"If I had a penny I would have a bit; I would have the biggest bit there!" said the first little ragamuffin. He was a greedy little ragamuffin, and liked big bits.
"It looks bad to take the biggest; I'd take the first that came," said the second little ragamuffin.
"I'd take the biggest!" said the third little ragamuffin; "for if I didn't, some one else would think me a fool for leaving it." And then they all went to the rail at the end of the court and turned and whirled and twisted over it and under it and all round about it, until their legs ached and their heads felt dizzy, and the palms of their hands tingled with excitement.
Suddenly, the third little ragamuffin stopped, and sitting astride on the top of his rail, was silent for a few minutes; then he looked at his companions.
"There's Mary Lee been to the stall and bought a bit of pine-apple," he said; "shall we go and ask her how she likes it?" And in a moment they had all scampered up to her; but Mary Lee was afraid, and, dropping her pine-apple in the mud, began to cry, and ran home without it. And an old gentleman who was watching them caught the first little ragamuffin and boxed his ears; the second little ragamuffin picked up the piece of pine-apple, and brushing the mud from it with his sleeve, ate it up, and thought how good it was; and the third little ragamuffin went back to the rail alone, and slowly and sadly whirled round it again. Meanwhile his friend was crying bitterly, for his ears had been boxed, and he had had no pine-apple.
"Please, sir," he said to the old gentleman, "we were not doing any harm; we were only going to ask her how she like it."
"And the consequence was she dropped her pine-apple into the mud."
"Yes, sir, but she ought to have held it tighter; and I didn't get any, though I am very hungry."
"You look fat enough."
"Yes, sir," sobbed the poor little ragamuffin, "mother likes us fat; but it takes a lot of keeping up."
"I daresay it does," the old gentleman said, and, pulling a sixpence out of his pocket, he gave it to the boy. "Here," he said, "take this; but let the lesson I have given you teach you experience. Do you know what experience is?"
"No, sir," answered the ragamuffin.
"It is a thing that youth is eager for, and that age regrets, and that only a fool buys twice; yours to-day bought you a box on the ear."
"And sixpence, please sir." But the old gentleman turned away, and did not hear him. Then the ragamuffin bought six bits of pine-apple and carried them to his friends, and they all three sat in a row on the top of the rail and ate in silence, lest talk should spoil the flavour of a single mouthful. And when it was gone, the first little ragamuffin told his companions all that the old gentleman had said; while they, delighted at the feast they had, whirled round and round the rail for joy. But the first little ragamuffin sat up thoughtfully while he told his story, and pondered over it all.
"You see, Mary Lee, she lost her pine-apple and you ate it, and the old gentleman—"
"He boxed your ears!"
"And gave us sixpence!"
"And then he said it was experience," said the thoughtful ragamuffin.
"Well, we say experience is excellent," answered the two little ragamuffin, whirling round faster and faster; for they had eaten the pine-apple and found it good. But still their friend sat thinking.
"Yes," he said at last, "experience is excellent; but it's best when another fellow buys it."
Meanwhile the old gentleman was walking home, for he had given away his last sixpence; and Mary Lee was sitting in her mother's cottage, crying over her dropped pine-apple.
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