DICK AND THE APPLES

FEW children, if any, who read this tale will probably be able to
form any idea of such a wretched home as that in which lived little
Dick Nason, the ragman’s son. There are houses and rooms in some of
the back streets in London where men, women, and children herd almost
like wild beasts–haunts of iniquity and misery, and where the name
of God is never heard except in the utterance of terrible oaths or
execrations. Such was Roan’s Court, a place which gave the police
continual trouble, and many a hard blow in the execution of their
duty. The houses were let out in rooms, of which the upper ones were
the most healthy, as possessing a little more light and air than the
others; but the cellar floors were almost destitute of both these
common luxuries of life, being sunk considerably below the level of
the court, and the windows, consisting of four small panes of glass,
begrimed with dirt, or if broken, as was generally the case, stuffed
up with dirty rags or paper.

It was in one of these cellar rooms that Dick Nason had been born,
and in which he lived till he was twelve years old. _How_ he had
lived, _how_ he had been fed, and _how_ clothed, it would be
difficult to imagine. His mother had been a tidy sort of woman in her
younger days, gaining her living as a servant in the family of a
small tradesman. But she married a man who was not of sober habits,
and who in consequence lost all steady employment, and sank lower and
lower till he was reduced to the position of a ragman, going about to
collect clothes, bones, rabbit-skins, and such odds and ends as he
could scrape together from the servants. The trade was not an
unlucrative one on the whole, but Nason spent so much in drink, and
his wife having fallen into the same bad habit, kept so little of
what she could contrive to get from her husband for household
purposes, that they seldom sat down to a regular meal, but scrambled
on in a wretched way, becoming every year more degraded and more
confirmed in their habits of intemperance.

Such was the home in which little Dick was reared. Fortunately he was
the only child. His father took little notice of him. His mother was
not without affection for him, but it was constantly deadened by the
almost stupefied state in which she lived. The child seldom knew real
hunger, for there was generally something to be found in the
three-cornered cupboard to which he had free access, nor did he often
get the hard words and blows that are so apt to fall to the lot of
the unfortunate children of drinking parents. Neither Nason nor his
wife were ranked amongst the more brawling and disorderly inhabitants
of Roan’s Court; though drink stupefied and rendered them helpless
and good-for-nothing often for days together, especially after Nason
had had a good haul into his big clothes-bag, and had turned its
contents into money. But as for the dirt, untidiness, and general
discomfort of their abode, they might have won the prize in this
respect had one been offered for the most wretched room.

Dick was a queer little figure to look at, though he had the
brightest face possible. He used to be clothed entirely out of his
father’s rag-bag. Nason had three of these bags, which hung up on
three nails in their cellar room. One was blue, made of strong
material, for the reception of old garments; the second, of stout
canvas, was for rabbit-skins; and the third for bones. Out of the
blue bag used to come forth jackets, which were by no means worn out,
as well as jackets well patched and darned. The latter always fell to
Dick’s share, as the better ones were more valuable to turn into
cash. As to the fit, that was considered to be utterly unimportant.
If only they were large enough for Dick to squeeze into them, or
small enough for him to be able to walk about in them, that was
deemed sufficient; so the little fellow would at one time be seen to
be almost bursting through his things from their tightness, and at
another he looked like a walking clothes-peg with his garments
hanging loosely upon him. But it was all the same to Dick, whether
they were tight or loose, and his bright eyes and curly head were
what people looked at most after all. Dick’s life for the first few
years was a very free and easy one. He made dirt pies beautifully as
soon as he was able to walk, being instructed in that art by some
children a little older than himself who lived next door. Then came
the ball-playing age–for even the poorest youngsters contrive to get
balls somehow or other–and Dick had his to roll about long before he
knew how to play with it. A little later on his amusement was to
stroll about the streets, peep in at the shop windows, look longingly
at the tempting piles of oranges and lollipops on the stalls at the
corner of the street, and occasionally, but very rarely, produce a
halfpenny from his pocket with which to purchase a scrap of the said
lollipops, or one of the smallest and most sour of the oranges.

But the greatest delight of Dick’s life was to go to Covent Garden
Market to look at the flowers, his love for which seemed born with
him in a remarkable degree. He was in a perfect ecstasy of delight
the first time he went there in company with some other children, who
like himself had nothing to do but to stroll about the streets. What
they looked at with indifference, Dick gazed upon with rapture, and
from that day he constantly found his way to the same spot, which was
at no great distance from Roan’s Court. He was there so often that
his appearance became familiar to the stall-holders, and they
sometimes employed him in running errands or doing little jobs for
them, rewarding him with an apple or orange, or, if it were towards
the evening, perhaps a bunch of flowers that had begun to fade.
Nothing ever pleased him so much as to have them to take home; and
then he tenderly put them in a cracked mug on the window seat, where
he could see them as soon as he awoke in the morning. In after years
he used to say that his first idea of God was taken from those
flowers; that their beauty carried off his mind in wonder as to the
greatness of the Power that made them. The strange contrast between
them in all their loveliness and the dingy dirty room he lived in,
had doubtless much to do with the effect they produced on his mind.

Dick knew little about religion. Once or twice he had peeped into a
church when service was going on, but had not cared to stay long; not
at all understanding what he heard, and feeling rather alarmed at the
man in the black gown whom he saw sitting near the door to keep
order.

But though Dick was a stranger to both church and Sunday-school, an
instructor was raised up for him in a quarter no one would have
expected. Not far from Covent Garden, in a single room, lived an old
man named John Walters, who had a small pension from a gentleman
whose servant he had once been, and who increased his means by doing
a variety of jobs about the market, where he was quite an
institution. This old man loved his God and loved his Bible. He lived
quite alone. His wife had been dead some years, and the only child he
ever had, a boy, died of measles when he was about twelve years of
age.

Perhaps it was the remembrance of this boy made him notice little
Dick as he lingered day after day about the market; but he might
never have spoken to him had it not been for an incident which we
will relate.

One day as a woman from the country was beginning to put up her fruit
and vegetables, she tripped and upset her basket of apples, which
rolled away in every direction. Dick was standing near and helped to
pick them up. The woman was anxious to collect them all, for they
were a valuable sort of apple which sold for a good price for
dessert, and every one was precious. Several rolled away to a
distance and lodged under a heap of empty hampers. Dick ran amongst
the hampers and picked them up; as he did so he slipped three of them
into the capacious pockets of the very loose clothes he had on, which
had lately been produced from the blue bag and would have fitted a
boy nearly twice his size. There was an Eye above that saw him commit
this theft, that Almighty Eye which never sleeps; but there was also
a human one upon the little boy at the moment, and it was that of old
John Walters. He was standing very near, but was concealed by some
tall shrubs. He saw Dick turn round to look if any one could see him
before he put the apples in his pocket, and this made him watch what
he was about; and he also saw him go up to the woman with several
apples in his hands, which he gave her. She warmly thanked him, and
returned him one as a present for the trouble he had taken. It was
getting late in the afternoon, and Walters was soon going home. He
felt unhappy about Dick, who reminded him of his own boy. He thought
he looked like a neglected lad who had no one to teach him how wrong
it is to steal. He did not like to bring him into disgrace and
trouble in the market by accusing him of taking the apples, neither
did he feel it would be right in him to see a child steal and take no
notice. “For,” thought he, “if he goes on from one thing to another
he may come to be a housebreaker in course of time; but if stopped
now, a boy with such a face as that may become an honest, good man.”
Then after a few minutes’ thought he said to himself, “‘Tis one of
Christ’s little ones, and so for the Master’s sake I’ll have a try at
him.” Meanwhile Dick was devouring the apple the woman had given him,
with the not unpleasant recollection that the pleasure to his palate
would be repeated three times over, since he had three more in his
pocket. I am afraid the said pleasure was in no way diminished by the
consciousness that they were stolen. I do not mean to say that he was
a thief habitually, for he was not. Some boys make thieving a trade
and exult in it. Dick had sometimes purloined what was not his own,
in the same manner that he had done the apples. He did not look out
for opportunities, but if one such as this came in his way he did not
try to resist the temptation.

He was rather startled when he felt some one lay a hand firmly on his
shoulder. It was the hand of John Walters, who said to him–

“I want to speak a word to you, my man. Come home with me and I’ll
give you a cup of tea. I’m going to have mine directly.” Dick looked
up into his face. It was a very kindly one, though rough and furrowed
with years; He did not feel afraid of it; so he went off with
Walters, for the cup of tea sounded tempting. It was not often such a
chance fell in his way. He walked by the old man’s side and answered
all his questions as to his name, and where he lived, and what his
father did, etc., and by the time Walters knew all about him, they
had arrived at the room which he rented in a small back street of
some people who kept a little shop.

It was but a humble abode, but it seemed a palace to Dick compared
with his own. In the first place, it was quite clean, for the woman
of whom Walters rented it was careful to keep it well swept, and he
himself did all the tidying and dusting part. Then the furniture was
better than what Dick was accustomed to see in any of the rooms in
Roan’s Court. There was a little round table in the middle of the
room, and another at the side with two or three large books on it.

[Illustration: “I WANT TO SPEAK A WORD TO YOU, MY MAN.”]

And there was a cupboard in one corner and a narrow bedstead in
another, and over the bedstead was laid a large tiger-skin which
Walters’ master had given him many years before, and which served as
an ornament by day and a warm covering for cold nights. Also there
was a shelf over the side table with a few books on it. Walters was a
good scholar, and had always been fond of reading, but of late years
he had cared for few books except his Bible and Prayer-book, which
gave evidence of being often used.

Walters told Dick to sit down, and he gave him a book with some
pictures of animals in it to look at whilst he made tea; but the boy
could not help watching Walters and his doings, which had greater
attractions than his book, on the whole. First he put a match to the
fire, which was laid ready for lighting. Then he went out with his
kettle and fetched some water. Next he unlocked the cupboard, and
brought out a tea-pot and two blue and white cups and saucers, and a
half-loaf of bread and some butter. He set them on the table very
tidily, and then going out again, he went into the little shop on the
other side of the passage and bought two or three slices of bacon of
his landlady, who sold provisions. These he fried in a little pan
that was hung up by the fireside, and when the water was poured into
the tea-pot, and the frizzling, delicious-smelling bacon was lifted
off the fire and put on a dish on the table, Dick’s mouth watered so
that he could scarcely wait to be told to begin and eat. “Now then,
Dick, come along,” said Walters, and Dick needed no second bidding.
He pulled his chair in an instant close to the table, and taking his
seat, looked ready for action. But old Walters had something else to
do before he would begin. He told Dick he was going to say grace, and
bade him stand, which he did, and looked rather wonderingly at the
old man as he took his little black cap off his head, and raising his
hands, asked God to bless the food His goodness had given them. The
boy had never seen this done before, and it puzzled him; but the next
moment he forgot all about it in the pleasure of satisfying his
hunger with the bacon and bread, of which Walters cut him a large
slice. His kind-hearted host ate very little himself; but he enjoyed
watching Dick’s satisfaction, and perhaps wished he had not to do so
disagreeable a thing as to tell his young guest that he had seen him
stealing.

When tea was over, the methodical old gentleman washed up the cups
and saucers and plates, and put everything away in the cupboard. Then
he said–

“Now, Dick, I have something to say to you–something you won’t like
half as much as eating the bacon. You have some apples in your
pockets, which you stole from the woman when she dropped them and
they rolled under the hamper. Dick, it is a very shocking thing to be
a thief, and yet you _are_ one!”

Poor Dick’s blue eyes grew enormous, and his cheeks became scarlet.
He knew too well that when thieves were detected their fate was to be
carried off to prison. He began to suspect he had been entrapped, and
that Walters was a policeman in disguise; yet it seemed strange if he
were going to be punished that he should begin by giving him such a
good tea. He had no time to collect his ideas, for Walters was
waiting for him to speak; he could only fly to the resource of trying
to help himself by telling a falsehood, so he said that the woman had
given them to him.

“No, Dick, that is untrue; she gave you one only, which you ate.”

More and more alarmed at finding how thoroughly acquainted Walters
was with the late transaction, Dick began to cry and begged him to
let him off. The kind-hearted old man drew the boy to his side, and
told him he was not going to punish him or tell anybody about his
theft; and when his tears were completely dried, he said–

“But there is One who does know it, my boy, and who will one day
punish you for stealing and telling stories if you go on thus, and if
you do not feel sorry for this and other naughty deeds you have
done.”

And then he talked of things very new to little Dick. He spoke of sin
and of hell, and of Jesus Christ, and of repentance and heaven, in
such simple words as came naturally to the old man, who was simple as
a child himself, and yet was wiser and more learned in these precious
truths than many a great scholar. He talked till the blue eyes
brimmed over with tears again, but this time not with terror lest he
was going to be sent to prison, but with sorrow for having done so
wrongly. For Dick had a very tender heart, and one that was quite
ready to receive all that was said to him. He brought the three
apples out of his pockets and asked Walters to take them away from
him.

“But they are not mine; I can’t take them,” he said.

“Then I will throw them away,” said Dick.

“That will not be right,” said Walters, “for they are not yours to
throw away; they are the woman’s.”

Dick looked bewildered; he did not know what to do with them.

“I think you ought to give them back to their owner,” said Walters.
“I know her, and she is very kind and will forgive you directly, I am
sure. If you are really sorry, you will be glad to take them back to
her. Suppose you leave them here till to-morrow, and then come, and I
will go with you to her stall.” Dick promised, and then old Walters
kneeled down with the little boy by his side, and he prayed–

“O dear Lord, forgive this young child for what he has done wrong,
and help him not to steal and tell stories any more, for Thy dear Son
Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.”

Then Dick ran home, thinking all the way of what Walters had been
talking about.

The next morning when he woke he saw his little mug of flowers
standing on the window-sill, and the old thought came into his mind
about God making such beautiful things, and he felt very sorry that
he had offended God the day before, and ventured to say a little
prayer to Him himself, the very first that had passed his lips–

“O God, who made the flowers, please make me a good boy. I don’t mean
to steal apples any more, or tell stories.”

A little later on, Dick learnt to ask for God’s _help_ to keep him
from stealing and lying and doing wrong things.

And old Walters had his prayer that morning about Dick–

“O God, I am old and not able to do much for Thee, but help me to
teach the little boy Thy ways. Amen.”

He was very glad when Dick came running in, for he was half afraid he
might shirk the business of taking the apples back to the woman. It
showed that he was really sorry, and willing to punish himself by
doing a disagreeable thing; for it was of course very disagreeable to
go and own that he had stolen the apples. Let all children who read
this little tale remember, that when we do any wrong thing, it is
right that we should suffer for it. It is not enough merely to tell
God we are sorry and to ask His forgiveness; we must prove to God and
to ourselves that we really _are_ grieved for our sin by humbling
ourselves to ask pardon of those to whom we have done wrong, and by
trying to repair the wrong. If we shrink from this when it is in our
power to do it, we may be pretty sure that our penitence is not of
the kind to lead us to hope that our fault will be forgiven by God;
and if He does not forgive our fault, then it will rise up before us
in that day when all, both small and great, must appear before the
judgment-seat of God.

The woman, Mrs. Needham by name, was greatly surprised when Walters
came to her stall as she was laying it out, and told her that Dick
wished to return her three apples he had been tempted to put into his
pockets the day before. Poor Dick scarcely said a word himself, he
felt so frightened lest Mrs. Needham should be very angry; but she
only spoke kindly to him, and said she hoped he would never do such a
thing again. Indeed, she was just going to give him back one of the
apples; but Walters was wiser, and shook his head at her and led Dick
away. He knew it would be bad for the boy to be rewarded for taking
back the stolen fruit. That afternoon when Mrs. Needham and Walters
happened to be together for a few minutes, she talked to him about
Dick, and he told her how he had tried to show the boy the sin of
stealing.

“After all, though,” said the soft-hearted woman, who was more kind
than wise, “it was no such great thing he did. An apple or two he
just slipped into his pocket when he had the chance, that was all.”

But Walters turned to her, and laying his hand on her arm, said
almost solemnly–

“And what turned Adam and Eve out of Paradise and brought sin upon
millions and millions of us, Mrs. Needham? Why, the taking of an
apple, and ‘_that was all!_'”

“Well, Walters, you’ve your own way of talking about these things,
and you understand them better than I do, because you’re so
Bible-read.”

Mrs. Needham was prevented saying more, because a customer just then
came up to purchase some of the very apples in question.

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