Part 3 out of 9
you could not help noticing that she had the groping walk of a blind
"Well, I must go, Mary," said Sally. "And that's your last word?"
"Yes, yes; good-night." She shut the door gladly on her unwelcome
visitor--unwelcome at that time at least.
"O Margaret, have ye heard this sad news about George Wilson?"
"Yes, that I have. Poor creatures, they've been so tried lately.
Not that I think sudden death so bad a thing; it's easy, and there's
no terrors for him as dies. For them as survives it's very hard.
Poor George! he were such a hearty-looking man."
"Margaret," said Mary, who had been closely observing her friend,
"thou'rt very blind to-night, arn't thou? Is it wi' crying? Your
eyes are so swollen and red."
"Yes, dear! but not crying for sorrow. Han ye heard where I was
"Look here." She held up a bright golden sovereign. Mary opened
her large grey eyes with astonishment.
"I'll tell you all and how about it. You see there's a gentleman
lecturing on music at th' Mechanics', and he wants folk to sing his
songs. Well, last night the counter got a sore throat and couldn't
make a note. So they sent for me. Jacob Butterworth had said a
good word for me, and they asked me would I sing? You may think I
was frightened, but I thought, Now or never, and said I'd do my
best. So I tried o'er the songs wi' th' lecturer, and then th'
managers told me I were to make myself decent and be there by
"And what did you put on?" asked Mary. "Oh, why didn't you come in
for my pretty pink gingham?"
"I did think on't; but you had na come home then. No! I put on my
merino, as was turned last winter, and my white shawl, and did my
hair pretty tidy; it did well enough. Well, but as I was saying, I
went at seven. I couldn't see to read my music, but I took th'
paper in wi' me, to ha' something to do wi' my fingers. Th' folks'
heads danced, as I stood as right afore 'em all as if I'd been going
to play at ball wi' 'em. You may guess I felt squeamish, but mine
weren't the first song, and th' music sounded like a friend's voice
telling me to take courage. So, to make a long story short, when it
were all o'er th' lecturer thanked me, and th' managers said as how
there never was a new singer so applauded (for they'd clapped and
stamped after I'd done, till I began to wonder how many pair o'
shoes they'd get through a week at that rate, let alone their
hands). So I'm to sing again o' Thursday; and I got a sovereign
last night, and am to have half-a-sovereign every night th' lecturer
is at th' Mechanics'."
"Well, Margaret, I'm right glad to hear it."
"And I don't think you've heard the best bit yet. Now that a way
seemed open to me, of not being a burden to any one, though it did
please God to make me blind, I thought I'd tell grandfather. I only
tell'd him about the singing and the sovereign last night, for I
thought I'd not send him to bed wi' a heavy heart; but this morning
I telled him all."
"And how did he take it?"
"He's not a man of many words; and it took him by surprise like."
"I wonder at that; I've noticed it in your ways ever since you
"Ay, that's it! If I'd not telled you, and you'd seen me every day,
you'd not ha' noticed the little mite o' difference fra' day to
"Well, but what did your grandfather say?"
"Why, Mary," said Margaret, half smiling, "I'm a bit loth to tell
yo, for unless yo knew grandfather's ways like me, yo'd think it
strange. He was taken by surprise, and he said: 'Damn yo!' Then
he began looking at his book as it were, and were very quiet, while
I telled him all about it; how I'd feared, and how downcast I'd
been; and how I were now reconciled to it, if it were th' Lord's
will; and how I hoped to earn money by singing; and while I were
talking, I saw great big tears come dropping on th' book; but in
course I never let on that I saw 'em. Dear grandfather! and all day
long he's been quietly moving things out o' my way, as he thought
might trip me up, and putting things in my way as he thought I might
want; never knowing I saw and felt what he were doing; for, yo see,
he thinks I'm out and out blind, I guess--as I shall be soon."
Margaret sighed in spite of her cheerful and relieved tone.
Though Mary caught the sigh, she felt it was better to let it pass
without notice, and began, with the tact which true sympathy rarely
fails to supply, to ask a variety of questions respecting her
friend's musical debut, which tended to bring out more distinctly
how successful it had been.
"Why, Margaret," at length she exclaimed, "thou'lt become as famous,
maybe, as that grand lady fra' London as we see'd one night driving
up to th' concert-room door in her carriage."
"It looks very like it," said Margaret, with a smile. "And be sure,
Mary, I'll not forget to give thee a lift now and then when that
comes about. Nay, who knows, if thou'rt a good girl, but may-happen
I may make thee my lady's maid! Wouldn't that be nice? So I e'en
sing to myself th' beginning o' one o' my songs--
'An' ye shall walk in silk attire,
An' siller hae to spare.'"
"Nay, don't stop; or else give me something rather more new, for
somehow I never quite liked that part about thinking o' Donald
"Well, though I'm a bit tired I don't care if I do. Before I come I
were practising well-nigh upon two hours this one which I'm to sing
o' Thursday. The lecturer said he were sure it would just suit me,
and I should do justice to it; and I should be right sorry to
disappoint him, he were so nice and encouraging like to me. Eh!
Mary, what a pity there isn't more o' that way, and less scolding
and rating i' th' world! It would go a vast deal further. Beside,
some o' th' singers said, they were a'most certain that it were a
song o' his own, because he were so fidgety and particular about it,
and so anxious I should give it th' proper expression. And that
makes me care still more. Th' first verse, he said, were to be sung
'tenderly, but joyously!' I'm afraid I don't quite hit that, but
'What a single word can do!
Thrilling all the heart-strings through,
Calling forth fond memories,
Raining round hope's melodies,
Steeping all in one bright hue--
What a single word can do !'
"Now it falls into th' minor key, and must be very sad-like. I feel
as if I could do that better than t'other.
'What a single word can do!
Making life seem all untrue,
Driving joy and hope away,
Leaving not one cheering ray,
Blighting every flower that grew--
What a single word can do!'"
Margaret certainly made the most of this little song. As a factory
worker, listening outside, observed, "She spun it reet* fine!" And
if she only sang it at the Mechanics' with half the feeling she put
into it that night, the lecturer must have been hard to please if he
did not admit that his expectations were more than fulfilled.
When it was ended, Mary's looks told more than words could have done
what she thought of it; and partly to keep in a tear which would
fain have rolled out, she brightened into a laugh, and said, "For
certain th' carriage is coming. So let us go and dream on it."
*Reet; right; often used for "very."
IX. BARTON'S LONDON EXPERIENCES.
"A life of self-indulgence is for us,
A life of self-denial is for them;
For us the streets, broad-built and populous,
For them unhealthy corners, garrets dim,
And cellars where the water-rat may swim!
For us green paths refreshed by frequent rain,
For them dark alleys where the dust lies grim!
Not doomed by us to this appointed pain--
God made us rich and poor--of what do these complain?"
--MRS. NORTON'S Child of the Islands.
The next evening it was a warm, pattering, incessant rain--just the
rain to waken up the flowers. But in Manchester, where, alas! there
are no flowers, the rain had only a disheartening and gloomy effect;
the streets were wet and dirty, the drippings from the houses were
wet and dirty, and the people were wet and dirty. Indeed, most kept
within doors; and there was an unusual silence of footsteps in the
little paved courts.
Mary had to change her clothes after her walk home; and had hardly
settled herself before she heard some one fumbling at the door. The
noise continued long enough to allow her to get up, and go and open
it. There stood--could it be? yes it was, her father!
Drenched and wayworn, there he stood! He came in with no word to
Mary in return for her cheery and astonished greeting. He sat down
by the fire in his wet things, unheeding. But Mary would not let
him so rest. She ran up and brought down his working-day clothes,
and went into the pantry to rummage up their little bit of provision
while he changed by the fire, talking all the while as gaily as she
could, though her father's depression hung like lead on her heart.
For Mary, in her seclusion at Miss Simmonds',--where the chief talk
was of fashions, and dress, and parties to be given, for which such
and such gowns would be wanted, varied with a slight-whispered
interlude occasionally about love and lovers--had not heard the
political news of the day; that Parliament had refused to listen to
the working-men, when they petitioned, with all the force of their
rough, untutored words, to be heard concerning the distress which
was riding, like the Conqueror on his Pale Horse, among the people;
which was crushing their lives out of them, and stamping woe-marks
over the land.
When he had eaten and was refreshed, they sat for some time in
silence; for Mary wished him to tell her what oppressed him so, yet
durst not ask. In this she was wise; for when we are heavy-laden in
our hearts it falls in better with our humour to reveal our case in
our own way, and our own time.
Mary sat on a stool at her father's feet in old childish guise, and
stole her hand into his, while his sadness infected her, and she
"caught the trick of grief, and sighed," she knew not why.
"Mary, we mun speak to our God to hear us, for man will not hearken;
no, not now, when we weep tears o' blood."
In an instant Mary understood the fact, if not the details, that so
weighed down her father's heart. She pressed his hand with silent
sympathy. She did not know what to say, and was so afraid of
speaking wrongly, that she was silent. But when his attitude had
remained unchanged for more than half-an-hour, his eyes gazing
vacantly and fixedly at the fire, no sound but now and then a deep-
drawn sigh to break the weary ticking of the clock, and the
drip-drop from the roof without, Mary could bear it no longer.
Anything to rouse her father. Even bad news.
"Father, do you know George Wilson's dead?" (Her hand was suddenly
and almost violently compressed.) "He dropped down dead in Oxford
Road yester morning. It's very sad, isn't it, father?"
Her tears were ready to flow as she looked up in her father's face
for sympathy. Still the same fixed look of despair, not varied by
grief for the dead.
"Best for him to die," he said, in a low voice.
This was unbearable. Mary got up under pretence of going to tell
Margaret that she need not come to sleep with her to-night, but
really to ask Job Legh to come and cheer her father.
She stopped outside the door. Margaret was practising her singing,
and through the still night air her voice rang out, like that of an
"Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God."
The old Hebrew prophetic words fell like dew on Mary's heart. She
could not interrupt. She stood listening and "comforted," till the
little buzz of conversation again began, and then entered and told
Both grandfather and grand-daughter rose instantly to fulfil her
"He's just tired out, Mary," said old Job. "He'll be a different
There is no describing the looks and tones that have power over an
aching, heavy-laden heart; but in an hour or so John Barton was
talking away as freely as ever, though all his talk ran, as was
natural, on the disappointment of his fond hope, of the forlorn hope
"Ay, London's a fine place," said he, "and finer folk live in it
than I ever thought on, or ever heerd tell on except in th'
storybooks. They are having their good things now, that afterwards
they may be tormented."
Still at the old parable of Dives and Lazarus! Does it haunt the
minds of the rich as it does those of the poor?
"Do tell us all about London, dear father," asked Mary, who was
sitting at her old post by her father's knee.
"How can I tell yo a' about it, when I never see'd one-tenth of it.
It's as big as six Manchesters, they telled me. One-sixth may be
made up o' grand palaces, and three-sixths o' middling kind, and th'
rest o' holes o' iniquity and filth, such as Manchester knows nought
on, I'm glad to say."
"Well, father, but did you see the Queen?"
"I believe I didn't, though one day I thought I'd seen her many a
time. You see," said he, turning to Job Legh, "there were a day
appointed for us to go to Parliament House. We were most on us
biding at a public-house in Holborn, where they did very well for
us. Th' morning of taking our petition we had such a spread for
breakfast as th' Queen hersel might ha' sitten down to. I suppose
they thought we wanted putting in heart. There were mutton kidneys,
and sausages, and broiled ham, and fried beef and onions; more like
a dinner nor a breakfast. Many on our chaps though, I could see,
could eat but little. Th' food stuck in their throats when they
thought o' them at home, wives and little ones, as had, maybe at
that very time, nought to eat. Well, after breakfast, we were all
set to walk in procession, and a time it took to put us in order,
two and two, and the petition, as was yards long, carried by the
foremost pairs. The men looked grave enough, yo may be sure and
such a set of thin, wan, wretched-looking chaps as they were!"
"Yourself is none to boast on."
"Ay, but I were fat and rosy to many a one. Well, we walked on and
on through many a street, much the same as Deansgate. We had to
walk slowly, slowly, for th' carriages an' cabs as thronged th'
streets. I thought by-and-bye we should maybe get clear on 'em, but
as the streets grew wider they grew worse, and at last we were
fairly blocked up at Oxford Street. We getten across it after a
while though, and my eyes! the grand streets we were in then!
They're sadly puzzled how to build houses though in London; there'd
be an opening for a good steady master builder there, as know'd his
business. For yo see the houses are many on 'em built without any
proper shape for a body to live in; some on 'em they've after
thought would fall down, so they've stuck great ugly pillars out
before 'em. And some on 'em (we thought they must be th' tailors'
sign) had getten stone men and women as wanted clothes stuck on 'em.
I were like a child, I forgot a' my errand in looking about me. By
this it were dinner-time, or better, as we could tell by the sun,
right above our heads, and we were dusty and tired, going a step now
and a step then. Well, at last we getten into a street grander nor
all, leading to th' Queen's palace, and there it were I thought I
saw th' Queen. Yo've seen th' hearses wi' white plumes, Job?"
"Well, them undertaker folk are driving a pretty trade in London.
Well-nigh every lady we saw in a carriage had hired one o' them
plumes for the day, and had it niddle noddling on her head. It were
the Queen's Drawing-room, they said, and the carriages went bowling
along towards her house, some wi' dressed-up gentlemen like circus
folk in 'em, and rucks* o' ladies in others. Carriages themselves
were great shakes too. Some o' the gentlemen as couldn't get inside
hung on behind, wi' nosegays to smell at, and sticks to keep off
folk as might splash their silk stockings. I wonder why they didn't
hire a cab rather than hang on like a whip-behind boy; but I suppose
they wished to keep wi' their wives, Darby and Joan like. Coachmen
were little squat men, wi' wigs like the oud-fashioned parsons'.
Well, we could na get on for these carriages, though we waited and
waited. Th' horses were too fat to move quick; they never known
want o' food, one might tell by their sleek coats; and police pushed
us back when we tried to cross. One or two of 'em struck wi' their
sticks, and coachmen laughed, and some officers as stood nigh put
their spy-glasses in their eye, and left 'em sticking there like
mountebanks. One o' th' police struck me. 'Whatten business have
you to do that?' said I.
*Rucks; a great quantity.
"'You're frightening them horses,' says he, in his mincing way (for
Londoners are mostly all tongue-tied, and can't say their a's and
i's properly, 'and it's our business to keep you from molesting the
ladies and gentlemen going to her Majesty's Drawing-room.'
"'And why are we to be molested?' asked I, 'going decently about our
business, which is life and death to us, and many a little one
clemming at home in Lancashire? Which business is of most
consequence i' the sight o' God, think yo, ourn or them grand ladies
and gentlemen as yo think so much on?'
"But I might as well ha' held my peace, for he only laughed."
John ceased. After waiting a little, to see if he would go on
himself, Job said--
"Well, but that's not a' your story, man. Tell us what happened
when you got to th' Parliament House."
After a little pause, John answered--
"If you please, neighbour, I'd rather say nought about that. It's
not to be forgotten, or forgiven either, by me or many another; but
I canna tell of our down-casting just as a piece of London news. As
long as I live, our rejection of that day will abide in my heart;
and as long as I live I shall curse them as so cruelly refused to
hear us; but I'll not speak of it no* more."
*A similar use of a double negative is frequent in Chaucer;
as in the "Miller's Tale":
"That of no wife toke he non offering
For curtesie, he sayd, he n'old non."
So, daunted in their inquiries, they sat silent for a few minutes.
Old Job, however, felt that some one must speak, else all the good
they had done in dispelling John Barton's gloom was lost. So after
a while he thought of a subject, neither sufficiently dissonant from
the last to jar on a full heart, nor too much the same to cherish
the continuance of the gloomy train of thought.
"Did you ever hear tell," said he to Mary, "that I were in London
"No!" said she with surprise, and looking at Job with increased
"Ay, but I were though, and Peg there too, though she minds nought
about it, poor wench! You must know I had but one child, and she
were Margaret's mother. I loved her above a bit, and one day when
she came (standing behind me for that I should not see her blushes,
and stroking my cheeks in her own coaxing way), and told me she and
Frank Jennings (as was a joiner lodging near us) should be so happy
if they were married, I could not find in my heart t' say her nay,
though I went sick at the thought of losing her away from my home.
However, she was my only child, and I never said nought of what I
felt, for fear o' grieving her young heart. But I tried to think o'
the time when I'd been young mysel, and had loved her blessed
mother, and how we'd left father and mother, and gone out into th'
world together, and I'm now right thankful I held my peace, and
didna fret her wi' telling her how sore I was at parting wi' her
that were the light o' my eyes."
"But," said Mary, "you said the young man were a neighbour."
"Ay, so he were, and his father afore him. But work were rather
slack in Manchester, and Frank's uncle sent him word o' London work
and London wages, so he were to go there, and it were there Margaret
was to follow him. Well, my heart aches yet at thought of those
days. She so happy, and he so happy; only the poor father as
fretted sadly behind their backs. They were married and stayed some
days wi' me afore setting off; and I've often thought sin',
Margaret's heart failed her many a time those few days, and she
would fain ha' spoken; but I knew fra' mysel it were better to keep
it pent up, and I never let on what I were feeling. I knew what she
meant when she came kissing, and holding my hand, and all her old
childish ways o' loving me. Well, they went at last. You know them
two letters, Margaret?"
"Yes, sure," replied his grand-daughter.
"Well, them two were the only letters I ever had fra' her, poor
lass. She said in them she were very happy, and I believe she were.
And Frank's family heard he were in good work. In one o' her
letters, poor thing, she ends wi' saying, 'Farewell, Grandad!' wi' a
line drawn under grandad, and fra' that an' other hints I knew she
were in th' family way; and I said nought, but I screwed up a
little money, thinking come Whitsuntide I'd take a holiday and go
and see her an' th' little one. But one day towards Whitsuntide,
comed Jennings wi' a grave face, and says he, 'I hear our Frank and
your Margaret's both getten the fever.' You might ha' knocked me
down wi' a straw, for it seemed as if God told me what th' upshot
would be. Old Jennings had gotten a letter, you see, fra' the
landlady they lodged wi'; a well-penned letter, asking if they'd no
friends to come and nurse them. She'd caught it first, and Frank,
who was as tender o'er her as her own mother could ha' been, had
nursed her till he'd caught it himsel; and she expecting her down-
lying* everyday. Well, t' make a long story short, old Jennings and
I went up by that night's coach. So you see, Mary, that was the way
I got to London."
*Down-lying; lying in.
"But how was your daughter when you got there?" asked Mary
"She were at rest, poor wench, and so were Frank. I guessed as much
when I see'd th' landlady's face, all swelled wi' crying, when she
opened th' door to us. We said, 'Where are they?' and I knew they
were dead, fra' her look; but Jennings didn't, as I take it; for
when she showed us into a room wi' a white sheet on th' bed, and
underneath it, plain to be seen, two still figures, he screeched out
as if he'd been a woman.
"Yet he'd other children and I'd none. There lay my darling, my
only one. She were dead, and there were no one to love me, no, not
one. I disremember* rightly what I did; but I know I were very
quiet, while my heart were crushed within me.
"Jennings could na' stand being in the room at all, so the landlady
took him down, and I were glad to be alone. It grew dark while I
sat there; and at last th' landlady came up again, and said, 'Come
here.' So I got up, and walked into the light, but I had to hold by
th' stair-rails, I were so weak and dizzy. She led me into a room,
where Jennings lay on a sofa fast asleep, wi' his pocket-
handkerchief over his head for a night-cap. She said he'd cried
himself fairly off to sleep. There were tea on th' table all ready;
for she were a kind-hearted body. But she still said, 'Come here,'
and took hold o' my arm. So I went round the table, and there were
a clothes-basket by th' fire, wi' a shawl put o'er it. 'Lift that
up,' says she, and I did; and there lay a little wee babby fast
asleep. My heart gave a leap, and th' tears comed rushing into my
eyes first time that day. 'Is it hers?' said I, though I knew it
were. 'Yes,' said she. 'She were getting a bit better o' the
fever, and th' babby were born; and then the poor young man took
worse and died, and she were not many hours behind.'
"Little mite of a thing! and yet it seemed her angel come back to
comfort me. I were quite jealous o' Jennings whenever he went near
the babby. I thought it were more my flesh and blood than his'n,
and yet I were afraid he would claim it. However, that were far
enough fra' his thoughts; he'd plenty other childer, and, as I found
out after, he'd all along been wishing me to take it. Well, we
buried Margaret and her husband in a big, crowded, lonely churchyard
in London. I were loath to leave them there, as I thought, when
they rose again, they'd feel so strange at first away fra'
Manchester, and all old friends; but it could na be helped. Well,
God watches o'er their graves there as well as here. That funeral
cost a mint o' money, but Jennings and I wished to do th' thing
decent. Then we'd the stout little babby to bring home. We'd not
overmuch money left; but it were fine weather, and we thought we'd
take th' coach to Brummagem, and walk on. It were a bright May
morning when I last saw London town, looking back from a big hill a
mile or two off. And in that big mass o' a place I were leaving my
blessed child asleep--in her last sleep. Well, God's will be done!
She's gotten to heaven afore me; but I shall get there at last,
please God, though it's a long while first.
"The babby had been fed afore we set out, and th' coach moving kept
it asleep, bless its little heart! But when th' coach stopped for
dinner it were awake, and crying for its pobbies.* So we asked for
some bread and milk, and Jennings took it first for to feed it, but
it made its mouth like a square, and let it run out at each o' the
four corners. 'Shake it, Jennings,' says I; 'that's the way they
make water run through a funnel, when it's o'er full; and a child's
mouth is broad end o' th' funnel, and th' gullet the narrow one.'
So he shook it, but it only cried th' more. 'Let me have it,' says
I, thinking he were an awkward oud chap. But it were just as bad
wi' me. By shaking th' babby we got better nor a gill into its
mouth, but more nor that came up again, wetting a' th' nice dry
clothes landlady had put on. Well, just as we'd gotten to th'
dinner-table, and helped oursels, and eaten two mouthful, came in
th' guard, and a fine chap wi' a sample of calico flourishing in his
hand. 'Coach is ready!' says one; 'Half-a-crown your dinner!' says
the other. Well, we thought it a deal for both our dinners, when
we'd hardly tasted 'em; but, bless your life, it were half-a-crown
apiece, and a shilling for th' bread and milk as were possetted all
over babby's clothes. We spoke up again** it; but everybody said it
were the rule, so what could two poor oud chaps like us do again it?
Well, poor babby cried without stopping to take breath, fra' that
time till we got to Brummagem for the night. My heart ached for th'
little thing. It caught wi' its wee mouth at our coat sleeves and
at our mouths, when we tried t' comfort it by talking to it. Poor
little wench! it wanted its mammy, as were lying cold in th' grave.
'Well,' says I, 'it'll be clemmed to death, if it lets out its
supper as it did its dinner. Let's get some woman to feed it; it
comes natural to women to do for babbies.' So we asked th'
chambermaid at the inn, and she took quite kindly to it; and we got
a good supper, and grew rare and sleepy, what wi' th' warmth and wi'
our long ride i' the open air. Th' chambermaid said she would like
t' have it t' sleep wi' her, only missis would scold so; but it
looked so quiet and smiling like, as it lay in her arms, that we
thought 't would be no trouble to have it wi' us. I says: 'See,
Jennings, how women folk do quieten babbies; it's just as I said.'
He looked grave; he were always thoughtful-looking, though I never
heard him say anything very deep. At last says he--
"'Young woman! have you gotten a spare nightcap?'
"'Missis always keeps nightcaps for gentlemen as does not like to
unpack,' says she, rather quick.
*"Pobbies," or "pobs," child's porridge.
**"Again," for against. "He that is not with me, he is ageyn me."
"'Ay, but young woman, it's one of your nightcaps I want. Th' babby
seems to have taken a mind to yo; and maybe in th' dark it might
take me for yo if I'd getten your nightcap on.'
"The chambermaid smirked and went for a cap, but I laughed outright
at th' oud bearded chap thinking he'd make hissel like a woman just
by putting on a woman's cap. Howe'er he'd not be laughed out on't,
so I held th' babby till he were in bed. Such a night as we had on
it! Babby began to scream o' th' oud fashion, and we took it turn
and turn about to sit up and rock it. My heart were very sore for
the little one, as it groped about wi' its mouth; but for a' that I
could scarce keep fra' smiling at th' thought o' us two oud chaps,
th' one wi' a woman's nightcap on, sitting on our hinder ends for
half the night, hushabying a babby as wouldn't be hushabied. Toward
morning, poor little wench! it fell asleep, fairly tired out wi'
crying, but even in its sleep it gave such pitiful sobs, quivering
up fra' the very bottom of its little heart, that once or twice I
almost wished it lay on its mother's breast, at peace for ever.
Jennings fell asleep too; but I began for to reckon up our money.
It were little enough we had left, our dinner the day afore had
ta'en so much. I didn't know what our reckoning would be for that
night lodging, and supper, and breakfast. Doing a sum always sent
me asleep ever sin' I were a lad; so I fell sound in a short time,
and were only wakened by chambermaid tapping at th' door, to say
she'd dress the babby before her missis were up if we liked. But
bless yo, we'd never thought o' undressing it the night afore, and
now it were sleeping so sound, and we were so glad o' the peace and
quietness, that we thought it were no good to waken it up to screech
"Well! (there's Mary asleep for a good listener!) I suppose you're
getting weary of my tale, so I'll not be long over ending it. Th'
reckoning left us very bare, and we thought we'd best walk home, for
it were only sixty mile, they telled us, and not stop again for
nought, save victuals. So we left Brummagem (which is as black a
place as Manchester, without looking so like home), and walked a'
that day, carrying babby turn and turn about. It were well fed by
chambermaid afore we left, and th' day were fine, and folk began to
have some knowledge o' th' proper way o' speaking, and we were more
cheery at thought o' home (though mine, God knows, were lonesome
enough). We stopped none for dinner, but at baggin-time* we getten
a good meal at a public-house, an' fed th' babby as well as we
could, but that were but poorly. We got a crust too for it to
suck--chambermaid put us up to that. That night, whether we were
tired or whatten, I don't know, but it were dree** work, and th'
poor little wench had slept out her sleep, and began th' cry as wore
my heart out again. Says Jennings, says he--
"'We should na ha' set out so like gentlefolk a top o' the coach
*Baggin-time; time of the evening meal.
**Dree; long and tedious. Anglo-Saxon, "dreogan," to suffer, to
"'Nay, lad! We should ha' had more to walk if we had na ridden, and
I'm sure both you and I'se* weary o' tramping.'
*"I have not been, nor IS, nor never schal."--Wickliffe's Apology,
"So he were quiet a bit. But he were one o' them as were sure to
find out somewhat had been done amiss when there were no going back
to undo it. So presently he coughs, as if he were going to speak,
and I says to myself, 'At it again, my lad.' Says he--
"'I ax pardon, neighbour, but it strikes me it would ha' been better
for my son if he had never begun to keep company wi' your daughter.'
"Well! that put me up, and my heart got very full, and but that I
were carrying HER babby, I think I should ha' struck him. At last I
could hold in no longer, and says I--
"'Better say at once it would ha' been better for God never to ha'
made th' world, for then we'd never ha' been in it, to have had th'
heavy hearts we have now.'
"Well! he said that were rank blasphemy; but I thought his way of
casting up again th' events God had pleased to send, were worse
blasphemy. Howe'er, I said nought more angry, for th' little
babby's sake, as were th' child o' his dead son, as well as o' my
"Th' longest lane will have a turning, and that night came to an end
at last; and we were footsore and tired enough, and to my mind the
babby were getting weaker and weaker, and it wrung my heart to hear
its little wail! I'd ha' given my right hand for one of yesterday's
hearty cries. We were wanting our breakfasts, and so were it too,
motherless babby! We could see no public-houses, so about six
o'clock (only we thought it were later) we stopped at a cottage,
where a woman were moving about near th' open door. Says I, 'Good
woman, may we rest us a bit?' 'Come in,' says she, wiping a chair,
as looked bright enough afore, wi' her apron. It were a cheery,
clean room; and we were glad to sit down again, though I thought my
legs would never bend at th' knees. In a minute she fell a noticing
th' babby, and took it in her arms, and kissed it again and again.
'Missis,' says I, 'we're not without money and if yo'd give us
somewhat for breakfast, we'd pay yo honest, and if yo would wash and
dress that poor babby, and get some pobbies down its throat, for
it's well-nigh clemmed, I'd pray for you till my dying day.' So she
said nought but gived me th' babby back, and afore you could say
Jack Robinson, she'd a pan on th' fire, and bread and cheese on th'
table. When she turned round, her face looked red, and her lips
were tight pressed together. Well! we were right down glad on our
breakfast, and God bless and reward that woman for her kindness that
day! She fed th' poor babby as gently and softly, and spoke to it
as tenderly as its own poor mother could ha' done. It seemed as if
that stranger and it had known each other afore, maybe in heaven,
where folk's spirits come from, they say; th' babby looked up so
lovingly in her eyes, and made little noises more like a dove than
aught else. Then she undressed it (poor darling! it were time),
touching it so softly; and washed it from head to foot; and as many
on its clothes were dirty, and what bits o' things its mother had
gotten ready for it had been sent by th' carrier fra' London, she
put 'em aside; and wrapping little naked babby in her apron, she
pulled out a key, as were fastened to a black ribbon, and hung down
her breast, and unlocked a drawer in th' dresser. I were sorry to
be prying, but I could na help seeing in that drawer some little
child's clothes, all strewed wi' lavender, and lying by 'em a little
whip an' a broken rattle. I began to have an insight into that
woman's heart then. She took out a thing or two and locked the
drawer, and went on dressing babby. Just about then come her
husband down, a great big fellow as didn't look half awake, though
it were getting late; but he'd heard all as had been said
downstairs, as were plain to be seen; but he were a gruff chap.
We'd finished our breakfast, and Jennings were looking hard at th'
woman as she were getting the babby to sleep wi' a sort of rocking
way. At length says he, 'I ha' learnt th' way now; it's two jiggits
and a shake, two jiggits and a shake. I can get that babby asleep
"The man had nodded cross enough to us, and had gone to th' door,
and stood there, whistling wi' his hands in his breeches-pockets,
looking abroad. But at last he turns and says, quite sharp--
"'I say, missis, I'm to have no breakfast to-day, I s'pose.'
"So wi' that she kissed th' child, a long, soft kiss, and looking in
my face to see if I could take her meaning, gave me th' babby
without a word. I were loath to stir, but I saw it were better to
go. So giving Jennings a sharp nudge (for he'd fallen asleep), I
says, 'Missis, what's to pay?' pulling out my money wi' a jingle
that she might na guess we were at all bare o' cash. So she looks
at her husband, who said ne'er a word, but were listening with all
his ears nevertheless; and when she saw he would na say, she said,
hesitating, as if pulled two ways, by her fear o' him, 'Should you
think sixpence over much?' It were so different to public-house
reckoning, for we'd eaten a main deal afore the chap came down. So
says I, 'And, missis, what should we gi' you for the babby's bread
and milk?' (I had it once in my mind to say 'and for a' your
trouble with it,' but my heart would na let me say it, for I could
read in her ways how it had been a work o' love). So says she,
quite quick, and stealing a look at her husband's back, as looked
all ear, if ever a back did, 'Oh, we could take nought for the
little babby's food, if it had eaten twice as much, bless it.' Wi'
that he looked at her; such a scowling look! She knew what he
meant, and stepped softly across the floor to him, and put her hand
on his arm. He seem'd as though he'd shake it off by a jerk on his
elbow, but she said quite low, 'For poor little Johnnie's sake,
Richard.' He did not move or speak again, and after looking in his
face for a minute, she turned away, swallowing deep in her throat.
She kissed th' sleeping babby as she passed, when I paid her. To
quieten th' gruff husband, and stop him if he rated her, I could na
help slipping another sixpence under th' loaf, and then we set off
again. Last look I had o' that woman she were quietly wiping her
eyes wi' the corner of her apron, as she went about her husband's
breakfast. But I shall know her in heaven."
He stopped to think of that long ago May morning, when he had
carried his grand-daughter under the distant hedgerows and beneath
the flowering sycamores.
"There's nought more to say, wench," said he to Margaret, as she
begged him to go on. "That night we reached Manchester, and I'd
found out that Jennings would be glad enough to give up babby to me,
so I took her home at once, and a blessing she's been to me."
They were all silent for a few minutes; each following out the
current of their thoughts. Then, almost simultaneously, their
attention fell upon Mary. Sitting on her little stool, her head
resting on her father's knee, and sleeping as soundly as any infant,
her breath (still like an infant's) came and went as softly as a
bird steals to her leafy nest. Her half-open mouth was as scarlet
as the winter-berries, and contrasted finely with the clear paleness
of her complexion, where the eloquent blood flushed carnation at
each motion. Her black eye-lashes lay on the delicate cheek, which
was still more shaded by the masses of her golden hair, that seemed
to form a nest-like pillar for her as she lay. Her father in fond
pride straightened one glossy curl, for an instant, as if to display
its length and silkiness.
The little action awoke her, and, like nine out of ten people in
similar circumstances, she exclaimed, opening her eyes to their
"I'm not asleep. I've been awake all the time."
Even her father could not keep from smiling, and Job Legh and
Margaret laughed outright.
"Come, wench," said Job, "don't look so gloppened* because thou'st
fallen asleep while an oud chap like me was talking on oud times.
It were like enough to send thee to sleep. Try if thou canst keep
thine eyes open while I read thy father a bit on a poem as is
written by a weaver like oursel. A rare chap I'll be bound is he
who could weave verse like this."
*Gloppened; amazed, frightened.
So adjusting his spectacles on nose, cocking his chin, crossing his
legs, and coughing to clear his voice, he read aloud a little poem
of Samuel Bamford's* he had picked up somewhere.
*The fine-spirited author of 'Passages in the Life of a Radical'--
a man who illustrates his order, and shows what nobility may be
in a cottage.
God help the poor, who, on this wintry morn,
Come forth from alleys dim and courts obscure.
God help yon poor pale girl, who droops forlorn,
And meekly her affliction doth endure;
God help her, outcast lamb; she trembling stands,
All wan her lips, and frozen red her hands
Her sunken eyes are modestly downcast,
Her night-black hair streams on the fitful blast;
Her bosom, passing fair, is half revealed,
And oh! so cold, the snow lies there congealed;
Her feet benumbed, her shoes all rent and worn,
God help thee, outcast lamb, who standst forlorn!
God help the poor!
God help the poor! An infant's feeble wail
Comes from yon narrow gateway, and behold!
A female crouching there, so deathly pale,
Huddling her child, to screen it from the cold;
Her vesture scant, her bonnet crushed and torn;
A thin shawl doth her baby dear enfold.
And so she 'bides the ruthless gale of morn,
Which almost to her heart hath sent its cold.
And now she, sudden, darts a ravening look,
As one, with new hot bread, goes past the nook;
And, as the tempting load is onward borne,
She weeps. God help thee, helpless one, forlorn!
God help the poor!
God help the poor! Behold yon famished lad,
No shoes, nor hose, his wounded feet protect;
With limping gait, and looks so dreamy sad,
He wanders onward, stopping to inspect
Each window stored with articles of food.
He yearns but to enjoy one cheering meal;
Oh! to the hungry palate viands rude
Would yield a zest the famished only feel!
He now devours a crust of mouldy bread;
With teeth and hands the precious boon is torn
Unmindful of the storm that round his head
Impetuous sweeps. God help thee, child forlorn!
God help the poor!
God help the poor! Another have I found--
A bowed and venerable man is he;
His slouch-ed hat with faded crape is bound;
His coat is grey, and threadbare too, I see.
"The rude winds" seem "to mock his hoary hair":
His shirtless bosom to the blast is bare.
Anon he turns and casts a wistful eye,
And with scant napkin wipes the blinding spray,
And looks around, as if he fain would spy
Friends he had feasted in his better day:
Ah! some are dead: and some have long forborne
To know the poor; and he is left forlorn!
God help the poor!
God help the poor, who in lone valleys dwell,
Or by far hills, where whin and heather grow;
Theirs is a story sad indeed to tell;
Yet little cares the world, and less 't would know
About the toil and want men undergo.
The wearying loom doth call them up at morn;
They work till worn-out nature sinks to sleep;
They taste, but are not fed. The snow drifts deep
Around the fireless cot, and blocks the door;
The night-storm howls a dirge across the moor;
And shall they perish thus--oppressed and lorn?
Shall toil and famine, hopeless, still be borne?
No! God will yet arise and help the poor!
"Amen!" said Barton, solemnly and sorrowfully. "Mary! wench,
couldst thou copy me them lines, dost think?--that's to say, if Job
there has no objection."
"Not I. More they're heard and read and the better, say I."
So Mary took the paper. And the next day, on a blank half-sheet of
a valentine, all bordered with hearts and darts--a valentine she had
once suspected to come from Jem Wilson--she copied Bamford's
beautiful little poem.
X. RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL.
"My heart, once soft as woman's tear, is gnarled
With gloating on the ills I cannot cure."
"Then guard and shield her innocence,
Let her not fall like me;
'T were better, oh! a thousand times,
She in her grave should be."
Despair settled down like a heavy cloud; and now and then, through
the dead calm of sufferings, came pipings of stormy winds,
foretelling the end of these dark prognostics. In times of
sorrowful or fierce endurance, we are often soothed by the mere
repetition of old proverbs which tell the experience of our
forefathers; but now, "it's a long lane that has no turning," "the
weariest day draws to an end," etc., seemed false and vain sayings,
so long and so weary was the pressure of the terrible times. Deeper
and deeper still sank the poor. It showed how much lingering
suffering it takes to kill men, that so few (in comparison) died
during those times. But remember! we only miss those who do men's
work in their humble sphere; the aged, the feeble, the children,
when they die, are hardly noted by the world; and yet to many
hearts, their deaths make a blank which long years will never fill
up. Remember, too, that though it may take much suffering to kill
the able-bodied and effective members of society, it does NOT take
much to reduce them to worn, listless, diseased creatures, who
thenceforward crawl through life with moody hearts and pain-stricken
The people had thought the poverty of the preceding years hard to
bear, and had found its yoke heavy; but this year added sorely to
its weight. Former times had chastised them with whips, but this
chastised them with scorpions.
Of course, Barton had his share of mere bodily sufferings. Before
he had gone up to London on his vain errand, he had been working
short time. But in the hopes of speedy redress by means of the
interference of Parliament, he had thrown up his place; and now,
when he asked leave to resume his work, he was told they were
diminishing their number of hands every week, and he was made aware,
by the remarks of fellow-workmen, that a Chartist delegate, and a
leading member of a Trades' Union, was not likely to be favoured in
his search after employment. Still he tried to keep up a brave
heart concerning himself. He knew he could bear hunger; for that
power of endurance had been called forth when he was a little child,
and had seen his mother hide her daily morsel to share it among her
children, and when he, being the eldest, had told the noble lie,
that "he was not hungry, could not eat a bit more," in order to
imitate his mother's bravery, and still the sharp wail of the
younger infants. Mary, too, was secure of two meals a day at Miss
Simmonds'; though, by the way, the dressmaker too, feeling the
effect of bad times, had left off giving tea to her apprentices,
setting them the example of long abstinence by putting off her own
meal till work was done for the night, however late that might be.
But the rent! It was half-a-crown a week--nearly all Mary's
earnings--and much less room might do for them, only two.--(Now came
the time to be thankful that the early dead were saved from the evil
to come.)--The agricultural labourer generally has strong local
attachments; but they are far less common, almost obliterated, among
the inhabitants of a town. Still there are exceptions, and Barton
formed one. He had removed to his present house just after the last
bad times, when little Tom had sickened and died. He had then
thought the bustle of a removal would give his poor stunned wife
something to do, and he had taken more interest in the details of
the proceeding than he otherwise would have done, in the hope of
calling her forth to action again. So he seemed to know every
brass-headed nail driven up for her convenience. Only one had been
displaced. It was Esther's bonnet nail, which in his deep
revengeful anger against her, after his wife's death, he had torn
out of the wall, and cast into the street. It would be hard work to
leave the house, which yet seemed hallowed by his wife's presence in
the happy days of old. But he was a law unto himself, though
sometimes a bad, fierce law; and he resolved to give the
rent-collector notice, and look out for a cheaper abode, and tell
Mary they must flit. Poor Mary! she loved the house, too. It was
wrenching up her natural feelings of home, for it would be long
before the fibres of her heart would gather themselves about another
This trial was spared. The collector (of himself), on the very
Monday when Barton planned to give him notice of his intention to
leave, lowered the rent threepence a week, just enough to make
Barton compromise and agree to stay on a little longer.
But by degrees the house was stripped of all its little ornaments.
Some were broken; and the odd twopences and threepences, wanted to
pay for their repairs, were required for the far sterner necessity
of food. And by-and-bye Mary began to part with other superfluities
at the pawn-shop. The smart tea-tray and tea-caddy, long and
carefully kept, went for bread for her father. He did not ask for
it, or complain, but she saw hunger in his shrunk, fierce, animal
look. Then the blankets went, for it was summer time, and they
could spare them; and their sale made a fund, which Mary fancied
would last till better times came. But it was soon all gone; and
then she looked around the room to crib it of its few remaining
ornaments. To all these proceedings her father said never a word.
If he fasted, or feasted (after the sale of some article) on an
unusual meal of bread and cheese, he took all with a sullen
indifference, which depressed Mary's heart. She often wished he
would apply for relief from the Guardians' relieving office; often
wondered the Trades' Union did nothing for him. Once, when she
asked him as he sat, grimed, unshaven, and gaunt, after a day's
fasting, over the fire, why he did not get relief from the town, he
turned round, with grim wrath, and said, "I don't want money, child!
D--n their charity and their money! I want work, and it is my
right. I want work."
He would bear it all, he said to himself. And he did bear it, but
not meekly; that was too much to expect. Real meekness of character
is called out by experience of kindness. And few had been kind to
him. Yet through it all, with stern determination he refused the
assistance his Trades' Union would have given him. It had not much
to give, but, with worldly wisdom, thought it better to propitiate
an active, useful member, than to help those who were more
unenergetic, though they had large families to provide for. Not so
thought John Barton. With him, need was right.
"Give it to Tom Darbyshire," he said. "He's more claim on it than
me, for he's more need of it, with his seven children."
Now Tom Darbyshire was, in his listless, grumbling way, a back-
biting enemy of John Barton's. And he knew it; but he was not to be
influenced by that in a matter like this.
Mary went early to her work; but her cheery laugh over it was now
missed by the other girls. Her mind wandered over the present
distress, and then settled, as she stitched, on the visions of the
future, where yet her thoughts dwelt more on the circumstances of
ease, and the pomps and vanities awaiting her, than on the lover
with whom she was to share them. Still she was not insensible to
the pride of having attracted one so far above herself in station;
not insensible to the secret pleasure of knowing that he, whom so
many admired, had often said he would give anything for one of her
sweet smiles. Her love for him was a bubble, blown out of vanity;
but it looked very real and very bright. Sally Leadbitter,
meanwhile, keenly observed the signs of the times; she found out
that Mary had begun to affix a stern value to money as the
"Purchaser of Life," and many girls had been dazzled and lured by
gold, even without the betraying love which she believed to exist in
Mary's heart. So she urged young Mr. Carson, by representations of
the want she was sure surrounded Mary, to bring matters more to a
point. But he had a kind of instinctive dread of hurting Mary's
pride of spirit, and durst not hint his knowledge in any way of the
distress that many must be enduring. He felt that for the present
he must still be content with stolen meetings and summer evening
strolls, and the delight of pouring sweet honeyed words into her
ear, while she listened with a blush and a smile that made her look
radiant with beauty. No; he would be cautious in order to be
certain; for Mary, one way or another, he must make his. He had no
doubt of the effect of his own personal charms in the long run; for
he knew he was handsome, and believed himself fascinating.
If he had known what Mary's home was, he would not have been so much
convinced of his increasing influence over her, by her being more
and more ready to linger with him in the sweet summer air. For when
she returned for the night her father was often out, and the house
wanted the cheerful look it had had in the days when money was never
wanted to purchase soap and brushes, black-lead and pipe-clay. It
was dingy and comfortless; for, of course, there was not even the
dumb familiar home-friend, a fire. And Margaret, too, was now very
often from home, singing at some of those grand places. And Alice;
oh, Mary wished she had never left her cellar to go and live at
Ancoats with her sister-in-law. For in that matter Mary felt very
guilty; she had put off and put off going to see the widow, after
George Wilson's death, from dread of meeting Jem, or giving him
reason to think she wished to be as intimate with him as formerly;
and now she was so much ashamed of her delay that she was likely
never to go at all.
If her father was at home it was no better; indeed, it was worse.
He seldom spoke, less than ever; and often when he did speak, they
were sharp angry words, such as he had never given her formerly.
Her temper was high, too, and her answers not over mild; and once in
his passion he had even beaten her. If Sally Leadbitter or Mr.
Carson had been at hand at that moment, Mary would have been ready
to leave home for ever. She sat alone, after her father had flung
out of the house, bitterly thinking on the days that were gone;
angry with her own hastiness, and believing that her father did not
love her; striving to heap up one painful thought on another. Who
cared for her? Mr. Carson might, but in this grief that seemed no
comfort. Mother dead! Father so often angry, so lately cruel (for
it was a hard blow, and blistered and reddened Mary's soft white
skin with pain): and then her heart turned round, and she
remembered with self-reproach how provokingly she had looked and
spoken, and how much her father had to bear; and oh, what a kind and
loving parent he had been, till these days of trial. The
remembrance of one little instance of his fatherly love thronged
after another into her mind, and she began to wonder how she could
have behaved to him as she had done.
Then he came home; and but for very shame she would have confessed
her penitence in words. But she looked sullen, from her effort to
keep down emotion; and for some time her father did not know how to
begin to speak. At length he gulped down pride, and said--
"Mary, I'm not above saying I'm very sorry I beat thee. Thou wert a
bit aggravating, and I'm not the man I was. But it were wrong, and
I'll try never to lay hands on thee again."
So he held out his arms, and in many tears she told him her
repentance for her fault. He never struck her again.
Still, he often was angry. But that was almost better than being
silent. Then he sat near the fireplace (from habit) smoking, or
chewing opium. Oh, how Mary loathed that smell! And in the dusk,
just before it merged into the short summer night, she had learned
to look with dread towards the window, which now her father would
have kept uncurtained: for there were not seldom seen sights which
haunted her in her dreams. Strange faces of pale men, with dark
glaring eyes, peered into the inner darkness, and seemed desirous to
ascertain if her father was at home. Or, a hand and arm (the body
hidden) was put within the door, and beckoned him away. He always
went. And once or twice, when Mary was in bed, she heard men's
voices below, in earnest, whispered talk.
They were all desperate members of Trades' Unions, ready for
anything; made ready by want.
While all this change for gloom yet struck fresh and heavy on Mary's
heart, her father startled her out of a reverie one evening, by
asking her when she had been to see Jane Wilson. From his manner of
speaking, she was made aware that he had been; but at the time of
his visit he had never mentioned anything about it. Now, however,
he gruffly told her to go next day without fail, and added some
abuse of her for not having been before. The little outward impulse
of her father's speech gave Mary the push which she in this instance
required; and accordingly, timing her visit so as to avoid Jem's
hours at home, she went the following afternoon to Ancoats.
The outside of the well-known house struck her as different; for the
door was closed, instead of open, as it once had always stood. The
window-plants, George Wilson's pride and especial care, looked
withering and drooping. They had been without water for a long
time, and now, when the widow had reproached herself severely for
neglect, in her ignorant anxiety she gave them too much. On opening
the door, Alice was seen, not stirring about in her habitual way,
but knitting by the fireside. The room felt hot, although the fire
burnt grey and dim, under the bright rays of the afternoon sun.
Mrs. Wilson was "siding"* the dinner things, and talking all the
time, in a kind of whining, shouting voice, which Mary did not at
first understand. She understood, at once, however, that her
absence had been noted, and talked over; she saw a constrained look
on Mrs. Wilson's sorrow-stricken face, which told her a scolding was
*To "side," to put aside, or in order.
"Dear! Mary, is that you?" she began. "Why, who would ha' dreamt
of seeing you! We thought you'd clean forgotten us; and Jem has
often wondered if he should know you, if he met you in the street."
Now, poor Jane Wilson had been sorely tried; and at present her
trials had had no outward effect, but that of increased acerbity of
temper. She wished to show Mary how much she was offended, and
meant to strengthen her cause, by putting some of her own sharp
speeches into Jem's mouth.
Mary felt guilty, and had no good reason to give as an apology; so
for a minute she stood silent, looking very much ashamed, and then
turned to speak to Aunt Alice, who, in her surprised, hearty
greeting to Mary, had dropped her ball of worsted, and was busy,
trying to set the thread to rights, before the kitten had entangled
it past redemption, once round every chair, and twice round the
"You mun speak louder than that, if you mean her to hear; she's
become as deaf as a post this last few weeks. I'd ha' told you, if
I'd remembered how long it were sin' you'd seen her."
"Yes, my dear, I'm getting very hard o' hearing of late," said
Alice, catching the state of the case, with her quick glancing eyes.
"I suppose it's the beginning of the end."
"Don't talk o' that way," screamed her sister-in-law. "We've had
enow of ends and deaths without forecasting more." She covered her
face with her apron, and sat down to cry.
"He was such a good husband," said she, in a less excited tone, to
Mary, as she looked up with tear-streaming eyes from behind her
apron. "No one can tell what I've lost in him, for no one knew his
worth like me."
Mary's listening sympathy softened her, and she went on to unburden
her heavy-laden heart.
"Eh, dear, dear! No one knows what I've lost. When my poor boys
went, I thought the Almighty had crushed me to th' ground, but I
never thought o' losing George; I did na think I could ha' borne to
ha' lived without him. And yet I'm here, and he's"--A fresh burst
of crying interrupted her speech.
"Mary,"--beginning to speak again,--"did you ever hear what a poor
creature I were when he married me? And he such a handsome fellow!
Jem's nothing to what his father were at his age."
Yes! Mary had heard, and so she said. But the poor woman's thoughts
had gone back to those days, and her little recollections came out,
with many interruptions of sighs, and tears, and shakes of the head.
"There were nought about me for him to choose me. I were just well
enough afore that accident, but at after I were downright plain.
And there was Bessy Witter as would ha' given her eyes for him; she
as is Mrs. Carson now, for she were a handsome lass, although I
never could see her beauty then; and Carson warn't so much above
her, as they're both above us all now."
Mary went very red, and wished she could help doing so, and wished
also that Mrs. Wilson would tell her more about the father and
mother of her lover; but she durst not ask, and Mrs. Wilson's
thoughts soon returned to her husband, and their early married days.
"If you'll believe me, Mary, there never was such a born goose at
housekeeping as I were; and yet he married me! I had been in a
factory sin' five years old a'most, and I knew nought about
cleaning, or cooking, let alone washing and such like work. The day
after we were married, he went to his work at after breakfast, and
says he, 'Jenny, we'll ha' th' cold beef, and potatoes, and that's a
dinner for a prince.' I were anxious to make him comfortable, God
knows how anxious. And yet I'd no notion how to cook a potato. I
know'd they were boiled, and know'd their skins were taken off, and
that were all. So I tidied my house in a rough kind o' way, then I
looked at that very clock up yonder,"--pointing at one that hung
against the wall--"and I seed it were nine o'clock, so, thinks I,
th' potatoes shall be well boiled at any rate, and I gets 'em on th'
fire in a jiffy (that's to say, as soon as I could peel 'em, which
were a tough job at first), and then I fell to unpacking my boxes!
and at twenty minutes past twelve, he comes home, and I had the beef
ready on th' table, and I went to take the potatoes out o' th' pot;
but oh! Mary, th' water had boiled away, and they were all a nasty
brown mess, as smelt through all the house. He said nought, and
were very gentle; but oh! Mary, I cried so that afternoon. I shall
ne'er forget it; no, never. I made many a blunder at after, but
none that fretted me like that."
"Father does not like girls to work in factories," said Mary.
"No, I know he does not; and reason good. They oughtn't to go at
after they're married, that I'm very clear about. I could reckon
up,"--counting with her finger--"ay, nine men, I know, as has been
driven to th' public-house by having wives as worked in factories;
good folk, too, as thought there was no harm in putting their little
ones out to nurse, and letting their house go all dirty, and their
fires all out; and that was a place as was tempting for a husband to
stay in, was it? He soon finds out gin-shops, where all is clean
and bright, and where th' fire blazes cheerily, and gives a man a
welcome as it were."
Alice, who was standing near for the convenience of hearing, had
caught much of this speech, and it was evident the subject had
previously been discussed by the women, for she chimed in.
"I wish our Jem could speak a word to th' Queen, about factory work
for married women. Eh! but he comes it strong when once yo get him
to speak about it. Wife o' his'n will never work away fra' home."
"I say it's Prince Albert as ought to be asked how he'd like his
missis to be from home when he comes in, tired and worn, and wanting
some one to cheer him; and maybe, her to come in by-and-bye, just as
tired and down in th' mouth; and how he'd like for her never to be
at home to see to th' cleaning of his house, or to keep a bright
fire in his grate. Let alone his meals being all hugger-mugger and
comfortless. I'd be bound, prince as he is, if his missis served
him so, he'd be off to a gin-palace, or summut o' that kind. So why
can't he make a law again poor folks' wives working in factories?"
Mary ventured to say that she thought the Queen and Prince Albert
could not make laws, but the answer was--
"Pooh! don't tell me it's not the Queen as makes laws; and isn't she
bound to obey Prince Albert? And if he said they mustn't, why she'd
say they mustn't, and then all folk would say, oh, no, we never
shall do any such thing no more."
"Jem's getten on rarely," said Alice, who had not heard her sister's
last burst of eloquence, and whose thoughts were still running on
her nephew, and his various talents. "He's found out summut about a
crank or tank, I forget rightly which it is, but th' master's made
him foreman, and he all the while turning off hands; but he said he
could na part wi' Jem, nohow. He's good wage now; I tell him he'll
be thinking of marrying soon, and he deserves a right down good
wife, that he does."
Mary went very red, and looked annoyed, although there was a secret
spring of joy deep down in her heart, at hearing Jem so spoken of.
But his mother only saw the annoyed look, and was piqued
accordingly. She was not over and above desirous that her son
should marry. His presence in the house seemed a relic of happier
times, and she had some little jealousy of his future wife, whoever
she might be. Still she could not bear any one not to feel
gratified and flattered by Jem's preference, and full well she knew
how above all others he preferred Mary. Now she had never thought
Mary good enough for Jem, and her late neglect in coming to see her
still rankled a little in her breast. So she determined to invent a
little, in order to do away with any idea Mary might have that Jem
would choose her for "his right down good wife," as Aunt Alice
"Ay, he'll be for taking a wife soon," and then, in a lower voice,
as if confidentially, but really to prevent any contradiction or
explanation from her simple sister-in-law, she added--
"It'll not be long afore Molly Gibson (that's her at th' provision
shop round the corner) will hear a secret as will not displease her,
I'm thinking. She's been casting sheep's eyes at our Jem this many
a day, but he thought her father would not give her to a common
working-man; but now he's good as her, every bit. I thought once
he'd a fancy for thee, Mary, but I donnot think yo'd ever ha'
suited, so it's best as it is."
By an effort Mary managed to keep down her vexation, and to say,
"She hoped he'd be happy with Molly Gibson. She was very handsome,
"Ay, and a notable body, too. I'll just step upstairs and show you
the patchwork quilt she gave me but last Saturday."
Mary was glad she was going out of the room. Her words irritated
her; perhaps not the less because she did not fully believe them.
Besides, she wanted to speak to Alice, and Mrs. Wilson seemed to
think that she, as the widow, ought to absorb all the attention.
"Dear Alice," began Mary, "I'm so grieved to find you so deaf; it
must have come on very rapid."
"Yes, dear, it's a trial; I'll not deny it. Pray God give me
strength to find out its teaching. I felt it sore one fine day when
I thought I'd go gather some meadow-sweet to make tea for Jane's
cough; and the fields seemed so dree and still, and at first I could
na make out what was wanting; and then it struck me it were th' song
o' the birds, and that I never should hear their sweet music no
more, and I could na help crying a bit. But I've much to be
thankful for. I think I'm a comfort to Jane, if I'm only some one
to scold now and then; poor body! It takes off her thoughts from
her sore losses when she can scold a bit. If my eyes are left I can
do well enough; I can guess at what folk are saying."
The splendid red and yellow patch quilt now made its appearance, and
Jane Wilson would not be satisfied unless Mary praised it all over,
border, centre, and ground-work, right side and wrong; and Mary did
her duty, saying all the more, because she could not work herself up
to any very hearty admiration of her rival's present. She made
haste, however, with her commendations, in order to avoid
encountering Jem. As soon as she was fairly away from the house and
street, she slackened her pace, and began to think. Did Jem really
care for Molly Gibson? Well, if he did, let him. People seemed all
to think he was much too good for her (Mary's own self). Perhaps
some one else, far more handsome, and far more grand, would show him
one day that she was good enough to be Mrs. Henry Carson. So
temper, or what Mary called "spirit," led her to encourage Mr.
Carson more than ever she had done before.
Some weeks after this there was a meeting of the Trades' Union to
which John Barton belonged. The morning of the day on which it was
to take place he had lain late in bed, for what was the use of
getting up? He had hesitated between the purchase of meal or opium,
and had chosen the latter, for its use had become a necessity with
him. He wanted it to relieve him from the terrible depression its
absence occasioned. A large lump seemed only to bring him into a
natural state, or what had been his natural state formerly. Eight
o'clock was the hour fixed for the meeting; and at it were read
letters, filled with details of woe, from all parts of the country.
Fierce, heavy gloom brooded over the assembly; and fiercely and
heavily did the men separate, towards eleven o'clock, some irritated
by the opposition of others to their desperate plans.
It was not a night to cheer them, as they quitted the glare of the
gas-lighted room, and came out into the street. Unceasing, soaking
rain was falling; the very lamps seemed obscured by the damp upon
the glass, and their light reached but to a little distance from the
posts. The streets were cleared of passers-by; not a creature
seemed stirring, except here and there a drenched policeman in his
oilskin cape. Barton wished the others good-night, and set off
home. He had gone through a street or two, when he heard a step
behind him; but he did not care to stop and see who it was. A
little further, and the person quickened step, and touched his arm
very lightly. He turned, and saw, even by the darkness visible of
that badly-lighted street, that the woman who stood by him was of no
doubtful profession. It was told by her faded finery, all unfit to
meet the pelting of that pitiless storm; the gauze bonnet, once
pink, now dirty white; the muslin gown, all draggled, and soaking
wet up to the very knees; the gay-coloured barege shawl, closely
wrapped round the form, which yet shivered and shook, as the woman
whispered, "I want to speak to you."
He swore an oath, and bade her begone.
"I really do. Don't send me away. I'm so out of breath, I cannot
say what I would all at once." She put her hand to her side, and
caught her breath with evident pain.
"I tell thee I'm not the man for thee," adding an opprobrious name.
"Stay," said he, as a thought suggested by her voice flashed across
him. He gripped her arm--the arm he had just before shaken off--and
dragged her, faintly resisting, to the nearest lamp-post. He pushed
the bonnet back, and roughly held the face she would fain have
averted, to the light, and in her large, unnaturally bright grey
eyes, her lovely mouth, half open, as if imploring the forbearance
she could not ask for in words, he saw at once the long-lost Esther;
she who had caused his wife's death. Much was like the gay creature
of former years; but the glaring paint, the sharp features, the
changed expression of the whole! But most of all, he loathed the
dress; and yet the poor thing, out of her little choice of attire,
had put on the plainest she had, to come on that night's errand.
"So it's thee, is it? It's thee!" exclaimed John, as he ground his
teeth, and shook her with passion. "I've looked for thee long at
corners o' streets, and such like places. I knew I should find thee
at last. Thee'll maybe bethink thee o' some words I spoke, which
put thee up at th' time; summut about street-walkers; but oh no!
thou art none o' them naughts; no one thinks thou art, who sees thy
fine draggle-tailed dress, and thy pretty pink cheeks!" stopping for
very want of breath.
"Oh, mercy! John, mercy! listen to me for Mary's sake!"
She meant his daughter, but the name only fell on his ear as
belonging to his wife; and it was adding fuel to the fire. In vain
did her face grow deadly pale around the vivid circle of paint, in
vain did she gasp for mercy,--he burst forth again.
"And thou names that name to me? and thou thinks the thought of her
will bring thee mercy! Dost thou know it was thee who killed her,
as sure as ever Cain killed Abel. She'd loved thee as her own, and
she trusted thee as her own, and when thou wert gone she never held
head up again, but died in less than a three week; and at her
judgment-day she'll rise, and point to thee as her murderer; or if
she don't, I will."
He flung her, trembling, sinking, fainting, from him, and strode
away. She fell with a feeble scream against the lamp-post, and lay
there in her weakness, unable to rise. A policeman came up in time
to see the close of these occurrences, and concluding from Esther's
unsteady, reeling fall, that she was tipsy, he took her in her half-
unconscious state to the lock-ups for the night. The superintendent
of that abode of vice and misery was roused from his dozing watch
through the dark hours, by half-delirious wails and moanings, which
he reported as arising from intoxication. If he had listened, he
would have heard these words, repeated in various forms, but always
in the same anxious, muttering way--
"He would not listen to me; what can I do? He would not listen to
me, and I wanted to warn him! Oh, what shall I do to save Mary's
child! What shall I do? How can I keep her from being such a one
as I am; such a wretched, loathsome creature! She was listening
just as I listened, and loving just as I loved, and the end will be
just like my end. How shall I save her? She won't hearken to
warning, or heed it more than I did: and who loves her well enough
to watch over her as she should be watched? God keep her from harm!
And yet I won't pray for her; sinner that I am! Can my prayers be
heard? No! they'll only do harm. How shall I save her? He would
not listen to me."
So the night wore away. The next morning she was taken up to the
New Bailey. It was a clear case of disorderly vagrancy, and she was
committed to prison for a month. How much might happen in that
XI. MR. CARSON'S INTENTIONS REVEALED.
"O Mary, canst thou wreck his peace,
Wha for thy sake wad gladly die?
Or canst thou break that heart of his,
Whase only fault is loving thee?"
"I can like of the wealth, I must confess,
Yet more I prize the man though moneyless:
I am not of their humour yet that can
For title or estate affect a man;
Or of myself one body deign to make
With him I loathe, for his possessions' sake."
Barton returned home after his encounter with Esther, uneasy and
dissatisfied. He had said no more than he had been planning to say
for years, in case she was ever thrown in his way, in the character
in which he felt certain he should meet her. He believed she
deserved it all, and yet he now wished he had not said it. Her
look, as she asked for mercy, haunted him through his broken and
disordered sleep; her form, as he last saw her, lying prostrate in
helplessness, would not be banished from his dreams. He sat up in
bed to try and dispel the vision. Now, too late, his conscience
smote him with harshness. It would have been all very well, he
thought, to have said what he did, if he had added some kind words,
at last. He wondered if his dead wife was conscious of that night's
occurrence; and he hoped not, for with her love for Esther he
believed it would embitter heaven to have seen her so degraded
and repulsed. For he now recalled her humility, her tacit
acknowledgment of her lost character; and he began to marvel if
there was power in the religion he had often heard of, to turn her
from her ways. He felt that no earthly power that he knew of could
do it, but there glimmered on his darkness the idea that religion
might save her. Still, where to find her again? In the wilderness
of a large town, where to meet with an individual of so little value
or note to any?
And evening after evening he paced the same streets in which he had
heard those footsteps following him, peering under every fantastic,
discreditable bonnet, in the hopes of once more meeting Esther, and
addressing her in a far different manner from what he had done
before. But he returned, night after night, disappointed in his
search, and at last gave it up in despair, and tried to recall his
angry feelings towards her, in order to find relief from his present
He often looked at Mary, and wished she were not so like her aunt,
for the very bodily likeness seemed to suggest the possibility of a
similar likeness in their fate; and then this idea enraged his
irritable mind, and he became suspicious and anxious about Mary's
conduct. Now hitherto she had been so remarkably free from all
control, and almost from all inquiry concerning her actions, that
she did not brook this change in her father's behaviour very well.
Just when she was yielding more than ever to Mr. Carson's desire of
frequent meetings, it was hard to be so questioned concerning her
hours of leaving off work, whether she had come straight home, etc.
She could not tell lies; though she could conceal much if she were
not questioned. So she took refuge in obstinate silence, alleging
as a reason for it her indignation at being so cross-examined. This
did not add to the good feeling between father and daughter, and yet
they dearly loved each other; and in the minds of each, one
principal reason for maintaining such behaviour as displeased the
other, was the believing that this conduct would insure that
Her father now began to wish Mary was married. Then this terrible
superstitious fear suggested by her likeness to Esther would be done
away with. He felt that he could not resume the reins he had once
slackened. But with a husband it would be different. If Jem Wilson
would but marry her! With his character for steadiness and talent!
But he was afraid Mary had slighted him, he came so seldom now to
the house. He would ask her.
"Mary, what's come o'er thee and Jem Wilson? You were great friends
at one time."
"Oh, folk say he is going to be married to Molly Gibson, and of
course courting takes up a deal o' time," answered Mary, as
indifferently as she could.
"Thou'st played thy cards badly, then," replied her father, in a
surly tone. "At one time he were desperate fond o' thee, or I'm
much mistaken. Much fonder of thee than thou deservedst."
"That's as people think," said Mary pertly, for she remembered that
the very morning before she had met Mr. Carson, who had sighed, and
swore, and protested all manner of tender vows that she was the
loveliest, sweetest, best, etc. And when she had seen him
afterwards riding with one of his beautiful sisters, had he not
evidently pointed her out as in some way or other an object worthy
of attention and interest, and then lingered behind his sister's
horse for a moment to kiss his hand repeatedly. So, as for Jem
Wilson, she could whistle him down the wind.
But her father was not in the mood to put up with pertness, and he
upbraided her with the loss of Jem Wilson till she had to bite her
lips till the blood came, in order to keep down the angry words that
would rise in her heart. At last her father left the house, and
then she might give way to her passionate tears.
It so happened that Jem, after much anxious thought, had determined
that day to "put his fortune to the touch, to win or lose all." He
was in a condition to maintain a wife in comfort. It was true his
mother and aunt must form part of the household: but such is not
an uncommon case among the poor, and if there were the advantages of
previous friendship between the parties, it was not, he thought, an
obstacle to matrimony. Both mother and aunt, he believed, would
welcome Mary. And, oh! what a certainty of happiness the idea of
that welcome implied.
He had been absent and abstracted all day long with the thought of
the coming event of the evening. He almost smiled at himself for
his care in washing and dressing in preparation for his visit to
Mary; as if one waistcoat or another could decide his fate in so
passionately a momentous thing. He believed he only delayed before
his little looking-glass for cowardice, for absolute fear of a girl.
He would try not to think so much about the affair, and he thought
Poor Jem! it is not an auspicious moment for thee!
"Come in," said Mary, as some one knocked at the door, while she sat
sadly at her sewing, trying to earn a few pence by working over
hours at some mourning.
Jem entered, looking more awkward and abashed than he had ever done
before. Yet here was Mary all alone, just as he had hoped to find
her. She did not ask him to take a chair, but after standing a
minute or two he sat down near her.
"Is your father at home, Mary?" said he, by way of making an
opening, for she seemed determined to keep silence, and went on
"No, he's gone to his Union, I suppose." Another silence. It was
no use waiting, thought Jem. The subject would never be led to by
any talk he could think of in his anxious, fluttered state. He had
better begin at once.
"Mary!" said he, and the unusual tone of his voice made her look up
for an instant, but in that time she understood from his countenance
what was coming, and her heart beat so suddenly and violently she
could hardly sit still. Yet one thing she was sure of; nothing he
could say should make her have him. She would show them all WHO
would be glad to have her. She was not yet calm after her father's
irritating speeches. Yet her eyes fell veiled before that
passionate look fixed upon her.
"Dear Mary! (for how dear you are, I cannot rightly tell you in
words.) It's no new story I'm going to speak about. You must ha'
seen and known it long; for since we were boy and girl I ha' loved
you above father and mother and all; and all I've thought on by day
and dreamt on by night has been something in which you've had a
share. I'd no way of keeping you for long, and I scorned to try and
tie you down; and I lived in terror lest some one else should take
you to himself. But now, Mary, I'm foreman in th' works, and, dear
Mary! listen," as she, in her unbearable agitation, stood up and
turned away from him. He rose too, and came nearer, trying to take
hold of her hand; but this she would not allow. She was bracing
herself up to refuse him, for once and for all.
"And now, Mary, I've a home to offer you, and a heart as true as
ever man had to love you and cherish you; we shall never be rich
folk, I dare say; but if a loving heart and a strong right arm can
shield you from sorrow, or from want, mine shall do it. I cannot
speak as I would like; my love won't let itself be put in words.
But, oh! darling, say you'll believe me, and that you'll be mine."
She could not speak at once; her words would not come.
"Mary, they say silence gives consent; is it so?" he whispered.
Now or never the effort must be made.
"No! it does not with me." Her voice was calm, although she
trembled from head to foot. "I will always be your friend, Jem, but
I can never be your wife."
"Not my wife?" said he mournfully. "O Mary, think awhile! you
cannot be my friend if you will not be my wife. At least, I can
never be content to be only your friend. Do think awhile! If you
say No, you will make me hopeless, desperate. It's no love of
yesterday. It has made the very groundwork of all that people call
good in me. I don't know what I shall be if you won't have me.
And, Mary, think how glad your father would be! It may sound vain,
but he's told me more than once how much he should like to see us
Jem intended this for a powerful argument, but in Mary's present
mood it told against him more than anything; for it suggested the
false and foolish idea that her father, in his evident anxiety to
promote her marriage with Jem, had been speaking to him on the
subject with some degree of solicitation.
"I tell you, Jem, it cannot be. Once for all, I will never marry
"And is this the end of all my hopes and fears? the end of my life,
I may say, for it is the end of all worth living for!" His
agitation rose and carried him into passion. "Mary, you'll hear,
maybe, of me as a drunkard, and maybe as a thief, and maybe as a
murderer. Remember! when all are speaking ill of me, you will have
no right to blame me, for it's your cruelty that will have made me
what I feel I shall become. You won't even say you'll try and like
me; will you, Mary?" said he, suddenly changing his tone from
threatening despair to fond, passionate entreaty, as he took her
hand and held it forcibly between both of his, while he tried to
catch a glimpse of her averted face. She was silent, but it was
from deep and violent emotion. He could not bear to wait; he would
not hope, to be dashed away again; he rather in his bitterness of
heart chose the certainty of despair, and before she could resolve
what to answer, he flung away her hand and rushed out of the house.
"Jem! Jem!" cried she, with faint and choking voice. It was too
late; he left street after street behind him with his almost winged
speed, as he sought the fields, where he might give way unobserved
to all the deep despair he felt.
It was scarcely ten minutes since he had entered the house, and
found Mary at comparative peace, and now she lay half across the
dresser, her head hidden in her hands, and every part of her body
shaking with the violence of her sobs. She could not have told at
first (if you had asked her, and she could have commanded voice
enough to answer) why she was in such agonized grief. It was too
sudden for her to analyse, or think upon it. She only felt that by
her own doing her life would be hereafter blank and dreary. By-
and-bye her sorrow exhausted her body by its power, and she seemed
to have no strength left for crying. She sat down; and now thoughts
crowded on her mind. One little hour ago, and all was still unsaid,
and she had her fate in her own power. And yet, how long ago had
she determined to say pretty much what she did, if the occasion ever
It was as if two people were arguing the matter; that mournful
desponding communion between her former self, and her present self.
Herself, a day, an hour ago; and herself now. For we have every one
of us felt how a very few minutes of the months and years called
life, will sometimes suffice to place all time past and future in an
entirely new light; will make us see the vanity or the criminality
of the bygone, and so change the aspect of the coming time that we
look with loathing on the very thing we have most desired. A few
moments may change our character for life, by giving a totally
different direction to our aims and energies.
To return to Mary. Her plan had been, as we well know, to marry Mr.
Carson, and the occurrence an hour ago was only a preliminary step.
True; but it had unveiled her heart to her; it had convinced her
that she loved Jem above all persons or things. But Jem was a poor
mechanic, with a mother and aunt to keep; a mother, too, who had
shown her pretty clearly that she did not desire her for a
daughter-in-law: while Mr. Carson was rich, and prosperous, and
gay, and (she believed) would place her in all circumstances of ease
and luxury, where want could never come. What were these hollow
vanities to her, now she had discovered the passionate secret of her
soul? She felt as if she almost hated Mr. Carson, who had decoyed
her with his baubles. She now saw how vain, how nothing to her,
would be all gaieties and pomps, all joys and pleasures, unless she
might share them with Jem; yes, with him she had harshly rejected so
short a time ago. If he were poor, she loved him all the better.
If his mother did think her unworthy of him, what was it but the
truth? as she now owned with bitter penitence. She had hitherto
been walking in grope-light towards a precipice; but in the clear
revelation of that past hour she saw her danger, and turned away
resolutely and for ever.
That was some comfort: I mean her clear perception of what she
ought not to do; of what no luring temptation should ever again
induce her to hearken to. How she could best undo the wrong she had
done to Jem and herself by refusing his love was another anxious
question. She wearied herself by proposing plans, and rejecting
She was roused to a consciousness of time by hearing the
neighbouring church clock strike twelve. Her father she knew might
be expected home any minute, and she was in no mood for a meeting
with him. So she hastily gathered up her work, and went to her own
little bedroom, leaving him to let himself in.
She put out her candle, that her father might not see its light
under the door; and sat down on her bed to think. But again,
turning things over in her mind again and again, she could only
determine at once to put an end to all further communication with
Mr. Carson, in the most decided way she could. Maidenly modesty
(and true love is ever modest) seemed to oppose every plan she could
think of, for showing Jem how much she repented her decision against
him, and how dearly she had now discovered that she loved him. She
came to the unusual wisdom of resolving to do nothing, but strive to
be patient, and improve circumstances as they might turn up.
Surely, if Jem knew of her remaining unmarried, he would try his
fortune again. He would never be content with one rejection; she
believed she could not in his place. She had been very wrong, but
now she would endeavour to do right, and have womanly patience,
until he saw her changed and repentant mind in her natural actions.
Even if she had to wait for years, it was no more than now it was
easy to look forward to, as a penance for her giddy flirting on the
one hand, and her cruel mistake concerning her feelings on the
other. So anticipating a happy ending in the course of her love,
however distant it might be, she fell asleep just as the earliest
factory bells were ringing. She had sunk down in her clothes, and
her sleep was unrefreshing. She wakened up shivery and chill in
body, and sorrow-stricken in mind, though she could not at first
rightly tell the cause of her depression.
She recalled the events of the night before, and still resolved to
adhere to the determinations she had then formed. But patience
seemed a far more difficult virtue this morning.
She hastened downstairs, and in her earnest, sad desire to do right,
now took much pains to secure a comfortable though scanty breakfast
for her father; and when he dawdled into the room, in an evidently
irritable temper, she bore all with the gentleness of penitence,
till at last her mild answers turned away wrath.
She loathed the idea of meeting Sally Leadbitter at her daily work;
yet it must be done, and she tried to nerve herself for the
encounter, and to make it at once understood, that having determined
to give up having anything further to do with Mr. Carson, she
considered the bond of intimacy broken between them.
But Sally was not the person to let these resolutions be carried
into effect too easily. She soon became aware of the present state
of Mary's feelings, but she thought they merely arose from the
changeableness of girlhood, and that the time would come when Mary
would thank her for almost forcing her to keep up her meetings and
communications with her rich lover.
So, when two days had passed over in rather too marked avoidance of
Sally on Mary's part, and when the former was made aware by Mr.
Carson's complaints that Mary was not keeping her appointments with
him, and that unless he detained her by force, he had no chance of
obtaining a word as she passed him in the street on her rapid walk
home, she resolved to compel Mary to what she called her own good.
She took no notice during the third day of Mary's avoidance as they
sat at work; she rather seemed to acquiesce in the coolness of their
intercourse. She put away her sewing early, and went home to her
mother, who, she said, was more ailing than usual. The other girls
soon followed her example, and Mary, casting a rapid glance up and
down the street, as she stood last on Miss Simmonds' doorstep,
darted homewards, in hopes of avoiding the person whom she was fast
learning to dread. That night she was safe from any encounter on
her road, and she arrived at home, which she found, as she expected,
empty; for she knew it was a club night, which her father would not
miss. She sat down to recover breath, and to still her heart, which
panted more from nervousness than from over-exertion, although she
had walked so quickly. Then she arose, and taking off her bonnet,
her eye caught the form of Sally Leadbitter passing the window with
a lingering step, and looking into the darkness with all her might,
as if to ascertain if Mary were returned. In an instant she
repassed and knocked at the house-door; but without awaiting an
answer, she entered.
"Well, Mary, dear" (knowing well how little "dear" Mary considered
her just then); "it's so difficult to get any comfortable talk at
Miss Simmonds', I thought I'd just step up and see you at home."
"I understood, from what you said, your mother was ailing, and that
you wanted to be with her," replied Mary, in no welcoming tone.
"Ay, but mother's better now," said the unabashed Sally. "Your
father's out, I suppose?" looking round as well as she could; for
Mary made no haste to perform the hospitable offices of striking a
match, and lighting a candle.
"Yes, he's out," said Mary shortly, and busying herself at last
about the candle, without ever asking her visitor to sit down.
"So much the better," answered Sally; "for to tell you the truth,
Mary, I've a friend at th' end of the road, as is anxious to come
and see you at home, since you're grown so particular as not to like
to speak to him in the street. He'll be here directly."
"O Sally, don't let him," said Mary, speaking at last heartily; and
running to the door, she would have fastened it, but Sally held her
hands, laughing meanwhile at her distress.
"Oh, please, Sally," struggling, "dear Sally! don't let him come
here, the neighbours will so talk, and father'll go mad if he hears;
he'll kill me, Sally, he will. Besides, I don't love him--I never
did. Oh, let me go," as footsteps approached; and then, as they
passed the house, and seemed to give her a respite, she continued,
"Do, Sally, dear Sally, go and tell him I don't love him, and that I
don't want to have anything more to do with him. It was very wrong,
I dare say, keeping company with him at all, but I'm very sorry, if
I've led him to think too much of me; and I don't want him to think
any more. Will you tell him this, Sally? and I'll do anything for
you, if you will."
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Sally, in a more relenting mood;
"I'll go back with you to where he's waiting for us; or rather, I
should say, where I told him to wait for a quarter of an hour, till
I seed if your father was at home; and if I didn't come back in that
time, he said he'd come here, and break the door open but he'd see
"Oh, let us go, let us go," said Mary, feeling that the interview
must be, and had better be anywhere than at home, where her father
might return at any minute. She snatched up her bonnet, and was at
the end of the court in an instant; but then, not knowing whether to
turn to the right or to the left, she was obliged to wait for Sally,
who came leisurely up, and put her arm through Mary's with a kind of
decided hold, intended to prevent the possibility of her changing
her mind and turning back. But this, under the circumstances, was
quite different to Mary's plan. She had wondered more than once if
she must not have another interview with Mr. Carson; and had then
determined, while she expressed her resolution that it should be the
final one, to tell him how sorry she was if she had thoughtlessly
given him false hopes. For, be it remembered, she had the
innocence, or the ignorance, to believe his intentions honourable;
and he, feeling that at any price he must have her, only that he
would obtain her as cheaply as he could, had never undeceived her;
while Sally Leadbitter laughed in her sleeve at them both, and
wondered how it would all end--whether Mary would gain her point of
marriage, with her sly affectation of believing such to be Mr.
Carson's intention in courting her.
Not very far from the end of the street, into which the court where
Mary lived opened, they met Mr. Carson, his hat a good deal slouched
over his face, as if afraid of being recognised. He turned when he
saw them coming, and led the way without uttering a word (although
they were close behind) to a street of half-finished houses.
The length of the walk gave Mary time to recoil from the interview
which was to follow; but even if her own resolve to go through with
it had failed, there was the steady grasp of Sally Leadbitter, which
she could not evade without an absolute struggle.
At last he stopped in the shelter and concealment of a wooden fence,
put up to keep the building rubbish from intruding on the foot-
pavement. Inside this fence, a minute afterwards, the girls were
standing by him; Mary now returning Sally's detaining grasp with
interest, for she had determined on the way to make her a witness,
willing or unwilling, to the ensuing conversation. But Sally's
curiosity led her to be a very passive prisoner in Mary's hold.
With more freedom than he had ever used before, Mr. Carson put his
arm firmly round Mary's waist, in spite of her indignant resistance.
"Nay, nay! you little witch! Now I have caught you, I shall keep
you prisoner. Tell me now what has made you run away from me so
fast these few days--tell me, you sweet little coquette!"
Mary ceased struggling, but turned so as to be almost opposite to
him, while she spoke out calmly and boldly--
"Mr. Carson! I want to speak to you for once and for all. Since I
met you last Monday evening, I have made up my mind to have nothing
more to do with you. I know I've been wrong in leading you to think
I liked you; but I believe I didn't rightly know my own mind; and I
humbly beg your pardon, sir, if I've led you to think too much of
For an instant he was surprised; the next, vanity came to his aid,
and convinced him that she could only be joking. He, young,
agreeable, rich, handsome! No! she was only showing a little
womanly fondness for coquetting.
"You're a darling little rascal to go on in this way! 'Humbly
begging my pardon if you've made me think too much of you.' As if
you didn't know I think of you from morning till night. But you
want to be told it again and again, do you?"
"No, indeed, sir, I don't. I would far liefer* that you should say
you would never think of me again, than that you should speak of me
in this way. For, indeed, sir, I never was more in earnest than I
am, when I say to-night is the last night I will ever speak to you."
"Yet had I LEVRE unwist for sorrow die."
--CHAUCER, Troilus and Creseide.
"Last night, you sweet little equivocator, but not last day. Ha,
Mary, I've caught you, have I?" as she, puzzled by his perseverance
in thinking her joking, hesitated in what form she could now put her
"I mean, sir," she said sharply, "that I will never speak to you
again, at any time, after to-night."
"And what's made this change, Mary?" said he, seriously enough now.
"Have I done anything to offend you?" added he earnestly.
"No, sir," she answered gently, but yet firmly. "I cannot tell you
exactly why I've changed my mind; but I shall not alter it again;
and, as I said before, I beg your pardon if I've done wrong by you.
And now sir, if you please, good-night."
"But I do not please. You shall not go. What have I done, Mary?
Tell me. You must not go without telling me how I have vexed you.
What would you have me do?"
"Nothing, sir, but" (in an agitated tone), "oh! let me go! You
cannot change my mind; it's quite made up. Oh, sir! why do you hold
me so tight? If you WILL know why I won't have anything more to do
with you, it is that I cannot love you. I have tried, and I really
This naive and candid avowal served her but little. He could not
understand how it could be true. Some reason lurked behind. He was
passionately in love. What should he do to tempt her? A thought
"Listen! Mary. Nay, I cannot let you go till you have heard me. I
do love you dearly; and I won't believe but what you love me a very
little, just a very little. Well, if you don't like to own it,
never mind! I only want now to tell you how much I love you, by
what I am ready to give up for you. You know (or perhaps you are
not fully aware) how little my father and mother would like me to
marry you. So angry would they be, and so much ridicule should I
have to brave, that of course I have never thought of it till now.
I thought we could be happy enough without marriage." (Deep sank
those words into Mary's heart.) "But now, if you like, I'll get a
licence to-morrow morning--nay, to-night, and I'll marry you in
defiance of all the world, rather than give you up. In a year or
two my father will forgive me, and meanwhile you shall have every
luxury money can purchase, and every charm that love can devise to
make your life happy. After all, my mother was but a factory girl."
(This was said to himself, as if to reconcile himself to this bold
step.) "Now, Mary, you see how willing I am to--to sacrifice a good
deal for you; I even offer you marriage, to satisfy your little
ambitious heart; so now, won't you say, you can love me a little,
He pulled her towards him. To his surprise, she still resisted.
Yes! though all she had pictured to herself for so many months in
being the wife of Mr. Carson was now within her grasp, she resisted.
His speech had given her but one feeling, that of exceeding great
relief. For she had dreaded, now she knew what true love was, to
think of the attachment she might have created; the deep feeling her
flirting conduct might have called out. She had loaded herself with
reproaches for the misery she might have caused. It was a relief to
gather that the attachment was of that low despicable kind which can
plan to seduce the object of its affection; that the feeling she had
caused was shallow enough, for it only pretended to embrace self, at
the expense of the misery, the ruin, of one falsely termed beloved.
She need not be penitent to such a plotter! that was the relief.
"I am obliged to you, sir, for telling me what you have. You may
think I am a fool; but I did think you meant to marry me all along;
and yet, thinking so, I felt I could not love you. Still I felt
sorry I had gone so far in keeping company with you. Now, sir, I
tell you, if I had loved you before, I don't think I should have
loved you now you have told me you meant to ruin me; for that's the
plain English of not meaning to marry me till just this minute. I
said I was sorry, and humbly begged your pardon; that was before I
knew what you were. Now I scorn you, sir, for plotting to ruin a
poor girl. Goodnight."
And with a wrench, for which she had reserved all her strength, she
flew off like a bolt. They heard her flying footsteps echo down the
quiet street. The next sound was Sally's laugh, which grated on Mr.
Carson's ears, and keenly irritated him.
"And what do you find so amusing, Sally?" asked he.
"Oh, sir, I beg your pardon. I humbly beg your pardon, as Mary
says, but I can't help laughing to think how she's outwitted us."
(She was going to have said, "outwitted you," but changed the
"Why, Sally, had you any idea she was going to fly out in this
"No, I hadn't, to be sure. But if you did think of marrying her,
why (if I may be so bold as to ask) did you go and tell her you had
no thought of doing otherwise by her? That was what put her up at
"Why, I had repeatedly before led her to infer that marriage was not
my object. I never dreamed she could have been so foolish as to
have mistaken me, little provoking romancer though she be! So I
naturally wished her to know what a sacrifice of prejudice, of--of
myself, in short, I was willing to make for her sake; yet I don't
think she was aware of it after all. I believe I might have any