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Little Fred, The Canal Boy
by [?]

Fred never had heard of the man who said, “How sad a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes!” but he felt something very like it as he moved through the gay and bustling streets, where every body seemed to be finding what they wanted but himself.

He had determined to keep up a stout heart; but in spite of himself, all this bustling show and merriment made him feel sadder and sadder, and lonelier and lonelier. He knocked and rang at door after door, but nobody wanted a boy: nobody ever does want a boy when a boy is wanting a place. He got tired of ringing door bells, and tried some of the shops. No, they didn’t want him. One said if he was bigger he might do; another wanted to know if he could keep accounts; one thought that the man around the corner wanted a boy, and when Fred got there he had just engaged one. Weary, disappointed, and discouraged, he sat down by the iron railing that fenced a showy house, and thought what he should do. It was almost five in the afternoon: cold, dismal, leaden-gray was the sky–the darkness already coming on. Fred sat listlessly watching the great snow feathers, as they slowly sailed down from the sky. Now he heard gay laughs, as groups of merry children passed; and then he started, as he saw some woman in a black bonnet, and thought she looked like his mother. But all passed, and nobody looked at him, nobody wanted him, nobody noticed him.

Just then a patter of little feet was heard behind him on the flagstones, and a soft, baby voice said, “How do ‘oo do?” Fred turned in amazement; and there stood a plump, rosy little creature of about two years, with dimpled cheek, ruby lips, and long, fair hair curling about her sweet face. She was dressed in a blue pelisse, trimmed with swan’s down, and her complexion was so exquisitely fair, her eyes so clear and sweet, that Fred felt almost as if it were an angel. The little thing toddled up to him, and holding up before him a new wax doll, all splendid in silk and lace, seemed quite disposed to make his acquaintance. Fred thought of his lost sister, and his eyes filled up with tears. The little one put up one dimpled hand to wipe them away, while with the other holding up before him the wax doll, she said, coaxingly, “No no ky.”

Just then the house door opened, and a lady, richly dressed, darted out, exclaiming, “Why, Mary, you little rogue, how came you out here?” Then stopping short, and looking narrowly on Fred, she said, somewhat sharply, “Whose boy are you? and how came you here?”

“I’m nobody’s boy,” said Fred, getting up, with a bitter choking in his throat; “my mother’s dead; I only sat down here to rest me for a while.”

“Well, run away from here,” said the lady; but the little girl pressed before her mother, and jabbering very earnestly in unimaginable English, seemed determined to give Fred her wax doll, in which, she evidently thought, resided every possible consolation.

The lady felt in her pocket and found a quarter, which she threw towards Fred. “There, my boy, that will get you lodging and supper, and to-morrow you can find some place to work, I dare say;” and she hurried in with the little girl, and shut the door.

It was not money that Fred wanted just then, and he picked up the quarter with a heavy heart. The sky looked darker, and the street drearier, and the cold wind froze the tear on his cheeks as he walked listlessly down the street in the dismal twilight.

“I can go back to the canal boat, and find the cook,” he thought to himself. “He told me I might sleep with him to-night if I couldn’t find a place;” and he quickened his steps with this determination. Just as he was passing a brightly-lighted coffee house, familiar voices hailed him, and Fred stopped; he would be glad even to see a dog he had ever met before, and of course he was glad when two boys, old canal boat acquaintances, hailed him, and invited him into the coffee house. The blazing fire was a brave light on that dismal night, and the faces of the two boys were full of glee, and they began rallying Fred on his doleful appearance, and insisting on it that he should take something warm with them.