Nelly's Shilling

Menella Bute Smedley

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O'er the soft green meadow-lands
Little Nelly trips along,
With a basket in her hands
And upon her lips a song,—
Singing, “Buy my watercresses,
Watercresses, great and small;
Mother in such deep distress is,
If I do not sell them all!”

With her little naked feet
Glancing out upon the stones,
Through the town's frequented street,
On she runs, nor hardship owns;
Singing, “Buy the watercresses,
I have search'd for high and low,
Won't you kindly buy them? ‘Yes’ is
Far the nicest word I know!”
Something lies upon the ground,
How she turns it o'er and o'er;
It is white and bright and round,
Sure she's seen the thing before!
Yes it is—it is a shilling!
Did it tumble from the sky?
Up she looks, extremely willing
To catch more if floating by!

Dear shop-window! oft on thee
She has turn'd her hungry eyes;
Now a purchaser is she,
To select and criticize!
But the dainty dishes in it
Do her little brain confuse,
For a shilling has no limit,
There is nothing she can't choose!
For the common loaf of bread
Her contempt is unsupprest;
“Beef is very good,” she said,
“But perhaps it is not best;
Ham there is not any harm in,
Currants look divine in rice,
Sausages are really charming,
And plum-pudding is too nice!”

Then a dreadful thought arose,
And her little heart stood still.
Is it mine? Ah, no one knows!
Shall I keep it? Yes, I will!
Yet reluctantly she lingers
At the window she loves best,
With the shilling in her fingers
And distraction in her breast!
Suddenly with eager start,
Like a hunted thing she flies,
Clasps the shilling to her heart,
Breathless, panting, onward hies;
Through a noble street she ventures,
What can she be doing there?
By an open doorway enters,
'Tis the mansion of the Mayor!

Watercresses she has sold
At that door in humble awe,
And the creature has been told
He is Chief Man of the Law!
So she seeks him trembling, shaking,
Finds him cheerful, calm, and free,
And, her small heart almost breaking,
Lays her shilling on his knee!
Then the good man heard her speak
(Though her words were wild and few),
Stroked her hair, and kiss'd her cheek,
Told her she was brave and true;
With importance took the shilling,
Said it was a stray and waif,
And the law was bound and willing
To protect and keep it safe.

And a guinea made of gold
Placed in her astonish'd hand,
Such a sum she scarce can hold—
Such a sum scarce understand;
Nell, in her triumphant glory,
Holds her guinea by the rim;
But the good man counts her story
As a richer gain for him!

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