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Mary Lamb
by [?]

One worthy man from Jamestown, New York, was so impressed by these hatless boys that he wrote a book proving that the wearing of hats was what has kept the race in bondage to ignorance all down the ages. By statistics he proved that the Blue-Coats had attained distinction quite out of ratio to their number, and cited Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, Charles Lamb and many others as proof. This man returned to Jamestown hatless, and had he not caught cold and been carried off by pneumonia, would have spread his hatless gospel, rendering the name of Knox the Hatter infamous, and causing the word “Derby” to be henceforth a byword and a hissing.

When little Charles Lamb tucked the tails of his long blue coat under his belt and played leap-frog in the school-yard every morning at ten minutes after ‘leven, his sister, wan, yellow and dreamy, used to come and watch him through these selfsame iron bars. She would wave the corner of her rusty shawl in loving token, and he would answer back and would have lifted his hat if he had had one. When the bell rang and the boys went pellmell into the entry-way, Charles would linger and hold one hand above his head as the stone wall swallowed him, and the sister knowing that all was well would hasten back to her work in Little Queen Street, hard by, to wait for the morrow when she could come again.

“Who is that girl always hanging ’round after you?” asked a tall, handsome boy, called Ajax, of little Charles Lamb.

“Wh’ why, don’t you know–that, wh’ why that’s my sister Mary!”

“How should I know when you have never introduced me!” loftily replied Ajax.

And so the next day, at ten minutes after ‘leven, Charles and the mighty Ajax came down to the fence, and Charles had to call to Mary not to run away, and Charles introduced Ajax to Mary and they shook hands through the fence. And the next week Ajax, who was known in private life as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, called at the house in Little Queen Street where the Lambs lived, and they all had gin and water, and the elder Lamb played the harpsichord, a secondhand one that had been presented by Mr. Salt, and recited poetry, and Coleridge talked the elder Lamb under the table and argued the entire party into silence. Coleridge was only seventeen then, but a man grown, and already took snuff like a courtier, tapping the lid of the box meditatively and flashing a conundrum the while on the admiring company.

Mary kept about as close run of the Blue-Coat School as if she had been a Blue-Coat herself. Still, she felt it her duty to keep one lesson in advance of her brother, just to know that he was progressing well.

He continued to go to school until he was fourteen, when he was set to work in the South Sea Company’s office, because his income was needed to keep the family. Mary was educating the boy with the help of Mr. Salt’s library, for a boy as fine as Charles must be educated, you know. By and by the bubble burst, and young Lamb was transferred to the East India Company’s office, and being promoted was making nearly a hundred pounds a year.

And Mary sewed and borrowed books and toiled incessantly, but was ill at times. People said her head was not just right–she was overworked and nervous or something! The father had lost his place on account of too much gin and water, especially gin; the mother was almost helpless from paralysis, and in the family was an aged maiden aunt to be cared for. The only regular income was the salary of Charles.

There they lived in their poverty and lowliness, hoping for better things!

Charles was working away over the ledgers, and used to come home fagged and weary, and Coleridge was far away, and there was no boy to educate now, and only sick and foolish and quibbling people on whom to strike fire. The demnition grind did its work for Mary Lamb as surely as it is today doing it for countless farmers’ wives in Iowa and Illinois.