Uncle Jacob, Part 1
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 that teaches about gratitude and humility using humor and domestic adventure to appeal to its young audience.
This entry was published as the first of two parts:
“WHAT’S the good of girls?” said Tom; “they’re no use.” The young gentleman had some excuse, perhaps, for entertaining such a sentiment, though none for expressing it, considering all the fuss made about himself, and of how little consequence his six sisters were in the house. He lay on his back upon the floor, balancing an old drum upon the soles of his feet, “like a circus man,” May said—faithful five-year-old May, who was in attendance to pick up said drum whenever it fell. Joan, two years his elder, was struggling under the big, lumbering sofa, only one foot and a corner of brown holland frock visible from beneath it, and all in Tom’s service!
“What is the matter now, King Tom?” asked the pleasant voice of Mildred, a tall, fair girl of seventeen, as she stood in the doorway between the large, airy day-nursery and the adjoining schoolroom—“what is the matter now? You to say that girls are of no use, indeed! I believe these poor children think they were invented to wait upon you.”
“Well; they can’t find my cricket-ball; my best—take care, May, it’s down again.” May bowled after the drum, and replaced it upon the feet of the performer. “You see I’ve no more tin, and I must have the ball found.”
“Find it yourself,” began Mildred, but Carry pushed her round, good-tempered face and red locks under her sister’s arm.
“Have you looked in the rubbish hole?” she said, and forthwith plunged into that aptly named receptacle, the bottom part of the nursery cupboard. Meantime Joan emerged from under the sofa, her hair one mass of dust, her frock soiled and crumpled, and her face and hands none of the cleanest. “I can’t find it,” she observed, mournfully, submitting at the same time to be “put to rights” by her elder sister.
Tom had no mind, however, to submit to the lecture which Mildred read him while engaged in brushing poor Joan’s tangled curls; he raised himself on one elbow and called—
“Fanny! I say, old Fan!”
“Now, Tom, how can you be so selfish!” exclaimed Mildred; “I will not have Fan bothered; she is lying down, so tired from our walk.”
“How was I to know?” growled the little tyrant; but a soft clear voice was heard from the schoolroom.
“Silly children! Who has looked on the top of the cupboard?”
A general shout, and a rush towards the cupboard took place; but Mildred mounting on a footstool, looked down from her superior height, and reaching up her hand produced the ball.
“Oh, I remember now!” exclaimed Joan; “nurse shied it up there the last time it hit the baby.”
“Nurse did—what?” asked Mildred, severely; "Joan, I’m ashamed of you.” At that moment Miss Pinner appeared in the doorway, “Lessons, young ladies,” she said, adding, as the three girls followed her into the schoolroom, “I shall be ready for you at eleven, Tom.”
Tom rolled over and over on the floor in disgust. He knew that his lessons were not ready; but it took time for him to make up his mind to do them, and it was perilously near eleven o’clock before he ordered May to set out his slate and books—spelling-book and all, for the truth must be told, at seven and a half, and although he had actually begun Latin with papa, Tom was by no means a good reader, and was obliged still to learn a column of spelling every day!
While he is occupied with his lessons, and little May is patiently making very long stitches in her hemming, and pricking her finger with the greatest perseverance and courage, we will look back a few years.
When Mildred was born, Uncle Jacob considerately remarked, “One girl will be useful; she can mend the boys’ gloves, and sew buttons on their shirts.” And he sent her, besides her silver mug, a knife, fork, and spoon in a morocco case.1A case made from morocco leather, a soft, pliable leather used for luxury gloves and shoes, book bindings, wallets and luggage lining.
Uncle Jacob was a bachelor himself, an “old” bachelor, people began to call him. He had a fine place down in Hampshire, and Mildred’s eldest brother would be his heir.
But where was Mildred’s brother?
After two years, Fanny appeared upon the scene. “Humph!” said Uncle Jacob, doubtfully. “But Milly might be lonely amongst the boys; two girls are not too many: they are companions for one another,” and he sent the child a mug like her sister’s.
Another interval, and Caroline was born.
“There must be some mistake!” exclaimed Uncle Jacob, when he heard of it. This time he sent no present at all; and when poor little Joan came into the world he set off on an expedition to the interior of Africa. “cut it up; cut it up!” he wrote angrily—he meant the property—“Cut it up amongst a set of miserable girls! no boy? What a shocking thing!” Mildred, old enough then to understand something of all she heard, was present when the letter was read; it puzzled her.
“What is p’operty, nursie?” she asked, at bedtime; “is it as good as twelf-cake?2A Twelfth Cake is a traditional sweet cake that is eaten in England on Twelfth night, or the fifth night of January. Will Milly get a big bit when papa cuts it up?”
Nurse shook her head; it was a sore subject with her; she was very indignant that anyone should think her nurslings “mistakes;” yet she did wish heartily “that Miss Joan at least had not thrust herself before her brother.”
But more than two years passed, and they had become so used to girls in the house—Uncle Jacob being away too—that one fine day when nurse had promised Joan a new little sister, who would not leave her to go to lessons, as Carry already did, but would be in the nursery all day long—one day they were all quite taken by surprise, for instead of the promised sister, Master Tom himself appeared at last. And when King Tom came, he ruled the house.
“Why should he not?” asked nurse, proudly, as she watched the fine fellow kicking about in his cot or held him enthroned in a state upon her knee. The elder girls did lessons in the schoolroom, when Tom did not happen to want them to sing to him or play Bo Peep; little Joan was his willing slave all day; mamma lay on the drawing-room sofa and gave orders to the whole household; papa came home from his office in the evening, and everyone minded his least word; but for all that Tom ruled the house. Every one came to pay homage to him in his cradle, and later, when his fat little legs began to carry him into all parts of his dominions in pursuit of his subjects, he was a complete tyrant. As a rule, the children were only admitted to the drawing-room at certain stated hours; but if it was Tom who presented himself with his cheerful, “Here’s me mamma!” he was never turned out; his mother, lying on her sofa, would watch him as he played about the room, not dreaming of sending him away, and only trusting that he would do nothing very damaging to himself or to the furniture. Tom’s voice—he was blessed with good lungs—filled all the house as he stood at the top of the stairs, with his legs far apart, and his head well thrown back, shouting for papa when the so-called master of the house came home; and however tired poor papa was, he seldom failed to obey the summons, and give the boy a ride on his shoulder; whereupon his little majesty’s shouts of triumph would collect his whole court around him to share his enjoyment. His sisters were far from jealous of his privileges; they fully shared nurse’s conviction that their only use in life was to wait upon him, and later still it was no uncommon sight to see them all four, in the square gardens, harnessed together with red worsted reins, Tom driving the team. But as the boy grew out of his white frocks, grew out of his babyhood altogether, his best friends began to think that it was time for him to grow out of his tyrannical ways too: but behold! the habit was fixed—not so much of Tom’s ruling the whole house as of the whole house being ready and willing to be ruled by him. May was born, and mamma fondly hoped that, in nursery parlance, her son’s “nose would be put out of joint;” but no, little May learned to yield in everything to her brother, and as she grew older only furnished him with one devoted slave more, perhaps the most devoted of all. There must have been something very loveable about this small tyrant, for, they all doted on him; his subjects never rebelled, and even Mildred, the only one who said he was spoilt, spoiled him herself as much as the others. Uncle Jacob had been travelling so long and so far that no one knew where to find him, and Tom was four years old before the congratulatory letter on his birth reached his parents. And when he did write this was what Uncle Jacob said: “So you have got a boy: I hope you whip him well: he must be a big fellow by now. How he will be ruined amongst you all! Mind what I say now, and whip him well.” Strange to say, Tom was whipped for some audacious piece of mischief, and, moreover, told that it was by his uncle’s desire, whence the habit arose of holding up poor Uncle Jacob as the bogey of nursery and schoolroom—hardly fair on him! Whenever punishment was called for papa would say, “You know what your Uncle Jacob desired me to do.” Tom had no very agreeable associations with his uncle’s name, and of course the younger girls, May especially, followed suit, and said that they “hated him.” By the time that Master Tom was nearly eight years old he had naturally learnt that he must give up sometimes to his sisters; but unfortunately the habit of being all his life so much considered had made him very apt to fancy that nothing ought to stand in the way of his wishes; and although by that time a brave, truthful little fellow, and generally very obedient to a direct command, he was constantly in scrapes from thoughtlessness. It was enough if he wished a thing: provided no one was there to forbid it, the thing was done without a thought of whether it were right or wrong. And it was so often wrong.
It was very hot in London. The white glare on the pavement made people’s heads ache, and what a relief it was when a water cart came splashing past!3Water was often brought from wells in the country into London because clean water was difficult to come by in the city. The children had been for some time taking their walks in the early morning, starting as early as seven o’clock, and coming home about the time that papa and mamma came down to breakfast. The trees and bushes in the square gardens were covered with dust—not the white dust that lay thick on road-side hedges in the country, but dirty London dust—and the grass was burnt up and brown. Nurse used to take a thick shawl and spread it in the shade for baby Flo to roll upon while May sat still making daisy chains; and not even Tom could tempt the girls away from the favorite bench in the long walk where the trees met overhead, and they could see the cool shadows in Regent’s Park instead of the glaring streets. In the schoolroom they were all dull and languid: Miss Pinner herself had headaches. The outside shutters were closed, but the plants in the windows were almost baked in their red pots, and the flowers drooped. Mary, the schoolroom maid, declared that she was quite tired of answering the bell, which was ringing, she averred, from morning to night, and always for “more iced water.” In the nursery nurse complained that it was “one person’s work to keep Miss May cool, let alone amusing the baby, who was that fretful there was no bearing it, poor little lamb!” In short, every one felt the heat, and all were longing for the word of command to begin packing up for the summer trip—put off later than usual this year, that papa might be able to be of the party himself. Every day the impatient young ones saw more houses shut up, more cabs loaded with luggage driving off, and knew that more happy children had started for the country. Their own turn came at last; papa was ready, and they were told, to their infinite delight, that he had hired a house for six weeks in the beautiful New Forest. Mamma was so far from strong, that it was decided Miss Pinner should go too and take all trouble off her hands; but Tom need not have troubled himself to hide his Latin Grammar. No lesson books were to be taken with them, every one was to have a holiday, and when papa asked for the book it was only to insure its being forthcoming on their return—Tom’s lesson books had such a trick of losing themselves.
He brought it, and had to listen to a long lecture upon diligence by-and-by when he came back, winding up very pleasantly to him with the words—
“Work, you must, my boy, for after Christmas you are going to school.”
“Hurrah!” cried Tom; “school at last; and not to learn of Miss Pinner any more.”
“What an ungrateful boy!” said his mother’s soft voice from the sofa, for Miss Pinner was very kind to Tom.
“Oh, I know she’s nice; I do like her: she’s nice enough, but then—she’s a woman, you see.”
“She can’t help that.”
“No, poor thing, no more she can,” said Tom, seriously, and very much as if he pitied her.
On the platform at the railway station next morning, Tom was quite in his element; not so poor Miss Pinner; she and nurse, with all the children excepting the two elder girls, who went with papa and mamma, filled a carriage by themselves, and her one desire was to get the whole party seated in it, although it still wanted nearly a quarter of an hour to the time of starting. This disgusted Master Tom excessively; he preferred loitering on the platform, watching all that was going on, and did hesitate as long as possible before obeying the call to come and take his place. He had only just made up his mind to do as he was bid when papa saw him, and took pity on the boy, keeping him with him till the very last moment—quite to the last, so that Tom had to give a great jump into the carriage, helped by a porter, and then tumbled in upon nurse and baby head foremost. Once started, what a fidget he was! Up and down every moment, his head incessantly thrust out of window, changing places a dozen times over with one or other of his sisters, sitting astride on the arm of his seat, imitating the whistle of the engine, singing, dancing even, and going through a thousand antics, very amusing to himself, putting the silly little girls into fits of laughter, and to which nurse was philosophically indifferent, but which kept poor Miss Pinner in a terrible state of nervousness.
Worse was to come, however.
At Basingstoke there was a delay of ten minutes, and out got Tom with the rest of his passengers. He went to invest in buns for himself and his sisters; but getting in again was another matter. Papa returned to his carriage, nearly every one else had taken their seats, and still Tom lingered.
“Come this moment,” said the governess, decidedly. “Yes,” answered Tom, moving slowly at a hair’s breadth nearer.
“You’ll be left behind, my dear! indeed you will,” exclaimed nurse.
“Oh, don’t bother; I’m coming,” but as Tom spoke, down went a bun: he stooped to pick it up, and out popped papa’s head from a carriage lower down. One sharp, “In with you, Tom! leave the bun and get in,” and the boy was seated beside his sisters—in less than no time,” as Joan remarked. The eating of the buns promoted peace and quietness for some time, but alas! the buns were dry, the day was hot, and there was nothing to drink.
“Never mind, girls;” said Tom, “at the next station I’ll get all you some water.”
Miss Pinner privately determined that he should do no such thing. She did not consider that, having hitherto only attended the children for a few hours each day as daily governess, her authority was not yet fully established; it was something new to have to mind her out of lesson hours, and though the girls were obedient enough, Tom was a little inclined to defy her. One or two stations they rushed through without stopping at all, but at last they slackened speed, and gradually came to a standstill. In a moment out sprang the boy; Miss Pinner called to him to come back.
“I’m only going to ask papa if I may,” he shouted, and ran down the platform, passed the right carriage in his hurry, found himself at the engine. Fascinating sight! how he wished he was a fireman!—could not resist pausing for a moment, then turned and dashed back again. This time his father was looking out and caught sight of him.
“No time allowed here, “he called; “back to your place! no, stay, jump in here, we are off!”
Tom did not obey on the instant, as a child should; he glanced along the train; Joan held open the door, and called to him—
“Oh! run, run!”
He hesitated, lost his presence of mind, and ran towards her. A whistle sounded, the train began to move, Joan still held the door, Miss Pinner in an agony of fright held Joan; Tom made a frantic rush, and felt himself caught round the waist and held fast.
“Too late, sir,” said the porter.
“How dare you!” cried Tom passionately.
The man let go of him, took off his hat, scratched his head, and stared after the rapidly disappearing train. Not only papa’s head and Joan’s but the heads of half the passengers were thrust out of window, to look at Tom—Tom left there all alone at a little roadside station. After a minute or two he sat down, disconsolately enough, upon an empty hamper that stood near, kicking his heels and choking down a very uncomfortable feeling in his throat. He was not going to cry, not he! with the porter looking at him. But the man went away into the ticket office muttering something or other, which Tom did not catch, and then he began to feel more uncomfortable still. “Why didn’t that stupid fellow tell him what was he do? Perhaps he was gone to order the special train for him, or would they send him on by telegraph?” Tom was not quite sure what a telegraph was. Then he remembered that his mother would be anxious, and perhaps have one of those bad headaches that always come whenever there was what the children called “a fuss.” How he wished he had minded Miss Pinner! As for papa, he knew that he would be displeased with him. “But all this time why didn’t that stupid porter come and attend to him?”No one was in sight. There lay the long, black rails upon the glaring white road going so far and so straight, seeming to touch the sky. Some men were busy in the sheds behind the station, loading or unloading hops.4A flower that comes from the Humulus lupulus plant and that acts as a stabilizing agent for beer, as well as adding bitterness and other flavoring. The fragrant scent of the hops perfumed the air: two or three fowls came clucking on to the platform, and began to peck amongst the gravel, but these were all the signs of life Tom saw. The station-master’s little daughter was peeping at him over the blind, but he did not see her. Presently a cart came along the pretty country road—the road all flecked with the shadows of trees, and the driver pulled up when he reached the level crossing over the rails, for the gates had not been opened yet, since the express had passed through. The man shouted for the gatekeeper; when he came, as he slowly pushed back the heavy gates, he looked towards Tom sitting on the platform, perched on a hamper, and said something at which both men laughed. Tom felt hot all over. He thought he would go and look at the time table and find out when the next train passed, but something kept him chained to his basket. He would have liked to show himself so manly and independent, instead of which he was shy and uncomfortable, very like what he really was—a silly, helpless little child.
Of course he had not been forgotten all this time, and as soon as he was able the station-master came to see into the matter.
“Left behind, sir, eh!” he said, pleasantly; “why, what is to be done now, I wonder?”
Tom wished to be dignified, but he only succeeded in being cross.
“Send me on by the next train, of course,” he grunted.
“And where are you going, sir?”
Tom—did not know!
He had never heard the name of the station, or even of the place to which they were going; he only knew that it was in the New Forest. That did not help matters much, for the station-master said that the New Forest was a large place. Tom thought that things looked very serious indeed now, and wondered that the man did not seem disturbed; the little boy’s ill-temper was vanishing fast, all lost in anxiety.
Don’t you worry, sir,” said his new friend; “your papa is sure to telegraph the first time she stops.”
The first time who stops?” asked bewildered Tom.
“Why the train, to be sure. You just come along in out of the sun, and play with my little girl, and you’ll get a message for certain before long.”
The little girl with smooth, closely-cropped hair, and face as shiny as fresh water and yellow soap could make it, welcomed Tom with a broad smile, and the boy was delighted at the sight of a companion. They were told not to leave the ticket office just yet in case of a telegram arriving; but Ruth said by-and-by they would go to the shed, and climb about on the big hop pockets. “They do just smell good,” said she. Tom was puzzled about the “pockets,” till he heard that the sacks were so called. Ruth could tell about the picking too, and she showed how her hands were stained with the fresh hops. Tom was too polite to say so, but he could not see much difference between their colour and that of the brown little face. Ruth told, too, how “mother” was dead, and she, Ruth, took care of father, cooked his dinner, and kept house for him. The chickens had to be fed by this time, and while the children were throwing down the grain to them, Tom heard a sound like a little bell, clear and sharp, which made him look round.
“All right, sir,” said the station-master, “that will be your papa talking to you.”
Tom drew near, awestruck and puzzled, and when the words were laid before him he really did feel that there were many wonderful things which even he—King Tom—could not understand. The message was simply, “Send the little boy on by next train to Lindhurst Road Station.”
(To be continued.)
This story is continued in Uncle Jacob, Part 2.
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23 March 2020
16 September 2020
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Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||A case made from morocco leather, a soft, pliable leather used for luxury gloves and shoes, book bindings, wallets and luggage lining.|
|2.||↑||A Twelfth Cake is a traditional sweet cake that is eaten in England on Twelfth night, or the fifth night of January.|
|3.||↑||Water was often brought from wells in the country into London because clean water was difficult to come by in the city.|
|4.||↑||A flower that comes from the Humulus lupulus plant and that acts as a stabilizing agent for beer, as well as adding bitterness and other flavoring.|