Foundling Mick

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Foundling Mick
'Foundling Mick' by Léon Benett 01.jpg
Author Jules Verne
Original title P'tit-Bonhomme
Illustrator Léon Benett
Country France
Language French
Series The Extraordinary Voyages #39
Genre Adventure novel
Publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel
Publication date
1893
Published in English
1895
Media type Print (Hardback)
ISBN N/A
OCLC 12820930
Preceded by Claudius Bombarnac
Followed by Captain Antifer

Foundling Mick (A Lad of Grit; French: P'tit-Bonhomme, lit. Lit'l Fellow) is an adventure novel written by Jules Verne first published in 1893. It describes adventures in Ireland, more specifically the rags to riches tale of an orphan.

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins in Westport, Connacht, with the wandering puppeteer Thornpipe demonstrating his puppets to the destitute populace. After the mechanism animating the puppets unexpectedly goes off, the onlooking public with a priest among them discovers that the mechanism was operated by a tortured, hungry, pale boy of scarcely 3 years, concealed in the cart, whom the master spurred with a whip, claiming that the mechanism was operated by a dog. Revealed later to be abandoned while only 6 months old, the boy does not know his proper name; being the protagonist, he is known only as Lit'l Fellow (P'tit-Bonhomme) for the remainder of the story. The public confronts Thornpipe and stands up for the boy, driving Thornpipe out of town.

With no local family able or willing to raise the foundling, he is given to an orphanage known as Ragged School in the neighboring town of Galway. Neither O'Bodkins, the principal of the school, nor his assistants (with the exception of the 16 year old Grip) care much about the well-being of children, let alone their conduct or education, and Lit'l Fellow continues to suffer, now at the hands of his peers (particularly Carker, the leader of the gang) for honesty and dignity which he has begun to show at such early years, and hence refusal to follow the gang's ways of theft and panhandling. Lit'l Fellow recalls what he remembers of the early years of his life to Grip (who has become a close friend of the boy), mentioning an evil woman Hard and a compassionate girl named Sissy—the only person who cared for him in his early years, and whom he indeed came to think of as an elder sister. After the death of yet another child who lived with them, Lit'l Fellow ran away from Hard's hut, only to be found by Thornpipe.

This chapter of Lit'l Fellow's life ends when he finds a bottle of vodka, which he decides to bring to the orhpanage in order to consult with Grip regarding how to return it to the owner. Unfortunately, he is noticed by Carker, who proceeds to appropriate the bottle, lock up Grip and Lit'l Fellow in the attic, and throw a drinking party. In the orgy that ensues, the drunk boys set the school building on fire, and Grip, without any way out of the attic, in desperation throws Lit'l Fellow off the roof to the ground, where the latter is caught by the onlookers.

Lit'l Fellow is then noticed by the young and popular actress Anna Waston, who happened to travel through Galway when the Ragged School building caught fire. She immediately adopts the boy, much to the dismay of her middle-aged servant Elisa, who knew the pretentious and emotionally unstable nature of her master too well. At first, Anna takes care of the boy and shows promise of being a good foster parent, but Lit'l Fellow's hopes of a good childhood again meet an end when the boy travels with Anna to Limerick, where the actress decides that her newly found "angel" would make a good actor, and drags him into playing a role in a popular performance. But the boy, only 5 years old at the time and not yet able to tell reality from a show, takes the play literally and ruins the performance. Offended, Anna dumps the boy in Limerick and leaves Ireland, never to return.

The boy is found at the steps of a cathedral near a local cemetery by the visiting farmers, Martin and Martine MacCarthy, a middle-aged couple with 3 grown-up children. The family shelters Lit'l Fellow to live with them on their Kerwan farm in County Kerry, Munster, where the boy spends the next 4 years of his life. Having proven himself to be hardworking and honorable even before settling on the farm, Lit'l Fellow now desires to be of help in the household, occupying himself on par with the rest of the family, altogether 5 people: Martin's elderly mother, known simply as Grandmother; Martin and Martine themselves, their younger son Simeon, their elder son Murdock with his wife Kitty. Absent was the couple's second son, Patrick, who entered the service as a seaman. Becoming a good farm worker, Lit'l Fellow requests only one thing for his payment—a small rock for every day he would spend in service of the family.

But after becoming an integral part of the MacCarthy family, getting a formidable secular and religious education (the family being devout Roman Catholics), even becoming the godfather of Kitty's newborn daughter Jenny and saving her life from a wolf who dug its way into the house during the family's absence, Lit'l Fellow again sees his hopes of a good life reduced to naught when, after a year of natural disasters and poor harvest, the family is left with no money to pay the rent and is evicted from the farm by the landowners. Murdock is imprisoned for half-year due to his participation in the nationalist movement for home rule, supported by Martin and Simeon by the circumstances which led to their eviction. The Grandmother, severely ill at the time, meets death at the hands of the landlord's manager and police guards come to evict the family. Lit'l Fellow, who was absent at the time walking several miles to a neighboring village trying to obtain a medicine for the dying Grandmother, arrives to see the family gone and the farm demolished. Burying a pot containing all the little pebbles earned during his 4 years on the farm under a fir tree which he planted on Jenny's birthday, the boy leaves for Limerick, where the family was supposedly taken. After nearly perishing in the freezing cold, Lit'l Fellow is saved by the family's shepherd dog, Birk, who was driven away at the time of eviction. Birk, however, leads Lit'l Fellow away from Limerick and into Newmarket, County Cork.

There, Lit'l Fellow happens to find a briefcase lost by a local landlord, marquis Piborne. After returning the briefcase containing £100 to marquis' residence, Trelingar Castle, Lit'l Fellow is invited to serve in the castle as a groom to marquis' son, count Ashton. The boy accepts and serves in the castle for several months, once again suffering constant ridicule from other servants and antics of the spoiled Ashton. Birk, being at odds with Ashton's dogs, cannot be taken by the boy into the castle and has to be taken care of in secret either by him, or (in his absence) by his only friend in the castle, the aged laundress Kat. But the boy must yet again hit the road when Birk, roaming the surroundings, encounters one of Ashton's dogs. The latter attacks Birk, who defends himself and kills Ashton's dog. When Ashton learns whom the attacker belongs to, he sets up a hunt on Birk, and Lit'l Fellow, having rescued his dog, has nothing else to do than leave while still in one piece.

An illustration by Léon Benett

Now 11 years of age and having earned around £4 while in lord Piborne's service, the boy with his faithful dog decide to make their way into the city of Cork, but on their way Birk rescues another boy out of a river. It is revealed to be Bob, a 7-year-old whom Lit'l Fellow once saved from Ashton's whip, risking his position of a groom. Together, the boys make it into Cork. This is where Lit'l Fellow's merchant inclinations, first become manifest while still at Kerwan farm, are finally put to practice as he sets up a newspaper kiosk—a small trolley dragged around the streets by Birk. Prior to their departure from Cork, the boys already own £30. The city of Cork is also where the boys reunite with Grip. After barely surviving the fire at Ragged School which separated the friends, Grip settled as a fireman on a steam vessel Vulcan, making regular trips between Dublin and the United States. Grip, foretelling Lit'l Fellow to become a successful merchant, advises him to move to Dublin, where he also appears regularly.

Lit'l Fellow agrees, and soon after he and Bob leave for Dublin. Instead of spending money on the journey, they decide instead to earn more along the way, and continue to operate the kiosk as they take on a 250-mile journey on foot. When 2 months later they make it into Dublin, they again reunite with Grip. Having earned £150 at this point, Lit'l Fellow decides to start his own business. After renting a few rooms from an old retired businessman, O'Brien, he opens the collectible store "Thin Purses" by Little Boy & Co. The store quickly becomes popular among the residents of the city, earning the 12 year old businessman a fortune of £1000 by the close of the first year. Grip, now a regular customer and assistant during the times free from his duties as a fireman on board Vulcan, is reluctant to join the business despite Lit'l Fellows' and Bob's pleas. Kat, however, is invited by Lit'l Fellow as well, and arrives from Trelingar Castle on a short notice.

With poverty left behind, now only one thing troubles Lit'l Fellow—the fate of people dear to him; of those who, at one point or another, were a family to him. With the help of O'Brien he learns that MacCarthy's family has left their homeland and migrated to Australia, but no further information could be obtained at the moment. At some point, Lit'l Fellow leaves to visit Belfast in order to negotiate over an issue with his supplier; negotiations having been successful, he prepares to leave but is caught in a thick crowd during a worker strike, when he notices a young female worker calling for help shortly before collapsing of weakness. It was Sissy, now 18 years old, barely recognized by the young merchant. Without hesitation the boy takes Sissy to the train and leaves for Dublin, where the girl becomes a gladsome addition to the store personnel, marrying Grip some time afterwards. Thus, the young merchant was able to repay his first debt, tearing from the clutches of poverty the first person who ever did a service to him—his adoptive sister.

Only one thing disturbs the boy's peace of mind now—the MacCarthy family. One day O'Brien finds out that, having met no better luck in Australia, the family was returning home on a sailing vessel. The trip was taking a long time, while the boy, having himself nearly perished during a tempest on board a cargo vessel for refusing to abandon the cargo (into which he invested most of his fortune), perseveres in his trade and earns a capital of £20000. When MacCarthy family finally arrives, Lit'l Fellow, having offered them a sum of £100, anonymously invites them to meet him and his friends at the ruins of the Kerwan farm. Following the unexpected reunion, Lit'l Fellow instructs his goddaughter Jenny, now 8 years of age, to dig up from under the fir tree the pot of pebbles he earned during his stay at the farm. The old farmer is then stunned to find out that the pebbles, of which there were 1540, are now returned to his family as pounds sterling—enough for them to buy their familial land off the landowners and reconstruct the farm. This was the manner in which the young merchant, now 16 years old, repaid his debt to the family which had sheltered him in the time of need.

Publication history[edit]

  • 1895, UK, London: Sampson Low, Marston, and Co., First UK edition. In 2008 it was republished in English by the Royal Irish Academy.

External links[edit]