings refers to a fence made of pointed wooden or metal spikes.
At that moment Abel stopped and held up his finger; “Ponies!” he whispered; “see, here they come; how do you like these?”
A trampling of feet was heard, a troop of forest ponies passed across one of the open glades, on the edge of which the children were standing; rough, ugly little horses enough, but the boys were charmed with them. May, however, did not stay quiet long; the child’s fears having been once excited could not easily be lulled again; she felt half afraid even of the ponies. She begged her brother to go on home; “Is it a long way now?” she asked. Tom appealed to Abel.
“I don’t know; I think we must have missed the way; do you remember this open place?”
“Oh, yes!” answered unobservant Tom, “we passed lots of them.”
“Yes, but not this one; we never passed that big tree with bare arms, nor all that fern either.”
Tom got cross. “You said you knew the way,” he grumbled, “and now you don’t.”
“Well, and you said you could find your way anywhere, whether I knew it or not, with your fine compass. Come now, you lead on.”
Tom took out his compass.
“That’s north,” he said, “now if we go on we shall get there.”
“Why to the north; the thing always points straight.”
“I dare say; but do you know if your house lies north?”
“How should I?” says Tom fiercely.
The other laughed. “Well done, Mr. Wiseacre! much good a compass is to you!”
Poor little May not understanding all of this, only understood that the way was doubtful; she sat down on the grass crying.
“We is all loosed,” she said pitifully, “and I’m tired. I want to go home to tea, and there’s to be jam for tea.”
“Oh, you baby!” cried Abel, not only laughing at her, but seizing hold of her hand roughly to pull her up.
“You let her alone!” exclaimed Tom, flying at him; and then kneeling down by his little sister he put one arm round her, and even kissed her, and Tom was chary of his kisses.2Chary means cautious or reluctant.
Abel said that they must come on unless they wanted to stop out all night, and as the compass was no good they must trust to their wits; but May was really tired, and could not be persuaded to stop crying, or to get up off the ground; whereupon Master Short, the eldest of the party, and the most bound to think of the others before himself, left them, and set off alone, not before he had wickedly tried to frighten the children by talking again of the bulls, with which he declared the forest abounded. Now it so happens that there are cattle in the forest, but it also so happens that you may wander there for hours and never meet with anything of the kind.3In the original text, "forest" is followed by a period rather than a comma.
Tom watched Abel disappear among the trees; then he looked at poor tired little May, still sobbing; then at the long shadows on the ground, which papa had taught him showed that evening was coming near, and he felt very much inclined to cry too. That would do no good, however; so after some time, when May was rested, he coaxed her on again, and wearily side by side they trudged through the forest. Trees upon trees, nothing but trees, never a house or a cottage, never a man or a boy, nothing stirring but now and then a herd of pigs grunting and routing in the ground under the leafy branches, or those dreadful snakes gliding away through the grass. Out in the open spaces where the purple heather grew, and where, now that the heat of the day was over, a fresher air blew than in the wood, the little figures plodded on with weary feet, the brave boy doing his best to encourage his sister, all the time that his own little heart was swelling at the thought of his mother’s anxiety, his father’s displeasure, and the dark night which was so surely coming upon them very soon. If only he had not brought May! He himself had had leave to go as far as he liked with Abel, and after all, it was only a misfortune, not a fault, having lost the way, but he knew that May would not have been allowed to come. By-and-by she really could walk no longer, and laid herself quite down, refusing to stir, or to do anything but cry; indeed she began to be very cross, poor child! which was not to be wondered at. Tom was at his wits’ end.
“Oh, May! get up,” he begged; “only a little way now, and we’ll find a nice house perhaps, and the man will take us home.”
He had been promising that this “man” would make his appearance for the last two hours, and the child was not to be coaxed into believing in him any longer.
“It’s a naughty story. You’re a bad boy and there’s no man. Don’t touch me. I won’t get up. I will lie here; and I will go home to tea.” She lifted up her little head and gave poor Tom two or three hearty thumps, then burst into louder crying than before.
“Hush! what’s all this?” said a voice, which seemed to come from overhead; “quarrelling? Why don’t you know how you frighten away the fairies? They can’t bear quarrelling; it’s like a thunderstorm to them. There they go flying away as fast as they can.”
The children stared at each other; then stared up into the sky, and seeing nothing there looked a little lower. At a few paces distant, on the top of a high bank, there stood a stout gentleman in brown gaiters, shooting coat, and wideawake.4Gaiters are garments worn over boots to protect the lower leg from branches and thorns and to protect from mud or snow entering the top of the boot. A shooting coat is a padded, waterproof coat with large pockets worn when shooting game. A wideawake is a broad-brimmed felt hat with a low crown—a popular hat worn in the country May clapped her hands, and no one could say how glad Tom felt.
“It is the man!” cried May, joyfully; “he’s come!” and scrambling to her feet she ran up to him. “Man, please take care of us ‘cause we’re loosed,” she said.
Matters were soon explained, and the stout gentleman readily undertook the care of them. “We must walk on still half an hour or so,” he said, “and then we shall be all right.”
“Then you must carry May,” remarked Tom, very decidedly.
“Must I? well so be it,” and he picked up the tired little woman and set off at a good pace, Tom trotting by his side. It was wonderful how much faster they got on now they were no longer alone; May put her arm round the stout gentleman’s neck, and leaned her head on his shoulder, and was almost asleep when he broke the silence by asking Tom his name. At the answer he suddenly stopped short.
“Halloa!” he exclaimed, looking at Tom very queerly, the boy thought. “You don’t mean to say——;” but there he broke off again and strode on faster than ever; too fast for poor Tom; he could hardly keep his feet. The little fellow was quite done, and at last further progress was put a stop to by his throwing himself on the ground. “I can’t go on,” he said.
“Too fast, eh, my boy? well, we must rest a bit, or, no; you must choose whether you will go on slowly or stay here alone till I send for you; there is no time to lose.”
“How far?” asked the poor tired boy. The stout gentleman said that they would not be more than ten minutes walking the rest of the distance, so Tom picked himself up and stumbled on again as best he could. He had been on his feet, more or less, since two o’clock, and after all his feet were not quite eight years old—it was too much to expect of them.
At last they came in sight of a pretty little house, a cottage it seemed to be, though it was in reality the lodge to a very fine place; but the gentleman, glancing first at the little boy and then the long avenue which led towards the house, shook his head and went up, still carrying May, to the lodge door. A clean, tidy woman came at his call; to her he confided the weary children, with orders to give them something to eat and then put them to bed. They were almost too tired to do more than taste the food set before them, and May could hardly keep awake to be undressed; in half an hour after they were both sound asleep.
As for the stout gentleman, he had set off at a rapid pace up the avenue without an instant’s delay as soon as he had seen the little ones in safety. If Tom had been awake he would have heard, soon after, the sound of horses’ hoofs clattering along, and the voice of a man, apparently in great haste, shouting to the lodgekeeper to open the gate. But Tom was fast asleep.
When May awoke the next morning she was quite puzzled to find herself in a strange bed in a strange room, and her little tongue went very fast indeed, asking a hundred questions in a minute. When she came down stairs Tom was already dressed and waiting for her before the door, fresh and strong again after his good night’s rest. They were told to walk steadily up the avenue to the big house, the chimney of which they could see above the trees, and charged not to leave the path. The dew was still glittering on every blade of grass; the air was fresh and cool; the great branches of grand old trees, with trunks nestled in fern, gave a pleasant shade, and from out the fern stately stags bounded away or stood knee deep in the green leaves gazing with large eyes at the two children. Half way up the avenue the stout gentleman met them with the welcome news that breakfast was ready, and that after eating it he would himself drive them home. The house, and, above all, the garden, delighted the little ones. Such gay borders; such a fountain with a great marble basin, where gold and silver fish swam about; such a broad terrace, where lovely peacocks strutted up and down in the morning sun, and, in doors, such a breakfast! Eggs, toast, marmalade—all sorts of good things; and May poured out the tea, with the “big man,” as she called him, holding his big hand over her tiny one because the teapot was was heavy. When the meal was over they all went on to the terrace to wait for the pony carriage.
“Is this your home, this pretty house?” asked May of her friend; “did you have mamma here when you was a little boy?”
“Yes; but that was a long time ago. My dear mother is dead. When she was alive, I wonder if I ever gave her such a fright as your poor mamma had yesterday.”
“But we are going home,” said May. “Was mamma frightened in the night? Did she think the bulls would get us?”
Now Tom had been thinking of his mother several times that morning, and these few words quite upset him; rolling on the grass as he was he could not restrain his tears.
“When will the carriage come?” he asked impatiently; then with a great sob, “Mamma! mamma!” and turning over to hide his eyes poor King Tom fairly cried.
The stout gentleman stood pulling his moustache and thoughtfully looking down at the boy. Presently he touched him gently with his foot; “Come my little fellow,” he said, “get up and listen to me.”
Tom did not get up, but he rolled over again and listened.
“So you do love your mother. What a pity you didn’t think of her before you got into this scrape!”
“Oh! oh!” groaned Tom; “Papa said that!”
“I am afraid she has been very miserable about your sister; you see you had leave to go, and boys seldom come to much harm; you might have found your way together, you and that nice young gentleman, Mr. Abel Short, but a little girl——”
“That’s just it!” cried Tom, “girls are no good!”
“I fear your poor mother must have suffered, and you say she is not strong,”
“Oh, don’t!” cried penitent Tom, twisting himself about on the grass.
“As I said,” went on the gentleman, gravely, “she must have suffered anxiety, but not all night: I sent off a messenger as soon as we got here; she knew by eight o’clock that you were safe.”
Her little son felt that that was some comfort at least, and he dried his eyes, but remained in a very subdued frame of mind. May chatted on: “Have you got an uncle?” she asked at last, and asked very seriously.
“An uncle?” said her friend; “why let me see; yes I do believe I have an uncle somewhere or other.”
“Oh!” said May gravely, “isn’t it horrid?”
“Halloa!” said the stout gentleman; “horrid! And why should it be ‘horrid’ to have an uncle, pray?”
“Ours is horrid,” answered May; “ours is Uncle Jacob, and he’s very horrid.”
“He got me a thrashing!” said Tom
“He said we would all ruin a boy,” added May.
“He wouldn’t let me go to school till I could read and write; but I am going after Christmas,” exclaimed Tom.
“He said us girls was a mistake!” May wound up with, in a climax of ungrammatical indignation.
The stout gentleman laughed heartily. “A terrible fellow this Uncle Jacob! a very terrible fellow: and what is he like to look at?”
“Never seen him,” said Tom, “and don’t want to.”
“He doesn’t come,” May remarked; “he only writes.”
At that moment the prettiest basket pony carriage that the children had ever seen came to the door. Happy Tom was allowed to drive great part of the way home, which way was much shorter than he had any idea of. They must have gone round and round in a circle in their wandering of the day before; for hardly two hours after they had started they came in sight of their own house. Papa was at the gate, which he threw open when he saw them coming, returning to the house himself, where he met them under the ivy-covered porch.
Tom thought that it must be by mistake that his father threw an arm round both children, pressing them closely to him: he fancied papa was in such a hurry to embrace May that he accidentally included Tom, who had led her into such a scrape.
He did not think that it was by mistake his mother kissed him, and the boy’s eyes were wet again when he at last lifted his curly head from her shoulder.
May was wild to show mamma “the big man who let me make tea;” and presently he came into the drawing-room followed by papa; but what was the children’s boundless astonishment when mamma went straight up to the stout gentleman, and stretching out both hands to greet him, exclaimed, “Oh Jacob, Jacob! if you had not sent that message I think I should have died before morning!”
“Jacob?!” Uncle Jacob! Yes; it was really him himself.
“Was it so very ‘horrid’ to have an uncle?” he asked May, laughing—laughing, too, at Tom, who stood there open-mouthed. It was a long time before he could take it in at all—a long time before Tom or May either would believe that their kind friend was “hateful Uncle Jacob;” but if they were agreeably surprised in him, it is also true that he himself found King Tom very different from the hopelessly spoiled boy whom he had expected to meet with. Certainly Uncle Jacob opened his eyes very wide, and said “Halloa,” in his gruffest voice, on hearing some of his nephew’s uncourteous remarks about the uselessness of girls; but he soon saw—as, indeed, the boy’s kindness to little May proved—that though he was fond of talking nonsense, and thought it a fine thing to pretend to look down upon his sisters, he was in reality very fond of them, and, at the bottom of his heart, far from ungrateful for the love and the petting lavished upon him. Indeed he clung to his home more and more as the time drew near for him to leave it. Many an afternoon, with May’s tiny hand in his, during their walks, and Carry and Joan, as usual, devoted to him—many an evening, kneeling by Fanny’s sofa, listening to the stories which the children so loved to hear, and while kind Milly sat by working at the sails of his boat, or the tail of his famous kite, he was tempted to wish that there was no such thing as school in the world. Meanwhile the holidays were none the less enjoyed because varied by many a visit to the “pretty house,” where they would have been spent altogether, only that Uncle Jacob’s return home had been quite unexpected; and after the holidays Tom really did work so well as to be fully fit for school in the winter.
And here we must take leave of “King Tom,” only glad that, in doing so, we can record a far more chivalrous sentiment of this majesty’s than that with which our story opened, for certain it is, that in one of his letters home occur the following remarkable words, proving, either a change in his opinions, or, which is more likely, that he had at last discovered that there was no need to be ashamed of those which he really entertained.
Speaking of one of his companions, Tom writes—“I’m sorry for Brown; there are no girls in his house, and there is nothing jollier than for a fellow to have lots of sisters!”
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Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Palings refers to a fence made of pointed wooden or metal spikes.|
|2.||↑||Chary means cautious or reluctant.|
|3.||↑||In the original text, "forest" is followed by a period rather than a comma.|
|4.||↑||Gaiters are garments worn over boots to protect the lower leg from branches and thorns and to protect from mud or snow entering the top of the boot. A shooting coat is a padded, waterproof coat with large pockets worn when shooting game. A wideawake is a broad-brimmed felt hat with a low crown—a popular hat worn in the country|