Recollections of John Pounds: Feeding the Children by Reverend Henry Hawkes
On my way back to my lodgings in High Street, I had to pass the old cobblers shop. As I drew near, I heard many children’s voices, chattering and laughing all together. The upper part of the door was open, as usual; and his little tumble-down window was open too, Looking in; – there was the good old man in his glory! – in the midst of a host of little girls and boys, crowding about him, with merry laughing looks and voices!
His birds seemed to enjoy the life and noise, and were singing aloud. His cat was all alive, purring, and rubbing against the children. The old man, like a Father Bountiful among them, was sitting in his old arm-chair, with a large loaf grasped in one hand, cutting thick slices of bread, with quick alacrity, and spreading them plentifully over with butter; and then cutting them into halves, and giving the half-slices into the eager hands outstretched for them.
He had no table; there was no room for a table. But on a shelf, close beside him, I saw a great tea-pot, and some mugs and cups, and a great sugar-basin heaped with sugar, and a great lump of butter beside it; and near them, there were two more large loaves in readiness, and another great lump of butter, and plenty more sugar.
“Has y’ all got some bread-an-butter now?” “Yes, Mr. Pounds!” many voices at once. “No, Mr. Pounds, I’se not.” And Pse not, Mr. Pounds.” “Two’s not. I’se cut ye some, lads.” And he cut another good thick slice, and buttered it plentifully, and cut it in halves, and gave it to them.
“And now you’s have some tea.” And he began to fill cups and mugs very fast. “An y’ all likes plenty o’ sugar!” “Yes, Mr. Pounds!” a crowd of voices. And the good old man laughed merrily; “1 knows that!” And he quickly put a good large spoon-full of sugar into every cup and mug; while the children looked on with longing eyes; and the old man, – happy in making them happy! – instantly gave a cup or a mug full to every out-stretched hand.
“An now you’s all some tea too.” “Yes, Mr. Pounds!” Then he gently raised his hand, and all the children were hushed in silence; and he said with loving gratefulness and tender solemnity: “Bless the Lord for all his goodness!”
After a short pause, the old man said with a joyful voice, “Now we’s have a good tea!” And the children set to heartily. And he took the remainder of the loaf, and cut a piece of bread for himself; the same thickness he had cut for them; they saw no difference; but he was more sparing in buttering it. And then he filled a mug of tea for himself; just like theirs; no difference; except that he did not indulge himself so bountifully with the sugar.
“I see now, Mr. Pounds, why you wanted your tea-kettle so large!”
“Yes, – the little wagabonds! – I likes ’em to have enough. And I’se another kettle a-boilon next door. Run, Jem, an, see how it’s a-getten on, An’ tell ‘em, we’s wants it soon. Nay, stop, Jem, an’ bring it. Save ’em the trouble; kind craturs as they bes!”
And a brisk lad brushed sharply past me, coming out full of mirth. “But some on ‘em’s very hungry though;” – giving another thick half-slice to a poor famished-looking lad, looking up imploringly beside him; who had devouringly eaten the first half-slice; – and another half-slice to another voracious lad, pushing his way through the crowd to him. “An thirsty too; isn’t ye, Kitty?” “Yes, Mr. Pounds; very! My mug’s empty again.
Please fill it; quite full, Mr. Pounds!” And the old man filled it quite full – with a comical smile. “Here Kitty;” giving it to her very carefully. “Mind you’s not spill it.” “No, Mr Pounds.” Her eager grasp soon spilt some. “There, Kitty, you’s ben an spilt some.” “It’s so full, Mr. Pounds.” “Well, Kitty, you says, please fill it, quite full; but I knows you’s a- going to spill some.”
The old man spoke gently and kindly, with a pleasant smile; but very impressively. “You’s not say, quite full, next time, Kitty!” “No, Mr. Pounds.” This was said in a thoughtful tone; her cheek colouring.
“Here comes Jem with the kettle!” And the lad came toiling in, with a look of triumph! – the big kettle swinging backwards and forwards down low between his spreading legs; his back and shoulders leaning forward; but looking merry, with his shining cheeks! “Thank y’ Jem.” “You’s welcome, Mr. Pounds.” “Now you’s all have enough! Here’s some bread-an-butter for y’, Jem; an there’s a mug o’ tea cooling for y’, when ye wants it.” “Thank y’ Mr Pounds.”
“Mr. Pounds, here’s little Rory’s none.”
“Ha, R0ry, lad, I’se not see you.” The poor sickly child, deadly pale, and emaciated, – stood motionless near the good old man; and seemed to have no heart to speak, or stir. “Rory, you’s no bread-an-butter.” “No.” – in a faint voice. “An no tea.” “No.” The old man gently drew the poor child to him; and, putting his arm lovingly round it, said; “You’s not at school the morning, Rory:” – tenderly and kindly. “No.” “Why’s ye not, Rory?”
The child stood silent. “Where’s ye-be the morning, Rory?” “Nowhere.” “Has y’ have any dinner, Rory” “No.” “Any breakfast?” “No.” Tse give ‘y some bread-an-butter, Rory; an if you’s a-ben at school the morning, you’s have some dinner too.”
I observed, that he cut the bread for this poor starving child much thinner, than for the hearty ones; and he buttered it carefully, and very nicely. “Here, Rory; here’s some bread-an-butter for y’; an I’se give y’ some tea too” The poor sickly thing received it languidly. It seemed too faint with starvation to have any heart to begin eating it. I quietly observed it awhile, without its knowing it. To begin with, it had no vigour
to do much in the way of eating. But when it had eaten a little, the good old man, who had been silently watching it, gave it a mug of tea; but first, he quietly poured some cold water into it. to cool it. “Here, Rory, hear’s some tea for y’!” The child gulped it down instantly. “Some more.” “Yes, Rory, I’se give y’ some more tea.” And he kindly took the mug from the child, the moment he offered it.
But, I observed, he was rather slow and deliberate about what followed; – still quietly watching the child. When it had eaten a little more of it’s bread-an-butter; then the old man poured a little more tea into the mug, and some more cold water to cool it; not more than half a mug-full altogether. “Here, Rory! – here’s some more tea for y’!” The child put out it’s poor little white hand for it eagerly, and drank it off at once. “Some more, please Mr. Pounds!” “Yes, Rory, I’se give y’ some more,” This was said in a very kind cherishing tone; and the poor child seemed to feel it revivingly.
But the old man was still quietly watching it; and gave it time to eat more of it’s solid food ; which it now seemed to begin to relish; and then he gave it another half mug-full; which it drank more leisurely; and seemed to enjoy it.
And the old man gave it a loving kiss. “Mind, you comes to school tomorrow, Rory.” “Yes, Mr. Pounds!”“An now, has y’ all have a good tea?” “Yes, Mr. Pounds! – an thank y’!”— a host of happy voices. “Who gives us a nice tea?” “God! Mr. Pounds:” – many voices: – in a subdued, – beautifully solemn and tender tone. “Yes, darlings!
God gives us all these good things. An we’s bless God for ‘em all; an try an do all us can to please him.” “Yes, Mr. Pounds!”