Part 2 out of 9
"Something's up" said Mary. She went to the door, and stopping the
first person she saw, inquired the cause of the Commotion.
"Eh, wench! donna ye see the fire-light? Carsons' mill is blazing
away like fun" and away her informant ran.
"Come, Margaret, on wi' your bonnet, and let's go to see Carsons'
mill; it's afire, and they say a burning mill is such a grand sight.
I never saw one."
"Well, I think it's a fearful sight. Besides, I've all this work to
But Mary coaxed in her sweet manner, and with her gentle caresses,
promising to help with the gowns all night long, if necessary, nay,
saying she should quite enjoy it.
The truth was, Margaret's secret weighed heavily and painfully on
her mind, and she felt her inability to comfort; besides, she wanted
to change the current of Margaret's thoughts; and in addition to
these unselfish feelings, came the desire she had honestly
expressed, of seeing a factory on fire.
So in two minutes they were ready. At the threshold of the house
they met John Barton, to whom they told their errand.
"Carsons' mill! Ay, there is a mill on fire somewhere, sure enough
by the light, and it will be a rare blaze, for there's not a drop o'
water to be got. And much Carsons will care, for they're well
insured, and the machines are a' th' oud-fashioned kind. See if
they don't think it a fine thing for themselves. They'll not thank
them as tries to put it out."
He gave way for the impatient girls to pass. Guided by the ruddy
light more than by any exact knowledge of the streets that led to
the mill, they scampered along with bent heads, facing the terrible
east wind as best they might.
Carsons' mill ran lengthways from east to west. Along it went one
of the oldest thoroughfares in Manchester. Indeed, all that part of
the town was comparatively old; it was there that the first cotton
mills were built, and the crowded alleys and back streets of the
neighbourhood made a fire there particularly to be dreaded. The
staircase of the mill ascended from the entrance at the western end,
which faced into a wide, dingy-looking street, consisting
principally of public-houses, pawnbrokers' shops, rag and bone
warehouses, and dirty provision shops. The other, the east end of
the factory, fronted into a very narrow back street, not twenty feet
wide, and miserably lighted and paved. Right against this end of
the factory were the gable ends of the last house in the principal
street--a house which from its size, its handsome stone facings, and
the attempt at ornament in the front, had probably been once a
gentleman's house; but now the light which streamed from its
enlarged front windows made clear the interior of the splendidly
fitted-up room, with its painted walls, its pillared recesses, its
gilded and gorgeous fittings-up, its miserable squalid inmates. It
was a gin palace.
Mary almost wished herself away, so fearful (as Margaret had said)
was the sight when they joined the crowd assembled to witness the
fire. There was a murmur of many voices whenever the roaring of the
flames ceased for an instant. It was easy to perceive the mass were
"What do they say?" asked Margaret of a neighbour in the crowd, as
she caught a few words clear and distinct from the general murmur.
"There never is any one in the mill, surely!" exclaimed Mary, as the
sea of upward-turned faces moved with one accord to the eastern end,
looking into Dunham Street, the narrow back lane already mentioned.
The western end of the mill, whither the raging flames were driven
by the wind, was crowned and turreted with triumphant fire. It sent
forth its infernal tongues from every window hole, licking the black
walls with amorous fierceness; it was swayed or fell before the
mighty gale, only to rise higher and yet higher, to ravage and roar
yet more wildly. This part of the roof fell in with an astounding
crash, while the crowd struggled more and more to press into Dunham
Street, for what were magnificent terrible flames--what were falling
timbers or tottering walls, in comparison with human life?
There, where the devouring flames had been repelled by the yet more
powerful wind, but where yet black smoke gushed out from every
aperture--there, at one of the windows on the fourth story, or
rather a doorway where a crane was fixed to hoist up goods, might
occasionally be seen, when the thick gusts of smoke cleared
partially away for an instant, the imploring figures of two men.
They had remained after the rest of the workmen for some reason or
other, and, owing to the wind having driven the fire in the opposite
direction, had perceived no sight or sound of alarm, till long after
(if anything could be called long in that throng of terrors which
passed by in less than half-an-hour) the fire had consumed the old
wooden staircase at the other end of the building. I am not sure
whether it was not the first sound of the rushing crowd below that
made them fully aware of their awful position.
"Where are the engines?" asked Margaret of her neighbour.
"They're coming, no doubt; but bless you, I think it's bare ten
minutes since we first found out th' fire; it rages so wi' this
wind, and all so dry-like."
"Is no one gone for a ladder?" gasped Mary, as the men were
perceptibly, though not audibly, praying the great multitude below
"Ay, Wilson's son and another man were off like a shot, well-nigh
five minutes ago. But th' masons, and slaters, and such like, have
left their work, and locked up the yards."
Wilson, then, was that man whose figure loomed out against the
ever-increasing dull hot light behind, whenever the smoke was clear--
was that George Wilson? Mary sickened with terror. She knew he
worked for Carsons; but at first she had had no idea that any lives
were in danger; and since she had become aware of this, the heated
air, the roaring flames, the dizzy light, and the agitated and
murmuring crowd, had bewildered her thoughts.
"Oh! let us go home, Margaret; I cannot stay."
"We cannot go! See how we are wedged in by folks. Poor Mary! ye
won't hanker after a fire again. Hark! listen!" For through the
hushed crowd pressing round the angle of the mill, and filling up
Dunham Street, might be heard the rattle of the engine, the heavy,
quick tread of loaded horses.
"Thank God!" said Margaret's neighbour, "the engine's come."
Another pause; the plugs were stiff, and water could not be got.
Then there was a pressure through the crowd, the front rows bearing
back on those behind, till the girls were sick with the close
ramming confinement. Then a relaxation, and a breathing freely once
"'Twas young Wilson and a fireman wi' a ladder," said Margaret's
neighbour, a tall man who could overlook the crowd.
"Oh, tell us what you see?" begged Mary.
"They've getten it fixed against the gin-shop wall. One o' the men
i' the factory has fell back; dazed wi' the smoke, I'll warrant.
The floor's not given way there. God!" said he, bringing his eye
lower down, "the ladder's too short! It's a' over wi' them, poor
chaps. Th' fire's coming slow and sure to that end, and afore
they've either getten water, or another ladder, they'll be dead out
and out. Lord have mercy on them!"
A sob, as if of excited women, was heard in the hush of the crowd.
Another pressure like the former! Mary clung to Margaret's arm with
a pinching grasp, and longed to faint, and be insensible, to escape
from the oppressing misery of her sensations. A minute or two.
"They've taken th' ladder into th' Temple of Apollor. Can't press
back with it to the yard it came from."
A mighty shout arose; a sound to wake the dead. Up on high,
quivering in the air, was seen the end of the ladder, protruding out
of a garret window, in the gable end of the gin palace, nearly
opposite to the doorway where the men had been seen. Those in the
crowd nearest the factory, and consequently best able to see up to
the garret window, said that several men were holding one end, and
guiding by their weight its passage to the doorway. The garret
window-frame had been taken out before the crowd below were aware of
At length--for it seemed long, measured by beating hearts, though
scarce two minutes had elapsed--the ladder was fixed, an aerial
bridge at a dizzy height, across the narrow street.
Every eye was fixed in unwinking anxiety, and people's very
breathing seemed stilled in suspense. The men were nowhere to be
seen, but the wind appeared, for the moment, higher than ever, and
drove back the invading flames to the other end.
Mary and Margaret could see now; right above them danced the ladder
in the wind. The crowd pressed back from under; firemen's helmets
appeared at the window, holding the ladder firm, when a man, with
quick, steady tread, and unmoving head, passed from one side to the
other. The multitude did not even whisper while he crossed the
perilous bridge, which quivered under him; but when he was across,
safe comparatively in the factory, a cheer arose for an instant,
checked, however, almost immediately, by the uncertainty of the
result, and the desire not in any way to shake the nerves of the
brave fellow who had cast his life on such a die.
"There he is again!" sprung to the lips of many, as they saw him at
the doorway, standing as if for an instant to breathe a mouthful of
the fresher air, before he trusted himself to cross. On his
shoulders he bore an insensible body.
"It's Jem Wilson and his father," whispered Margaret; but Mary knew
it before. The people were sick with anxious terror. He could no
longer balance himself with his arms; everything must depend on nerve
and eye. They saw the latter was fixed, by the position of the head,
which never wavered; the ladder shook under the double weight; but
still he never moved his head--he dared not look below. It seemed
an age before the crossing was accomplished. At last the window was
gained; the bearer relieved from his burden; both had disappeared.
Then the multitude might shout; and above the roaring flames, louder
than the blowing of the mighty wind, arose that tremendous burst of
applause at the success of the daring enterprise. Then a shrill cry
was heard, asking--
"Is the oud man alive, and likely to do?"
"Ay," answered one of the firemen to the hushed crowd below. "He's
coming round finely, now he's had a dash of cowd water."
He drew back his head; and the eager inquiries, the shouts, the
sea-like murmurs of the moving rolling mass began again to be
heard--but only for an instant. In far less time than even that in
which I have endeavoured briefly to describe the pause of events,
the same bold hero stepped again upon the ladder, with evident
purpose to rescue the man yet remaining in the burning mill.
He went across in the same quick steady manner as before, and the
people below, made less acutely anxious by his previous success,
were talking to each other, shouting out intelligence of the
progress of the fire at the other end of the factory, telling of the
endeavours of the firemen at that part to obtain water, while the
closely-packed body of men heaved and rolled from side to side. It
was different from the former silent breathless hush. I do not know
if it were from this cause, or from the recollection of peril past,
or that he looked below, in the breathing moment before returning
with the remaining person (a slight little man) slung across his
shoulders, but Jem Wilson's step was less steady, his tread more
uncertain; he seemed to feel with his foot for the next round of the
ladder, to waver, and finally to stop half-way. By this time the
crowd was still enough; in the awful instant that intervened no one
durst speak, even to encourage. Many turned sick with terror, and
shut their eyes to avoid seeing the catastrophe they dreaded. It
came. The brave man swayed from side to side, at first as slightly
as if only balancing himself; but he was evidently losing nerve, and
even sense; it was only wonderful how the animal instinct of
self-preservation did not overcome every generous feeling, and impel
him at once to drop the helpless, inanimate body he carried; perhaps
the same instinct told him, that the sudden loss of so heavy a
weight would of itself be a great and imminent danger.
"Help me; she's fainted," cried Margaret. But no one heeded. All
eyes were directed upwards. At this point of time a rope, with a
running noose, was dexterously thrown by one of the firemen, after
the manner of a lasso, over the head and round the bodies of the two
men. True, it was with rude and slight adjustment: but slight as
it was, it served as a steadying guide; it encouraged the sinking
heart, the dizzy head. Once more Jem stepped onwards. He was not
hurried by any jerk or pull. Slowly and gradually the rope was
hauled in, slowly and gradually did he make the four or five paces
between him and safety. The window was gained, and all were saved.
The multitude in the street absolutely danced with triumph, and
huzzaed, and yelled till you would have fancied their very throats
would crack; and then, with all the fickleness of interest
characteristic of a large body of people, pressed and stumbled, and
cursed and swore, in the hurry to get out of Dunham Street, and back
to the immediate scene of the fire, the mighty diapason of whose
roaring flames formed an awful accompaniment to the screams, and
yells, and imprecations, of the struggling crowd.
As they pressed away, Margaret was left, pale and almost sinking
under the weight of Mary's body, which she had preserved in an
upright position by keeping her arms tight round Mary's waist,
dreading, with reason, the trampling of unheeding feet.
Now, however, she gently let her down on the cold clean pavement;
and the change of posture, and the difference in temperature, now
that the people had withdrawn from their close neighbourhood,
speedily restored her to consciousness.
Her first glance was bewildered and uncertain. She had forgotten
where she was. Her cold, hard bed felt strange; the murky glare in
the sky affrighted her. She shut her eyes to think, to recollect.
Her next look was upwards. The fearful bridge had been withdrawn;
the window was unoccupied.
"They are safe," said Margaret.
"All? Are all safe, Margaret?" asked Mary.
"Ask yon fireman, and he'll tell you more about it than I can. But
I know they're all safe."
The fireman hastily corroborated Margaret's words.
"Why did you let Jem Wilson go twice?" asked Margaret.
"Let--why, we could not hinder him. As soon as ever he'd heard his
father speak (which he was na long a doing), Jem were off like a
shot; only saying he knowed better nor us where to find t'other man.
We'd all ha' gone, if he had na been in such a hurry, for no one can
say as Manchester firemen is ever backward when there's danger."
So saying, he ran off; and the two girls, without remark or
discussion, turned homewards. They were overtaken by the elder
Wilson, pale, grimy, and blear-eyed, but apparently, as strong and
well as ever. He loitered a minute or two alongside of them giving
an account of his detention in the mill; he then hastily wished
good-night, saying he must go home and tell his missis he was all
safe and well: but after he had gone a few steps, he turned back,
came on Mary's side of the pavement, and in an earnest whisper,
which Margaret could not avoid hearing, he said--
"Mary, if my boy comes across you to-night, give him a kind word or
two for my sake. Do! bless you, there's a good wench."
Mary hung her head and answered not a word, and in an instant he was
When they arrived at home, they found John Barton smoking his pipe,
unwilling to question; yet very willing to hear all the details they
could give him. Margaret went over the whole story, and it was
amusing to watch his gradually increasing interest and excitement.
First, the regular puffing abated, then ceased. Then the pipe was
fairly taken out of his mouth, and held suspended. Then he rose,
and at every further point he came a step nearer to the narrator.
When it was ended he swore (an unusual thing for him) that if Jem
Wilson wanted Mary he should have her tomorrow, if he had not a
penny to keep her.
Margaret laughed, but Mary, who was now recovered from her
agitation, pouted and looked angry.
The work which they had left was resumed: but with full hearts
fingers never go very quickly; and I am sorry to say, that owing to
the fire, the two younger Miss Ogdens were in such grief for the
loss of their excellent father, that they were unable to appear
before the little circle of sympathising friends gathered together
to comfort the widow, and see the funeral set off.
VI. POVERTY AND DEATH.
"How little can the rich man know
Of what the poor man feels,
When Want, like some dark demon foe,
Nearer and nearer steals!
"HE never tramp'd the weary round,
A stroke of work to gain,
And sicken'd at the dreaded sound
Which tells he seeks in vain.
"Foot-sore, heart-sore, HE never came
Back through the winter's wind,
To a dank cellar, there no flame,
No light, no food, to find.
"HE never saw his darlings lie
Shivering, the flags their bed
HE never heard that maddening cry,
'Daddy, a bit of bread!'"
John Barton was not far wrong in his idea that the Messrs. Carson
would not be over-much grieved for the consequences of the fire in
their mill. They were well insured; the machinery lacked the
improvements of late years, and worked but poorly in comparison with
that which might now be procured. Above all, trade was very slack;
cottons could find no market, and goods lay packed and piled in many
a warehouse. The mills were merely worked to keep the machinery,
human and metal, in some kind of order and readiness for better
times. So this was an excellent opportunity, Messrs. Carson
thought, for refitting their factory with first-rate improvements,
for which the insurance money would amply pay. They were in no
hurry about the business, however. The weekly drain of wages given
for labour, useless in the present state of the market, was stopped.
The partners had more leisure than they had known for years; and
promised wives and daughters all manner of pleasant excursions, as
soon as the weather should become more genial. It was a pleasant
thing to be able to lounge over breakfast with a review or newspaper
in hand; to have time for becoming acquainted with agreeable and
accomplished daughters, on whose education no money had been spared,
but whose fathers, shut up during a long day with calicoes and
accounts, had so seldom had leisure to enjoy their daughters'
talents. There were happy family evenings, now that the men of
business had time for domestic enjoyments. There is another side to
the picture. There were homes over which Carsons' fire threw a
deep, terrible gloom; the homes of those who would fain work, and no
man gave unto them--the homes of those to whom leisure was a curse.
There, the family music was hungry wails, when week after week
passed by, and there was no work to be had, and consequently no
wages to pay for the bread the children cried aloud for in their
young impatience of suffering. There was no breakfast to lounge
over; their lounge was taken in bed, to try and keep warmth in them
that bitter March weather, and, by being quiet, to deaden the
gnawing wolf within. Many a penny that would have gone little way
enough in oatmeal or potatoes, bought opium to still the hungry
little ones, and make them forget their uneasiness in heavy troubled
sleep. It was mother's mercy. The evil and the good of our nature
came out strongly then. There were desperate fathers; there were
bitter-tongued mothers (O God! what wonder!); there were reckless
children; the very closest bonds of nature were snapt in that time
of trial and distress. There was Faith such as the rich can never
imagine on earth; there was "Love strong as death"; and self-denial,
among rude, coarse men, akin to that of Sir Philip Sidney's most
glorious deed. The vices of the poor sometimes astound us HERE; but
when the secrets of all hearts shall be made known, their virtues
will astound us in far greater degree. Of this I am certain.
As the cold, bleak spring came on (spring, in name alone), and
consequently as trade continued dead, other mills shortened hours,
turned off hands, and finally stopped work altogether.
Barton worked short hours. Wilson, of course, being a hand in
Carsons' factory, had no work at all. But his son, working at an
engineer's, and a steady man, obtained wages enough to maintain all
the family in a careful way. Still it preyed on Wilson's mind to be
so long indebted to his son. He was out of spirits, and depressed.
Barton was morose, and soured towards mankind as a body, and the
rich in particular. One evening, when the clear light at six
o'clock contrasted strangely with the Christmas cold, and when the
bitter wind piped down every entry, and through every cranny, Barton
sat brooding over his stinted fire, and listening for Mary's step,
in unacknowledged trust that her presence would cheer him. The door
was opened, and Wilson came breathless in.
"You've not got a bit o' money by you, Barton?" asked he.
"Not I; who has now, I'd like to know. Whatten you want it for?"
"I donnot* want it for mysel', tho' we've none to spare. But don ye
know Ben Davenport as worked at Carsons? He's down wi' the fever,
and ne'er a stick o' fire nor a cowd** potato in the house."
*"Don" is constantly used in Lancashire for "do"; as it was
by our older writers.
"And that may non Hors DON."--SIR J. MANDEVILLE.
"But for th' entent to DON this sinne."--CHAUCER.
**Cowd; cold. Teut., kaud. Dutch, koud.
"I han got no money, I tell ye," said Barton. Wilson looked
disappointed. Barton tried not to be interested, but he could not
help it in spite of his gruffness. He rose, and went to the
cupboard (his wife's pride long ago). There lay the remains of his
dinner, hastily put by ready for supper. Bread, and a slice of cold
fat boiled bacon. He wrapped them in his handkerchief, put them in
the crown of his hat, and said, "Come, let us be going."
"Going--art thou going to work this time o' day?"
"No, stupid, to be sure not. Going to see the chap thou spoke on."
So they put on their hats and set out. On the way Wilson said
Davenport was a good fellow, though too much of the Methodee; that
his children were too young to work, but not too young to be cold
and hungry; that they had sunk lower and lower, and pawned thing
after thing, and that they now lived in a cellar in Berry Street,
off Store Street. Barton growled inarticulate words of no
benevolent import to a large class of mankind, and so they went
along till they arrived in Berry Street. It was unpaved: and down
the middle a gutter forced its way, every now and then forming pools
in the holes with which the street abounded. Never was the old
Edinburgh cry of Gardez l'eau! more necessary than in this street.
As they passed, women from their doors tossed household slops of
EVERY description into the gutter; they ran into the next pool,
which overflowed and stagnated. Heaps of ashes were the
stepping-stones, on which the passer-by, who cared in the least for
cleanliness, took care not to put his foot. Our friends were not
dainty, but even they picked their way, till they got to some steps
leading down to a small area, where a person standing would have his
head about one foot below the level of the street, and might at the
same time, without the least motion of his body, touch the window of
the cellar and the damp muddy wall right opposite. You went down
one step even from the foul area into the cellar in which a family
of human beings lived. It was very dark inside. The window-panes,
many of them, were broken and stuffed with rags, which was reason
enough for the dusky light that pervaded the place even at midday.
After the account I have given of the state of the street, no one
can be surprised that on going into the cellar inhabited by
Davenport, the smell was so foetid as almost to knock the two men
down. Quickly recovering themselves, as those inured to such things
do, they began to penetrate the thick darkness of the place, and to
see three or four little children rolling on the damp, nay wet brick
floor, through which the stagnant, filthy moisture of the street
oozed up; the fire-place was empty and black; the wife sat on her
husband's lair, and cried in the dark loneliness.
"See, missis, I'm back again.--Hold your noise, children, and don't
mither* your mammy for bread; here's a chap as has got some for
*Mither; to trouble and perplex.
"I'm welly mithered"--I'm well-nigh crazed.
In that dim light, which was darkness to strangers, they clustered
round Barton, and tore from him the food he had brought with him.
It was a large hunch of bread, but it vanished in an instant.
"We mun do summut for 'em," said he to Wilson. "Yo stop here, and
I'll be back in half-an-hour."
So he strode, and ran, and hurried home. He emptied into the
ever-useful pocket-handkerchief the little meal remaining in the
mug. Mary would have her tea at Miss Simmonds'; her food for the
day was safe. Then he went upstairs for his better coat, and his
one, gay red-and-yellow silk pocket-handkerchief--his jewels, his
plate, his valuables, these were. He went to the pawn-shop; he
pawned them for five shillings; he stopped not, nor stayed, till he
was once more in London Road, within five minutes' walk of Berry
Street--then he loitered in his gait, in order to discover the shops
he wanted. He bought meat, and a loaf of bread, candles, chips, and
from a little retail yard he purchased a couple of hundredweights of
coal. Some money still remained--all destined for them, but he did
not yet know how best to spend it. Food, light, and warmth, he had
instantly seen were necessary; for luxuries he would wait. Wilson's
eyes filled with tears when he saw Barton enter with his purchases.
He understood it all, and longed to be once more in work that he
might help in some of these material ways, without feeling that he
was using his son's money. But though "silver and gold he had
none," he gave heart-service and love--works of far more value. Nor
was John Barton behind in these. "The fever" was (as it usually is
in Manchester) of a low, putrid, typhoid kind; brought on by
miserable living, filthy neighbourhood, and great depression of mind
and body. It is virulent, malignant, and highly infectious. But
the poor are fatalists with regard to infection! and well for them
it is so, for in their crowded dwellings no invalid can be isolated.
Wilson asked Barton if he thought he should catch it, and was
laughed at for his idea.
The two men, rough, tender nurses as they were, lighted the fire,
which smoked and puffed into the room as if it did not know the way
up the damp, unused chimney. The very smoke seemed purifying and
healthy in the thick clammy air. The children clamoured again for
bread; but this time Barton took a piece first to the poor,
helpless, hopeless woman, who still sat by the side of her husband,
listening to his anxious miserable mutterings. She took the bread,
when it was put into her hand, and broke a bit, but could not eat.
She was past hunger. She fell down on the floor with a heavy
unresisting bang. The men looked puzzled. "She's wellnigh
clemmed," said Barton. "Folk do say one mustn't give clemmed people
much to eat; but, bless us, she'll eat nought."
"I'll tell yo what I'll do," said Wilson. "I'll take these two big
lads, as does nought but fight, home to my missis for tonight, and
I'll get a jug o' tea. Them women always does best with tea, and
So Barton was now left alone with a little child, crying (when it
had done eating) for mammy; with a fainting, dead-like woman; and
with the sick man, whose mutterings were rising up to screams and
shrieks of agonised anxiety. He carried the woman to the fire, and
chafed her hands. He looked around for something to raise her head.
There was literally nothing but some loose bricks. However, those
he got; and taking off his coat he covered them with it as well as
he could. He pulled her feet to the fire, which now began to emit
some faint heat. He looked round for water, but the poor woman had
been too weak to drag herself out to the distant pump, and water
there was none. He snatched the child, and ran up the area-steps to
the room above, and borrowed their only saucepan with some water in
it. Then he began, with the useful skill of a working-man, to make
some gruel; and when it was hastily made, he seized a battered iron
table-spoon (kept when many other little things had been sold in a
lot, in order to feed baby), and with it he forced one or two drops
between her clenched teeth. The mouth opened mechanically to
receive more, and gradually she revived. She sat up and looked
round; and recollecting all, fell down again in weak and passive
despair. Her little child crawled to her, and wiped with its
fingers the thick-coming tears which she now had strength to weep.
It was now high time to attend to the man. He lay on straw, so damp
and mouldy, no dog would have chosen it in preference to flags; over
it was a piece of sacking, coming next to his worn skeleton of a
body; above him was mustered every article of clothing that could be
spared by mother or children this bitter weather; and in addition to
his own, these might have given as much warmth as one blanket, could
they have been kept on him; but as he restlessly tossed to and fro,
they fell off and left him shivering in spite of the burning heat of
his skin. Every now and then he started up in his naked madness,
looking like the prophet of woe in the fearful plague-picture; but
he soon fell again in exhaustion, and Barton found he must be
closely watched, lest in these falls he should injure himself
against the hard brick floor. He was thankful when Wilson
re-appeared, carrying in both hands a jug of steaming tea, intended
for the poor wife; but when the delirious husband saw drink, he
snatched at it with animal instinct, with a selfishness he had never
shown in health.
Then the two men consulted together. It seemed decided, without a
word being spoken on the subject, that both should spend the night
with the forlorn couple; that was settled. But could no doctor be
had? In all probability, no; the next day an Infirmary order must
be begged, but meanwhile the only medical advice they could have
must be from a druggist's. So Barton (being the moneyed man) set
out to find a shop in London Road.
It is a pretty sight to walk through a street with lighted shops;
the gas is so brilliant, the display of goods so much more vividly
shown than by day, and of all shops a druggist's looks the most like
the tales of our childhood, from Aladdin's garden of enchanted
fruits to the charming Rosamond with her purple jar. No such
associations had Barton; yet he felt the contrast between the
well-filled, well-lighted shops and the dim gloomy cellar, and it
made him moody that such contrasts should exist. They are the
mysterious problem of life to more than him. He wondered if any in
all the hurrying crowd had come from such a house of mourning. He
thought they all looked joyous, and he was angry with them. But he
could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who daily pass you by
in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives;
the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting,
sinking under? You may be elbowed one instant by the girl desperate
in her abandonment, laughing in mad merriment with her outward
gesture, while her soul is longing for the rest of the dead, and
bringing itself to think of the cold flowing river as the only mercy
of God remaining to her here. You may pass the criminal, meditating
crimes at which you will to-morrow shudder with horror as you read
them. You may push against one, humble and unnoticed, the last upon
earth, who in heaven will for ever be in the immediate light of
God's countenance. Errands of mercy--errands of sin--did you ever
think where all the thousands of people you daily meet are bound?
Barton's was an errand of mercy; but the thoughts of his heart were
touched by sin, by bitter hatred of the happy, whom he, for the
time, confounded with the selfish.
He reached a druggist's shop, and entered. The druggist (whose
smooth manners seemed to have been salved over with his own
spermaceti) listened attentively to Barton's description of
Davenport's illness; concluded it was typhus fever, very prevalent
in that neighbourhood; and proceeded to make up a bottle of
medicine, sweet spirits of nitre, or some such innocent potion, very
good for slight colds, but utterly powerless to stop, for an
instant, the raging fever of the poor man it was intended to
relieve. He recommended the same course they had previously
determined to adopt, applying the next morning for an Infirmary
order; and Barton left the shop with comfortable faith in the physic
given him; for men of his class, if they believe in physic at all,
believe that every description is equally efficacious.
Meanwhile, Wilson had done what he could at Davenport's home. He
had soothed, and covered the man many a time; he had fed and hushed
the little child, and spoken tenderly to the woman, who lay still in
her weakness and her weariness. He had opened a door, but only for
an instant; it led into a back cellar, with a grating instead of a
window, down which dropped the moisture from pigsties, and worse
abominations. It was not paved; the floor was one mass of bad
smelling mud. It had never been used, for there was not an article
of furniture in it; nor could a human being, much less a pig, have
lived there many days. Yet the "back apartment" made a difference
in the rent. The Davenports paid threepence more for having two
rooms. When he turned round again, he saw the woman suckling the
child from her dry, withered breast.
"Surely the lad is weaned!" exclaimed he, in surprise. "Why, how
old is he?"
"Going on two year," she faintly answered. "But, oh! it keeps him
quiet when I've nought else to gi' him, and he'll get a bit of sleep
lying there, if he's getten nought beside. We han done our best to
gi' the childer* food, howe'er we pinch ourselves."
*Wickliffe uses "childre" in his Apology, page 26.
"Han** ye had no money fra' th' town?"
**"What concord HAN light and dark."--SPENSER.
"No; my master is Buckinghamshire born; and he's feared the town
would send him back to his parish, if he went to th' board; so we've
just borne on in hope o' better times. But I think they'll never
come in my day," and the poor woman began her weak high-pitched cry
"Here, sup* this drop o' gruel, and then try and get a bit o' sleep.
John and I will watch by your master to-night."
*"And they SOUPE the brothe thereof."--SIR J. MANDEVILLE.
"God's blessing be on you."
She finished the gruel, and fell into a deep sleep. Wilson covered
her with his coat as well as he could, and tried to move lightly,
for fear of disturbing her; but there need have been no such dread,
for her sleep was profound and heavy with exhaustion. Once only she
roused to pull the coat round her little child.
And now Wilson's care, and Barton's to boot, was wanted to restrain
the wild mad agony of the fevered man. He started up, he yelled, he
seemed infuriated by overwhelming anxiety. He cursed and swore,
which surprised Wilson, who knew his piety in health, and who did
not know the unbridled tongue of delirium. At length he seemed
exhausted, and fell asleep; and Barton and Wilson drew near the
fire, and talked together in whispers. They sat on the floor, for
chairs there were none; the sole table was an old tub turned upside
down. They put out the candle and conversed by the flickering
"Han yo known this chap long?" asked Barton.
"Better nor three year. He's worked wi' Carsons that long, and were
always a steady, civil-spoken fellow, though, as I said afore,
somewhat of a Methodee. I wish I'd getten a letter he'd sent his
missis, a week or two agone, when he were on tramp for work. It did
my heart good to read it; for, yo see, I were a bit grumbling mysel;
it seemed hard to be sponging on Jem, and taking a' his flesh-meat
money to buy bread for me and them as I ought to be keeping. But yo
know, though I can earn nought, I mun eat summut. Well, as I telled
ye, I were grumbling, when she" (indicating the sleeping woman by a
nod) "brought me Ben's letter, for she could na' read hersel. It
were as good as Bible-words; ne'er a word o' repining; a' about God
being our Father, and that we mun bear patiently whate'er He sends."
"Don ye think He's th' masters' Father, too? I'd be loth to have
'em for brothers."
"Eh, John! donna talk so; sure there's many and many a master as
good or better nor us."
"If you think so, tell me this. How comes it they're rich, and
we're poor? I'd like to know that. Han they done as they'd be done
by for us?"
But Wilson was no arguer; no speechifier, as he would have called
it. So Barton, seeing he was likely to have it his own way, went
"You'll say (at least many a one does), they'n* getten capital an'
we'n getten none. I say, our labour's our capital, and we ought to
draw interest on that. They get interest on their capital somehow
a' this time, while ourn is lying idle, else how could they all live
as they do? Besides, there's many on 'em has had nought to begin
wi'; there's Carsons, and Duncombes, and Mengies, and many another,
as comed into Manchester with clothes to their back, and that were
all, and now they're worth their tens of thousands, a' getten out of
our labour; why, the very land as fetched but sixty pound twenty
year agone is now worth six hundred, and that, too, is owing to our
labour; but look at yo, and see me, and poor Davenport yonder;
whatten better are we? They'n screwed us down to the lowest peg, in
order to make their great big fortunes, and build their great big
houses, and we, why we're just clemming, many and many of us. Can
you say there's nought wrong in this?"
*"They'n," contraction of "they han," they have.
"Well, Barton, I'll not gainsay ye. But Mr. Carson spoke to me
after th' fire, and says he, 'I shall ha' to retrench, and be very
careful in my expenditure during these bad times, I assure ye'; so
yo see th' masters suffer too."
"Han they ever seen a child o' their'n die for want o' food?" asked
Barton, in a low deep voice.
"I donnot mean," continued he, "to say as I'm so badly off. I'd
scorn to speak for mysel; but when I see such men as Davenport there
dying away, for very clemming, I cannot stand it. I've but gotten
Mary, and she keeps herself pretty much. I think we'll ha' to give
up housekeeping; but that I donnot mind."
And in this kind of talk the night, the long heavy night of
watching, wore away. As far as they could judge, Davenport
continued in the same state, although the symptoms varied
occasionally. The wife slept on, only roused by the cry of her
child now and then, which seemed to have power over her, when far
louder noises failed to disturb her. The watchers agreed, that as
soon as it was likely Mr. Carson would be up and visible, Wilson
should go to his house, and beg for an Infirmary order. At length
the grey dawn penetrated even into the dark cellar. Davenport
slept, and Barton was to remain there until Wilson's return; so,
stepping out into the fresh air, brisk and reviving, even in that
street of abominations, Wilson took his way to Mr. Carson's.
Wilson had about two miles to walk before he reached Mr. Carson's
house, which was almost in the country. The streets were not yet
bustling and busy. The shopmen were lazily taking down the
shutters, although it was near eight o'clock; for the day was long
enough for the purchases people made in that quarter of the town,
while trade was so flat. One or two miserable-looking women were
setting off on their day's begging expedition. But there were few
people abroad. Mr. Carson's was a good house, and furnished with
disregard to expense. But, in addition to lavish expenditure, there
was much taste shown, and many articles chosen for their beauty and
elegance adorned his rooms. As Wilson passed a window which a
housemaid had thrown open, he saw pictures and gilding, at which he
was tempted to stop and look; but then he thought it would not be
respectful. So he hastened on to the kitchen door. The servants
seemed very busy with preparations for breakfast; but
good-naturedly, though hastily, told him to step in, and they could
soon let Mr. Carson know he was there. So he was ushered into a
kitchen hung round with glittering tins, where a roaring fire burnt
merrily, and where numbers of utensils hung round, at whose nature
and use Wilson amused himself by guessing. Meanwhile, the servants
bustled to and fro; an outdoor manservant came in for orders, and
sat down near Wilson. The cook broiled steaks, and the kitchen-maid
toasted bread, and boiled eggs.
The coffee steamed upon the fire, and altogether the odours were so
mixed and appetising, that Wilson began to yearn for food to break
his fast, which had lasted since dinner the day before. If the
servants had known this, they would have willingly given him meat
and bread in abundance; but they were like the rest of us, and not
feeling hunger themselves, forgot it was possible another might. So
Wilson's craving turned to sickness, while they chatted on, making
the kitchen's free and keen remarks upon the parlour.
"How late you were last night, Thomas!"
"Yes, I was right weary of waiting; they told me to be at the rooms
by twelve; and there I was. But it was two o'clock before they
"And did you wait all that time in the street?" asked the housemaid,
who had done her work for the present, and come into the kitchen for
a bit of gossip.
"My eye as like! you don't think I'm such a fool as to catch my
death of cold, and let the horses catch their death too, as we
should ha' done if we'd stopped there. No! I put th' horses up in
th' stables at th' Spread Eagle, and went mysel, and got a glass or
two by th' fire. They're driving a good custom, them, wi' coachmen.
There were five on us, and we'd many a quart o' ale, and gin wi' it,
to keep out th' cold."
"Mercy on us, Thomas; you'll get a drunkard at last!"
"If I do, I know whose blame it will be. It will be missis's, and
not mine. Flesh and blood can't sit to be starved to death on a
coach-box, waiting for folks as don't know their own mind."
A servant, semi-upper-housemaid, semi-lady's-maid, now came down
with orders from her mistress.
"Thomas, you must ride to the fishmongers, and say missis can't give
above half-a-crown a pound for salmon for Tuesday; she's grumbling
because trade's so bad. And she'll want the carriage at three to go
to the lecture, Thomas; at the Royal Execution, you know."
"Ay, ay, I know."
"And you'd better all of you mind your P's and Q's, for she's very
black this morning. She's got a bad headache."
"It's a pity Miss Jenkins is not here to match her. Lord! how she
and missis did quarrel which had got the worst headaches; it was
that Miss Jenkins left for. She would not give up having bad
headaches, and missis could not abide anyone to have 'em but
"Missis will have her breakfast upstairs, cook, and the cold
partridge as was left yesterday, and put plenty of cream in her
coffee, and she thinks there's a roll left, and she would like it
So saying, the maid left the kitchen to be ready to attend to the
young ladies' bell when they chose to ring, after their late
assembly the night before. In the luxurious library, at the
well-spread breakfast-table, sat the two Mr. Carsons, father and
son. Both were reading--the father a newspaper, the son a review--
while they lazily enjoyed their nicely prepared food. The father
was a prepossessing-looking old man; perhaps self-indulgent you
might guess. The son was strikingly handsome, and knew it. His
dress was neat and well appointed, and his manners far more
gentlemanly than his father's. He was the only son, and his sisters
were proud of him; his father and mother were proud of him: he
could not set up his judgment against theirs; he was proud of
The door opened and in bounded Amy, the sweet youngest daughter of
the house, a lovely girl of sixteen, fresh and glowing, and bright
as a rosebud. She was too young to go to assemblies, at which her
father rejoiced, for he had little Amy with her pretty jokes, and
her bird-like songs, and her playful caresses all the evening to
amuse him in his loneliness; and she was not too much tired like
Sophy and Helen, to give him her sweet company at breakfast the next
He submitted willingly while she blinded him with her hands, and
kissed his rough red face all over. She took his newspaper away
after a little pretended resistance, and would not allow her brother
Harry to go on with his review.
"I'm the only lady this morning, papa, so you know you must make a
great deal of me."
"My darling, I think you have your own way always, whether you're
the only lady or not."
"Yes, papa, you're pretty good and obedient, I must say that; but
I'm sorry to say Harry is very naughty, and does not do what I tell
him; do you, Harry?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean to accuse me of, Amy; I
expected praise and not blame; for did not I get you that eau de
Portugal from town, that you could not meet with at Hughes', you
little ungrateful puss?"
"Did you? Oh, sweet Harry; you're as sweet as eau de Portugal
yourself; you're almost as good as papa; but still you know you did
go and forget to ask Bigland for that rose, that new rose they say
he has got."
"No, Amy, I did not forget. I asked him, and he has got the Rose,
sans reproche: but do you know, little Miss Extravagance, a very
small one is half-a-guinea?"
"Oh, I don't mind. Papa will give it me, won't you, dear father?
He knows his little daughter cannot live without flowers and
Mr. Carson tried to refuse his darling, but she coaxed him into
acquiescence, saying she must have it, it was one of her
necessaries. Life was not worth having without flowers.
"Then, Amy," said her brother, "try and be content with peonies and
"Oh, you wretch! I don't call them flowers. Besides, you're every
bit as extravagant. Who gave half-a-crown for a bunch of lilies of
the valley at Yates', a month ago, and then would not let his poor
little sister have them, though she went on her knees to beg them?
Answer me that, Master Hal."
"Not on compulsion," replied her brother, smiling with his mouth,
while his eyes had an irritated expression, and he went first red,
then pale, with vexed embarrassment.
"If you please, sir," said a servant, entering the room, "here's one
of the mill people wanting to see you; his name is Wilson, he says."
"I'll come to him directly; stay, tell him to come in here."
Amy danced off into the conservatory which opened out of the room,
before the gaunt, pale, unwashed, unshaven weaver was ushered in.
There he stood at the door sleeking his hair with old country habit,
and every now and then stealing a glance round at the splendour of
"Well, Wilson, and what do you want to-day, man?"
"Please, sir, Davenport's ill of the fever, and I'm come to know if
you've got an Infirmary order for him?"
"Davenport--Davenport; who is the fellow? I don't know the name."
"He's worked in your factory better nor three years, sir."
"Very likely; I don't pretend to know the names of the men I employ;
that I leave to the overlooker. So he's ill, eh?"
"Ay, sir, he's very bad; we want to get him in at the Fever Wards."
"I doubt if I've an in-patient's order to spare at present; but I'll
give you an out-patient's and welcome."
So saying, he rose up, unlocked a drawer, pondered a minute, and
then gave Wilson an out-patient's order.
Meanwhile, the younger Mr. Carson had ended his review, and began to
listen to what was going on. He finished his breakfast, got up, and
pulled five shillings out of his pocket, which he gave to Wilson as
he passed him, for the "poor fellow." He went past quickly, and
calling for his horse, mounted gaily, and rode away. He was anxious
to be in time to have a look and a smile from lovely Mary Barton,
as she went to Miss Simmonds'. But to-day he was to be
disappointed. Wilson left the house, not knowing whether to be
pleased or grieved. They had all spoken kindly to him, and who
could tell if they might not inquire into Davenport's case, and do
something for him and his family. Besides, the cook, who, when she
had had time to think, after breakfast was sent in, had noticed his
paleness, had had meat and bread ready to put in his hand when he
came out of the parlour; and a full stomach makes every one of us
more hopeful. When he reached Berry Street, he had persuaded
himself he bore good news, and felt almost elated in his heart. But
it fell when he opened the cellar-door, and saw Barton and the wife
both bending over the sick man's couch with awestruck, saddened
"Come here," said Barton. "There's a change comed over him sin' yo
left, is there not?"
Wilson looked. The flesh was sunk, the features prominent, bony,
and rigid. The fearful clay-colour of death was over all. But the
eyes were open and sensitive, though the films of the grave were
setting upon them.
"He wakened fra' his sleep, as yo left him in, and began to mutter
and moan; but he soon went off again, and we never knew he were
awake till he called his wife, but now she's here he's gotten nought
to say to her."
Most probably, as they all felt, he could not speak, for his
strength was fast ebbing. They stood round him still and silent;
even the wife checked her sobs, though her heart was like to break.
She held her child to her breast, to try and keep him quiet. Their
eyes were all fixed on the yet living one, whose moments of life
were passing so rapidly away. At length he brought (with jerking
convulsive effort) his two hands into the attitude of prayer. They
saw his lips move, and bent to catch the words, which came in gasps,
and not in tones.
"O Lord God! I thank thee, that the hard struggle of living is
"O Ben! Ben!" wailed forth his wife, "have you no thought for me? O
Ben! Ben! do say one word to help me through life."
He could not speak again. The trump of the archangel would set his
tongue free; but not a word more would it utter till then. Yet he
heard, he understood, and though sight failed, he moved his hand
gropingly over the covering. They knew what he meant, and guided it
to her head, bowed and hidden in her hands, when she had sunk in her
woe. It rested there with a feeble pressure of endearment. The
face grew beautiful, as the soul neared God. A peace beyond
understanding came over it. The hand was a heavy stiff weight on
the wife's head. No more grief or sorrow for him. They reverently
laid out the corpse--Wilson fetching his only spare shirt to array
it in. The wife still lay hidden in the clothes, in a stupor of
There was a knock at the door, and Barton went to open it. It was
Mary, who had received a message from her father, through a
neighbour, telling her where he was; and she had set out early to
come and have a word with him before her day's work; but some
errands she had to do for Miss Simmonds had detained her until now.
"Come in, wench!" said her father. "Try if thou canst comfort yon
poor, poor woman, kneeling down there. God help her!"
Mary did not know what to say, or how to comfort; but she knelt down
by her, and put her arm round her neck, and in a little while fell
to crying herself so bitterly that the source of tears was opened by
sympathy in the widow, and her full heart was, for a time, relieved.
And Mary forgot all purposed meeting with her gay lover, Harry
Carson; forgot Miss Simmonds' errands, and her anger, in the anxious
desire to comfort the poor lone woman. Never had her sweet face
looked more angelic, never had her gentle voice seemed so musical as
when she murmured her broken sentences of comfort.
"Oh, don't cry so, dear Mrs. Davenport, pray don't take on so. Sure
he's gone where he'll never know care again. Yes, I know how
lonesome you must feel; but think of your children. Oh! we'll all
help to earn food for 'em. Think how sorry HE'D be, if he sees you
fretting so. Don't cry so, please don't."
And she ended by crying herself as passionately as the poor widow.
It was agreed the town must bury him; he had paid to a burial club
as long as he could, but by a few weeks' omission, he had forfeited
his claim to a sum of money now. Would Mrs. Davenport and the
little child go home with Mary? The latter brightened up as she
urged this plan; but no! where the poor, fondly loved remains were,
there would the mourner be; and all that they could do was to make
her as comfortable as their funds would allow, and to beg a
neighbour to look in and say a word at times. So she was left alone
with her dead, and they went to work that had work, and he who had
none, took upon him the arrangements for the funeral.
Mary had many a scolding from Miss Simmonds that day for her absence
of mind. To be sure Miss Simmonds was much put out by Mary's
non-appearance in the morning with certain bits of muslin, and
shades of silk which were wanted to complete a dress to be worn that
night; but it was true enough that Mary did not mind what she was
about; she was too busy planning how her old black gown (her best
when her mother died) might be sponged, and turned, and lengthened
into something like decent mourning for the widow. And when she
went home at night (though it was very late, as a sort of
retribution for her morning's negligence), she set to work at once,
and was so busy and so glad over her task, that she had, every now
and then, to check herself in singing merry ditties, which she felt
little accorded with the sewing on which she was engaged.
So when the funeral day came, Mrs. Davenport was neatly arrayed in
black, a satisfaction to her poor heart in the midst of her sorrow.
Barton and Wilson both accompanied her, as she led her two elder
boys, and followed the coffin. It was a simple walking funeral,
with nothing to grate on the feelings of any; far more in accordance
with its purpose, to my mind, than the gorgeous hearses, and nodding
plumes, which form the grotesque funeral pomp of respectable people.
There was no "rattling the bones over the stones," of the pauper's
funeral. Decently and quietly was he followed to the grave by one
determined to endure her woe meekly for his sake. The only mark of
pauperism attendant on the burial concerned the living and joyous,
far more than the dead, or the sorrowful. When they arrived in the
churchyard, they halted before a raised and handsome tombstone; in
reality a wooden mockery of stone respectabilities which adorned the
burial-ground. It was easily raised in a very few minutes, and
below was the grave in which pauper bodies were piled until within a
foot or two of the surface; when the soil was shovelled over, and
stamped down, and the wooden cover went to do temporary duty over
another hole.* But little recked they of this who now gave up their
*The case, to my certain knowledge, in one churchyard in
Manchester. There may be more.
VII. JEM WILSON'S REPULSE.
"How infinite the wealth of love and hope
Garnered in these same tiny treasure-houses
And oh! what bankrupts in the world we feel,
When Death, like some remorseless creditor,
Seizes on all we fondly thought our own."
The ghoul-like fever was not to be braved with impunity, and balked
of its prey. The widow had reclaimed her children; her neighbours,
in the good-Samaritan sense of the word, had paid her little arrears
of rent, and made her a few shillings beforehand with the world.
She determined to flit from that cellar to another less full of
painful associations, less haunted by mournful memories. The Board,
not so formidable as she had imagined, had inquired into her case;
and, instead of sending her to Stoke Claypole, her husband's
Buckinghamshire parish, as she had dreaded, had agreed to pay her
rent. So food for four mouths was all she was now required to find;
only for three she would have said; for herself and the unweaned
child were but reckoned as one in her calculation.
She had a strong heart, now her bodily strength had been recruited
by a week or two of food, and she would not despair. So she took in
some little children to nurse, who brought their daily food with
them, which she cooked for them, without wronging their helplessness
of a crumb; and when she had restored them to their mothers at
night, she set to work at plain sewing, "seam, and gusset, and
band," and sat thinking how she might best cheat the factory
inspector, and persuade him that her strong, big, hungry Ben was
above thirteen. Her plan of living was so far arranged, when she
heard, with keen sorrow, that Wilson's twin lads were ill of the
They had never been strong. They were like many a pair of twins,
and seemed to have but one life divided between them. One life, one
strength, and in this instance, I might almost say, one brain, for
they were helpless, gentle, silly children, but not the less dear to
their parents and to their strong, active, manly, elder brother.
They were late on their feet, late in talking, late every way; had
to be nursed and cared for when other lads of their age were
tumbling about in the street, and losing themselves, and being taken
to the police-office miles away from home.
Still want had never yet come in at the door to make love for these
innocents fly out of the window. Nor was this the case even now,
when Jem Wilson's earnings, and his mother's occasional charings,
were barely sufficient to give all the family their fill of food.
But when the twins, after ailing many days, and caring little for
their meat, fell sick on the same afternoon, with the same heavy
stupor of suffering, the three hearts that loved them so, each felt,
though none acknowledged to the other, that they had little chance
for life. It was nearly a week before the tale of their illness
spread as far as the court where the Wilsons had once dwelt, and the
Bartons yet lived.
Alice had heard of the sickness of her little nephews several days
before, and had locked her cellar door, and gone off straight to her
brother's house, in Ancoats; but she was often absent for days, sent
for, as her neighbours knew, to help in some sudden emergency of
illness or distress, so that occasioned no surprise.
Margaret met Jem Wilson several days after his brothers were
seriously ill, and heard from him the state of things at his home.
She told Mary of it as she entered the court late that evening; and
Mary listened with saddened heart to the strange contrast which such
woeful tidings presented to the gay and loving words she had been
hearing on her walk home. She blamed herself for being so much
taken up with visions of the golden future that she had lately gone
but seldom on Sunday afternoons, or other leisure time, to see Mrs.
Wilson, her mother's friend; and with hasty purpose of amendment she
only stayed to leave a message for her father with the next-door
neighbour, and then went off at a brisk pace on her way to the house
She stopped with her hand on the latch of the Wilsons' door, to
still her beating heart, and listened to the hushed quiet within.
She opened the door softly; there sat Mrs. Wilson in the old
rocking-chair, with one sick death-like boy lying on her knee,
crying without let or pause, but softly, gently, as fearing to
disturb the troubled, gasping child; while behind her, old Alice let
her fast-dropping tears fall down on the dead body of the other
twin, which she was laying out on a board placed on a sort of
sofa-settee in a corner of the room. Over the child, which yet
breathed, the father bent, watching anxiously for some ground of
hope, where hope there was none. Mary stepped slowly and lightly
across to Alice.
"Ay, poor lad! God has taken him early, Mary."
Mary could not speak, she did not know what to say; it was so much
worse than she had expected. At last she ventured to whisper--
"Is there any chance for the other one, think you?"
Alice shook her head, and told with a look that she believed there
was none. She next endeavoured to lift the little body, and carry
it to its old accustomed bed in its parents' room. But earnest as
the father was in watching the yet-living, he had eyes and ears for
all that concerned the dead, and sprang gently up, and took his dead
son on his hard couch in his arms with tender strength, and carried
him upstairs as if afraid of wakening him.
The other child gasped louder, longer, with more of effort.
"We mun get him away from his mother. He cannot die while she's
"Wishing him?" said Mary, in a tone of inquiry.
"Ay; donno' ye know what 'wishing' means? There's none can die in
the arms of those who are wishing them sore to stay on earth. The
soul o' them as holds them won't let the dying soul go free; so it
has a hard struggle for the quiet of death. We mun get him away
fra' his mother, or he'll have a hard death, poor lile* fellow."
*"Lile," a north-country word for "little."
"Wit leil labour to live."--Piers Plowman.
So without circumlocution she went and offered to take the sinking
child. But the mother would not let him go, and looking in Alice's
face with brimming and imploring eyes, declared, in earnest
whispers, that she was not wishing him, that she would fain have him
released from his suffering. Alice and Mary stood by with eyes
fixed on the poor child, whose struggles seemed to increase, till at
last his mother said, with a choking voice--
"May happen* yo'd better take him, Alice; I believe my heart's
wishing him a' this while, for I cannot, no, I cannot bring mysel to
let my two childer go in one day; I cannot help longing to keep him,
and yet he shan't suffer longer for me."
*"May happen," perhaps.
She bent down, and fondly, oh! with what passionate fondness, kissed
her child, and then gave him up to Alice, who took him with tender
care. Nature's struggles were soon exhausted, and he breathed his
little life away in peace.
Then the mother lifted up her voice and wept. Her cries brought her
husband down to try with his aching heart to comfort hers. Again
Alice laid out the dead, Mary helping with reverent fear. The
father and mother carried him upstairs to the bed, where his little
brother lay in calm repose.
Mary and Alice drew near the fire, and stood in quiet sorrow for
some time. Then Alice broke the silence by saying--
"It will be bad news for Jem, poor fellow, when he comes home."
"Where is he?" asked Mary.
"Working over-hours at th' shop. They'n getten a large order fra'
forrin parts; and yo know, Jem mun work, though his heart's
well-nigh breaking for these poor laddies."
Again they were silent in thought, and again Alice spoke first.
"I sometimes think the Lord is against planning. Whene'er I plan
overmuch, He is sure to send and mar all my plans, as if He would
ha' me put the future into His hands. Afore Christmas time I was as
full as full could be, of going home for good and all; yo han heard
how I've wished it this terrible long time. And a young lass from
behind Burton came into place in Manchester last Martinmas; so after
awhile she had a Sunday out, and she comes to me, and tells me some
cousins o' mine bid her find me out, and say how glad they should be
to ha' me to bide wi' 'em, and look after th' childer, for they'n
getten a big farm, and she's a deal to do among th' cows. So many's
a winter's night did I lie awake and think, that please God, come
summer, I'd bid George and his wife goodbye, and go home at last.
Little did I think how God Almighty would balk me, for not leaving
my days in His hands, who had led me through the wilderness
hitherto. Here's George out of work, and more cast down than ever I
seed him; wanting every chip o' comfort he can get, e'en afore this
last heavy stroke; and now I'm thinking the Lord's finger points
very clear to my fit abiding-place; and I'm sure if George and Jane
can say 'His will be done,' it's no more than what I'm beholden to
So saying, she fell to tidying the room, removing as much as she
could every vestige of sickness; making up the fire, and setting on
the kettle for a cup of tea for her sister-in-law, whose low moans
and sobs were occasionally heard in the room below.
Mary helped her in all these little offices. They were busy in this
way when the door was softly opened, and Jem came in, all grimed and
dirty from his night-work, his soiled apron wrapped round his
middle, in guise and apparel in which he would have been sorry at
another time to have been seen by Mary. But just now he hardly saw
her; he went straight up to Alice, and asked how the little chaps
were. They had been a shade better at dinner-time; and he had been
working away through the long afternoon, and far into the night, in
the belief that they had taken the turn. He had stolen out during
the half-hour allowed at the works for tea, to buy them an orange or
two, which now puffed out his jacket-pocket.
He would make his aunt speak: he would not understand her shake of
the head and fast coursing tears.
"They're both gone," said she.
"Ay! poor fellows. They took worse about two o'clock. Joe went
first, as easy as a lamb, and Will died harder like."
"Ay, lad! both. The Lord has ta'en them from some evil to come, or
He would na' ha' made choice o' them. Ye may rest sure o' that."
Jem went to the cupboard, and quietly extricated from his pocket the
oranges he had bought. But he stayed long there, and at last his
sturdy frame shook with his strong agony. The two women were
frightened, as women always are, on witnessing a man's overpowering
grief. They cried afresh in company. Mary's heart melted within
her as she witnessed Jem's sorrow, and she stepped gently up to the
corner where he stood, with his back turned to them, and putting her
hand softly on his arm, said--
"O Jem, don't give way so; I cannot bear to see you."
Jem felt a strange leap of joy in his heart, and knew the power she
had of comforting him. He did not speak, as though fearing to
destroy by sound or motion the happiness of that moment, when her
soft hand's touch thrilled through his frame, and her silvery voice
was whispering tenderness in his ear. Yes! it might be very wrong;
he could almost hate himself for it; with death and woe so
surrounding him, it yet was happiness, was bliss, to be so spoken to
"Don't, Jem, please don't," whispered she again, believing that his
silence was only another form of grief.
He could not contain himself. He took her hand in his firm yet
trembling grasp, and said, in tones that instantly produced a
revulsion in her mood--
"Mary, I almost loathe myself when I feel I would not give up this
minute, when my brothers lie dead, and father and mother are in such
trouble, for all my life that's past and gone. And, Mary," (as she
tried to release her hand), "you know what makes me feel so
She did know--he was right there. But as he turned to catch a look
at her sweet face, he saw that it expressed unfeigned distress,
almost amounting to vexation; a dread of him, that he thought was
He let her hand go, and she quickly went away to Alice's side.
"Fool that I was--nay, wretch that I was--to let myself take this
time of trouble to tell her how I loved her; no wonder that she
turns away from such a selfish beast."
Partly to relieve her from his presence, and partly from natural
desire, and partly, perhaps, from a penitent wish to share to the
utmost his parents' sorrow, he soon went upstairs to the chamber of
Mary mechanically helped Alice in all the duties she performed
through the remainder of that long night, but she did not see Jem
again. He remained upstairs until after the early dawn showed Mary
that she need have no fear of going home through the deserted and
quiet streets, to try and get a little sleep before work-hour. So
leaving kind messages to George and Jane Wilson, and hesitating
whether she might dare to send a few kind words to Jem, and deciding
that she had better not, she stepped out into the bright morning
light, so fresh a contrast to the darkened room where death had
Another morn than ours."
Mary lay down on her bed in her clothes; and whether it was this, or
the broad day-light that poured in through the sky window, or
whether it was over-excitement, it was long before she could catch a
wink of sleep. Her thoughts ran on Jem's manner and words; not but
what she had known the tale they told for many a day; but still she
wished he had not put it so plainly.
"O dear," said she to herself, "I wish he would not mistake me so; I
never dare to speak a common word o' kindness, but his eye brightens
and his cheek flushes. It's very hard on me; for father and George
Wilson are old friends; and Jem and I ha' known each other since we
were quite children. I cannot think what possesses me, that I must
always be wanting to comfort him when he's downcast, and that I must
go meddling wi' him to-night, when sure enough it was his aunt's
place to speak to him. I don't care for him, and yet, unless I'm
always watching myself, I'm speaking to him in a loving voice. I
think I cannot go right, for I either check myself till I'm
downright cross to him, or else I speak just natural, and that's too
kind and tender by half. And I'm as good as engaged to be married
to another; and another far handsomer than Jem; only I think I like
Jem's face best for all that; liking's liking, and there's no help
for it. Well, when I'm Mrs. Harry Carson, may happen I can put some
good fortune in Jem's way. But will he thank me for it? He's
rather savage at times, that I can see, and perhaps kindness from
me, when I'm another's, will only go against the grain. I'll not
plague myself wi' thinking any more about him, that I won't."
So she turned on her pillow, and fell asleep, and dreamt of what was
often in her waking thoughts; of the day when she should ride from
church in her carriage, with wedding-bells ringing, and take up her
astonished father, and drive away from the old dim work-a-day court
for ever, to live in a grand house, where her father should have
newspapers, and pamphlets, and pipes, and meat dinners every
day--and all day long if he liked.
Such thoughts mingled in her predilection for the handsome young Mr.
Carson, who, unfettered by work-hours, let scarcely a day pass
without contriving a meeting with the beautiful little milliner he
had first seen while lounging in a shop where his sisters were
making some purchases, and afterwards never rested till he had
freely, though respectfully, made her acquaintance in her daily
walks. He was, to use his own expression to himself, quite
infatuated by her, and was restless each day till the time came when
he had a chance, and, of late, more than a chance of meeting her.
There was something of keen practical shrewdness about her, which
contrasted very bewitchingly with the simple, foolish, unworldly
ideas she had picked up from the romances which Miss Simmonds' young
ladies were in the habit of recommending to each other.
Yes! Mary was ambitious, and did not favour Mr. Carson the less
because he was rich and a gentleman. The old leaven, infused years
ago by her Aunt Esther, fermented in her little bosom, and perhaps
all the more, for her father's aversion to the rich and the gentle.
Such is the contrariness of the human heart, from Eve downwards,
that we all, in our old Adam state, fancy things forbidden sweetest.
So Mary dwelt upon and enjoyed the idea of some day becoming a lady,
and doing all the elegant nothings appertaining to ladyhood. It was
a comfort to her, when scolded by Miss Simmonds, to think of the day
when she would drive up to the door in her own carriage, to order
her gowns from the hasty-tempered yet kind dressmaker. It was a
pleasure to her to hear the general admiration of the two elder Miss
Carsons, acknowledged beauties in ball-room and street, on horseback
and on foot, and to think of the time when she should ride and walk
with them in loving sisterhood. But the best of her plans, the
holiest, that which in some measure redeemed the vanity of the rest,
were those relating to her father; her dear father, now oppressed
with care, and always a disheartened, gloomy person. How she would
surround him with every comfort she could devise (of course, he was
to live with them), till he should acknowledge riches to be very
pleasant things, and bless his lady-daughter! Every one who had
shown her kindness in her low estate should then be repaid a
Such were the castles in air, the Alnaschar-visions in which Mary
indulged, and which she was doomed in after days to expiate with
Meanwhile, her words--or, even more, her tones--would maintain their
hold on Jem Wilson's memory. A thrill would yet come over him when
he remembered how her hand had rested on his arm. The thought of
her mingled with all his grief, and it was profound, for the loss of
VIII. MARGARET'S DEBUT AS A PUBLIC SINGER.
"Deal gently with them, they have much endured;
Scoff not at their fond hopes and earnest plans,
Though they may seem to thee wild dreams and fancies.
Perchance, in the rough school of stern Experience,
They've something learned which Theory does not teach;
Or if they greatly err, deal gently still,
And let their error but the stronger plead,
'Give us the light and guidance that we need!'"
One Sunday afternoon, about three weeks after that mournful night,
Jem Wilson set out with the ostensible purpose of calling on John
Barton. He was dressed in his best--his Sunday suit of course;
while his face glittered with the scrubbing he had bestowed on it.
His dark black hair had been arranged and rearranged before the
household looking-glass, and in his button-hole he stuck a narcissus
(a sweet Nancy is its pretty Lancashire name), hoping it would
attract Mary's notice, so that he might have the delight of giving
It was a bad beginning of his visit of happiness that Mary saw him
some minutes before he came into her father's house. She was
sitting at the end of the dresser, with the little window-blind
drawn on one side, in order that she might see the passers-by, in
the intervals of reading her Bible, which lay open before her. So
she watched all the greeting a friend gave Jem; she saw the face of
condolence, the sympathetic shake of the hand, and had time to
arrange her own face and manner before Jem came in, which he did, as
if he had eyes for no one but her father, who sat smoking his pipe
by the fire, while he read an old Northern Star, borrowed from a
Then he turned to Mary, who, he felt through the sure instinct of
love, by which almost his body thought, was present. Her hands were
busy adjusting her dress; a forced and unnecessary movement Jem
could not help thinking. Her accost was quiet and friendly, if
grave; she felt that she reddened like a rose, and wished she could
prevent it, while Jem wondered if her blushes arose from fear, or
anger, or love.
She was very cunning, I am afraid. She pretended to read
diligently, and not to listen to a word that was said, while in fact
she heard all sounds, even to Jem's long, deep sighs, which wrung
her heart. At last she took up her Bible, and as if their
conversation disturbed her, went upstairs to her little room. And
she had scarcely spoken a word to Jem; scarcely looked at him; never
noticed his beautiful sweet Nancy, which only awaited her least word
of praise to be hers! He did not know--that pang was spared--that
in her little dingy bedroom stood a white jug, filled with a
luxuriant bunch of early spring roses, making the whole room
fragrant and bright. They were the gift of her richer lover. So
Jem had to go on sitting with John Barton, fairly caught in his own
trap, and had to listen to his talk, and answer him as best he
"There's the right stuff in this here Star, and no mistake. Such a
right-down piece for short hours."
"At the same rate of wages as now?" asked Jem.
"Aye, aye! else where's the use? It's only taking out o' the
masters' pocket what they can well afford. Did I ever tell yo what
th' Infirmary chap let me into, many a year agone?"
"No," said Jem listlessly.
"Well! yo must know I were in th' Infirmary for a fever, and times
were rare and bad, and there be good chaps there to a man while he's
wick,* whate'er they may be about cutting him up at after.** So
when I were better o' th' fever, but weak as water, they says to me,
says they, 'If yo can write, you may stay in a week longer, and help
our surgeon wi' sorting his papers; and we'll take care yo've your
bellyful of meat and drink. Yo'll be twice as strong in a week.'
So there wanted but one word to that bargain. So I were set to
writing and copying; th' writing I could do well enough, but they'd
such queer ways o' spelling, that I'd ne'er been used to, that I'd
to look first at th' copy and then at my letters, for all the world
like a cock picking up grains o' corn. But one thing startled me
e'en then, and I thought I'd make bold to ask the surgeon the
meaning o't. I've getten no head for numbers, but this I know, that
by FAR TH' GREATER PART O' THE ACCIDENTS AS COMED IN, HAPPENED IN
TH' LAST TWO HOURS O' WORK, when folk getten tired and careless.
Th' surgeon said it were all true, and that he were going to bring
that fact to light."
*Wick; alive. Anglo-Saxon, cwic. "The QUICK and the dead."
--Book of Common Prayer.
**At after; "AT AFTER souper goth this noble king."
--CHAUCER, The Squire's Tale.
Jem was pondering Mary's conduct; but the pause made him aware he
ought to utter some civil listening noise; so he said--
"Ay, it's true enough, my lad, that we're sadly over-borne, and
worse will come of it afore long. Block-printers is going to
strike; they'n getten a bang-up Union, as won't let 'em be put upon.
But there's many a thing will happen afore long, as folk don't
expect. Yo may take my word for that, Jem."
Jem was very willing to take it, but did not express the curiosity
he should have done. So John Barton thought he'd try another hint
"Working folk won't be ground to the dust much longer. We'n a' had
as much to bear as human nature can bear. So, if th' masters can't
do us no good, and they say they can't, we mun try higher folk."
Still Jem was not curious. He gave up hope of seeing Mary again by
her own good free-will; and the next best thing would be, to be
alone to think of her. So muttering something which he meant to
serve as an excuse for his sudden departure, he hastily wished John
good-afternoon, and left him to resume his pipe and his politics.
For three years past trade had been getting worse and worse, and the
price of provisions higher and higher. This disparity between the
amount of the earnings of the working classes and the price of their
food, occasioned, in more cases than could well be imagined, disease
and death. Whole families went through a gradual starvation. They
only wanted a Dante to record their sufferings. And yet even his
words would fall short of the awful truth; they could only present
an outline of the tremendous facts of the destitution that
surrounded thousands upon thousands in the terrible years 1839,
1840, and 1841. Even philanthropists who had studied the subject,
were forced to own themselves perplexed in their endeavour to
ascertain the real causes of the misery; the whole matter was of so
complicated a nature, that it became next to impossible to
understand it thoroughly. It need excite no surprise, then, to
learn that a bad feeling between working-men and the upper classes
became very strong in this season of privation. The indigence and
sufferings of the operatives induced a suspicion in the minds of
many of them, that their legislators, their magistrates, their
employers, and even the ministers of religion, were, in general,
their oppressors and enemies; and were in league for their
prostration and enthralment. The most deplorable and enduring evil
that arose out of the period of commercial depression to which I
refer, was this feeling of alienation between the different classes
of society. It is so impossible to describe, or even faintly to
picture, the state of distress which prevailed in the town at that
time, that I will not attempt it; and yet I think again that surely,
in a Christian land, it was not known even so feebly as words could
tell it, or the more happy and fortunate would have thronged with
their sympathy and their aid. In many instances the sufferers wept
first, and then they cursed. Their vindictive feelings exhibited
themselves in rabid politics. And when I hear, as I have heard, of
the sufferings and privations of the poor, of provision shops where
ha'porths of tea, sugar, butter, and even flour, were sold to
accommodate the indigent--of parents sitting in their clothes by the
fireside during the whole night, for seven weeks together, in order
that their only bed and bedding might be reserved for the use of
their large family--of others sleeping upon the cold hearthstone for
weeks in succession, without adequate means of providing themselves
with food or fuel (and this in the depth of winter)--of others being
compelled to fast for days together, uncheered by any hope of better
fortune, living, moreover, or rather starving, in a crowded garret,
or damp cellar, and gradually sinking under the pressure of want and
despair into a premature grave; and when this has been confirmed by
the evidence of their careworn looks, their excited feelings, and
their desolate homes--can I wonder that many of them, in such times
of misery and destitution, spoke and acted with ferocious
An idea was now springing up among the operatives, that originated
with the Chartists, but which came at last to be cherished as a
darling child by many and many a one. They could not believe that
Government knew of their misery; they rather chose to think it
possible that men could voluntarily assume the office of legislators
for a nation who were ignorant of its real state; as who should make
domestic rules for the pretty behaviour of children without caring
to know that those children had been kept for days without food.
Besides, the starving multitudes had heard, that the very existence
of their distress had been denied in Parliament; and though they
felt this strange and inexplicable, yet the idea that their misery
had still to be revealed in all its depths, and that then some
remedy would be found, soothed their aching hearts, and kept down
their rising fury.
So a petition was framed, and signed by thousands in the bright
spring days of 1839, imploring Parliament to hear witnesses who
could testify to the unparalleled destitution of the manufacturing
districts. Nottingham, Sheffield, Glasgow, Manchester, and many
other towns, were busy appointing delegates to convey this petition,
who might speak, not merely of what they had seen, and had heard,
but from what they had borne and suffered. Life-worn, gaunt,
anxious, hunger-stamped men, were those delegates.
One of them was John Barton. He would have been ashamed to own the
flutter of spirits his appointment gave him. There was the childish
delight of seeing London--that went a little way, and but a little
way. There was the vain idea of speaking out his notions before so
many grand folk--that went a little further; and last, there was the
really pure gladness of heart arising from the idea that he was one
of those chosen to be instruments in making known the distresses of
the people, and consequently in procuring them some grand relief, by
means of which they should never suffer want or care any more. He
hoped largely, but vaguely, of the results of his expedition. An
argosy of the precious hopes of many otherwise despairing creatures,
was that petition to be heard concerning their sufferings.
The night before the morning on which the Manchester delegates were
to leave for London, Barton might be said to hold a levee, so many
neighbours came dropping in. Job Legh had early established himself
and his pipe by John Barton's fire, not saying much, but puffing
away, and imagining himself of use in adjusting the smoothing-irons
that hung before the fire, ready for Mary when she should want them.
As for Mary, her employment was the same as that of Beau Tibbs'
wife, "just washing her father's two shirts," in the pantry
back-kitchen; for she was anxious about his appearance in London.
(The coat had been redeemed, though the silk handkerchief was
forfeited.) The door stood open, as usual, between the house-place
and back-kitchen, so she gave her greeting to their friends as they
"So, John, yo're bound for London, are yo?" said one.
"Ay, I suppose I mun go," answered John, yielding to necessity as it
"Well, there's many a thing I'd like yo to speak on to the
Parliament people. Thou'lt not spare 'em, John, I hope. Tell 'em
our minds: how we're thinking we'n been clemmed long enough, and
we donnot see whatten good they'n been doing, if they can't give us
what we're all crying for sin' the day we were born."
"Ay, ay! I'll tell 'em that, and much more to it, when it gets to my
turn; but thou knows there's many will have their word afore me."
"Well, thou'lt speak at last. Bless thee, lad, do ask 'em to make
th' masters to break th' machines. There's never been good times
sin' spinning-jennies came up."
"Machines is th' ruin of poor folk," chimed in several voices.
"For my part," said a shivering, half-clad man, who crept near the
fire, as if ague-stricken, "I would like thee to tell 'em to pass
th' Short-hours Bill. Flesh and blood gets wearied wi' so much
work; why should factory hands work so much longer nor other trades?
Just ask 'em that, Barton, will ye?"
Barton was saved the necessity of answering, by the entrance of Mrs.
Davenport, the poor widow he had been so kind to. She looked
half-fed, and eager, but was decently clad. In her hand she brought
a little newspaper parcel, which she took to Mary, who opened it,
and then called out, dangling a shirt collar from her soapy fingers--
"See, father, what a dandy you'll be in London! Mrs. Davenport has
brought you this; made new cut, all after the fashion. Thank you
for thinking on him."
"Eh, Mary!" said Mrs. Davenport in a low voice, "whatten's all I can
do, to what he's done for me and mine? But, Mary, sure I can help
ye, for you'll be busy wi' this journey."
"Just help me wring these out, and then I'll take 'em to the
So Mrs. Davenport became a listener to the conversation; and after a
while joined in.
"I'm sure, John Barton, if yo are taking messages to the Parliament
folk, yo'll not object to telling 'em what a sore trial it is, this
law o' theirs, keeping childer fra' factory work, whether they be
weakly or strong. There's our Ben; why, porridge seems to go no way
wi' him, he eats so much; and I han gotten no money to send him t'
school, as I would like; and there he is, rampaging about the
streets a' day, getting hungrier and hungrier, and picking up a'
manner o' bad ways; and th' inspector won't let him in to work in
th' factory, because he's not right age; though he's twice as strong
as Sankey's little ritling* of a lad, as works till he cries for his
legs aching so, though he is right age, and better."
*Ritling; probably a corruption of "ricketling," a child that
suffers from the rickets--a weakling.
"I've one plan I wish to tell John Barton," said a pompous,
careful-speaking man, "and I should like him for to lay it afore the
Honourable House. My mother comed out o' Oxfordshire, and were
under-laundry-maid in Sir Francis Dashwood's family; and when we
were little ones, she'd tell us stories of their grandeur: and one
thing she named were, that Sir Francis wore two shirts a day. Now
he were all as one as a Parliament man; and many on 'em, I han no
doubt, are like extravagant. Just tell 'em, John, do, that they'd
be doing the Lancashire weavers a great kindness, if they'd ha'
their shirts a' made o' calico; 't would make trade brisk, that
would, wi' the power o' shirts they wear."
Job Legh now put in his word. Taking the pipe out of his mouth, and
addressing the last speaker, he said--
"I'll tell ye what, Bill, and no offence, mind ye; there's but
hundreds of them Parliament folk as wear so many shirts to their
back; but there's thousands and thousands o' poor weavers as han
only gotten one shirt i' the world; ay, and don't know where t' get
another when that rag's done, though they're turning out miles o'
calico every day; and many a mile o't is lying in warehouses,
stopping up trade for want o' purchasers. Yo take my advice, John
Barton, and ask Parliament to set trade free, so as workmen can earn
a decent wage, and buy their two, ay and three, shirts a year; that
would make weaving brisk."
He put his pipe in his mouth again, and redoubled his puffing, to
make up for lost time.
"I'm afeard, neighbours," said John Barton, "I've not much chance o'
telling 'em all yo say; what I think on, is just speaking out about
the distress that they say is nought. When they hear o' children
born on wet flags, without a rag t' cover 'em or a bit o' food for
th' mother; when they hear of folk lying down to die i' th' streets,
or hiding their want i' some hole o' a cellar till death come to set
'em free; and when they hear o' all this plague, pestilence, and
famine, they'll surely do somewhat wiser for us than we can guess at
now. Howe'er, I han no objection, if so be there's an opening, to
speak up for what yo say; anyhow, I'll do my best, and yo see now,
if better times don't come after Parliament knows all."
Some shook their heads, but more looked cheery: and then one by
one dropped off, leaving John and his daughter alone.
"Didst thou mark how poorly Jane Wilson looked?" asked he, as they
wound up their hard day's work by a supper eaten over the fire,
which glowed and glimmered through the room, and formed their only
"No, I can't say as I did. But she's never rightly held up her head
since the twins died; and all along she has never been a strong
"Never sin' her accident. Afore that I mind her looking as fresh
and likely a girl as e'er a one in Manchester."
"What accident, father?"
"She cotched* her side again a wheel. It were afore wheels were
boxed up. It were just when she were to have been married, and many
a one thought George would ha' been off his bargain; but I knew he
wern't the chap for that trick. Pretty near the first place she
went to when she were able to go about again, was th' Oud Church;
poor wench, all pale and limping, she went up the aisle, George
holding her up as tender as a mother, and walking as slow as e'er he
could, not to hurry her, though there were plenty enow of rude lads
to cast their jests at him and her. Her face were white like a
sheet when she came in church, but afore she got to th' altar she
were all one flush. But for a' that it's been a happy marriage, and
George has stuck by me through life like a brother. He'll never
hold up his head again if he loses Jane. I didn't like her looks
And so he went to bed, the fear of forthcoming sorrow to his friend
mingling with his thoughts of to-morrow, and his hopes for the
Mary watched him set off, with her hands over her eyes to shade them
from the bright slanting rays of the morning sun, and then she
turned into the house to arrange its disorder before going to her
work. She wondered if she should like or dislike the evening and
morning solitude; for several hours when the clock struck she
thought of her father, and wondered where he was; she made good
resolutions according to her lights; and by-and-bye came the
distractions and events of the broad full day to occupy her with the
present, and to deaden the memory of the absent.
One of Mary's resolutions was, that she would not be persuaded or
induced to see Mr. Harry Carson during her father's absence. There
was something crooked in her conscience after all; for this very
resolution seemed an acknowledgment that it was wrong to meet him at
any time; and yet she had brought herself to think her conduct quite
innocent and proper, for although unknown to her father, and
certain, even did he know it, to fail of obtaining his sanction, she
esteemed her love-meetings with Mr. Carson as sure to end in her
fathers good and happiness. But now that he was away, she would do
nothing that he would disapprove of; no, not even though it was for
his own good in the end.
Now, amongst Miss Simmonds' young ladies was one who had been from
the beginning a confidante in Mary's love affair, made so by Mr.
Carson himself. He had felt the necessity of some third person to
carry letters and messages, and to plead his cause when he was
absent. In a girl named Sally Leadbitter he had found a willing
advocate. She would have been willing to have embarked in a love
affair herself (especially a clandestine one), for the mere
excitement of the thing; but her willingness was strengthened by
sundry half-sovereigns, which from time to time Mr. Carson bestowed
Sally Leadbitter was vulgar-minded to the last degree; never easy
unless her talk was of love and lovers; in her eyes it was an honour
to have had a long list of wooers. So constituted, it was a pity
that Sally herself was but a plain, red-haired, freckled girl; never
likely, one would have thought, to become a heroine on her own
account. But what she lacked in beauty she tried to make up for by
a kind of witty boldness, which gave her what her betters would have
called piquancy. Considerations of modesty or propriety never
checked her utterance of a good thing. She had just talent enough
to corrupt others. Her very good nature was an evil influence.
They could not hate one who was so kind; they could not avoid one
who was so willing to shield them from scrapes by any exertion of
her own; whose ready fingers would at any time make up for their
deficiencies, and whose still more convenient tongue would at any
time invent for them. The Jews, or Mohammedans (I forget which),
believe that there is one little bone of our body,--one of the
vertebrae, if I remember rightly,--which will never decay and turn
to dust, but will lie incorrupt and indestructible in the ground
until the Last Day: this is the Seed of the Soul. The most
depraved have also their Seed of the Holiness that shall one day
overcome their evil; their one good quality, lurking hidden, but
safe, among all the corrupt and bad.
Sally's seed of the future soul was her love for her mother, an aged
bedridden woman. For her she had self-denial; for her, her good-
nature rose into tenderness; to cheer her lonely bed, her spirits,
in the evenings, when her body was often woefully tired, never
flagged, but were ready to recount the events of the day, to turn
them into ridicule, and to mimic, with admirable fidelity, any
person gifted with an absurdity who had fallen under her keen eye.
But the mother was lightly principled like Sally herself; nor was
there need to conceal from her the reason why Mr. Carson gave her so
much money. She chuckled with pleasure, and only hoped that the
wooing would be long a-doing.
Still neither she, nor her daughter, nor Harry Carson liked this
resolution of Mary, not to see him during her father's absence.
One evening (and the early summer evenings were long and bright
now), Sally met Mr. Carson by appointment, to be charged with a
letter for Mary, imploring her to see him, which Sally was to back
with all her powers of persuasion. After parting from him she
determined, as it was not so very late, to go at once to Mary's, and
deliver the message and letter.
She found Mary in great sorrow. She had just heard of George
Wilson's sudden death: her old friend, her father's friend, Jem's
father--all his claims came rushing upon her. Though not guarded
from unnecessary sight or sound of death, as the children of the
rich are, yet it had so often been brought home to her this last
three or four months. It was so terrible thus to see friend after
friend depart. Her father, too, who had dreaded Jane Wilson's death
the evening before he set off. And she, the weakly, was left
behind, while the strong man was taken. At any rate the sorrow her
father had so feared for him was spared. Such were the thoughts
which came over her.
She could not go to comfort the bereaved, even if comfort were in
her power to give; for she had resolved to avoid Jem; and she felt
that this of all others was not the occasion on which she could keep
up a studiously cold manner.
And in this shock of grief, Sally Leadbitter was the last person she
wished to see. However, she rose to welcome her, betraying her
"Well, I shall tell Mr. Carson to-morrow how you're fretting for
him; it's no more nor he's doing for you, I can tell you."
"For him, indeed!" said Mary, with a toss of her pretty head.
"Ay, miss, for him! You've been sighing as if your heart would
break now for several days, over your work; now arn't you a little
goose not to go and see one who I am sure loves you as his life, and
whom you love; 'How much, Mary?' 'This much,' as the children say"
(opening her arms very wide).
"Nonsense," said Mary, pouting; "I often think I don't love him at
"And I'm to tell him that, am I, next time I see him?" asked Sally.
"If you like," replied Mary. "I'm sure I don't care for that or
anything else now"; weeping afresh.
But Sally did not like to be the bearer of any such news. She saw
she had gone on the wrong tack, and that Mary's heart was too full
to value either message or letter as she ought. So she wisely
paused in their delivery and said, in a more sympathetic tone than
she had hitherto used--
"Do tell me, Mary, what's fretting you so? You know I never could
abide to see you cry."
"George Wilson's dropped down dead this afternoon," said Mary,
fixing her eyes for one minute on Sally, and the next hiding her
face in her apron as she sobbed anew.
"Dear, dear! All flesh is grass; here to-day and gone tomorrow, as
the Bible says. Still he was an old man, and not good for much;
there's better folk than him left behind. Is th' canting old maid
as was his sister alive yet?"
"I don't know who you mean," said Mary sharply; for she did know,
and did not like to have her dear, simple Alice so spoken of.
"Come, Mary, don't be so innocent. Is Miss Alice Wilson alive,
then; will that please you? I haven't seen her hereabouts lately."
"No, she's left living here. When the twins died, she thought she
could, maybe, be of use to her sister, who was sadly cast down, and
Alice thought she could cheer her up; at any rate she could listen
to her when her heart grew overburdened; so she gave up her cellar
and went to live with them."
"Well, good go with her. I'd no fancy for her, and I'd no fancy for
her making my pretty Mary into a Methodee."
"She wasn't a Methodee; she was Church o' England."
"Well, well, Mary, you're very particular. You know what I meant.
Look, who is this letter from?" holding up Henry Carson's letter.
"I don't know, and don't care," said Mary, turning very red.
"My eye! as if I didn't know you did know and did care."
"Well, give it me," said Mary impatiently, and anxious in her
present mood for her visitor's departure.
Sally relinquished it unwillingly. She had, however, the pleasure
of seeing Mary dimple and blush as she read the letter, which seemed
to say the writer was not indifferent to her.
"You must tell him I can't come," said Mary, raising her eyes at
last. "I have said I won't meet him while father is away, and I
"But, Mary, he does so look for you. You'd be quite sorry for him,
he's so put out about not seeing you. Besides, you go when your
father's at home, without letting on* to him, and what harm would
there be in going now?"
*Letting on; informing. In Anglo-Saxon one meaning of "laetan"
was "to admit," and we say "to let out the secret."
"Well, Sally, you know my answer, I won't; and I won't."
"I'll tell him to come and see you himself some evening, instead o'
sending me; he'd maybe find you not so hard to deal with."
Mary flashed up.
"If he dares to come here while father's away, I'll call the
neighbours in to turn him out, so don't be putting him up to that."
"Mercy on us! one would think you were the first girl that ever had
a lover; have you never heard what other girls do and think no shame
"Hush, Sally! that's Margaret Jennings at the door."
And in an instant Margaret was in the room. Mary had begged Job
Legh to let her come and sleep with her. In the uncertain firelight