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Martin Rattler   By: (1825-1894)

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MARTIN RATTLER, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.

CHAPTER ONE.

THE HERO AND HIS ONLY RELATIVE.

Martin Rattler was a very bad boy. At least his aunt, Mrs Dorothy Grumbit, said so; and certainly she ought to have known, if anybody should, for Martin lived with her, and was, as she herself expressed it, "the bane of her existence; the very torment of her life." No doubt of it whatever, according to Aunt Dorothy Grumbit's showing, Martin Rattler was "a remarkably bad boy."

It is a curious fact, however, that, although most of the people in the village of Ashford seemed to agree with Mrs Grumbit in her opinion of Martin, there were very few of them who did not smile cheerfully on the child when they met him, and say, "Good day, lad!" as heartily as if they thought him the best boy in the place. No one seemed to bear Martin Rattler ill will, notwithstanding his alleged badness. Men laughed when they said he was a bad boy, as if they did not quite believe their own assertion. The vicar, an old whiteheaded man, with a kind, hearty countenance, said that the child was full of mischief, full of mischief; but he would improve as he grew older, he was quite certain of that. And the vicar was a good judge; for he had five boys of his own, besides three other boys, the sons of a distant relative, who boarded with him; and he had lived forty years in a parish overflowing with boys, and he was particularly fond of boys in general. Not so the doctor, a pursy little man with a terrific frown, who hated boys, especially little ones, with a very powerful hatred. The doctor said that Martin was a scamp.

And yet Martin had not the appearance of a scamp. He had fat rosy cheeks, a round rosy mouth, a straight delicately formed nose, a firm massive chin, and a broad forehead. But the latter was seldom visible, owing to the thickly clustering fair curls that overhung it. When asleep Martin's face was the perfection of gentle innocence. But the instant he opened his dark brown eyes, a thousand dimples and wrinkles played over his visage, chiefly at the corners of his mouth and round his eyes; as if the spirit of fun and the spirit of mischief had got entire possession of the boy, and were determined to make the most of him. When deeply interested in anything, Martin was as grave and serious as a philosopher.

Aunt Dorothy Grumbit had a turned up nose, a very much turned up nose; so much so, indeed, that it presented a front view of the nostrils! It was an aggravating nose, too, for the old lady's spectacles refused to rest on any part of it except the extreme point. Mrs Grumbit invariably placed them on the right part of her nose, and they as invariably slid down the curved slope until they were brought up by the little hillock at the end. There they condescended to repose in peace.

Mrs Grumbit was mild, and gentle, and little, and thin, and old, perhaps seventy five; but no one knew her age for certain, not even herself. She wore an old fashioned, high crowned cap, and a gown of bed curtain chintz, with flowers on it the size of a saucer. It was a curious gown, and very cheap, for Mrs Grumbit was poor. No one knew the extent of her poverty, any more than they did her age; but she herself knew it, and felt it deeply, never so deeply, perhaps, as when her orphan nephew Martin grew old enough to be put to school, and she had not wherewithal to send him. But love is quick witted and resolute. A residence of six years in Germany had taught her to knit stockings at a rate that cannot be described, neither conceived unless seen. She knitted two dozen pairs. The vicar took one dozen, the doctor took the other. The fact soon became known. Shops were not numerous in the village in those days; and the wares they supplied were only second rate. Orders came pouring in, Mrs Grumbit's knitting wires clicked, and her little old hands wagged with incomprehensible rapidity and unflagging regularity, and Martin Rattler was sent to school.

While occupied with her knitting, she sat in a high backed chair in a very small deep window, through which the sun streamed nearly the whole day; and out of which there was the most charming imaginable view of the gardens and orchards of the villagers, with a little dancing brook in the midst, and the green fields of the farmers beyond, studded with sheep and cattle and knolls of woodland, and bounded in the far distance by the bright blue sea... Continue reading book >>




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