“The Little Wood-Cutter” (from Parley’s Magazine, Saturday, April 13, 1833; pp. 34-37)
A short time ago, I heard a story about a little boy named Richard, who, with his mother, lived in a house in the woods. The story was told to me for a true one, and I will tell it to you as I heard it. Richard and his mother did not live in a fine brick house, but in one built of rough logs, and plastered with clay and straw. By industry and care, however, they managed to get along very comfortably, and they were, perhaps, as contented and happy, as if they owned a palace. In summer, their little garden yielded them a plenty of fruits and vegetables, and there were berries enough on the neighboring hills. In winter, Richard would cut up a quantity of wood, and, placing it on a raft, would sail some miles down the river to a village, where he could exchange his cargo for flour, or corn, or other kinds of food.
One day, towards the beginning of spring, after he had been cutting wood in the forest, he stopped a moment beside a tall tree to rest himself. He then ran down to the river’s brink to mend his raft. The river had lately been swollen by the heavy rains and by the melting of the snow, and now rushed between its banks with great violence.
Richard had stepped on his raft to fasten it together more securely, when the timber, on which he stood, was loosened and floated away with him into the deep water. He was then obliged to fall down and cling to the wood, in order to keep from tumbling overboard. The tide was so strong that he could not swim, and he was swept along so fast, that, in a minute, he lost sight of his home. His mother had seen him from the window, and pale with terror, had hastened forth to try to save him. She ran along the bank, in spite of the bushes and brambles, which
scratched her limbs, until she was stopped by a wide ditch, over which she could not pass. She then climbed a high rock and looked down the river to see if she could discover her boy. He was nowhere to be seen.
Sadly did the poor mother return to her solitary home. On her way, she could think of nothing but the good deeds and amiable manners of her son. She remembered how he walked twelve miles one stormy night to buy her a little medicine; and she called to mind a hundred other little things, which had long slumbered in her memory. She knew not what she should do without him to help, to cheer, and to love her; and her eyes so filled with tears, that she could hardly see the path before her. When she entered the little room of her hut, and saw the chair, in which Richard used to sit, standing vacant on the hearth, she felt that her own strength could not sustain her. She prayed fervently to her Father in Heaven to guide and uphold her, and then only could she think, with any resignation of her loss.
Almost a month passed away, and she still mourned for her son with inconsolable grief. She had made every possible inquiry concerning his fate, but no one could tell her any thing about him. The days now seemed longer and more tedious to her, than they had ever seemed before. The trees had begun to look gay with blossoms and young leaves. The air was warm and delightful, and the stream, that flowed by the little hut, never went with a sweeter murmur. The birds darted from bough to bough, and sung aloud, as if to tell how happy they were. But no pleasant sight or sound could raise a smile on the face of the poor woman, who had lost her son.
She was sitting by her window, one evening, when she thus spoke to herself: “The summer days will come, and the sky will look blue and bright above me, and the earth will be green beneath my feet, but I shall not be happy, for my heart and my home are desolate—Richard, why”—“Did you speak, mother,” exclaimed a voice at the door, and the next moment, the boy, whom she was bewailing, rushed into her arms.
The surprise was a little too sudden, and, at first, the good woman almost believed it to be a dream. Richard soon satisfied her that it was reality, and then—you cannot conceive of her joy.
“But how, my dear Richard, were you saved,” she said, “and where have you been this long, long while.”
“Why, mother,” answered Richard, “it is only a month, since my old raft played me such a trick, and gave me such a ducking in the river. It is only a month; but in that time, what strange things have I seen!”
“Tell me quick, Richard, what has happened to you.”
“Well: I was carried down by the tide clear into Penobscot Bay. I determined, that if I sunk, the old timber should sink with me, and so I kept a pretty tight hold of it. But at length, I grew chilled and tired. At one time, I was a good deal frightened by a big fish, which, I believe, was a shark. I hit it a pretty hard knock with the end of my beam, and it did not trouble me afterwards. I now felt so cold, and my hands were so numb, that I feared I should have to quit my hold; and, mother, I prayed to my Maker, to forgive whatever since I had committed.
“A few minutes afterwards, on turning round, I saw a sloop, loaded with wool, at
a short distance. I hallooed as loud as I could, but the wind made such a noise, that the sailors did not hear me. How very, very sad did I feel, when I saw the vessel sail on, without me, almost out of sight! But my sorrow was changed to joy, when I saw her tack (that means, turn round) and come towards me. A boat, with three men in it, soon put forth from her, and came up by my side. They lifted me into it, and carried me to the sloop.
“For two days I felt very ill. But the men were very kind: they dried my clothes, and took good care of me. They said that they did not hear me call, when I was on the timber, but had seen me with a spy-glass. One of the sailors thought it was a sea-serpent, which they saw, but the others laughed at him, and the captain finally determined to send a boat to pick me up. He did so, and was glad enough, to find that he had saved the life of a fellow being.
“In the course of a week, I grew very well and strong. I could run the mast, and pull the ropes, and help the sailors furl the sails, when the wind blew hard. The captain told me that he was going to Boston. I was sorry to hear this, for I knew, that you could not do well without me, and that it would be some time before I could return home.
“When we came in sight of Boston, I climbed up the mast to look at the great city, of which I had heard so much. We passed between two beautiful forts, and then I could see Boston very plainly. The houses are built close together, and are very high: most of them are made with red bricks. there is one large building, above all the others, with a round top, which a sailor told me was the State House. There are a few trees, but not half so many as are about our house.
“When our sloop came to the land, I jumped on shore, and helped the men tie the vessel to a round post, which was on the wharf. I then took a walk with Captain Luff, (his name was Luff) to see the city. Here they call the roads, streets. We walked along the streets, and saw crowds of people. The shops were very fine, and the windows were filled with gay and glittering sights. In the evening, what do you suppose they light their lamps with? They use a sort of air called gas, and it gives a better light than candles or oil!
“I will tell you another time about the many wonderful things which I saw, my dear mother. I staid in Boston nearly a fortnight. When Captain Luff had sold his wood, and was ready to go home, I went on board the sloop. We hoisted the sails, and the vessel glided away from the wharf. We passed between the two forts and were soon out at sea again. The next night we had a severe storm. The waves swept over the deck, and I thought we should sink. But God protected us. In a few days we arrived safe in Penobscot Bay. The Captain wanted me to stay with him and become a sailor, but I thanked him and hastened away to see you. I walked two days through the woods, and at night the farmers were good enough to let me sleep on the sweet hay in their barns. They also gave me plenty to eat; and here, my dear mother, I am at last.”
The boy finished his story, and his mother affectionately kissed him. If, reader, you should ever pass through a certain little village in Maine, and turn off into the woods on your right, you may come at last to a hut by the river’s side, where you will
find Richard and his mother. They will be glad to see you, and will treat you very hospitably; and if you are fond of long stories, little Richard will talk to you a whole day about the strange things, which he saw in Boston.