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The British Workman

The British Workman was an English broadsheet periodical, published monthly by Partridge and Co in London. The publishing house of S. W. Partridge & Co was founded by Thomas Bywater Smithies of York in 1855 in order to publish The British Workman. It was published between 1855 and 1892, and aimed to "promote the health, wealth and happiness of the working classes"

Here is one story from this publication...

December 1st, 1864.


The station was lighted up cheerfully by the bright morning sun. Long trains were coming in and going out. Steam engines, those great fire-dragons which man has caught and subdued to his will, and made serviceable and obedient, were puffing and panting, and uttering screams from their great metallic throats, drawing after them their long array of carriages, or standing quietly before their burdens. Under the wide glass roof, swallows perched or fluttered among the iron girders, and looked down upon the bustle below, with curious but by no means alarmed eyes; great travellers themselves, it was, perhaps, amusing and pleasant to them, to see the fuss and stir and noise, that more or less attend all human travelling, and to note how much trouble their own rapid feather-carriages save them, how much happier and less expensive is their own mode of conveyance than ours. No need have they of purse or ticket, or travelling rug, no need of iron rails and iron engines, no need of boxes or carpet-bags, but with smooth rapid flight, borne onwards by their own strong wings, they travel for hundreds of miles over land and sea, bold and peaceful and free.

Amused and interested like the swallows above me, I gazed upon the flowing and ebbing of the human tide within the station. I had some time to wait, ere I could proceed on my homeward journey. Life had presented to me a pleasant and peaceful aspect that day, and I looked round with hopeful eyes, glad for the sunshine, glad for the signs of human improvement I met on every hand, and for the wonderful increase of knowledge among the people, especially observable in the last thirty years of my life, and glad for the love of the Great Author of love, more and more manifested every day, both in the worlds of matter and of spirit.

Placing myself near the book-stall, upon one of the many convenient seats of the platform, I imagined I saw upon the faces about me, signs of greater intelligence than were to be found on similar faces in the time of my boyhood. Wider, higher brows, brighter eyes, a more thoughtful expresssion,—was I mistaken in imagining these to be more common than heretofore? I thought not; and especially in the children’s faces, did these seem to me observable. Certainly, the children of this generation are, in comparison with those who have gone before them, the children of light—light and knowledge abound for them on every hand. But are they also the children of love? For unless light and love go hand in hand, evil will but grow ranker and deadlier, and increase of knowledge, will be but increase of sin.

Passengers were walking about, or standing near the open doors of carriages, belonging to the outgoing or incoming trains : porters were lifting boxes from out the bowels of capacious luggage vans, or trundling piles of them along with quick steps and strong careful arms, past groups of men and women, and through circles of widely-skirted ladies and children, drest gaily as tropical birds, who moved or were moved hastily aside as their “By your leave!” sounded abruptly in their ears. The young man at the book-stall who had dusted and arranged his books, and periodicals, and papers for the day, was handing to a young lady with very dark eyes, and long black ringlets, a pocket edition of Longfellow’s Poems, with which, no doubt, she meant to solace the rest of her journey. Friends to greet the new comers, and friends to bid adieu to the departing ones, stood looking out for well-known faces, or grasped the hands that would so soon be separated from them for miles—who knows how many?—or for years, who can tell how long ? A company of third-class passengers, bound for the government trains, just about to start, steamed in from the booking office, carrying various bundles and baskets and carpet bags, most of 'them with an half- anxious air, and all with “ haste” written as in large letters on every feature of their faces. What hard care-touched faces some of these were! What histories were clearly written out among the wrinkles! What sorrows and troubles some of those dim eyes, and contracted brows, and thin withered cheeks, had lived through ! On several I could trace the mark of the destroyer, strong drink, too plainly visible to be mistaken : on some I thought I perceived the shadow he casts around him, and sends before him into every household he visits. But there were young faces also—among these worn elderly ones, and over them quite other expressions lay. The round cheek, the full bright eye, the red lipped mouth, the smooth forehead, had not as yet many tales to tell of hope deferred, or long-endured pain of body and mind, or years of sinful indulgence. Expectation,—hope, ever present, and not dreaming of non-fulfilment, was there, and the joy of conscious health and strength. Here, I thought, are morning travellers in a double sense; the sun shines upon them, the journey before them seems inviting, the expected destination pleasant; on the railway of life they are proceeding with glad hearts, but what unexpected stoppages will they meet with? What new companions take up? What storms and showers go through? What terminus will they find themselves in at last?

The bell of the departing train rang vigorously, and the stream of passengers quickened its flow ;—amongst the crowd was a little boy of about nine years of age, holding in one hand a bundle tied up in a dark blue cotton handkerchief. With bewildered air, and uncertain steps, now stopping a moment, now running forward, he looked up at the faces of those near him, as if desirous to ask a question, but as none of the faces looked down upon him, he lost courage, and the question was unasked ; all were far too hurried and pre-engaged to give one glance at the little boy in the shabby coat and trousers; and while he stood hesitating, passed him by roughly enough, treating him much as they would have done a block of wood, had it stood in their way. Now a basket was ruthlessly poked into his chest, now the corner of a box was driven against his arm, now his cap was brushed off by the elbow of a sturdy butcher, with leathern gaiters, and a thick knobbed stick, and now his toes were trodden on by more than one heavily-nailed shoe. He bore it all, however, without a cry, wincing and flinching it is true, but still looking up as if in search of some face he knew, or some one that would sympathize with his trouble, whatever that might be. But men and women and children passed him by, without a glance ; they had far too important affairs of their own to attend to, and the enquiry so plainly written on his little pale face was unheeded. An influx of passengers between myself and him, here hid him from my sight. Like bees in search of a new home, the travellers swarmed about, and quietly deposited themselves and their belongings, within the depths of the roomy carriages. All was eagerness and bustle, all were anxious for the best seats, and as all could not get them, there was some little confusion, but by and bye one after another settled themselves in their places, and after seeing to the safe bestowal of their luggage, subsided into comparative calm. One of the porters made himself more than usually active and agreeable. His heart was evidently in his work, and with a smile here, and a cheering word there, and a helpful hand everywhere, brought order out of the chaos, and comfort where had been anxiety, and in some cases, real distress. A lame young woman, with a little girl, first experienced his kindness. Her little daughter was too young to be anything but a charge and care to her—she could neither procure a ticket, or take care of the luggage, or even sit still in the carriage while her mother did these things. James Waltho, (I afterwards discovered his name) saw the perplexity in the young woman’s face—he saw the crutch that upheld her sinking footsteps, and at once came forward with his ready, efficient help; with a bright look of encouragement he assisted her and the little girl, into one of the third-class' carriages, looked up her box, and saw it placed in the right van, procured her ticket, and brought the important inch of pasteboard, and the change, quickly to her, and spoke cheerily and kindly as he did this, till her sorrowful face lighted up with surprise and pleasure, her eyes brightened, and a smile dawned on lips that I fancy did not often lose their expression of suffering. The child was equally delighted, and chatted away to her mother in merry fashion, after he bid them good morning. An elderly woman, afflicted with that common complaint of the elderly, too much flesh, had found him, she assured her next neighbour, “the greatest comfort as ever was,” for he had sought up her lost bandbox, that had been crushed and hidden, behind a mountain of luggage, had told her which station she must get out at, for Colehouse, her native village, and had had patience with all her numerous enquiries, never once “taking her up sharp,” as the clerk had done in the railway office, but answering her with good humour, and friendliness. “He’s a good son, I know,” she added, to her sympathizing listener, who had also experienced his good offices, “whoever his mother is, an’ I only wish as I was herI” The very highest praise she knew how to give him. A poor widow travelling with her six children, and multifarious boxes, to her husband’s parents in the south of England, with the tears scarce dry upon her face, found his ready help a ray of real sunshine upon her gloomy path, and felt in some way, she scarce knew why, more comfortable for the rest of her long, wearisome journey, after his sympathetic glance and kind accent. A young servant girl going to place many miles away from her home, with her heart full, and her head confused and beating with the excitement of travelling, and the wonder how the world would open for her, whether the strange “new master and missus” would be kind and considerate, and treat her as a human being needing love and care as well as food and wages, and not entirely as a domestic machine, from whom all the work must be got that the machine could possibly give, in the shortest space of time—found her timid question about the safety of her large painted box that held all her possessions, answered readily and kindly, and the box as carefully handled and placed, as if it had belonged to the greatest lady of the land, instead of to a poor servant-girl going out to her first place. A consumptive-looking man, whose feeble steps and short breathing, told of the weakness and suffering he endured, and who had almost fainted in the throng, found a strong arm placed under his, and an encouraging smiling face, leading him on towards a comfortable carriage—the face and the arm of James Waltho—and presently a glass of water brought by the same individual, placed close to his fevered blanched lips. “He’s a real angel, that he is!” said the same admiring old lady who had wished to be his mother, and who had sat watching this scene with considerable interest. “Dear me, only to think whatever I should have done without him!” and she fanned herself vigorously with a great red handkerchief as she spoke, as if to cool down her enthusiasm to the proper point of cool propriety. All these various acts of kindness I had seen, and some others which I need not here relate—these little kindnesses so freely rendered, without hope of fee or reward, which yet were at the time, to the poor anxious people he served, great kindnesses, and I inwardly admired and wondered. It is true when he removed boxes, saw to their proper adjustment in the carriages, and directed passengers to their right places in the right train, he was but doing that which was his duty, what he was paid to do, but the way iu which this duty was accomplished, was that which made it so admirable. With joy I saw he was one of those who understood and practised the loving precept of Christ, “Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you,”—and my heart went with him, though he knew it not, in his good work.

Ah, thought I, if people would but remember how much joy and comfort and blessing arise from acts and words of disinterested love and kind-heartedness, they would surely seek to cultivate in themselves that spirit of benevolence, that would make the world happier for their presence. Travelling is to many but a carrying out of a scheme of pleasure, to many others it is, on the contrary, a weariness, an anxiety, an almost insufferable worry, undertaken from necessity, with too often some uninviting, and it may be, dreaded interview or "object at the end. How much the weariness and worry and disgust, may be relieved by the kindness of even a railway porter; the ready, cheerful assistance rendered at a time when the brain is bewildered and hurried, and unequal to the demands upon its activity and forethought, few perhaps imagine.

But now came in. sight the little boy with the blue bundle. Calling up alibis courage, he addressed the plea-sant-looking porter, “Oh, if you please, sir, is this the train for B--?” naming a well-known seaport on our coast. His voice was excited and a little tremulous, for he had asked several who had passed him by without notice, and might not this tall, imposing-looking man, with the silver marks upon his coat, be as unkind as the rest? This time, however, his question was not un-swered. James Waltho looked at his little questioner with some surprise. “No, my boy, this is the train for L----. You’re too late for the B----train, it went off ten minutes ago at the other end of the station.” As he spoke, the little fellow’s face rapidly changed colour. Disappointment and deep trouble were marked there, and presently a choking sob rose to the lips, as, overcome by the blow to his expectations, the boy sat down upon a portmanteau close by, and began to cry. His child’s heart was full to overflowing. He had endured much that day, and was now unable to bear more. But now the doors of the carriages were hastily closed, the engine gave out preparatory puffs, the guard’s whistle sounded shrill as the signal for departure, and the train slowly moved away. James Waltho was left standing beside the little stranger. “Don’t be downhearted, my little man,” he said, in the kindest possible voice. “There’s another train going in a few hours to B--. You’d better go home a bit, and come here again at a quarter to three.” But the boy did not seem to be much comforted with his words, his tears still flowed on, though he evidently made a strong effort to check them. The sympathizing voice of his unknown friend, perhaps, helped to call forth the pant-up fountain of tears, and troubled with the child’s distress, the good porter could not find in his heart to leave him. He sat down, therefore, beside him, and asked him of his home and friends, and the reason of his journey to B--.

It was a child’s story of sorrow he obtained in reply. His name was William Lee. He came from W---, a village the porter happened to know. There he had lived ever since he could remember, with his mother and ‘ little sister Bessy, who was a cripple. Only a week ago his mother had died, and three days afterwards he and his sister were taken to the union. He had run away from the union, he acknowledged, because he could not bear to stay in a workhouse, and because he wished to go to sea, and earn his living as a cabin-boy. There was another reason, too, his father had been a sailor, and though they had not heard from him for some years, his mother had always believed him to be alive, and told her children so, and Willy had an ardent desire to find him. “He always went to B----, when he went to his ship, and I must go to B----too. Mother used to teach us to pray for him, that he might come home safe, and see us all again, an’ I’ve prayed every night, an’ I think God will send him, don’t you?” The boy looked up into the large clear eyes of one he felt to be his friend, as he asked this last question,—and the smile he met there assured him. “But wouldn’t it have been better if you had stayed at W----? Your father would then have known where to find you?” asked the porter. “Oh no—mother said I was to go to B--to find him, and look in all the ships. And I must work too. Oh, sir, don’t send me back to the workhouse!” “Never fear! I’ll not send you back, my little man! But where’s your ticket for B--?” He did not understand the question at first, but at length had to confess that he had neither ticket or money for his journey. He thought he should have been able to get on at the top among the luggage—or to creep up behind—or to do some other childish and impossible thing to get a seat; all he knew was, he must go to B--. He had heard of the railway, and perhaps thought some compassionate person might allow him to sit beside him or her ; the porter could never clearly understand him on this point, and almost feared to tell him how unreasonable had been his expectations. Giving him a few encouraging words, for he was obliged now to go away, and leaving him part of a biscuit to eat, at the same time telling him to take a seat beside me, till he could come again to him—he went off to other duties. “That’s a regular little impostor!” said another of the porters to him, shaking his head and pointing with his thumb to the would-be sailor boy. “He no more wants to go into a ship than I do. He’s an artful dodger, he is, and will be stealing something. Mind what you’re about with him.” “Yes, yes, I’ll mind!” replied James Waltho, “but I don’t believe he’s anything but true; lie’s such an honest face of his own. Poor little chap! He’s lost his mother only last week.” “All stuff, I tell you,” responded the other, gruffly, “but you’re one of the softest chaps as is, anybody may take you in.” James smiled as though he was not much afraid of being taken in, which in truth he was not, for he was truly brave, daring to do good, even though he might expect to meet with an evil return. In this case, however, he had no fears whatever. “I would rather be what you call a soft chap, than one of your hard ones,” was his mild reply, “and I fancy you would too, Watson ! Don’t you remember who told us to be like our Father in heaven, who makes His sun to shine both on the evil and the good?” Watson made no reply, but looked for a moment half ashamed.

William Lee and myself were soon good friends, and when the porter came to us, it was agreed he should not go on his journey to B--till the next day, when I could accompany him. and see him placed in some likely ship. That day he shared the porter’s dinner, and at night slept at his house, and on the morrow, bright and cheerful, I saw him once more at the station. Kind words had found their way to his heart, as sunshine and soft rain find their way to the young plant, and thus help to develop stem and leaf and flower to perfection. He was hopeful and joyous, “he should be sure to find his father, now God had found him such kind friends.” I will not say that these were his exact words, but they give the meaning of those he used. And then the journey was made, and the ship was found, and the cabin-boy went abroad upon the great wilderness of waters, which yet God holds in the hollow of His hand. His prayers were not then answered, for he had not found his father, but there was great hope in his heart that he should do so.

Years went on, not many certainly, but very important ones to the people of my story; and now might be seen a young man, tall and strong, with broad chest, and bright eyes, and bronzed face—who walked backwards and forwards upon the platform of a certain railway station, and by his side was one of the porters, a pleasant-faced, bright-eyed man also, though much older than his companion. They talked very earnestly together, and presently the porter asked—“And your father?”—For a moment the young man looked sorrowful. “I found his grave in a foreign country,” he said sadly. “The letter that told of his death had never reached my mother, so, as she had never heard of his death, she believed him to be still alive. It was a sad disappointment to me, for I also believed that he was living. But do you remember what you told me that night I slept at your house ? I have never forgotten it, and I did not forget it then. You said, ‘My lad, when you pray for your father, do not forget that God is the best and truest Father you will ever get! He will never leave you or forsake you. And always try to live so as to please him.’ You do not know the good you have done me by those words, those kind words of yours! They comforted me for my father’s loss. They cheered my way over many a gloomy billow, they sounded in my ears in many a storm • they’ve been with me on the deck, and in my hammock, by night and by day. When I’ve been tempted to do evil I’ve remembered your kind acts and good words, and I’ve said, ‘No, I’ll try .to please God my Heavenly Father, and the man that was my first friend,’ and I’ve come away undefiled, and, by God’s goodness, here I am to thank youI” Here he grasped the porter’s hand with a fervid grasp, and then added, “I’ve brought my little earnings for Bessy, and have set her up as a dressmaker at W--. I can’t tell you how she cried over me, when she found out who I was, for she couldn’t at first believe that the big fellow you see now, was her little brother Willy, who left her behind him that windy night in the workhouse. We both cried together, and I hope we shall never shed worse tears than those. But how much of our happiness we both owe to you!”

When the young sailor was gone, another of the porters who had seen the interview came up. “Uncommon fine young fellow that!” he said, “Who was it, Waltho? One of your young brothers? If he is, I can only say, I wish there was as good looking a fellow in my family!” “And yet you once called him an artful dodger, and wanted me to throw stones at him, Watson!” “Him? you’re joking!” “When he came here nine or ten years ago,” Waltho continued, “a poor little lad without a mother, and wanted to find a ship. If I had done as you wanted me that day, he’s just been telling me he shouldn’t have been here to-day alive, and happy as he is. He says, ‘hard words would have sunk his little bark, but kind ones, like a fair wind, filled his sails and set him going.’ So you see, Watson, there’s more virtue in kind words, even at a railway station, than you suppose.”

“After all, I believe you’re right, old fellow.”

And was he not right


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