THE MORAL PICTURE BOOK
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John Cooper was a little boy, whose father and mother lived in a cottage on one side of a village green. He was his parents' only child, so that he had no brothers nor sisters to play with. But he had a dog of which he was very fond, and he used sometimes to play with other children on the green. Tom Jones was one of the boys that played with John Cooper. One day he asked John Cooper to go for a long walk with him, instead of going to school. John at first would not consent, but at last he gave way and went with Tom, taking Carlo with him.
There was a pretty stream of water that ran along one side of the green, and then passed through a wood in a winding course. In some places it was rather broad and deep, and in other places it was shallow, and ran murmuring over the stones at the bottom. Tom said that it would be very pleasant to go along the stream, sometimes on one side, and sometimes on the other, far into the wood, and to look for birds' nests. The sun was shining very brightly, the trees were in full leaf, the grass was thick and green, sweet flowers were blooming on all sides, butter-flies and dragon-flies sported in the sunshine, and birds were singing on every bush and tree. All things seemed to be joyful, and the two boys started off briskly, with Carlo after them.
But of this party, the only one that was truly happy, was Carlo. He had nothing to do but to obey his master, and this he had done when John had called him away from his home. John tried to raise his own spirits, and ran, and jumped about, and romped with Carlo. But he could not forget that he had done wrong, that he ought to have been at school, and that he should grieve his kind parents when they knew what he was now doing. The thought of this would come into his mind, and kept him from being happy. As for Tom Jones, he seemed merry enough, though he not only knew that he was doing wrong himself, but that he had led John into mischief. He tried to forget this, and laughed and shouted with all his might; but it was in vain, and he had bitter feelings at the bottom of his heart all the time.
They went on rambling till they had got more than a mile into the wood. The stream here was wide and deep. On one side of it there grew an old willow, and in one of the branches of this, they saw a wren's nest. As Tom was the stronger boy of the two, it was agreed that he should help John up to the branch, so that he might reach the nest. John got upon the branch, and he had put out his hand to take hold of the nest, when the branch broke off, and down he fell into the water. Tom laughed at this, for he knew that the stream was not deep enough to drown him: but Carlo rushed in and dragged his master by the clothes towards the bank. John scrambled out, but he was covered with mud. Tom helped him to take off his clothes, and clean off the mud and dry them; but with all they could do, John was still in a sad mess, and as it was now late in the day, he turned to go home with a heavy heart.
When he reached the cottage, he found his father and mother in great alarm, as they could not think what had become of him. When they found out what had taken place, their alarm was changed into grief, on account of the son whom they loved so much, having done wrong. John himself cried a great deal, and said that he was more vexed because he had caused them grief, than he should have been, if they had scolded and whipped him. His mother told him that she left it to his own heart to scold him, and that he should go to his bed-room and pray to God on his knees to forgive him, as she had taught him to pray.
John did as she bade him, and he prayed to God with all his heart. He then went to sleep with a quiet mind; and when he awoke the next morning, he prayed again that God would give him strength to do his duty, and to stand firm when he should be tempted again as he had been by Tom Jones. He then read a chapter in the Bible to his mother, and went to school. His master kept him in, and gave him only a piece of bread and a cup of water for dinner. But he did not suffer nearly so much from this as he had done from having grieved his dear parents; for he had before this been brought to repent, and he felt that God, and his father and mother, had forgiven him.
John Cooper never again grieved his father and mother by doing wrong, and never forgot the lesson he had learned, when Tom Jones led him astray, as long as he lived.
When John Cooper became a man, there were bad times, and he could not get a living at the trade to which he had been brought up: so he went for a horse-soldier. And before he went, his father and mother gave him their blessing, and he prayed with all his heart that God would bless the old people, and preserve them; and said he would let them have as much of his pay as ever he could.
It was a sad day for him and his parents when he went away. They had never been parted for so long a time before, and he was now going to India, from whence he could not return for some years. But they could not help it; so they all said that it was God's will that they should part, and it was their duty to bear it as well as they could.
After John was gone, the old people never missed a day but they prayed to God to keep their son, both in his soul and body, from all evil. They were very poor, and were now too old to work much; but with what they got of John's pay, they had enough just to live upon, and above all they had thankful hearts, which made them happy. Yet they often wished for John's return; sometimes too they were fearful lest he should be killed or wounded in the wars; but when they felt thus, they always tried to put their trust in God.
When John had been away ten years, he came back one day, safe and sound, as his father and mother were standing at the door of the cottage. You may judge how they all felt, and how many questions his fond mother asked him, as to where he had been, and how he had got on.
The next day was Sunday, and both John and his parents were glad of it, for they wished to go to church to offer up their thanks to God, who had kept John safe through many dangers, had saved the lives of the old people, and had now brought them to each other again.
It was a fine bright morning in Spring, just such a one as it had been nearly twenty years before, when Tom Jones had tempted John Cooper to keep away from school, and to go into the wood to take birds' nests. John did not forget that day; and when it came into his mind, he could not help thinking of the changes that had taken place since.
He went to church, and you may be sure that he and the old man and woman gave thanks to God with all their hearts, for the mercy he had shewn to them.
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Mary Jones was a poor woman whose husband had gone to sea on a long voyage. She lived in a house by the road side, and got her living by washing. She had two little boys, who were her great comfort, and whom she used to call Ned and Tom.
For some time after her husband had left, she got on very well, and was able to send the boys to school: but she caught a fever and was forced to keep her bed. Her neighbour, Sarah Smith, was very kind to her, and used to come to the house every morning and evening to do what she could to help her. But she was a poor woman, and could not afford to give Mary Jones anything that cost money; so poor Mary was forced to part with a great many things that she might get food.
Ned and Tom at this time took turns to go to school. Tom used to go to school one day, while Ned waited on his mother; and the next day Ned went to school and Tom staid at home. One morning when Ned was going to school, the thought of his poor mother pressed hard on his heart; and after he had gone a little way, he burst out crying.
He had not gone far along the narrow lane towards the school, when two young ladies met him and asked him why he was crying. He told them that he was thinking of his poor sick mother. The ladies then asked him his name and where he lived, and said they would go and call upon his mother. He thanked them and dried up his tears, and went on to school with a much lighter heart.
Soon after he reached home in the evening, the two kind ladies came to his mother's house with a foot-boy, who brought a basket filled with bread and meat, and some things fit for the poor sick woman.
They told Mary Jones how they had met Ned in the lane, and what he had told them; and she thanked them for what they had brought, and said that she hoped God would bless them for their goodness to her. They then asked about Ned and Tom, and said they would get their father to do what he could for them.
The young ladies then went home, told their father and mother what they had seen and heard, and thanked God that they had been able to make a poor woman and her two sons happy.
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There was a poor woman named Rachel Jenkins, who lived in a very little cottage at some distance from any other house. She was a widow, and very poor, but she was very clean and careful; so that her cottage had always a look of neatness and comfort. She used to spend most of her time in spinning.
She had one son, whose name was Harry. He was twelve years old, and used to carry a basket filled with tapes and thread, pins and needles, and other things of that sort, which he sold to people who lived near. He used to go out in the morning and return in the evening; and you may be sure his mother was always glad when the time came for him to come home.
One evening, as he was on his way home, about half a mile from his mother's house, he saw an old man sitting by the way-side, who was very tired, and seemed as if he was not able to walk any further. His hair was quite white, and his face and hands were thin and wrinkled.
Harry said to him in a kind voice, "You seem tired, father; have you got much further to walk." The old man told him that he had to go to the next town, which was twelve miles further; but that he was so tired, he was sure that he should not be able to get there that night. On this, Harry said, "I wish you would go home with me; for I am sure my mother would be very glad that you should sleep in our house." The old man thanked him and said he would go with him. So he rested his hand upon Harry's shoulder, and walked slowly towards the house. Harry's mother met them at the door; and when Harry had told her how he had met with the old man, she said she was glad to see him, and asked him to walk in to take some tea.
After tea, the old man told Sarah Jenkins that he was going to see his son, who was laid up in a hospital in the town to which he was going. His son was a soldier, and had been in the West Indies for some years; but he caught the yellow fever, and was sent home sick.
The next morning the old man went on his way, and blessed Sarah Jenkins and Harry, because they had done good to him who could make no other return than to thank them and pray for them.
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When I was a girl, Sunday evening used to be the part of the week that I loved best; and I liked it better in Winter than in Summer. We used to sit round a blazing fire; my mother used then to teach my little brother Tom to say his prayers, and my father used to teach me to read in Pilgrim's Progress, or some such book; while my brother John sat near reading some book or other that was fit for a Sunday, with his dog Hector lying at his feet.
My dear old grand-father was then alive, and he would sit at the table with the large old family Bible before him for the whole evening.
As I look back upon the pleasant picture in my mind, my eye fills with tears. I cannot help thinking of what has become of the faces that were then so full of smiles and gladness. My grand-father went to the grave first, but he died in a good old age; and though we mourned to lose him whom we had all loved so much, we could not help feeling that it was a happy change for him, as he could hardly see or hear. Next to him, my poor little brother Tom fell ill of the typhus fever, and God took him to heaven in the budding of his child-hood. Only a year or two ago, my father gave me his dying blessing, and was then a very old man. My mother now survives, though very old; and my two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, who were then lively girls, are living, and are the mothers of families. My brother John, a middle-aged man, is the Captain of a ship, being now far away on a voyage; and he has left behind him a wife and two boys, the youngest of whom is as old as he was at the time I have spoken of. I am almost an old woman; though on these happy evenings that I was speaking of, I was the youngest but one.
You, my little friends, will, perhaps, some day have to look back upon such changes as I have seen. The thought that they will come upon you need not make you sad, but it should make you good, and cause you to resolve to do your duty and to serve God. If you do so, when you get as old as I am, you will find that if age brings its cares and sorrows, it also brings surer and even brighter hopes of a life beyond the grave.
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John Davis and his wife were very poor people, but as they worked very hard, they could just get a living for themselves. John worked for a farmer in the parish, and his wife took in needle-work.
They did pretty well, when John had work; but for nearly two years John's master could not employ him always, and he was brought almost to distress. But his wife always used to keep up his spirits by saying, "Be content, and thank God if you can but live; brighter hours will come."
Sometimes John was quite spirit-broken, and said he should leave home and try to get work somewhere else. He was forced to sell some of his goods to buy food, and did not know which way to turn. But his wife never failed to wear a cheerful face, and used to be always saying to him, "Do your best, and be content to take what God appoints."
John loved his wife very much; but he was sometimes half vexed because she was never sad like he was. He would tell her that it was a very good thing to be cheerful and happy when they could get a good living. She then used to say to him, that there was no virtue in being content when all was going on well; and that the proper time to try to be cheerful was, when things were going amiss.
At last, better times came. John got into work on the estate of a rich man who lived near; and as he was a very honest man and knew his work, his master soon put him in a place of trust, raised his wages, and gave him a good house to live in.
John had by this time got five children, and he could no longer deny that he had reason enough to be a happy man. You may see him and his wife and children in the picture, enjoying a fine Summer's evening in front of their house.
I knew John when I was young, and he was always ready to say how much was due to his good wife. He told me that he owed all his good fortune to her cheerful spirits and good advice to him; and added, that now he was well off he found the truth of what she had told him, that the proper time to try to be cheerful was, when things were going amiss. I have never forgot that lesson, and I hope I never shall; and I beg my young friends to keep in mind that 'Contentment is a constant feast.'
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"There is work enough in the world for every one to do something. There is no proper place for idle people." This is what old Michael the basket maker used to say to his children; and as they grew up, they found reason enough to thank him for the lesson.
Michael had been a sailor in his youth, but when he married, he settled in a country place, and took up the trade of a basket maker. At first, he could hardly get money enough to buy rods: but by working very hard, he soon got money and credit too. No one in the village was now up before Michael, and most people went to bed before he left off work.
Small as was the sum of money that he could earn in a week, he would always put by something, if it was but a penny. Every month he put these savings into the savings' bank; and in the course of the first six years, he found he had got twenty-five pounds.
By this time he had got two children, and the eldest was old enough to learn to read. She used to sit by him with her book as he worked, and he taught her when she wanted help. His wife was in the mean time doing something in the house, or working for some of the farmers who lived near.
Michael now bought a cow and two pigs, and made some profit by them. In six years more he bought the cottage he lived in; and twelve years after this, that is twenty-four years after he was married, he rented a little farm. By this time he had seven children; and as he had made his cottage larger, they all lived at home and helped him. His eldest boys worked at the farm, and the girls milked the cows and made the butter, under the care of their mother, and kept the poultry.
As for Michael himself, though he was well off, he kept on his old trade, and went on in his old habits. The last time I saw him before I left the place in which he lived, he was teaching his youngest child to read while he was at work, just as he had taught his eldest.
I have often thought of Michael's words, "There is no place in the world for idle people."