A short story by Edward Eggleston
The Wood-Chopper's Children
Title: The Wood-Chopper's Children
Author: Edward Eggleston [More Titles by Eggleston]
The next Friday evening found all the members of the Cellar-door Club in their places. Will Sampson, the stammering "chairman," was at the top, full of life and fun as ever. Jimmie Jackson, running over with mischief, was by him, then came Tom Miller and John Harlan, while Hans Schlegel and Harry Wilson sat at the bottom. After a half-hour spent in general talk about school and plays, and such miscellaneous topics as every gathering of boys knows how to discuss, the "chairman" called out,
"Come t-to order! Th-th-the C-cellar-d-d-door Society is c-called to order. G-g-gentlemen, the Hon. J-Jeems Jackson is the speaker f-for the evening. I h-have the pl-pleasure of introducing him to you."
"No, you don't!" said the shoemaker's son; "don't put it on so thick. If you want me to tell my yarn along with the rest of you, why, I'm ready, but if you call it a speech, you scare me out of my shoes, just like the man that tried to make a speech in the legislature, but couldn't get any farther than 'Mr. Speaker, I am in favor of cartwheels and temperance.' Or, like a boy I knew, who tried to declaim the speech beginning: 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!' and who got so badly confused on the first line that he said, 'I'd like to borrow your ears!'"
This raised a laugh at the expense of Harry Wilson, who had broken down on that line, though he did not make it as bad as Jimmy represented it.
"G-g-go on with your story!" stammered the chairman, and Jackson proceeded.
There lived in a country a long way off--it don't matter where--a poor wood-chopper whose name was--let's see--well, we will call him Bertram. It wasn't the fashion to have two names in those days, you know; people couldn't afford it. He had a son, whose name was Rudolph, and a daughter, Theresa. The boy was twelve and the girl was eleven years old. The wood-chopper earned but a scanty subsistence--that means an awfully poor living, I believe--and the children soon learned to help him. Rudolph and Theresa were hard-working and cheerful, and as they had never been rich, they did not know what it was to be poor. That is, they thought they had plenty, because they never had any more; and had no time to sit down and see how nice it would be to have a fine house, and be drawn in an elegant carriage. But one day a tree fell on poor Bertram, and he was carried home with a broken arm and leg. I suppose if he had been rich enough to send for a great surgeon that lived in the city, only two leagues away, he would have recovered without much trouble, but poor men have to do without such attentions, and so Bertram's arm and leg, which were fixed by a country "bone-setter," were so crooked that he could not work. And now the burden fell heavily on the wife, who had to gather berries and nuts in the forests, which she loaded on the donkey, and carried away to the city to sell. But the poor woman was never very strong, and this extra tax was fast breaking her down.
The children did what they could, but it was not much. After working hard all day, they amused themselves in the evening by manufacturing little articles out of nutshells. Rudolph had a sharp knife which had been given him for showing a gentleman the way out of the forest. But the circumstances of the family had become so distressing that they had given up their evening employments, creeping sadly away to bed after a frugal supper.
One day, as they were gathering nuts in the forest, Rudolph said, "Sister, I fear that mother is breaking down. What can we do to help her? The winter is coming on, and times will be harder than ever."
"I'll tell you what, Rudolph," answered Theresa; "why can't we do something with your little nut-baskets and nut-boats? I've heard say that the little city children, who wear fine clothes and have plenty of money, are very fond of such things. Let us send all you have by mother to-morrow."
And so on the next morning the mother's basket took the whole stock. When evening came the children walked a quarter of a league down to the crossing of the brook to meet her, and hear the fate of their venture. But the poor woman could only tell them that the work was admired, but that she had not succeeded in selling any of it. That night they went to bed more than ever disheartened. The next day, their mother carried their trinkets to town again, and when she returned they were delighted to know that some of them had sold for a few pence, and that a lady had sent an order for some mosses to make a moss-basket with.
"We'll make the basket ourselves," exclaimed Rudolph, and the next day they gathered the mosses, and Rudolph and his sister worked nearly all night framing a basket of twigs, and fitting in the different colored mosses. What was their delight when they learned that the lady had paid a good price for the basket.
It was still up-hill work to live. Sometimes the trinkets sold and sometimes they did not. But Rudolph kept whittling away, and his sister soon became a good whittler, too. Besides, she often sewed little pin-cushions in the nut shells, and did other things by which her little brown fingers were quite as useful as Rudolph's. But often they were discouraged by complete failure to sell.
There was a fair to take place some time later, and Rudolph and Theresa worked hard making swinging baskets and nut-shell boats for the fair. And as the poor mother was fairly broken down, and could not go to the city, they had not to pick berries, but could spend all their time making their little articles. They even made little faces out of the nut shells. At last came the day of the fair; and, alas! the poor mother was still sick, while the father was not able to move out of his chair for rheumatism. This was a sad disappointment, but Rudolph had often been to the city with his mother, and he resolved to take Theresa and go himself. As the food was out, the parents could not refuse, and the two children climbed up on the donkey and set out. It was a wearisome and anxious day to the parents. At last, when evening came, there came no returning children. But an hour after dark the donkey stopped before the door, and Rudolph and his sister came joyfully in to tell the day's adventures. Very happy were the parents to learn of their complete success. And now the children went regularly to the weekly markets or fairs, and had a stall of their own. Their constant whittling made them more and more skilful, and their trinkets were soon much sought after. They were able to buy a little gold and silver, and soon learned to inlay their nut-shell snuff-boxes and wooden jewel-cases, so as to make them very beautiful. And as the wood-chopper grew better he was able to do the rougher work of preparing the wood for them. And the money they realized was more than the wood-chopper was ever able to make in his best days. After a while some wood-carver's tools helped Rudolph to do still more curious work. And he now has a shop in town. Theresa prepares his drawings and patterns for him, and does the staining and moss-work, and the firm is always known as The Wood-Chopper's Children. If anybody wants a moral to the story they can furnish it themselves.
"I suppose the moral is, that EVERYBODY CAN DO SOMETHING IF HE TRIES," said Miller.
"I s-s-suppose it's b-b-bed-time," said the chairman, and the boys adjourned.
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