Page images

“ What of that?” said Tom, "isn't my labour worth the money? I'm not beholden to my employer. He gets as good from me as he gives."

Very like, Tom. There's not a man for miles round that can match

you at a graft; and as to early peas—but if master can't do without you, I'm sure you can't do without him. Oh, dear, to think that you and he should have had words."

“ We've had no words," said Tom impatiently; but I am sick of being at another man's beck and call. It's · Tom do this,' and · Tom do that,' and nothing but work, work, work, from Monday morning till Saturday night; and I was thinking, as I walked over to Squire Morton's to ask for the turnip seed for master-I was thinking, Sally, that I am nothing but a poor working man after all. In short l'm a slave, and my spirit wont stand it."

So saying Tom flung himself out at the cottage door, and his wife thought he was going back to his work as usual. But she was mistaken; he walked to the wood, and there, when he came to the border of a little tinkling stream, he sat down and began to brood over his grievances. It was day.

“ Now I ll tell you what," said Tom to himself, “ it's a great deal pleasanter sitting here in the shade than broiling over celery trenches; and then thinning of wall fruit, with a baking sun at one's back, and a hot wall before one's eyes. But I am a miserable slave. I must either work or see 'em starve; a very hard lot it is to be a working man, But it is not only the work that I complain of, but being obliged to work just as he pleases. It's enough to spoil any man's temper to be told to dig up those asparagus beds just when they were getting to be the very pride of the parish. And what for? Why to make room for Madam's new gravel walk, that she mayn't wet her feet going over the grass. Now I ask you," continued Tom still talking to himself, “ whether that isn't enough to spoil any man's temper?"

“ Ahem," said a voice close to him.

Tom started, and to his great surprise saw a small man, about the size of his own baby, sitting composedly at his elbow. He was dressed in green-green hat, green coat, and green

a very hot

shoes. He had very bright black eyes, and they twinkled very much as he looked at Tom and smiled.

“ Servant, sir!" said Tom, edging himself a little further off.

“ Miserable slave,” said the small man, “ art thou so far lost to the noble sense of freedom that thy very salutation acknowledges a mere stranger as thy master ?"

“Who are yon," said Tom," and how dare you call me a slave?”

Tom," said the small man, with a knowing look, don't speak roughly. Keep your rough words for your wife, my man, she is bound to hear them-what else is she for, in fact ?”

“ I'll thank you to let my affairs alone,” interrupted Tom shortly.

Tom, I'm your friend ; I think I can help you out of your difficulty. I admire your spirit. Would I demean myself to work for a master, and attend to all his whims?" As he said this, the small man stooped and looked very earnestly into the stream. Drip, drip, drip, went the water over a little fall in the stones, and wetted the watercresses till they shone in the light, while the leaves fluttered overhead and chequered the moss with glittering spots of sunshine. Tom watched the small man with earnest attention as he turned over the leaves of the cresses. At last he saw him snatch something, which looked like a little fish, out of the water, and put it in his pocket. " It's my belief, Tom,” he said, resuming the conversation,

have been puzzling your head with what people call Political Economy."

“ Never heard of such a thing," said Tom. “ But I've been thinking that I don't see why I'm to work any more than those that employ me."

“Why you see, Tom, you must have money. Now it seems to me that there are but four ways of getting money. There's Stealing." “ Which won't suit me," interrupted Tom.

Very good. Then there's Borrowing." " Which I dont want to do.” “ And there's Begging." “ No, thank you," said Tom stoutly. And there's giving money's worth for the money; that is to say, Work-Labour."

6 that you


“ Your words are as fine as a sermon," said Tom.

“ But look here, Tom," proceeded the man in green, drawing his hand out of his pocket, and shewing a little dripping fish in his palm, “ What do you call this?”

“ I call it a very small minnow," said Tom.
And do you see anything particular about its tail ?”

" It looks uncommon bright,” answered Tom, stooping to look at it.

“ It does," said the man in green, and now I'll tell you a secret, for I'm resolved to be your friend. Every minnow in this stream--they are very scarce, mind you—but every one of them has a silver tail."

“ You don't say so," exclaimed Tom, opening his eyes very wide; “ fishing for minnows, and being one's own master, would be a great deal pleasanter than the sort of life I've been leading this many a day."

“ Well, keep the secret as to where you get them; and much good may it do you ?” said the man in green. “ Farewell, I wish you joy of your freedom.” So saying he walked away, leaving Tom on the brink of the stream, full of joy and pride.

He went to his master, and told him that he had an opportunity for bettering himself, and should not work for him any longer. The next day he rose with the dawn, and went to work to search for minnows. But of all the minnows in the world never were any so nimble as those with silver tails. They were very shy, too, and had as many turns and doubles as a hare ; what a life they led him! They made him troll up the stream for miles; then, just as he thought his chase was at an end, and he was sure of them, they would leap quite out of the water, and dart down the stream again like little silver arrows. Miles and miles he went, tired, and wet, and hungry. He came home late in the evening, completely wearied and footsore, with only three minnows in his pocket, each with a silver tail.

“ But at any rate, he said to himself, as he lay down in his bed, “ though they lead me a pretty life, and I have to work harder than ever, yet I certainly am free; no man can order me about now."

This went on for a whole week; he worked very hard ; but on Saturday afternoon he had only caught fourteen minnows.

“ If it wasn't for the pride of the thing," he said to himself, “ I'd have no more to do with fishing for minnows. This is the hardest work I ever did. I am quite a slave to them. I rush up and down, I dodge in and out, I splash myself, and fret myself, and broil myself in the sun, and all for the sake of a dumb thing, that gets the better of me with a wag of its fins. But it's no use standing here talking; I must set off to the town and sell them, or Sally will wonder why I don't bring her the week's money.

So he walked to the town, and offered his fish for sale as great curiosities.

“Very pretty," said the first people he showed them to; but " they never bought anything that was not useful.”

“ Were they good to eat ?” asked the woman at the next house. “No." Then they would not have them.”

“ Much too dear," said a third.

“ And not so very curious,” said a fourth ; " but they hoped he had come by them honestly."

At the fifth house they said " 0! Pooh!" when he exhibited them. “No, no, they were not quite so silly as to believe there were fish in the world with silver tails ; if there had been, they should often have heard of them before."

At the sixth house, they were such a very long time turning over his fish, pinching their tails, bargaining and discussing them, that he ventured to remonstrate, and request that they would make more haste. Thereupon they said if he did not choose to wait their pleasure, they would not purchase at all. So they shut the door upon him, and as this soured his temper, he spoke rather roughly at the next two houses, and was dismissed at once as a very rude, uncivil person.

But after all, his fish were really great curiosities; and when he had exhibited them all over the town, set them out in all lights, praised their perfections, and taking immense pains to conceal his impatience and ill-temper, he at length contrived to sell them all, and got exactly fourteen shillings for them, and

no more.

“ Now I'll tell you what, Tom Turner,” he said to himself, sin my opinion you've been making a great fool of yourself, and I only hope Sally will not find it out. You was tired of being a working man, and that man in green has cheated you into doing the hardest week's work you ever did in your life by making you believe it was more free-like and easier. Well, you said, you didn't mind it, because you had no master ; but I've found out this afternoon, Tom, and I don't mind your knowing it, that every one of those customers of yours was your master just the same. Why! you were at the beck of every man, woman, and child, that came near you—obliged to be in a good temper, too, which was very aggravating.”

“ True, Tom," said the man in green, starting up in his path. “I knew you were a man of sense; look you, you're all working men, and you must all please your customers. Your master was your customer; what he bought of you was your work. Well, you must let the work be such as will please the customer."

All working men ; how do you make that out ?" said Tom, chinking the fourteen shillings in his hand. “ Is my master a working man; and has he got a master of his own ? Nonsense !"

“No nonsense at all ;-he works with his head, keeps his books, and manages his great works. He has many masters, else why was he nearly ruined last year?”

“ He was nearly ruined because he made some new-fangled kind of patterns at his works, and people would not buy them," said Tom. “ Well, in a way of speaking, then, he works to please his masters, poor fellow ! He is, as one may say, a fellow-servant, and plagued with very awkward masters! So I should not mind his being my master, and I think I'll go and tell him so." “I would, Tom," said the man in green.

5. Tell him

you have not been able to better yourself, and you have no objection now to dig up the asparagus bed.”

So Tom trudged home to his wife, gave her the money he had earned, got his old master to take him back, and kept a profound secret his adventures with the man in green, and the fish with the silver tails.


« PreviousContinue »