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A Victorian Scrapbook

A Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles Compiled by George Burgess (1829-1905)

Victorian Culture and Life

The Little Pedlar

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Transcript from original newspaper article: -

The Little PedlarOne rainy afternoon, in the earliest part of autumn I heard a low knock at my door, and upon opening it found a pedlar. Now, pedlars are a great vexation to me; they leave the gates open; they never have anything I want, and I don’t like the faces that belong to most of them, especially those of the strong men who go about with little packages of coarse goods, and I always close the door upon them, saying to myself – lazy.

This was a little boy, and he was pale and wet, and looked so cold I forgot he was a pedlar, and asked him to come in by the fire. I thought he appeared as though he expected I was going to buy something, for he commenced opening his tin-box; but I had no such intention. He looked up in my face very earnestly and sadly, when I told him to warm himself by the fire, that I did not wish to purchase anything. He rose slowly from his seat, and there was something in his air which reproached me, and I detained him to inquire why he was out in the rain.

He replied “I am out every day, and can’t stay in for a little rain; besides most pedlars stay at home then, and I can sell more on rainy days.”
“How much do you earn in a day?”
“Sometimes two shillings, sometimes one, and once in a while I get nothing all day, and then, ma’am, I am very tired.” Here he gave me a quick, dry cough, which startled me.
“How long have you had that cough?”
“I don’t know, ma’am.”
“Does it hurt you?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Where does your mother live?”
“In heaven, ma’am,” said he unmoved.
“Have you a father?”
“Yes, ma’am, he is with mother,” he replied in the same tone.
“Have you any brother or sisters?”
“I have a little sister, but she went to mother about a month ago.”
“What ailed her?”
“She wanted to see mother, and so do I, and guess that’s why I cough so.”
“Where do you live?”
“With Mrs. Brown, in N…. Street.”
“Does she give you any medicine for your cough?”
“Not doctor’s medicines; she is too poor, but she makes something for me to take.”
“Will you take something if I give it to you?”
“No, ma’am, I thank you! Mother took medicine, and it didn’t help her, though she wanted to stay, and you see I want to go, it would not stop my cough. Good day, ma’am.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, “I want to see what you carry.”

He opened his box, and for once I found what I wanted. Indeed, I didn’t think it would have mattered what he had, I should have wanted it; the little pedlar had changed in my eyes; he had a father and mother in heaven, and so had I. How strange that pedlars had never seemed like people, human soul-filled beings before. How thankful he was, and how his great sunken blue eyes looked into mine when I paid him.

“You don’t ask me to take a halfpenny less,” said he, after hesitating a minute. “I think you must be very rich.”
“Oh, no,” I replied, “for I am far from that; and these things are worth more to me now than I gave you for them. Will you come again?”
“Yes, ma’am if I don’t go to mother soon.”
“Are you hungry?”
“No, ma’am, I never feel hungry now; I sometimes think mother feeds me when I sleep, though I don’t remember it when I awake. I only know I don’t wish to eat now, since my sister died.”
“Did you feel very sad, then?”
“I felt very big in my throat, and thought I was choked, but I didn’t cry a bit, though I felt very lonely at night for a while, but I’m glad she’s up there now.”
“Who told you that you were going to die?”
“Nobody; but I know I am. Perhaps I’ll go before Christmas.”
I could not endure that, and tried to make him stay, but, he would run and tell Mrs. Brown what good luck he had met with. He babe me good day again cheerfully, and went out into the cold rain, while I could only say “God be with you, my child!”

He never came again, though I looked for him every day. At length, about New Year’s Day, I went to the place he called home. Mrs. Brown was there; but the little pilgrim’s weary feet were at rest, and never more would his gentle knock be heard at the door of those who, like myself, forgot the necessity and stern want that often send about these wanderers from house to house.