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Dicky Random by E. V. Lucas

or, Good-nature is nothing without Good Conduct

    'In festive play this maxim prize—
    Be always merry—always WISE!'

'Do you know what hour it is when you see a clock?' said Mr. Random to his little son Richard.

'Yes, father,' said Richard; 'for I can count it all round. When both hands are at the top of the clock, then I know it is time to leave school.'

'Then go and see what time it is,' said his father.

Away ran Richard, and brought back word in a moment that it was exactly six o'clock.

In a few minutes after came in a friend with a young lady, the former of whom asked Mr. Random why he was not ready to go with them to the concert that evening, as he had promised. Mr. Random replied that it was but six o'clock, which, however, he was soon convinced was a mistake of Richard's, who, on being asked what he saw when he looked on the clock, replied, 'I saw the two hands together close to the six, and that made me say it was six, for I always call it twelve when they are right opposite.'

'Remember, my dear,' said his father, 'that the long hand never tells the hour, except on the stroke of twelve. You ought to know that the minute hand overtakes its fellow somewhat later every hour, till at noon and midnight they again start exactly even; and when a bigger boy I shall expect you to tell me how much difference is increased every time they come into conjunction. You now see, Dicky, that through such a mistake I must make my friends wait; pray, therefore, mind better another time.'

In a few minutes after his father bid him go into the dining-room, and bring down a bottle of wine, which stood in the hither corner of the cellaret, that he might help the gentleman and lady to a glass.

'Yes, father,' said little Dick, and up he went. On the stairs he met puss, and stopped to play with her, during which he forgot what had been told him. Having gotten a bottle, downstairs he came, and, pouring out a couple of glasses, he returned with it. But, when on the landing-place, he naughtily drew out the cork to have a taste himself. It was not only very vulgar to drink out of the neck of a bottle, but wrong to make free slily with that which he was merely entrusted to serve out. However, it rushed so fast into his mouth, and was so hot, that he was afraid of being strangled. It happened that he had bitten his cheek that morning, and the liquor bathing the sore place made it smart so that he put down the bottle on the floor, when, in stamping about, it rolled downstairs and made a fine clatter. His father ran out on hearing the noise, but was stopped in the way by seeing the young lady almost gasping for breath, and it was some minutes before she could say that he had given her brandy instead of wine.

Mr. Random next proceeded upstairs, where little Dick was picking up the pieces of broken glass, in doing which he cut a deep gash in his hand.

'Where did you take the bottle from?'

'Out of the farther side of the cellaret,' said Dicky.

'I told you to take it from the hither side,' replied Mr. Random. 'But, however, you shall smart for your neglect: what remains of the brandy will serve to bathe your hand, and I hope the pain will make you reflect that the loss is the same to me, whether you spilt it from design or inattention.'

He one day made his mother look very simple at table, for which he deserved to have suffered much more than her good nature required. Young Random was to have a grand rout in the evening with some of his little favourites. A few nice tarts, custards, etc., had been made in the morning for the occasion, and had been most temptingly baked in the forenoon.

It happened that two gentlemen called on Mr. Random about two o'clock, and he insisted upon their staying to dinner; in consequence of which his lady had the pastry removed from the sideboard to the china-closet.

All children must frequently have heard their mothers say, when they wish to have anything saved for another occasion, 'My friends, you see your dinner before you; I hope you will consider yourselves at home and not spare.' This is always thought to be a sufficient excuse for not bringing anything of another sort to table.

When the meat was nearly done with, Mrs. Random made the above remark to her visitors, who declared that nothing more was requisite. She then bid the servant put the cheese on the table.

'What, mother,' said Richard, 'is there nothing else?'

'No, my love,' said his mother; 'I am sure you want nothing more.'

'Why, yes, mother. Where are the tarts and custards you put into the closet?'

'Surely you dream?' said his mother.

'No, I don't, indeed,' replied Dicky. 'You put them away directly the gentlemen said they would stay to dine, and observed what a deal of trouble visitors do give.'

Anyone will easily believe that this made Mrs. Random look very confused. She hardly knew what to reply, but she turned it off in the best manner she could, and said:

'It is you, Richard, who trouble me more than the visits of my friends. I am happy to see them always, but on some days more than others. To-day, you know, we have been preparing for your company, and therefore the reserve I have kept would not have been made but on your account. The pastry was intended for your visitors, and not your father's. However, if you are such a child that you cannot wait till night, they shall be brought to table now; but, remember, I will not order any more to be made, and you shall provide for your playmates out of the money put by to purchase the magic-lantern and the books.'

Richard looked quite down when he heard this sentence, and more so when he saw the pastry placed on the table.

Dear me, how soon had the tarts and custards disappeared, if one of each had been served round to the company! But the gentlemen were too polite even to taste them, and father and mother declined eating any. Richard's sister said she could very well wait till supper; hence they were all saved. But Dicky was afterwards very severely taken to task for speaking out of time, when he was not spoken to.

When evening came, and the little visitors were assembled, Richard, who had seen some of the sports at a country fair, would show his dexterity to amuse his young party. He took up the poker, and, supposing it to be a pole, performed some imitations. But, unable long to preserve it upright from its weight, the sooty end fell on Master Snapper's book, who was reading a little work upon 'Affability.' The blow fairly knocked it out of his hand, and made a great smear on his frilled shirt, at which a loud laugh ensued. Now Master Snapper could not bear to be laughed at, and was so much out of humour all the evening that he would not play.

Little Dick never once, all this time, thought that if it had fallen on his playfellow's toe, it might have lamed him, and he would at least have had to carry him a pick-a-back home; nor did he think who was to have paid the doctor; but, pleased with the mirth he had made, he went upstairs and fetched down one of the pistols which his father kept in a private drawer. Then, pulling in his rocking-horse, he fancied he was one of the Light Horse, and mounted it to show the sword exercise, and how he could shoot a Frenchman or a Turk at full gallop. He had no business with a rocking-horse or a pistol among young ladies, but he never thought if it were proper or not, and much less if the pistol were loaded.

While he was going on a full canter, he gave the words, 'Present! fire!' and off it went, knocked him backwards, and shivered a beautiful mirror into a thousand pieces. Oh, what a sad scene of confusion ensued! Some of the young ladies screamed out with fright. Miss Timid, knocked down by Dicky in falling backwards, lay on the ground bleeding at the nose. Some were employed in picking up the pieces of glass, or pinning their handkerchiefs over the fracture, to prevent its being seen while they stayed; but such a hope was vain.

The noise brought Mr. and Mrs. Random and all the servants upstairs, who too soon found out the havoc that had been made, and demanded how it happened. All the children would willingly have screened Dicky, because they knew he had not done it to frighten, but to amuse them. Master Snapper, however, now thinking it was his turn, in a very ill-natured speech made the worst of the story. But the spiteful way in which he spoke did little Dick no harm, as he seemed more rejoiced at his misfortune than sorry for Mr. Random's loss; hence it had the effect not to increase the latter's anger.

'Playing with balancing poles and pistols,' said Mr. Random in a stern accent to his son, 'is very well in a proper place, but quite inadmissible in a room full of company. Now, sir, what business had you to take this pistol out of my room?'

'Indeed, father,' said Dicky, crying, 'I did not know it was loaded.'

'It is but last week,' continued his father, 'that you were told never to take such a thing without asking, and not even then till someone had tried if it were loaded. So many accidents have happened with firearms which have been supposed not to be loaded, that he who unguardedly shoots another ought to take a similar chance for his own life; for you know the Scripture says: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Think, Richard, that if I had been standing before the mirror, what would have been the consequence. You would have shot your father! Your mother would have died of grief, and you and Letitia have been orphans!'

[Illustration: Off it went, knocked him backwards, and shivered a beautiful mirror.—Page 5.]

'Ah, then I should have died too!' said Dicky, wiping the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand. 'But how came you to load the pistol last night, father?'

'Because,' replied his father, 'I thought I heard something fall in the parlour, and the passage-door being directly after shut to in a still manner. I loaded the pistols, thinking that thieves had broken into the house, and pushed up the sash to shoot the first that came out.'

'Then it was lucky,' said Richard, 'I did not come out again, or you might have killed me; for I got up in the night to let Juno out of the shed, where I had tied her up, and she was making a sad howling. Indeed, before I was aware, she ran into the parlour, and, as it was quite dark, I tumbled over her.'

'And broke the geranium-tree,' added his father.

'Yes, I did indeed,' said Dicky, 'but I did not go to do it. After that I turned Juno into the yard, and this I dare say is all the noise you heard.'

'There is an old saying, my dear little friends,' said Mr. Random, 'which I wish you to attend to, because it has a great deal of truth in it: “The pitcher that goes often safe to the well may come home broken at last.” And so, though the thoughtless and giddy may go on for a long while without danger, it will overtake them sooner or later. Here is a strong instance of escape from the consequences which might have attended Richard's thoughtlessness; besides which, his mother could get no more sleep all night, and I, after running the risk of catching cold in searching over the house, have this morning been at the expense of new fastenings to the doors and windows. The next time, however, you rise, Richard, to alarm the family, you shall in future roost with the hens or bed in the stable.'

Dicky now thought that his parent's resentment had subsided, and, upon the latter's calling to him to come, he sprang across the room with the greatest alertness; but how suddenly was his smile cast down when Mr. Random, taking his hand, ordered him to wish his young friends much mirth and a good appetite, while he was going to be punished for his misconduct. At once were all their little hands put out to prevent Mr. Random's resolution of taking him away, but all their petitions were in vain. Richard was forced into an empty cellar, and left with no other companion than a glimmering rush-light. Here he was told he might do as much mischief as he pleased. The iron bars kept him from getting out on one side, and the door was padlocked on the other. In this dilemma he marched round and round, crying, with his little candle, and saw stuck on the walls the following lines:

    'Empty caves and commons wild
    Best befit a thoughtless child,
    A solid wall, an earthen floor,
    Prison lights, a padlock'd door,
    Where's no plaything which he may
    Turn to harm by random play,
    For in such sport too oft is found
    A penny-toy will cost a pound.
    Be wise and merry;—play, but think;
    For danger stands on folly's brink.
'

After having been kept in confinement nearly half an hour, Mr. Random could no longer resist the pressing solicitations of his son's guests, who declined partaking of the supper till Richard was returned to them.

Having learned the above lines by heart, he repeated them to his young company, and, on his promising to remember their contents, he was permitted to sit down to table.

The rest of the evening was spent in innocent cheerfulness, and for some time after little Random played with more caution.

We must omit many of the less important neglects of young Random, such as letting the toast fall in handling it, shooting his arrow through the window, riding a long stick where it might throw persons down, leaving things in the way at dark, etc., and proceed to relate a good-natured fancy of his which tended, more than any of the preceding events, to show him the folly of taking any step without first looking to what it might lead.

In Mr. Random's garden was a fine tall pear tree, and that year a very fine pear grew on the topmost twig. His mother and sister had several times wished for the luscious fruit, but it seemed to bid defiance to every attack that was not aided by a tall ladder. 'Oh!' thought Dicky, 'if I can get it down and present it to my mother, how pleased she will be!' So, when he was alone, he picked out some large stones and threw at it, but without any success. The next day he renewed his attack in the evening, and to insure a better chance employed several large pieces of brick and tile.

Now all these dangerous weapons went over into a poor man's garden, where his son and some other boys were weeding it. One of them fell upon the little fellow's leg, and cut it in so desperate a manner that he cried out, quite terrified at the blow and sight of the blood. The other boys directly took the alarm, and picking up some stones as large as that which had done the mischief, they mounted on a high bench, and discharged such a well-directed volley at the person of Master Random that he was most violently struck upon the nose, and knocked backwards into a glass cucumber-frame.

Here he lay in a most pitiable condition, calling upon his mother, while the wounded boy on the other side joined in the concert of woe.

'Oh, it served you rightly!' exclaimed the young assailants, who were looking over the wall, and ran away as soon as they saw Mr. Random come into the garden to inquire the cause of the uproar.

His first concern was to carry Dicky indoors, and then, having wiped away the blood and tears, he asked him how it happened.

'I was only trying to get a pear for my mother,' said Richard, 'when these boys threw stones at me, and hit me!'

'That was very cruel,' said his father, 'to meddle with you when you were doing nothing to them, and if I can find them out they shall be punished for it.'

Mr. Random immediately set off to the next house, but was met at his own door by the father of the wounded boy, who was coming with him in his arms to demand satisfaction. This brought the whole truth out, and the artful little fellow was found to have concealed a part of the real case. Instead of saying 'he was only getting a pear,' he should have said that he was throwing large stones at the topmost pear on the tree, and that every stone went over the wall, he could not tell where.

'Ah, Richard,' said his father, 'it is little better than story-telling to conceal a part of the truth. The affair now wears quite a new face. It was you that gave the first assault, and will have to answer for all the bad consequences. It is my duty to see that this unoffending boy is taken care of; but if his leg be so cut or bruised that he cannot get so good a living when he comes to be a man as he might otherwise have done, how would you like to make up the deficiency? You cannot doubt that he has a demand upon you equal to the damage you may have done to him. He is poor, and his father must send him to the hospital, but it would be unjust of me to suffer it. No, on the contrary, I shall prevent this by taking him home and sending you there, where Dr. Hardheart makes his patients smart before he cures them. Come, get ready to go, for delays in wounds of the head are not to be trifled with.'

Mr. Random then ordered the servant to go for a coach, in which Dicky most certainly would have been sent off had not word been brought back that there was not a coach on the stand. During this time Dicky had fallen on his knees, entreating that he might remain at home, and offering promises to be less heedless in future; nay, he was willing to yield up all his toys to the maimed little gardener.

The boy's father, though but a labouring man, had a generous mind; he wanted nothing of this kind, but only wished him to be more cautious in future, as the same stones, thrown at random, might have either blinded his son or fractured his skull, instead of merely hurting his leg. Mr. Random then insisted on Richard's giving him half-a-crown, and asking pardon for the misfortune occasioned by his carelessness.

This heavy sum was directly taken out of the hoard which had been laid by for the purchase of a set of drawing instruments, but he had a yet heavier account to settle with his father for damaging the cucumber-frame. He had broken as much of it as would come to fifteen shillings to mend, and as payment was insisted on, or close confinement until the whole was settled, he was compelled to transfer to his father all his receipts for the ensuing five months before he could again resume his scheme of laying by an adequate sum to purchase the drawing utensils. Independently of which he always carried a strong memorial of his folly on his nose, which was so scarred that he endured many a joke, as it were, to keep alive in his memory the effect of his folly. Indeed, he never looked in the glass without seeing his reproach in his face, and thus at length learned never to play without first thinking if it were at a proper time and in a proper place.

 
 
 

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