There once came, what of late has happened so often in Ireland, a hard year. When the crops failed, there was beggary and misfortune from one end of the island to the other. At that time many poor people had to quit the country from want of employment, and through the high price of provisions. Among others, John Carson was under the necessity of going over to England, to try if he could get work; and of leaving his wife and family behind him, begging for a bite and a sup up and down, and trusting to the charity of good Christians.
John was a smart young fellow, handy at any work, from the hay field to the stable, and willing to earn the bread he ate; and he was soon engaged by a gentleman. The English are mighty strict upon Irish servants; he was to have twelve guineas a year wages, but the money was not to be paid until the end of the year, and he was to forfeit the entire twelve guineas in the lump, if he misconducted himself in any way within the twelve months. John Carson was to be sure upon his best behavior, and conducted himself in every particular so well for the whole time, there was no faulting him late or early, and the wages were fairly his.
The term of his agreement being expired, he determined on returning home, notwithstanding his master, who had a great regard for him, pressed him to remain, and asked him if he had any reason to be dissatisfied with his treatment.
“No reason in life, sir,” said John; “you’ve been a good master and a kind master to me; the Lord spare you over your family; but I left a wife and two small children of my own at home, after me in Ireland, and your honor would never wish to keep me from them entirely, the wife and the children.”
“Well, John,” said the gentleman, “you have earned your twelve guineas, and you have been, in every respect, so good a servant, that, if you are agreeable, I intend giving you what is worth the twelve guineas ten times over, in place of your wages. But you shall have your choice. Will you take what I offer, on my word”?
John saw no reason to think that his master was jesting with him, or was insincere in making the offer; and, therefore, after a slight consideration, told him that he agreed to take for his wages whatever he would advise, whether it was the twelve guineas or not.
“Then listen attentively to my words,” said the gentleman. “First, I would teach you this: Never to take a by-road when you have the highway. Secondly: Take heed not to lodge in the house where an old man is married to a young woman. And thirdly: Remember that honesty the best policy. These are the three advices I would pay you with; and they are in value far beyond any gold; however, here is a guinea for your traveling charges, and two cakes, one of which you must give to your wife, and the other you must not eat yourself until you have done so, and I charge you to be careful of them.”
It was not without some reluctance on the part of John Carson that he was made to accept mere words for wages, or could be persuaded that they were more precious than golden guineas. His faith in his master was, however, so strong, that he at length became satisfied.
John set out for Ireland the next morning early; but he had not proceeded far, before he overtook two pedlars who were traveling the same way. He entered into conversation with them, and found them a pair of merry fellows, who proved excellent company on the road. Now it happened, towards the end of their day’s journey, when they were all tired with walking, that they came to a wood, through which there was a path that shortened the distance to the town they were going towards, by two miles. The pedlars advised John to go with them through the wood; but he refused to leave the highway, telling them, at the same time, he would meet them again at a certain house in the town where travelers put up.
John was willing to try the worth of the advice which his master had given him, and he arrived in safety, and took up his quarters at the appointed place. While he was eating his supper, an old man came hobbling into the kitchen, and gave orders about different matters there, and then went out again. John would have taken no particular notice of this, but immediately after, a young woman, young enough to be the old man’s daughter, came in, and gave orders exactly the contrary of what the old man had given, calling him, at the same time, such as old fool, and old dotard, and so on.
When she was gone, John inquired who the old man was.
“He is the landlord,” said the servant; “and, heaven help him! A dog’s life has he led since he married his last wife.”
“What,” said John, with surprise, “is that young woman the landlord’s wife? I see I must not remain in this house tonight;” and, tired as he was, he got up to leave it, but went no further than the door before he met the two pedlars, all cut and bleeding, coming in, for they had been robbed and almost murdered in the wood. John was very sorry to see them in that condition, and advised them not to lodge in the house, telling them, with a significant nod that all was not right there; but the poor pedlars were so weary and so bruised, that they would stop where they were, and disregarded the advice.
Rather than remain in the house, John retired to the stable, and laid himself down upon a bundle of straw, where he slept soundly for some time. About the middle of the night, he heard two persons come into the stable, and on listening to their conversation, discovered that it was the landlady and a man, laying a plan how to murder her husband. In the morning John renewed his journey; but at the next town he came to, he was told that the landlord in the town he had left had been murdered and that two pedlars, whose clothes were found all covered with blood, had been taken up for the crime, and were going to be hanged. John, without mentioning what he had overheard to any person, determined to save the pedlars if possible, and so returned, in order to intend their trial.
On going into the court, he saw the two men at bar, and the young woman and the man whose voice he had heard in the stable, swearing their innocent lives away. But the judge allowed him to give his evidence, and he told every particular of what had occurred. The man and the young woman instantly confessed their guilt; the poor pedlars were at once acquitted; and the judge ordered a large reward to be paid to John Carson, as through his means the real murderers were brought to justice.
John proceeded towards home, fully convinced of the value of two of the advices which his master had given him. On arriving at his cabin he found his wife and children rejoicing over a purse full of gold, which the eldest boy had picked up on the road that morning. Whilst he was away they had endured all the miseries which the wretched families of those who go over to seek work in England are exposed to. With precarious food, without a bed to lie down on, or a roof to shelter them, they had wandered through the country, seeking food from door to door of a starving population; and when a single potato was bestowed, showering down blessings and thanks on the giver, not in the set phrases of the mendicant, but in the burst of eloquence too fervid not to gush direct from the heart. Those only who have seen a family of such beggars as I describe, can fancy the joy with which the poor woman welcomed her husband back, and informed him of the purse full of gold.
“And where did Mick my boy, find it,” inquired John Carson.
“It was the young squire, for certain, who dropped it,” said his wife, “for he rode down the road this morning, and was leaping his horse in the very gap where Micky picked it up; but sure, John, he has money enough, besides, and never the halfpenny have I to buy my poor childer a bit to eat this blessed night.”
“Never mind that,” said John. “Do as I bid you, and take up the purse at once to the big house, and ask for the young squire. I have two cakes which I brought every step of the way with me from England, and they will do for the children’s supper. I ought surely to remember, as good right I have, what my master told me for my twelvemonths’ wages, seeing I never, as yet, found what he said to be wrong!”
“And what did he say,” inquired the wife.
“That honesty is the best policy,” answered John.
“‘Tis very well; and ’tis mighty easy for them to say so that have never been sore tempted by distress and famine to say otherwise, but your bidding is enough for me, John.”
Straightways she went to the big house, and inquired for the young squire; but she was denied the liberty to speak to him.
“You must tell me your business, honest woman,” said the servant, with a head all powdered and frizzled like a cauliflower, and who had on a coat covered with gold and silver lace and buttons, and everything in the world.
“If you knew but all,” said she, “I am an honest woman, for I’ve brought a purse full of gold to the young master; for surely it is his; as nobody else could have so much money.”
“Let me see it,” said the servant. “Ay, it’s all right. I’ll take care of it. You need not trouble yourself any more about the matter;” and so saying, he slapped the door in her face.
When she returned, her husband produced the two cakes which his master gave him on parting; and breaking one to divide between his children, how was he astonished to find six guineas, in it; and when he took the other and broke it, he found as many more. He then remembered the words of his generous master, who desired him to give one of the cakes to his wife, and not to eat the other himself until that time; and this was the way his master took to conceal his wages, lest he should have been robbed, or have lost the money on the road.
The following day, as John was standing near his cabin door and turning over in his own mind what he should do with his money, the young squire came riding down the road. John pulled off his hat, for he had not forgotten his manners through the means of traveling to foreign parts, and then made so bold as to inquire if his honor had got the purse he lost.
“Why, it is true enough, my good fellow,” said the squire, “I did lose my purse yesterday, and I hope you were lucky enough to find it; for if that is your cabin, you seem to be very poor, and shall keep it as a reward for your honesty.”
“Then the servant at the big house never gave it to you last night, after taking it from Nance — she’s my wife, your honor — and telling her it was all right?”
“Oh, I must look into this business,” said the squire.
“Did you say your wife, my poor man, gave my purse to a servant — to what servant?”
“I can’t tell his name rightly,” said John, “because I don’t know it; but never trust Nance’s eye again if she can’t point him out to your honor, if so your honor is desirous of knowing.”
“Then do you and Nance, as you call her, come up to the hall this evening, and I’ll inquire into the matter, I promise you.” So saying, the squire rode off.
John and his wife went up accordingly in the evening, and he gave a small rap with the big knocker at the great door. The door was opened by a grand servant, who, without hearing what the poor people had to say, exclaimed, “Oh, go! — go! what business can you have here?” and shut the door.
John’s wife burst out a crying. “There,” said she, so sobbing as if her heart would break. “I knew that would be the end of it.”
But John had not been in old England merely to get his twelve guineas packed in two cakes. “No,” said he, firmly; “right is right, and I’ll see the end of it.”
So he sat himself down on the steps of the door, determined not to go until he had seen the young squire, and as it happened, it was not long before he came out.
“I have been expecting you for some time, John,” said he; “come in and bring your wife in;” and he made them go before him into the house. Immediately he directed all the servants to come up stairs; and such an army of them as there was! It was a real sight to see them.
“Which of you,” said the young squire, without making further words, “which of you all did this honest woman give my purse to?” but there was no answer. “Well I suppose she must be mistaken, unless she can tell herself.”
John’s wife at once pointed her finger towards the head footman; “there he is,” said she, “if all the world were in the fore — clergyman, magistrate, judge, jury and all. There he is, and I am ready to take my bible-oath to him. There he is who told me it was all right when he took the purse, and slammed the door in my face, without as much as thank ye for it.”
The conscious footman turned pale.
“What is this I hear?” said his master. “If this woman gave you my purse, William, why did you not give it to me?”
The servant stammered out a denial; but his master insisted on his being searched, and the purse was found in his pocket.
“John,” said the gentleman, turning round, “you shall be no loser by this affair. Here are ten guineas for you; go home now, but I will not forget your wife’s honesty.”
Within a month John Carson was settled in a nice new-slated house, which the squire had furnished and made ready for him. What with his wages, and the reward he got from the judge, and the ten guineas for returning the purse, he was well to do in the world, and was soon able to stock a little farm, where he lived respected all his days. On his deathbed, he gave his children the very three advices which his master had given him on parting:
Never to take a by-road when they could follow the highway.
Never to lodge in a house where an old man was married to a young woman.
And, above all, to remember that honesty is the best policy.
Compiled by D.L.Ashliman