When they had arrived within a little way of the village they journeyed to, Harley stopped short, and looked steadfastly on the mouldering walls of a ruined house that stood on the road side. “Oh, heavens!” he cried, “what do I see: silent, unroofed, and desolate! Are all thy gay tenants gone? do I hear their hum no more Edwards, look there, look there? the scene of my infant joys, my earliest friendships, laid waste and ruinous! That was the very school where I was boarded when you were at South-hill; ’tis but a twelve-month since I saw it standing, and its benches filled with cherubs: that opposite side of the road was the green on which they sported; see it now ploughed up! I would have given fifty times its value to have saved it from the sacrilege of that plough.”
“Dear sir,” replied Edwards, “perhaps they have left it from choice, and may have got another spot as good.”
“They cannot,” said Harley, “they cannot; I shall never see the sward covered with its daisies, nor pressed by the dance of the dear innocents: I shall never see that stump decked with the garlands which their little hands had gathered. These two long stones, which now lie at the foot of it, were once the supports of a hut I myself assisted to rear: I have sat on the sods within it, when we had spread our banquet of apples before us, and been more blessed - Oh! Edwards, infinitely more blessed, than ever I shall be again.”
Just then a woman passed them on the road, and discovered some signs of wonder at the attitude of Harley, who stood, with his hands folded together, looking with a moistened eye on the fallen pillars of the hut. He was too much entranced in thought to observe her at all, but Edwards, civilly accosting her, desired to know if that had not been the school-house, and how it came into the condition in which they now saw it.
“Alack a day!” said she, “it was the school-house indeed; but to be sure, sir, the squire has pulled it down because it stood in the way of his prospects.”
“What! how! prospects! pulled down!” cried Harley.
“Yes, to be sure, sir; and the green, where the children used to play, he has ploughed up, because, he said, they hurt his fence on the other side of it.”
“Curses on his narrow heart,” cried Harley, “that could violate a right so sacred! Heaven blast the wretch!
“And from his derogate body never spring
A babe to honour him!” -
But I need not, Edwards, I need not” (recovering himself a little), “he is cursed enough already: to him the noblest source of happiness is denied, and the cares of his sordid soul shall gnaw it, while thou sittest over a brown crust, smiling on those mangled limbs that have saved thy son and his children!”
“If you want anything with the school-mistress, sir,” said the woman, “I can show you the way to her house.”
He followed her without knowing whither he went.
They stopped at the door of a snug habitation, where sat an elderly woman with a boy and a girl before her, each of whom held a supper of bread and milk in their hands.
“There, sir, is the school-mistress.”
“Madam,” said Harley, “was not an old venerable man school-master here some time ago?”
“Yes, sir, he was, poor man; the loss of his former school-house, I believe, broke his heart, for he died soon after it was taken down, and as another has not yet been found, I have that charge in the meantime.”
“And this boy and girl, I presume, are your pupils?”
“Ay, sir; they are poor orphans, put under my care by the parish, and more promising children I never saw.”
“Orphans?” said Harley.
“Yes, sir, of honest creditable parents as any in the parish, and it is a shame for some folks to forget their relations at a time when they have most need to remember them.”
“Madam,” said Harley, “let us never forget that we are all relations.”
He kissed the children.
“Their father, sir,” continued she, “was a farmer here in the neighbourhood, and a sober industrious man he was; but nobody can help misfortunes: what with bad crops, and bad debts, which are worse, his affairs went to wreck, and both he and his wife died of broken hearts. And a sweet couple they were, sir; there was not a properer man to look on in the county than John Edwards, and so indeed were all the Edwardses.”
“What Edwardses?” cried the old soldier hastily.
“The Edwardses of South-hill, and a worthy family they were.”
“South-hill!” said he, in a languid voice, and fell back into the arms of the astonished Harley. The school-mistress ran for some water - and a smelling-bottle, with the assistance of which they soon recovered the unfortunate Edwards. He stared wildly for some time, then folding his orphan grandchildren in his arms,
“Oh! my children, my children,” he cried, “have I found you thus? My poor Jack, art thou gone? I thought thou shouldst have carried thy father’s grey hairs to the grave! and these little ones” - his tears choked his utterance, and he fell again on the necks of the children.
“My dear old man,” said Harley, “Providence has sent you to relieve them; it will bless me if I can be the means of assisting you.”
“Yes, indeed, sir,” answered the boy; “father, when he was a-dying, bade God bless us, and prayed that if grandfather lived he might send him to support us.”
“Where did they lay my boy?” said Edwards.
“In the Old Churchyard,” replied the woman, “hard by his mother.”
“I will show it you,” answered the boy, “for I have wept over it many a time when first I came amongst strange folks.”
He took the old man’s hand, Harley laid hold of his sister’s, and they walked in silence to the churchyard.
There was an old stone, with the corner broken off, and some letters, half-covered with moss, to denote the names of the dead: there was a cyphered R. E. plainer than the rest; it was the tomb they sought.
“Here it is, grandfather,” said the boy.
Edwards gazed upon it without uttering a word: the girl, who had only sighed before, now wept outright; her brother sobbed, but he stifled his sobbing.
“I have told sister,” said he, “that she should not take it so to heart; she can knit already, and I shall soon be able to dig, we shall not starve, sister, indeed we shall not, nor shall grandfather neither.”
The girl cried afresh; Harley kissed off her tears as they flowed, and wept between every kiss.