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September 07 , 2008

Palm Tree Island


I was rising four years old when my parents died, both within one week, of the small-pox; and the day of their funeral is the Furthermost of my recollections. My nurse, having tied up the sleeves of my pinafore with black, held me with her in the great room down-stairs as the mourners assembled. Their solemn faces and whispered words, and the dreadful black garments, drove me into a state of terror, and I was not far from screaming among them when there entered a big man with a jolly red face, at whom the company rose and bowed very respectfully. The moment he was within the room his eye lit on me, and seeing at a glance how matters stood, he thrust one hand into his great pocket, and drew it forth full of sugar-plums, which he laid in my pinafore, and then bade the nurse take me away. ‘Twas my uncle Stephen, said Nurse, and a kind good man. Certainly I liked him well enough, and when, two or three days thereafter, he set me before him on his saddle, and rode away humming the rhyme of “Banbury Cross,” I laughed very joyously, never believing but that after I had seen the lady with the tinkling toes, Uncle Stephen would bring me home again, and that by that time my mOther would have returned from heaven, whither they told me she had gone. I did not see my childhood’s home again for near thirty years. My uncle took me to live with him, in his own house not a great way from Stafford. He was an elder brother of my father’s, and till then had been a bachelor; but having now a small nephew to nourish and breed up, he did not delay to seek a wife, and wed a fine young woman of Burslem. She was very kind to me, and even when there were two boys of her own to engage her affections, her kindness did not alter. So I grew up in great happiness, having had few troubles, the greatest of them being, perhaps, those that beset my first steps to learning in Dame Johnson’s little school. As for my subsequent search after knowledge on the benches of the Grammar School at Stafford, the less said the better: the master once declared, in Latin, that I was “only not a fool
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