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some of the greatest men in England passed many of their early days.
But the chief ornament of the Digby cottage is the cluster of noble old trees just behind it. These tower above the house as if they were protecting it, and give the most beautiful back-ground to the picture. Under their broad and delightful shade the children of five or six generations have played, and the ground is worn bare by their incessant sports. Here too the good people take their meals when the weather allows, and sit during the long English summer evenings, for my young readers must remember that in England the nights about midsummer are shorter than any we are familiar with in our latitude.
The scene in the picture is one of every day occurrence at Digby Cottage. From the exceeding thickness of the foliage you may imagine it to be June. It is the time when birds are singing by thousands. And some of these birds we know nothing about except in books, as for instance the redbreast, the cuckoo, the skylark and the nightingale. The summers in England are by no means so oppressively hot as our's sometimes are. Hence, when the weather is dry, people are able to spend much more time out of doors, than with us.
Here you have thirteen living characters-including the poultry ; and these are no unimportant part of the company, in the opinion of the young Digbies. The seven little folks are the children of two widows, who live in the cottage which peeps from the trees. Their husbands died but lately, and one of the widows is in mourning still. But children do not suffer lasting griefs, and though the larger ones were truly grieved at the loss of their father, they have now returned to their former manners.
The boy who sits on the ground, and who seems to be paring and eating an apple, is John Digby, and his sister Mary is looking this way from the stile, where she is chatting with her cousin Esther. All the others are the children of the younger widow Digby, the youngest of all being in the arms of her sister Lucy. Little rosy-cheeked Harry, who has his hand on the chain, is only beginning to toddle about, but he is as merry as a cricket, and feels that he has as much right as any of them to the chickens, which they have been feeding with grains of barley.
These little creatures show their happiness in their faces. The flutter, and hurry, and chuckling of a few fowls, which they are feeding, give them a greater and far more innocent pleasure, than the rich and fashionable are supposed to enjoy at the play-house. Each pullet has her name, and each child claims one of the number as his by peculiar right. But you are not to suppose that all their time is spent under the spreading trees, or in watching the funny ways of the poultry. No: they would soon grow weary of this ; and one great reason why they enjoy their sports so much is that they have them rarely. For these are poor children, and they work more hours than they play. This makes them come to their amusements with a double zest. In the middle of the day, before they have their frugal dinner, their mothers always allow them an hour for play. They are spending their hour under the shady trees, and they feel that they have earned their recreation. I do not suppose that all the seven ever had two shillings in money of their own. They have chickens and ducks worth more than this, but these they raised themselves, and hence the pleasure they feel is greater than if they had bought them. The labour of these little creatures is worth two or three shillings a week; but for part of it there is no payment in money, and the whole of what is earned goes to their dear mothers.
What is it that such little things as these can do in the way of work ? Much more than those who live a life of ease would be ready to think. Three of the girls can already sew quite neatly, and they are capital knitters. They make the stockings and mittens of the family, and a few beside. Esther gave a beautiful pair of lambs-wool stockings, made by her own hands, to the doctor, as a part of his pay for attending on her mother. Besides this they can card and give a little help to their mothers when they are spinning; in which John and Edward join. The boys also knit a little, for in such a family children are not allowed to stand much upon their dignity ; they do what is needed, and what they are bidden. The Digby boys are learning to milk and churn. They can split an easy log into billets, and keep up the fires. They are very good at sweeping, at setting the table, and at carrying the pail to and from the spring. They can do a good turn at cutting out strips of cloth, or carpetrags, for their sisters to sew together. In a word, this busy family goes on the plan that what the small ones cannot do, the large ones will, and so among them, the whole work of the house is done, without the help of any one else.
But do not these children go to school? They go to the Sunday school, but to no other. When John and Andrew Digby were living, the elder children went for a short time to the village-school, but now their widowed mothers are too poor to send them. Shortly after the death of Andrew Digby, the younger brother, his widow said to her sister, “ I think, sister, we ought to do something for the schooling of our children.”
· Why, Deborah, what in the world can we do? All our earnings together will not come to five shillings a week."
“ That is true enough, sister, but we can try to do something within doors. We have both been pretty well taught in our youth, and you are particularly good at writing. I have been thinking of this plan. Let some one or other of the children be always employed with a book. Let them take turns, a quarter of an hour for each. They can read to us while we work, and the little ones can be learning their letters before their hands are employed.”
“I like what you say,” said the elder widow Digby, “ and I am anxious to make a beginning. We can be always learning something useful and pleasant, while we are busy. I wonder I never thought of it myself. And yet there are very few families, where I ever saw it done. But what shall we do for books ?”
Why you know there is a chest full in the loft, which we have never had time to look over. And there are the excellent little books which the