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DAME BARTON was an honest, hard-working woman, who lived with her husband and son in a small hut under Dover cliffs. Her husband was a fisherman, and as industrious as herself; for he laboured night and day at his trade to support his wife and child, till one dreadful day he was drowned in endeavouring to save the crew of a ship that was wrecked in sight of the cottage.
About three months after his death, as little John Barton was sitting one evening mending a net for a neighbour opposite to his mother, he suddenly exclaimed, “O mother! how tired you must be of spinning! you have sat at your wheel ever since four o'clock this morning, and now it is seven o'clock, yet you have hardly stirred from your work.”
" It is the only means I have of getting you a bit of bread, Johnny, since your poor father left us.”
“Don't cry, mother,” said little John, running towards her; “but I do so wish that I could do something myself to earn money enough to keep you from sticking so close to that bur— bur— burring wheel. I mean, something of real use to you,” continued he, as his mother looked at the net which he had been mending; “I wish I could do something better than mending the meshes of old nets."
“You do enough for your age, dear,” said his mother; “and we shall manage to go on quite well while the summer lasts: all I dread to think of is the winter.”
“O mother! if you should have your rheumatism come on then, what would you do? I wish I were older, to work for you." :
“I cannot bear to think of it," answered his mother, weeping; “if I should have my old complaint come back, I should not be able to work any longer; and then who is to take care of my poor Johnny? I have not a friend in the world that I could send to for help, if I were ill.”
“Don't you recollect, mother, the French gentleman you have often told me about? Perhaps he would help you, if he could know you are so poor.”
“But he lives in Paris, and I can't write; so how is he to know the state I am in ?" answered his mother; “or else I am sure he would never suffer any one belonging to the deliverer of his child to die of want. Besides, I well remember (for many's the time I have made my dear husband tell me the tale) when the child fell over the side of the vessel which was just ready to sail, and your dear father, plunging into the waves, brought him back his infant safe and sound, and smiling up in his face; the gentleman, after bending his head for a minute over the dear dripping babe, to hide his streaming eyes (for, let a gentleman be never so manly, it is more than he can do to keep from crying like one of us, when he sees his own flesh and blood saved from death), he turned to your poor father, and said, in a fluttering-like, yet grand kind of voice, too_ Barton,' says he, you have done more for me than if you had saved my own life;. I can never hope to repay you for the happiness you have given me at this moment, yet ? Before the gentleman could finish what he was going to say, your good father turned away, saying, "Lord bless your honour, do n't thank me; it's no more than what you 'd have done for my Johnny, I'll swear, if you'd seen him drop overboard, like your young thing there. Your father was proud enough, then, Johnny, and he told me he guessed that the gentleman was going to give him money, so he jumped into his boat which lay alongside, and the vessel sailed away immediately, and he never heard anything more of the gentleman: but though your father did n't want anything at that time from anybody, being able to gain his own living comfortably and honestly, much less to have a reward for having saved an innocent fellow-creature's life; yet I can't help wishing that he'd made a friend of the gentleman, who could n't but be grateful.”
“How long ago was this, mother?” said John, after thinking a little while.
." It was eight years since, come Midsummer Day; I should surely remember it," continued Dame Barton, “for when my good John Barton came home with an honest flush on his brow, and first told me the story, I looked on you, and thanked God that it was not my own dear Johnny who had run the chance of being drowned, instead of the little stranger. You were then a little more than two years old, for to-morrow's the 3rd of June, you know, your birth-day, Johnny; and then you will be exactly ten years old.”
“Do you think the gentleman has forgotten what my father did for him, mother ?” asked Johnny, after another and a longer pause.
“I don't think he has, but I can't say, for gentlefolk are apt to be forgetful. Perhaps, however, he has never been to England since then.”
Little John said no more, but went on very busily with his work, so busily, indeed, that when his mother looked at him again, she saw that he had finished his job.
“Why, how quickly you have worked, Johnny,” said she; "you did n't think to have done that net till to-morrow morning, did you ?"
“No, mother," answered John; “but when I am talking to you, and thinking hard, it's surprising how the work gets on; I'm glad I've done it, though,” continued he, rising to put by his mesh and twine; “ because I shall be able to take it to Bill Haul to-night, instead of to-morrow, as I promised."
“But it's getting dark, dear, I am going to put away my wheel,” said his mother..
“O, it's not too late, mother, I shall be there and back before you have put by your spinning-wheel, and got 'the haddocks out ready for supper; so good bye, good bye, mother," added he, seeing that she did not prevent his going, and off he ran.
“He's a dear, good little soul, and that's the truth on’t,” said Dame Barton to herself, as she listened to the eager footsteps of the boy, which crashed among the shingles, growing fainter and fainter every minute, till at last their sound could no longer be distinguished from the restless washing of the waves on the beach. “I'm sure I ought n't to be the one to check him when he's doing a goodnatured turn for a neighbour."
It was a beautiful evening; and as little John Barton ran along the beach, he took off his hat, and unbuttoned his shirt collar that he might enjoy the cool breeze, for the day had been very sultry.
“This air blows towards France," said he, half aloud, " for I know that France lies over there across the blue waters, and Paris is in France, and he lives in Paris. O, how I do wish,” exclaimed he, passionately, and suddenly stopping short, and straining his eyes over the wide sea, “how I do wish I could go to Paris—I would find him out—I would see him-I would tell him—I will, I must go,” said he, interrupting himself, and again running forward. When he arrived at the cuttage where his friend Bill Haul lived, he found a strange man there, speaking with Bill's father, whom he did not at first take any notice of, but kept on talking with Bill about the net; however, presently he noticed that the man talked in a different tone from what he usually heard, and used his arms very violently while he spoke, and, at last, John thought he heard him say the word France, though in the same curious voice he had before noticed.
“Isn't that man a Frenchman, Bill, that's talking to your father?” asked John.
“Yes, he's wanting father to buy a cargo of apples and eggs he has brought from France, and he's in a hurry to strike his bargain, because he wants to be aboard again by four o'clock to-morrow morning; but never mind him, Jack, he speaks such gibberish, that—"