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J. Cole   By:

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[Illustration: "'WHO ARE YOU, MY CHILD?' I SAID' Page 3 ( Frontispiece )]






"Wich i hav seed in the paper a page Boy wanted, and begs to say J. Cole is over thertene, and I can clene plate, wich my brutther is under a butler and lernd me, and I can wate, and no how to clene winders and boots. J. Cole opes you will let me cum. I arsks 8 and all found. if you do my washin I will take sevven. J. Cole will serve you well and opes to giv sattisfaxshun. i can cum tomorrer. J. COLE.

"P.S. He is not verry torl but growin. My brutther is a verry good hite. i am sharp and can rede and rite and can hadd figgers if you like."


I had advertised for a page boy, and having puzzled through some dozens of answers, more or less illegible and impossible to understand, had come to the last one of the packet, of which the above is an exact copy.

The epistle was enclosed in a clumsy envelope, evidently home made, with the aid of scissors and gum, and was written on a half sheet of letter paper, in a large hand, with many blots and smears, on pencilled lines.

There was something quaint and straightforward in the letter, in spite of the utter ignorance of grammar and spelling; and while I smiled at the evident pride in the "brutther" who was a "verry good hite," and the offer to take less wages if "I would do his washin," I found myself wondering what sort of waif upon the sea of life was this not very tall person, over thirteen, who "would serve me well."

I had many letters to answer and several appointments to make, and had scarcely made up my mind whether or not to trouble to write to my accomplished correspondent, who was "sharp, and could rede and rite, and hadd figgers," when, a shadow falling on the ground by me as I sat by the open window, I looked up, and saw, standing opposite my chair, a boy, the very smallest boy, with the very largest blue eyes I ever saw. The clothes on his little limbs were evidently meant for somebody almost double his size, but they were clean and tidy.

In one hand he held a bundle, tied in a red handkerchief, and in the other a bunch of wild flowers that bore signs of having travelled far in the heat of the sun, their blossoms hanging down, dusty and fading, and their petals dropping one by one on the ground.

"Who are you, my child?" I said, "and what do you want?"

At my question the boy placed his flowers on my table, and, pulling off his cap, made a queer movement with his feet, as though he were trying to step backwards with both at once, and said, in a voice so deep that it quite startled me, so strangely did it seem to belong to the size of the clothes, and not the wearer,

"Please'm, it's J. Cole; and I've come to live with yer. I've brought all my clothes, and every think."

For the moment I felt a little bewildered, so impossible did it seem that the small specimen of humanity before me was actually intending to enter anybody's service; he looked so childish and wistful, and yet with a certain honesty of purpose shining out of those big, wide open eyes, that interested me in him, and made me want to know more of him.

"You are very small to go into service," I said, "and I am afraid you could not do the work I should require; besides, you should have waited to hear from me, and then have come to see me, if I wanted you to do so."

"Yes, I know I'm not very big," said the boy, nervously fidgeting with his bundle; "leastways not in hite; but my arms is that long, they'll reach ever so 'igh above my 'ed, and as for bein' strong, you should jest see me lift my father's big market basket when it's loaded with 'taters, or wotever is for market, and I hope you'll not be angry because I come to day; but Dick that's my brutther Dick he says, 'You foller my advice, Joe,' he says, 'and go arter this 'ere place, and don't let no grass grow under your feet. I knows what it is goin' arter places; there's such lots a fitin' after 'em, that if you lets so much as a hour go afore yer looks 'em up, there's them as slips in fust gets it; and wen yer goes to the door they opens it and sez, "It ain't no use, boy, we're sooted;" and then where are yer, I'd like to know? So,' sez he, 'Joe, you look sharp and go, and maybe you'll get it... Continue reading book >>

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