All's For the Best
T. S. Arthur
Part 2 out of 3
"Ah!" With a slight manifestation of interest.
"Yes, and she's been well educated."
"And has ridden in her own carriage, no doubt. It's the story of
two-thirds of your sewing girls." Mrs. Lowe laughed in an
unsympathetic, contemptuous way.
"I happen to know that it is true in Mary Carson's case," said Mrs.
"Mary Carson. Is that her name?"
"Passing from her antecedents, as the phrase now is, which are
neither here nor there," said Mrs. Lowe, with a coldness, or rather
coarseness of manner, that shocked the higher tone of Mrs. Wykoff's
feelings, "what is she as a seamstress? Can she fit
children?--little girls like my Angela and Grace?"
"I have never been so well suited in my life," replied Mrs. Wykoff.
"Let me show you a delaine for Anna which she finished yesterday."
Mrs. Wykoff left the room, and returned in a few minutes with a
child's dress in her hand. The ladies examined the work on this
dress with practised eyes, and agreed that it was of unusual
"And she fits as well as she sews?" said Mrs. Lowe.
"Yes. Nothing could fit more beautifully than the dresses she has
made for my children."
"How soon will you be done with her?"
"She will be through with my work in a day or two."
"Is she engaged anywhere else?"
"I will ask her, if you desire it."
"Do so, if you please."
"Would you like to see her?"
"It's of no consequence. Say that I will engage her for a couple of
weeks. What are her terms?"
"Seventy-five cents a day."
"So much? I've never paid over sixty-two-and-a-half."
"She's worth the difference. I'd rather pay her a dollar a day than
give some women I've had, fifty cents. She works faithfully in all
"I'll take your word for that, Mrs. Wykoff. Please ask her if she
can come to me next week; and if so, on what day?"
Mrs. Wykoff left the room.
"Will Monday suit you?" she asked, on returning.
"Yes; that will do."
"Miss Carson says that she will be at your service on Monday."
"Very well. Tell her to report herself bright and early on that day.
I shall be all ready for her."
"Hadn't you better see her, while you are here?" asked Mrs. Wykoff.
"Oh, no. Not at all necessary. It will be time enough on Monday.
Your endorsement of her is all-sufficient."
Mrs. Lowe, who had only been making a formal call, now arose, and
with a courteous good morning, retired. From the parlor, Mrs. Wykoff
returned to the room occupied by Miss Carson.
"You look pale this morning, Mary," said the lady as she came in,
"I'm afraid you are not as well as usual."
The seamstress lifted herself in a tired way, and took a long
breath, at the same time holding one hand tightly against her left
side. Her eyes looked very bright, as they rested, with a sober
expression, on Mrs. Wykoff. But she did not reply.
"Have you severe pain there, Mary?" The voice was very kind; almost
"Not very severe. But it aches in a dull way."
"Hadn't you better lie down for a little while?"
"Oh, no--thank you, Mrs. Wykoff." And a smile flitted over the
girl's sweet, sad face; a smile that was meant to say--"How absurd
to think of such a thing!" She was there to work, not to be treated
as an invalid. Stooping over the garment, she went on with her
sewing. Mrs. Wykoff looked at her very earnestly, and saw that her
lips were growing colorless; that she moved them in a nervous way,
and swallowed every now and then.
"Come, child," she said, in a firm tone, as she took Miss Carson by
the arm. "Put aside your work, and lie down on that sofa. You are
She did not resist; but only said---
"Not sick, ma'am--only a little faint."
As her head went heavily down upon the pillow, Mrs. Wykoff saw a
sparkle of tears along the line of her closely shut eyelids.
"Now don't stir from there until I come back," said the kind lady,
and left the room. In a little while she returned, with a small
waiter in her hand, containing a goblet of wine sangaree and a
"Take this, Mary. It will do you good."
The eyes which had not been unclosed since Mrs. Wykoff went out,
were all wet as Mary Carson opened them.
"Oh, you are so kind!" There was gratitude in her voice. Rising, she
took the wine, and drank of it like one athirst. Then taking it from
her lips, she sat, as if noting her sensations.
"It seems to put life into me," she said, with a pulse of
cheerfulness in her tones.
"Now eat this biscuit," and Mrs. Wykoff held the waiter near.
The wine drank and the biscuit eaten, a complete change in Miss
Carson was visible. The whiteness around her mouth gave place to a
ruddier tint; her face no longer wore an exhausted air; the glassy
lustre of her eyes was gone.
"I feel like myself again," she said, as she left the sofa, and
resumed her sewing chair.
"How is your side now?" asked Mrs. Wykoff.
"Easier. I scarcely perceive the pain."
"Hadn't you better lie still a while longer?"
"No, ma'am. I am all right now. A weak spell came over me. I didn't
sleep much last night, and that left me exhausted this morning, and
without any appetite."
"What kept you awake?"
"This dull pain in my side for a part of the time. Then I coughed a
good deal; and then I became wakeful and nervous."
"Does this often occur, Mary?"
"Well--yes, ma'am--pretty often of late."
"Two or three times a week."
"Can you trace it to any cause?"
"More that than anything else, I think."
"And you didn't eat any breakfast this morning?"
"I drank a cup of coffee."
"But took no solid food?"
"I couldn't have swallowed it, ma'am."
"And it's now twelve o'clock," said Mrs. Wykoff; drawing out her
watch. "Mary! Mary! This will not do. I don't wonder you were faint
Miss Carson bent to her work and made no answer. Mrs. Wykoff sat
regarding her for some time with a look of human interest, and then
A little before two o'clock there was a tap at the door, and the
waiter came in, bearing a tray. There was a nicely-cooked chop,
toast, and some tea, with fruit and a custard.
"Mrs. Wykoff said, when she went out, that dinner would be late
to-day, and that you were not well, and mustn't be kept waiting,"
remarked the servant, as he drew a small table towards the centre of
the room, and covered it with a white napkin.
He came just in time. The stimulating effect of the wine had
subsided, and Miss Carson was beginning to grow faint again, for
lack of food.
It was after three o'clock when Mrs. Wykoff came home, and half past
three before the regular dinner for the family was served. She
looked in, a moment, upon the seamstress, saying as she did so--
"You've had your dinner, Mary?"
"Oh yes, ma'am, and I'm much obliged," answered Miss Carson, a
bright smile playing over her face. The timely meal had put new life
"I knew you couldn't wait until we were ready," said the
kind-hearted, thoughtful woman, "and so told Ellen to cook you a
chop, and make you a cup of tea. Did you have enough?"
"Oh yes, ma'am. More than enough."
"You feel better than you did this morning?"
"A great deal better, I'm like another person."
"You must never go without food so long again, Mary. It is little
better than suicide for one in your state of health."
Mrs. Wykoff retired, and the seamstress went on with her work.
At the usual hour, Mary Carson appeared on the next morning. Living
at some distance from Mrs. Wykoff's, she did not come until after
breakfast. The excellent lady had thought over the incident of the
day before, and was satisfied that, from lack of nutritious food at
the right time, Mary's vital forces were steadily wasting, and that
she would, in a very little while, destroy herself.
"I will talk with her seriously about this matter," she said. "A
word of admonition may save her."
"You look a great deal better this morning," she remarked, as she
entered the room where Mary was sewing.
"I haven't felt better for a long time," was the cheerful answer.
"Did you sleep well last night?"
"Not of any consequence, ma'am."
"How was the pain in your side?"
"It troubled me a little when I first went to bed, but soon passed
"Did you feel the old exhaustion on waking?"
"I always feel weak in the morning; but it was nothing, this
morning, to what it has been."
"How was your appetite?"
"Better. I eat an egg and a piece of toast, and they tasted good.
Usually my stomach loathes food in the morning."
"Has this been the case long?"
"For a long time, ma'am."
Mrs. Wykoff mused for a little while, and then asked--
"How do you account for the difference this morning?"
Miss Carson's pale face became slightly flushed, and her eyes fell
away from the questioning gaze of Mrs. Wykoff.
"There is a cause for it, and it is of importance that you should
know the cause. Has it been suggested to your mind?"
"Yes, ma'am. To me the cause is quite apparent."
They looked at each other for a few moments in silence.
"My interest in you prompts these questions, Mary," said Mrs.
Wykoff. "Speak to me freely, if you will, as to a friend. What made
"I think the difference is mainly due to your kindness
yesterday.--To the glass of wine and biscuit when I was faint, and
to the early and good dinner, when exhausted nature was crying for
food. I believe, Mrs. Wykoff"--and Mary's eyes glistened--"that if
you had not thought of me when you did, I should not be here
"Are you serious, Mary?"
"I am, indeed, ma'am. I should have got over my faint spell in the
morning, even without the wine and biscuit, and worked on until
dinner-time; but I wouldn't have been able to eat anything. It
almost always happens, when I go so long without food, that my
appetite fails altogether, and by the time night comes, I sink down
in an exhausted state, from which nature finds it hard to rally. It
has been so a number of times. The week before I came here, I was
sewing for a lady, and worked from eight o'clock in the morning
until four in the afternoon, without food passing my lips. As I had
been unable to eat anything at breakfast-time, I grew very faint,
and when called to dinner, was unable to swallow a mouthful. When I
got home in the evening I was feverish and exhausted, and coughed
nearly all night. It was three or four days before I was well enough
to go out again."
"Has this happened, in any instance, while you were sewing for me?"
asked Mrs. Wykoff.
Miss Carson dropped her face, and turned it partly aside; her manner
was slightly disturbed.
"Don't hesitate about answering my question, Mary. If it has
happened, say so. I am not always as thoughtful as I should be."
"It happened once."
"Oh! I remember that you were not able to come for two days. Now,
tell me, Mary, without reservation, exactly how it was."
"I never blamed you for a moment, Mrs. Wykoff. You didn't think; and
I'd rather not say anything about it. If I'd been as well as usual
on that day, it wouldn't have happened."
"You'd passed a sleepless night?" said Mrs. Wykoff.
"The consequence of fatigue and exhaustion?"
"Perhaps that was the reason."
"And couldn't eat any breakfast?"
"I drank a cup of coffee."
"Very well. After that you came here to work. Now, tell me exactly
what occurred, and how you felt all day. Don't keep back anything on
account of my feelings. I want the exact truth. It will be of use to
me, and to others also, I think."
Thus urged, Miss Carson replied--
"I'll tell you just as it was. I came later than usual. The walk is
long, and I felt so weak that I couldn't hurry. I thought you looked
a little serious when I came in, and concluded that it was in
consequence of my being late. The air and walk gave me an appetite,
and if I had taken some food then, it would have done me good. I
thought, as I stood at the door, waiting to be let in, that I would
ask for a cracker or a piece of bread and butter; but, when I met
you, and saw how sober you looked, my heart failed me."
"Why, Mary!" said Mrs. Wykoff. "How wrong it was in you!"
"May be it was, ma'am; but I couldn't help it. I'm foolish
sometimes; and it's hard for us to be anything else than what we
are, as my Aunt Hannah used to say. Well, I sat down to my work with
the dull pain in my side, and the sick feeling that always comes at
such times, and worked on hour after hour. You looked in once or
twice during the morning to see how I was getting on, and to ask
about the trimming for a dress I was making. Then you went out
shopping, and did not get home until half past two o'clock. For two
hours there had been a gnawing at my stomach, and I was faint for
something to eat. Twice I got up to ring the bell, and ask for a
lunch; but, I felt backward about taking the liberty. When, at three
o'clock, I was called to dinner, no appetite remained. I put food
into my mouth, but it had no sweetness, and the little I forced
myself to swallow, lay undigested. You were very much occupied, and
did not notice me particularly. I dragged on, as best I could,
through the afternoon, feeling, sometimes, as if I would drop from
my chair. You had tea later than usual. It was nearly seven o'clock
when I put up my work and went down. You said something in a kind,
but absent tone, about my looking pale, and asked if I would have a
second cup of tea. I believe I forced myself to eat a slice of bread
half as large as my hand. I thought I should never reach home that
night, for the weakness that came upon me. I got to bed as soon as
possible, but was too tired to sleep until after twelve o'clock,
when a coughing spell seized me, which brought on the pain in my
side. It was near daylight when I dropped off; and then I slept so
heavily for two hours that I was all wet with perspiration when I
awoke. On trying to rise, my head swam so that I had to lie down
again, and it was late in the day before I could even sit up in bed.
Towards evening, I was able to drink a cup of tea and eat a small
piece of toast and then I felt wonderfully better. I slept well that
night, and was still better in the morning, but did not think it
safe to venture out upon a day's work; so I rested and got all the
strength I could. On the third day, I was as well as ever again."
Mrs. Wykoff drew a long sigh as Miss Carson stopped speaking and
bent down over her sewing. For some time, she remained without
"Life is too precious a thing to be wasted in this way," said the
lady, at length, speaking partly to herself, and partly to the
seamstress. "We are too thoughtless, I must own; but you are not
blameless. It is scarcely possible for us to understand just how the
case stands with one in your position, and duty to yourself demands
that you should make it known. There is not one lady in ten, I am
sure, who would not be pleased rather than annoyed, to have you do
Miss Carson did not answer.
"Do you doubt?" asked Mrs. Wykoff.
"For one of my disposition," was replied, "the life of a seamstress
does not take off the keen edge of a natural reserve--or, to speak
more correctly sensitiveness. I dislike to break in upon another's
household arrangements, or in any way to obtrude myself. My rule is,
to adapt myself, as best I can, to the family order, and so not
disturb anything by my presence."
"Even though your life be in jeopardy?" said Mrs. Wykoff.
"Oh! it's not so bad as that."
"But it is, Mary! Let me ask a few more questions. I am growing
interested in the subject, as reaching beyond you personally. How
many families do you work for?"
After thinking for a little while, and naming quite a number of
ladies, she replied--
"Not less than twenty."
"And to many of these, you go for only a day or two at a time?"
"Passing from family to family, and adapting yourself to their
various home arrangements?"
"Getting your dinner at one o'clock to-day, and at three or four
Miss Carson nodded assent.
"Taking it now, warm and well served, with the family, and on the
next occasion, cold and tasteless by yourself, after the family has
Another assenting inclination of the head.
"One day set to work in an orderly, well ventilated room, and on the
next cooped up with children in a small apartment, the air of which
is little less than poison to your weak lungs."
"These differences must always occur, Mrs. Wykoff," replied Miss
Carson, in a quiet uncomplaining voice. "How could it be otherwise?
No house-keeper is going to alter her family arrangements for the
accommodation of a sewing-girl. The seamstress must adapt herself to
them, and do it as gracefully as possible."
"Even at the risk of her life?"
"She will find it easier to decline working in families where the
order of things bears too heavily upon her, than to attempt any
change. I have been obliged to do this in one or two instances."
"There is something wrong here, Mary," said Mrs. Wykoff, with
increasing sobriety of manner. "Something very wrong, and as I look
it steadily in the face, I feel both surprise and trouble; for,
after what you have just said, I do not see clearly how it is to be
remedied. One thing is certain, if you, as a class, accept, without
remonstrance, the hurt you suffer, there will be no change. People
are indifferent and thoughtless; or worse, too selfish to have any
regard for others--especially if they stand, socially, on a plane
"We cannot apply the remedy," answered Miss Carson.
"I am not so sure of that."
"Just look at it for a moment, Mrs. Wykoff. It is admitted, that,
for the preservation of health, orderly habits are necessary; and
that food should be taken at regular intervals. Suppose that, at
home, my habit is to eat breakfast at seven, dinner at one, and
supper at six. To-day, such is the order of my meals; but to-morrow,
I leave home at half past six, and sit down, on an empty stomach to
sew until eight, before I am called to breakfast. After that, I work
until two o'clock, when I get my dinner; and at seven drink tea. On
the day after that, may be, on my arrival at another house where a
day's cutting and fitting is wanted, I find the breakfast awaiting
me at seven; this suits very well--but not another mouthful of food
passes my lips until after three o'clock, and may be, then, I have
such an inward trembling and exhaustion, that I cannot eat. On the
day following, the order is again changed. So it goes on. The
difference in food, too, is often as great. At some houses,
everything is of good quality, well cooked, and in consequence, of
easy digestion; while at others, sour or heavy bread, greasy
cooking, and like kitchen abominations, if I must so call them,
disorder instead of giving sustenance to a frail body like mine. The
seamstress who should attempt a change of these things for her own
special benefit, would soon find herself in hot water. Think a
moment. Suppose, in going into a family for one or two days, or a
week, I should begin by a request to have my meals served at certain
hours--seven, one and six, for instance--how would it be received in
eight out of ten families?"
"Something would depend," said Mrs. Wykoff, "on the way in which it
was done. If there was a formal stipulation, or a cold demand, I do
not think the response would be a favorable one. But, I am satisfied
that, in your case, with the signs of poor health on your
countenance, the mild request to be considered as far as
practicable, would, in almost every instance, receive a kind
"Perhaps so. But, it would make trouble--if no where else, with
servants, who never like to do anything out of the common order. I
have been living around long enough to understand how such things
operate; and generally think it wisest to take what comes and make
the best of it."
"Say, rather, the worst of it, Mary. To my thinking, you are making
the worst of it."
But, Mrs. Wykoff did not inspire her seamstress with any purpose to
act in the line of her suggestions. Her organization was of too
sensitive a character to accept the shocks and repulses that she
knew would attend, in some quarters, any such intrusion of her
individual wants. Even with all the risks upon her, she preferred to
suffer whatever might come, rather than ask for consideration.
During the two or three days that she remained with Mrs. Wykoff,
that excellent lady watched her, and ministered to her actual wants,
with all the tender solicitude of a mother; and when she left, tried
to impress upon her mind the duty of asking, wherever she might be,
for such consideration as her health required.
The Monday morning on which Mary Carson was to appear "bright and
early" at the dwelling of Mrs. Lowe, came round, but it was far from
being a bright morning. An easterly storm had set in during the
night; the rain was falling fast, and the wind driving gustily. A
chilliness crept through the frame of Miss Carson as she arose from
her bed, soon after the dull light began to creep in drearily
through the half closed shutters of her room. The air, even within
her chamber, felt cold, damp, and penetrating. From her window a
steeple clock was visible. She glanced at the face, and saw that it
was nearly seven.
"So late as that!" she exclaimed, in a tone of surprise, and
commenced dressing herself in a hurried, nervous way. By the time
she was ready to leave her room, she was exhausted by her own
"Mary," said a kind voice, calling to her as she was moving down
stairs, "you are not going out this morning."
"Oh, yes, ma'am," she answered, in a cheerful voice. "I have an
engagement for to-day."
"But the storm is too severe. It's raining and blowing dreadfully.
Wait an hour or two until it holds up a little."
"Oh dear, no, Mrs. Grant! I can't stop for a trifle of rain."
"It's no trifle of rain this morning, let me tell you, Mary. You'll
get drenched to the skin. Now don't go out, child!"
"I must indeed, Mrs. Grant. The lady expects me, and I cannot
disappoint her." And Miss Carson kept on down stairs.
"But you are not going without something on your stomach, Mary. Wait
just for a few minutes until I can get you a cup of tea. The water
Mary did not wait. It was already past the time when she was
expected at Mrs. Lowe's; and besides feeling a little uncomfortable
on that account, she had a slight sense of nausea, with its
attendant aversion to food. So, breaking away from Mrs. Grant's
concerned importunities, she went forth into the cold driving storm.
It so happened, that she had to go for nearly the entire distance of
six or seven blocks, almost in the teeth of the wind, which blew a
gale, drenching her clothes in spite of all efforts to protect
herself by means of an umbrella. Her feet and ankles were wet by the
time she reached Mrs. Lowe's, and the lower parts of her dress and
under-clothing saturated to a depth of ten or twelve inches.
"I expected you half an hour ago," said the lady, in a coldly polite
way, as Miss Carson entered her presence.
"The morning was dark and I overslept myself," was the only reply.
Mrs. Lowe did not remark upon the condition of Mary's clothing and
feet. That was a matter of no concern to her. It was a seamstress,
not a human being, that was before her--a machine, not thing of
sensation. So she conducted her to a room in the third story,
fronting east, against the cloudy and misty windows of which the
wind and rain were driving. There was a damp, chilly feeling in the
air of this room. Mrs. Lowe had a knit shawl drawn around her
shoulders; but Mary, after removing her bonnet and cloak, had no
external protection for her chest beyond the closely fitting body of
her merino dress. Her feet and hands felt very cold, and she had
that low shuddering, experienced when one is inwardly chilled.
Mrs. Lowe was ready for her seamstress. There were the materials to
make half a dozen dresses for Angela and Grace, and one of the
little Misses was called immediately, and the work of selecting and
cutting a body pattern commenced, Mrs. Lowe herself superintending
the operation, and embarrassing Mary at the start with her many
suggestions. Nearly an hour had been spent in this way, when the
breakfast bell rang. It was after eight o'clock. Without saying
anything to Mary, Mrs. Lowe and the child they had been fitting,
went down stairs. This hour had been one of nervous excitement to
Mary Carson. Her cheeks were hot--burning as if a fire shone upon
them--but her cold hands, and wet, colder feet, sent the blood in
every returning circle, robbed of warmth to the disturbed heart.
It was past nine o'clock when a servant called Mary to breakfast. As
she arose from her chair, she felt a sharp stitch in her left side;
so sharp, that she caught her breath in half inspirations, two or
three times, before venturing on a full inflation of the lungs.
She was, at the same time, conscious of an uncomfortable tightness
across the chest. The nausea, and loathing of food, which had given
place soon after her arrival at Mrs. Lowe's to a natural craving of
the stomach for food, had returned again, and she felt, as she went
down stairs, that unless something to tempt the appetite were set
before her, she could not take a mouthful. There was nothing to
tempt the appetite. The table at which the family had eaten remained
just as they had left it--soiled plates and scraps of broken bread
and meat; partly emptied cups and saucers; dirty knives and forks,
spread about in confusion.--Amid all this, a clean plate had been
set for the seamstress; and Mrs. Lowe awaited her, cold and
dignified, at the head of the table.
"Coffee or tea, Miss Carson?"
It was a lukewarm decoction of spent coffee grounds, flavored with
tin, and sweetened to nauseousness. Mary took a mouthful and
swallowed it--put the cup again to her lips; but they resolutely
refused to unclose and admit another drop. So she sat the cup down.
"Help yourself to some of the meat." And Mrs. Lowe pushed the dish,
which, nearly three-quarters of an hour before had come upon the
table bearing a smoking sirloin, across to the seamstress. Now,
lying beside the bone, and cemented to the dish by a stratum of
chilled gravy, was the fat, stringy end of the steak. The sight of
it was enough for Miss Carson; and she declined the offered
"There's bread." She took a slice from a fresh baker's loaf; and
spread it with some oily-looking butter that remained on one of the
butter plates. It was slightly sour. By forcing herself, she
swallowed two or three mouthfuls. But the remonstrating palate would
accept no more.
"Isn't the coffee good?" asked Mrs. Lowe, with a sharp quality in
her voice, seeing that Miss Carson did not venture upon a second
"I have very little appetite this morning," was answered, with an
effort to smile and look cheerful.
"Perhaps you'd rather have tea. Shall I give you a cup?" And Mrs.
Lowe laid her hand on the teapot.
"You may, if you please." Mary felt an inward weakness that she knew
was occasioned by lack of food, and so accepted the offer of tea, in
the hope that it might prove more palatable than the coffee. It had
the merit of being hot, and not of decidedly offensive flavor; but
it was little more in strength than sweetened water, whitened with
milk. She drank off the cup, and then left the table, going, with
her still wet feet and skirts to the sewing-room.
"Rather a dainty young lady," she heard Mrs. Lowe remark to the
waiter, as she left the room.
The stitch in Mary's side caught her again, as she went up stairs,
and almost took her breath away; and it was some time after she
resumed her work, before she could bear her body up straight on the
In her damp feet and skirts, on a chilly and rainy October day, Mary
Carson sat working until nearly three o'clock, without rest or
refreshment of any kind; and when at last called to dinner, the
disordered condition of the table, and the cold, unpalatable food
set before her, extinguished, instead of stimulating her sickly
appetite. She made a feint of eating, to avoid attracting attention,
and then returned to the sewing-room, the air of which, as she
re-entered, seemed colder than that of the hall and dining-room.
The stitch in her side was not so bad during the afternoon; but the
dull pain was heavier, and accompanied by a sickening sensation.
Still, she worked on, cutting, fitting and sewing with a patience
and industry, that, considering her actual condition, was
surprising. Mrs. Lowe was in and out of the room frequently,
overlooking the work, and marking its progress. Beyond the producing
power of her seamstress, she had no thought of that individual. It
did not come within the range of her questionings whether she were
well or ill--weak or strong--exhausted by prolonged labor, or in
the full possession of bodily vigor. To her, she was simply an agent
through which a certain service was obtained; and beyond that
service, she was nothing. The extent of her consideration was
limited by the progressive creation of dresses for her children. As
that went on, her thought dwelt with Miss Carson; but penetrated no
deeper. She might be human; might have an individual life full of
wants, yearnings, and tender sensibilities; might be conscious of
bodily or mental suffering--but, if so, it was in a region so remote
from that in which Mrs. Lowe dwelt, that no intelligence thereof
At six o'clock, Mary put up her work, and, taking her bonnet and
shawl, went down stairs, intending to return home.
"You're not going?" said Mrs. Lowe, meeting her on the way. She
spoke in some surprise.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm not very well, and wish to get home."
"What time is it?" Mrs. Lowe drew out her watch. "Only six o'clock.
I think you're going rather early. It was late when you came this
morning, you know."
"Excuse me, if you please," said Miss Carson, as she moved on. "I am
not very well to-night. To-morrow I will make it up."
Mrs. Lowe muttered something that was not heard by the seamstress,
who kept on down stairs, and left the house.
The rain was still falling and the wind blowing. Mary's feet were
quite wet again by the time she reached home.
"How are you, child?" asked Mrs. Grant, in kind concern, as Mary
"Not very well," was answered.
"Oh! I'm sorry! Have you taken cold?"
"I'm afraid that I have."
"I said it was wrong in you to go out this morning. Did you get very
Mrs. Grant looked down at Mary's feet. "Are they damp?"
"Come right into the sitting-room. I've had a fire made up on
purpose for you." And the considerate Mrs. Grant hurried Mary into
the small back room, and taking off her cloak and bonnet, placed her
in a chair before the fire. Then, as she drew off one of her shoes,
and clasped the foot in her hand, she exclaimed--
"Soaking wet, as I live!" Then added, after removing, with kind
officiousness, the other shoe--"Hold both feet to the fire, while I
run up and get you a pair of dry stockings. Don't take off the wet
ones until I come back."
In a few minutes Mrs. Grant returned with the dry stockings and a
towel. She bared one of the damp feet, and dried and heated it
thoroughly--then warmed one of the stockings and drew it on.
"It feels so good," said Mary, faintly, yet with a tone of
Then the other foot was dried, warmed, and covered. On completing
this welcome service, Mrs. Grant looked more steadily into Mary's
face, and saw that her cheeks were flushed unnaturally, and that her
eyes shone with an unusual lustre. She also noticed, that in
breathing there was an effort.
"You got very wet this morning," said Mrs. Grant.
"Yes. The wind blew right in my face all the way. An umbrella was
hardly of any use."
"You dried yourself on getting to Mrs. Lowe's?"
Mary shook her head.
"There was no fire in the room."
"I had no change of clothing, and there was no fire in the room.
What could I do?"
"You could have gone down into the kitchen, if nowhere else, and
dried your feet."
"It would have been better if I had done so; but you know how hard
it is for me to intrude myself or give trouble."
"Give trouble! How strangely you do act, sometimes! Isn't life worth
a little trouble to save? Mrs. Lowe should have seen to this. Didn't
she notice your condition?"
"I think not."
"Well, it's hard to say who deserves most censure, you or she. Such
trifling with health and life is a crime. What's the matter?" She
observed Mary start as if from sudden pain.
"I have suffered all day, with an occasional sharp stitch in my
side--it caught me just then."
Mrs. Grant observed her more closely; while doing so, Mary coughed
two or three times. The cough was tight and had a wheezing sound.
"Have you coughed much?" she asked.
"Not a great deal. But I'm very tight here," laying her hand over
her breast. "I think," she added, a few moments afterwards, "that
I'll go up to my room and get to bed. I feel tired and sick."
"Wait until I can get you some tea," replied Mrs. Grant. "I'll bring
down a pillow, and you can lie here on the sofa."
"Thank you, Mrs. Grant. You are so kind and thoughtful." Miss
Carson's voice shook a little. The contrast between the day's
selfish indifference of Mrs. Lowe, and the evening's motherly
consideration of Mrs. Grant, touched her. "I will lie down here for
a short time. Perhaps I shall feel better after getting some warm
tea. I've been chilly all day."
The pillow and a shawl were brought, and Mrs. Grant covered Mary as
she lay upon the sofa; then she went to the kitchen to hurry up tea.
"Come, dear," she said, half an hour afterwards, laying her hand
upon the now sleeping girl. A drowsy feeling had come over Mary, and
she had fallen into a heavy slumber soon after lying down. The easy
touch of Mrs. Grant did not awaken her. So she called louder, and
shook the sleeper more vigorously. At this, Mary started up, and
looked around in a half-conscious, bewildered manner. Her cheeks
were like scarlet.
"Come, dear--tea is ready," said Mrs. Grant.
"Oh! Yes." And Mary, not yet clearly awake, started to leave the
room instead of approaching the table.
"Where are you going, child?" Mrs. Grant caught her arm.
Mary stood still, looking at Mrs. Grant, in a confused way.
"Tea is ready." Mrs. Grant spoke slowly and with emphasis.
"Oh! Ah! Yes. I was asleep." Mary drew her hand across her eyes two
or three times, and then suffered Mrs. Grant to lead her to the
table, where she sat down, leaning forward heavily upon one arm.
"Take some of the toast," said Mrs. Grant, after pouring a cup of
tea. Mary helped herself, in a dull way, to a slice of toast, but
did not attempt to eat. Mrs. Grant looked at her narrowly from
across the table, and noticed that her eyes, which had appeared
large and glittering when she came home, were now lustreless, with
the lids drooping heavily.
"Can't you eat anything?" asked Mrs. Grant, in a voice that
Mary pushed her cup and plate away, and leaning back, wearily, in
her chair, answered--
"Not just now. I'm completely worn out, and feel hot and oppressed."
Mrs. Grant got up and came around to where Miss Carson was sitting.
As she laid her hand upon her forehead, she said, a little
anxiously, "You have considerable fever, Mary."
"I shouldn't wonder." And a sudden cough seized her as she spoke.
She cried out as the rapid concussions jarred her, and pressed one
hand against her side.
"Oh dear! It seemed as if a knife were cutting through me," she
said, as the paroxysm subsided, and she leaned her head against Mrs.
"Come, child," and the kind woman drew upon one of her arms. "In bed
is the place for you now."
They went up stairs, and Mary was soon undressed and in bed. As she
touched the cool sheets, she shivered for a moment, and then shrank
down under the clothes, shutting her eyes, and lying very still.
"How do you feel now?" asked Mrs. Grant, who stood bending over her.
Mary did not reply.
"Does the pain in your side continue?"
"Yes, ma'am." Her voice was dull.
"And the tightness over your breast?"
"What can I do for you?"
"Nothing. I want rest and sleep."
Mrs. Grant stood for some time looking down upon Mary's red cheeks;
red in clearly defined spots, that made the pale forehead whiter by
"Something more than sleep is wanted, I fear," she said to herself,
as she passed from the chamber and went down stairs. In less than
half an hour she returned. A moan reached her ears as she approached
the room where the sick girl lay. On entering, she found her sitting
high up in bed; or, rather, reclining against the pillows, which she
had adjusted against the head-board. Her face, which had lost much
of its redness, was pinched and had a distressed look. Her eyes
turned anxiously to Mrs. Grant.
"How are you now, Mary?"
"Oh, I'm sick! Very sick, Mrs. Grant."
"Where? How, Mary?"
"Oh, dear!' I'm so distressed here!" laying her hand on her breast.
"And every time I draw a breath, such a sharp pain runs through my
side into my shoulder. Oh, dear! I feel very sick, Mrs. Grant."
"Shall I send for a doctor?"
"I don't know, ma'am." And Miss Carson threw her head from side to
side, uneasily--almost impatiently; then cried out with pain, as she
took a deeper inspiration than usual.
Mrs. Grant left the room, and going down stairs, despatched her
servant for a physician, who lived not far distant.
"It is pleurisy," said the doctor, on examining the case.--"And a
very severe attack," he added, aside, to Mrs. Grant.
Of the particulars of his treatment, we will not speak. He was of
the exhaustive school, and took blood freely; striking at the
inflammation through a reduction of the vital system. When he left
his patient that night, she was free from pain, breathing feebly,
and without constriction of the chest. In the morning, he found her
with considerable fever, and suffering from a return of the
pleuritic pain. Her pulse was low and quick, and had a wiry thrill
under the fingers. The doctor had taken blood very freely on the
night before, and hesitated a little on the question of opening
another vein, or having recourse to cups. As the lancet was at hand,
and most easy of use, the vein was opened, and permitted to flow
until there was a marked reduction of pain. After this, an anodyne
diaphoretic was prescribed, and the doctor retired from the chamber
with Mrs. Grant. He was much more particular, now, in his inquiries
about his patient and the immediate cause of her illness. On
learning that she had been permitted to remain all day in a cold
room, with wet feet and damp clothing, he shook his head soberly,
and remarked, partly speaking to himself, that doctors were not of
much use in suicide or murder cases. Then he asked, abruptly, and
with considerable excitement of manner--
"In heaven's name! who permitted this think to be done? In what
family did it occur?"
"The lady for whom she worked yesterday is named Mrs. Lowe."
"And she permitted that delicate girl to sit in wet clothing, in a
room without fire, on a day like yesterday?"
"It is so, doctor."
"Then I call Mrs. Lowe a murderer!" The doctor spoke with excess of
"Do you think Mary so very ill, doctor?" asked Mrs. Grant.
"I do, ma'am."
"She is free from pain now."
"So she was when I left her last night; and I expected to find her
showing marked improvement this morning. But, to my concern, I find
her really worse instead of better."
"Worse, doctor? Not worse!"
"I say worse to you, Mrs. Grant, in order that you may know how much
depends on careful attendance. Send for the medicine I have
prescribed at once, and give it immediately. It will quiet her
system and produce sleep. If perspiration follows, we shall be on
the right side. I will call in again through the day. If the pain in
her side returns, send for me."
The pain did return, and the doctor was summoned. He feared to
strike his lancet again; but cupped freely over the right side, thus
gaining for the suffering girl a measure of relief. She lay, after
this, in a kind of stupor for some hours. On coming out of this, she
no longer had the lancinating pain in her side with every expansion
of the lungs; but, instead, a dull pain, attended by a cough and
tightness of the chest. The cough was, at first, dry,
unsatisfactory, and attended with anxiety. Then came a tough mucus,
a little streaked with blood. The expectoration soon became freer,
and assumed a brownish hue. A low fever accompanied these bad
The case had become complicated with pneumonia, and assumed a very
dangerous type. On the third day a consulting physician was called
in. He noted all the symptoms carefully, and with a seriousness of
manner that did not escape the watchful eyes of Mrs. Grant. He
passed but few words with the attendant physician, and their exact
meaning was veiled by medical terms; but Mrs. Grant understood
enough to satisfy her that little hope of a favorable issue was
About the time this consultation over the case of Mary Carson was in
progress, it happened that Mrs. Wykoff received another visit from
"I've called," said the latter, speaking in the tone of one who felt
annoyed, "to ask where that sewing girl you recommended to me
"Yes, I believe that is her name."
"Didn't she come on Monday, according to appointment?"
"Oh, yes, she came. But I've seen nothing of her since."
"Ah! Is that so? She may be sick." The voice of Mrs. Wykoff dropped
to a shade of seriousness. "Let me see--Monday--didn't it
rain?--Yes, now I remember; it was a dreadful day. Perhaps she took
cold. She's very delicate. Did she get wet in coming to your house?"
"I'm sure I don't know." There was a slight indication of annoyance
on the part of Mrs. Lowe.
"It was impossible, raining and blowing as it did, for her to escape
wet feet, if not drenched clothing. Was there fire in the room where
"Fire! No. We don't have grates or stoves in any of our rooms."
"Oh; then there was a fire in the heater?"
"We never make fire in the heater before November," answered Mrs.
Lowe, with the manner of one who felt annoyed.
Mrs. Wykoff mused for some moments.
"Excuse me," she said, "for asking such minute questions; but I know
Miss Carson's extreme delicacy, and I am fearful that she is sick,
as the result of a cold. Did you notice her when she came in on
"Yes. I was standing in the hall when the servant admitted her. She
came rather late."
"Did she go immediately to the room where she was to work?"
"You are sure she didn't go into the kitchen and dry her feet?"
"She went up stairs as soon as she came in."
"Did you go up with her?"
"Excuse me, Mrs. Lowe," said Mrs. Wykoff, who saw that these
questions were chafing her visitor, "for pressing my inquiries so
closely. I am much concerned at the fact of her absence from your
house since Monday. Did she change any of her clothing,--take off
her stockings, for stance, and put on dry ones?"
"Nothing of the kind."
"But sat in her wet shoes and stockings all day!"
"I don't know that they were wet, Mrs. Wykoff," said the lady, with
"Could you have walked six or seven squares in the face of Monday's
driving storm, Mrs. Lowe, and escaped wet feet? Of course not. Your
stockings would have been wet half way to the knees, and your skirts
There was a growing excitement about Mrs. Wykoff, united with an air
of so much seriousness, that Mrs. Lowe began to feel a pressure of
alarm. Selfish, cold-hearted and indifferent to all in a social
grade beneath her, this lady was not quite ready to stand up in the
world's face as one without common humanity. The way in which Mrs.
Wykoff was presenting the case of Miss Carson on that stormy
morning, did not reflect very creditably upon her; and the
thought--"How would this sound, if told of me?"--did not leave her
in the most comfortable frame of mind.
"I hope she's not sick. I'm sure the thought of her being wet never
crossed my mind. Why didn't she speak of it herself? She knew her
own condition, and that there was fire in the kitchen. I declare!
some people act in a manner perfectly incomprehensible." Mrs. Lowe
spoke now in a disturbed manner.
"Miss Carson should have looked to this herself, and she was wrong
in not doing so--very wrong," said Mrs. Wykoff. "But she is
shrinking and sensitive to a fault--afraid of giving trouble or
intruding herself. _It is our place, I think, when strangers come
into our houses, no matter under what circumstances, to assume that
they have a natural delicacy about asking for needed consideration,
and to see that all things due to them are tendered_. I cannot see
that any exceptions to this rule are admissible. To my thinking, it
applies to a servant, a seamstress, or a guest, each in a just
degree, with equal force. Not that I am blameless in this thing. Far
from it. But I acknowledge my fault whenever it is seen, and
repenting, resolve to act more humanely in the future."
"Where does Miss Carson live?" asked Mrs. Lowe. "I came to make the
"As I feel rather troubled about her," answered Mrs. Wykoff, "I will
go to see her this afternoon."
"I wish you would. What you have said makes me feel a little
uncomfortable. I hope there is nothing wrong; or, at least, that she
is only slightly indisposed. It was thoughtless in me. But I was so
much interested in the work she was doing that I never once thought
of her personally."
"Did she come before breakfast?"
"Excuse me; but at what time did she get her breakfast?"
There was just a little shrinking in the manner of Mrs. Wykoff; as
"Towards nine o'clock."
"Did she eat anything?"
"Well, no, not much in particular. I thought her a little dainty.
She took coffee; but it didn't just appear to suit her appetite.
Then I offered her tea, and she drank a cup."
"But didn't take any solid food?"
"Very little. She struck me as a dainty Miss."
"She is weak and delicate, Mrs. Lowe, as any one who looks into her
face may see. Did you give her a lunch towards noon?"
"A lunch! Why no!" Mrs. Lowe elevated her brows.
"How late was it when she took dinner?"
"Did she eat heartily?"
"I didn't notice her particularly. She was at the table for only a
"I fear for the worst," said Mrs. Wykoff. "If Mary Carson sat all
day on Monday in damp clothes, wet feet, and without taking a
sufficient quantity of nourishing food, I wouldn't give much for her
Mrs. Lowe gathered her shawl around her, and arose to depart. There
was a cloud on her face.
"You will see Miss Carson to-day?" she said.
"At what time do you think of going?"
"I shall not be able to leave home before late in the afternoon."
"Say four o'clock."
"Not earlier than half past four."
Mrs. Lowe stood for some moments with the air of one who hesitated
about doing something.
"Will you call for me?" Her voice was slightly depressed.
"What you have said troubles me. I'm sure I didn't mean to be
unkind. It was thoughtlessness altogether. I hope she's not ill."
"I'll leave home at half past four," said Mrs. Wykoff. "It isn't
over ten minutes' walk to your house."
"You'll find me all ready. Oh, dear!" and Mrs. Lowe drew a long,
sighing breath. "I hope she didn't take cold at my house. I hope
nothing serious will grow out of it. I wouldn't have anything of
this kind happen for the world. People are so uncharitable. If it
should get out, I would be talked about dreadfully; and I'm sure the
girl is a great deal more to blame than I am. Why didn't she see to
it that her feet and clothes were dried before she sat down to her
Mrs. Wykoff did not answer. Mrs. Lowe stood for a few moments,
waiting for some exculpatory suggestion; but Mrs. Wykoff had none to
"Good morning. You'll find me all ready when you call."
And the ladies parted.
"Ah, Mrs. Lowe! How are you this morning?"
A street meeting, ten minutes later.
"Right well. How are you?"
"Well as usual. I just called at your house."
"Ah, indeed! Come, go back again."
"No, thank you; I've several calls to make this morning. But, d' you
know, there's a strange story afloat about a certain lady of your
"Of my acquaintance?"
"Yes; a lady with whom you are very, very intimate."
"What is it?" There was a little anxiety mixed with the curious air
of Mrs. Lowe.
"Something about murdering a sewing-girl."
"What?" Mrs. Lowe started as if she had received a blow; a
frightened look came into her face.
"But there isn't anything in it, of course," said the friend, in
considerable astonishment at the effect produced on Mrs. Lowe.
"Tell me just what you have heard," said the latter. "You mean me by
the lady of your intimate acquaintance."
"Yes; the talk is about you. It came from doctor somebody; I don't
know whom. He's attending the girl."
"What is said? I wish to know. Don't keep back anything on account
of my feelings. I shall know as to its truth or falsehood; and, true
or false, it is better that I should stand fully advised. A
seamstress came to work for me on Monday--it was a stormy day, you
know--took cold from wet feet, and is now very ill. That much I
know. It might have happened at your house, or your neighbors,
without legitimate blame lying against either of you. Now, out of
this simple fact, what dreadful report is circulated to my injury?
As I have just said, don't keep anything back."
"The story," replied the friend, "is that she walked for half a mile
before breakfast, in the face of that terrible north-east storm, and
came to you with feet soaking and skirts wet to the knees, and that
you put her to work, in this condition, in a cold room, and suffered
her to sit in her wet garments all day. That, in consequence, she
went home sick, was attacked with pleurisy in the evening, which
soon ran into acute pneumonia, and that she is now dying. The
doctor, who told my friend, called it murder, and said, without
hesitation, that you were a murderer."
"Dying! Did he say that she was dying?"
"Yes, ma'am. The doctor said that you might as well have put a
pistol ball through her head."
"Yes, you. Those were his words, as repeated by my friend."
"Who is the friend to whom you refer?"
"And, without a word of inquiry as to the degree of blame referable
to me, she repeats this wholesale charge, to my injury? Verily, that
is Christian charity!"
"I suggested caution on her part, and started to see you at once.
Then she did sit in her wet clothing all day at your house?"
"I don't know whether she did or not," replied Mrs. Lowe, fretfully.
"She was of woman's age, and competent to take care of herself. If
she came in wet, she knew it; and there was fire in the house, at
which she could have dried herself. Even a half-witted person,
starting from home on a morning like that, and expecting to be
absent all day, would have provided herself with dry stockings and
slippers for a change. If the girl dies from cold taken on that
occasion, it must be set down to suicide, not murder. I may have
been thoughtless, but I am not responsible. I'm sorry for her; but I
cannot take blame to myself. The same thing might have happened in
"It might have happened in other houses than yours, Mrs. Lowe, I
will admit," was replied. "But I do not think it would have happened
in mine. I was once a seamstress myself and for nearly two years
went out to work in families. What I experienced during those two
years has made me considerate towards all who come into my house in
that capacity. Many who are compelled to earn a living with the
needle, were once in better condition than now, and the change
touches some of them rather sharply. In some families they are
treated with a thoughtful kindness, in strong contrast with what
they receive in other families. If sensitive and retiring, they
learn to be very chary about asking for anything beyond what is
conceded, and bear, rather than suggest or complain."
"I've no patience with that kind of sensitiveness," replied Mrs.
Lowe; "it's simply ridiculous; and not only ridiculous, but wrong.
Is every sewing-girl who comes into your house to be treated like an
"We are in no danger of erring, Mrs. Lowe," was answered, "on the
side of considerate kindness, even to sewing-women. They are human,
and have wants, and weaknesses, and bodily conditions that as
imperatively demand a timely and just regard as those of the most
honored guest who may sojourn with us. And what is more, as I hold,
we cannot omit our duty either to the one or to the other, and be
blameless. But I must hurry on. Good morning, Mrs. Lowe."
"Good morning," was coldly responded. And the two ladies parted.
We advance the time a few hours. It is nearly sundown, and the slant
beams are coming in through the partly-raised blinds, and falling on
the bed, where, white, and panting for the shortcoming breath, lies
Mary Carson, a little raised by pillows against which her head rests
motionless. Her eyes are shut, the brown lashes lying in two deep
fringes on her cheeks. Away from her temples and forehead the hair
has been smoothly brushed by loving hands, and there is a spiritual
beauty in her face that is suggestive of heaven. Mrs. Grant is on
one side of the bed, and the physician on the other. Both are gazing
intently on the sick girl's face. The door opens, and two ladies
come in, noiselessly--Mrs. Lowe and Mrs. Wykoff. They are strangers
there to all but Mary Carson, and she has passed too far on the
journey homeward for mortal recognitions. Mrs. Grant moves a little
back from the bed, and the two ladies stand in her place, leaning
forward, with half-suspended breathing. The almost classic beauty of
Miss Carson's face; the exquisite cutting of every feature; the
purity of its tone--are all at once so apparent to Mrs. Lowe that
she gazes down, wonder and admiration mingling with awe and
There is a slight convulsive cough, with a fleeting spasm. The white
lips are stained. Mrs. Lowe shudders. The stain is wiped off, and
all is still as before. Now the slanting sun rays touch the pillows,
close beside the white face, lighting it with a glory that seems not
of the earth. They fade, and life fades with them, going out as they
recede. With the last pencil of sunbeams passes the soul of Mary
"It is over!" The physician breathes deeply, and moves backwards
from the bed.
"Over with her," he adds, like one impelled by crowding thoughts to
untimely utterance. "The bills of mortality will say pneumonia--_it
were better written murder_."
Call it murder, or suicide, as you will; only, fair reader, see to
it that responsibility in such a case lies never at your door.
THE NURSERY MAID.
_I DID_ not feel in a very good humor either with myself or with
Polly, my nursery maid. The fact is, Polly had displeased me; and I,
while under the influence of rather excited feelings, had rebuked
her with a degree of intemperance not exactly becoming in a
Christian gentlewoman, or just to a well meaning, though not perfect
Polly had taken my sharp words without replying. They seemed to stun
her. She stood for a few moments, after the vials of my wrath were
emptied, her face paler than usual, and her lips almost colorless.
Then she turned and walked from my room with a slow but firm step.
There was an air of purpose about her, and a manner that puzzled me
The thermometer of my feelings was gradually falling, though not yet
reduced very far below fever-heat, when Polly stood again before me.
A red spot now burned on each cheek, and her eyes were steady as she
let them rest in mine.
"Mrs. Wilkins," said she, firmly, yet respectfully, "I am going to
leave when my month is up."
Now, I have my own share of willfulness and impulsive independence.
So I answered, without hesitation or reflection,
"Very well, Polly. If you wish to leave, I will look for another to
fill your place." And I drew myself up with an air of dignity.
Polly retired as quickly as she came, and I was left alone with my
not very agreeable thoughts for companions. Polly had been in my
family for nearly four years, in the capacity of nurse and chamber
maid. She was capable, faithful, kind in her disposition, and
industrious. The children were all attached to her, and her
influence over them was good. I had often said to myself in view of
Polly's excellent qualities, "She is a treasure!" And, always, the
thought of losing her services had been an unpleasant one. Of late,
in some things, Polly had failed to give the satisfaction of former
times. She was neither so cheerful, nor so thoughtful, nor had she
her usual patience with the children. "Her disposition is altering,"
I said to myself, now and then, in view of this change; "something
has spoiled her."
"You have indulged her too much, I suppose," was the reason given by
my husband, whenever I ventured to introduce to his notice the
shortcomings of Polly. "You are an expert at the business of
My good opinion of myself was generally flattered by this estimate
of the case; and, as this good opinion strengthened, a feeling of
indignation against Polly for her ingratitude, as I was pleased to
call it, found a lodging in my heart.
And so the matter had gone on, from small beginnings, until a state
of dissatisfaction on the one part, and coldness on the other, had
grown up between mistress and maid. I asked no questions of Polly,
as to the change in her manner, but made my own inferences, and
took, for granted, my own conclusions. I had spoiled her by
indulgence--that was clear. As a thing of course, this view was not
very favorable to a just and patient estimate of her conduct,
whenever it failed to meet my approval.
On the present occasion, she had neglected the performance of
certain services, in consequence of which I suffered some small
inconvenience, and a great deal of annoyance.
"I don't know what's come over you, Polly," said I to her sharply.
"Something has spoiled you outright; and I tell you now, once for
all, that you'll have to mend your ways considerably, if you expect
to remain much longer in this family."
The language was hard enough, but the manner harder and more
offensive. I had never spoken to her before with anything like the
severity now used. The result of this intemperance of speech on my
part, the reader has seen. Polly gave notice that she would leave,
and I accepted the notice. For a short time after the girl retired
from my room, I maintained a state of half indignant independence;
but, as to being satisfied with myself, that was out of the
question. I had lost my temper, and, as is usual in such cases, had
been harsh, and it might be, unjust. I was about to lose the
services of a domestic, whose good qualities so far overbalanced all
defects and shortcomings, that I could hardly hope to supply her
place. How could the children give her up? This question came home
with a most unpleasant suggestion of consequences. But, as the
disturbance of my feelings went on subsiding, and thought grew
clearer and clearer, that which most troubled me was a sense of
injustice towards Polly. The suggestion came stealing into my mind,
that the something wrong about her might involve a great deal more
than I had, in a narrow reference of things to my own affairs,
imagined. Polly was certainly changed; but, might not the change
have its origin in mental conflict or suffering, which entitled her
to pity and consideration, instead of blame?
This was a new thought, which in no way tended to increase a feeling
"She is human, like the rest of us," said I, as I sat talking over
the matter with myself, "and every human heart has its portion of
bitterness. The weak must bear in weakness, as well as the strong in
strength; and the light burden rests as painfully on the back that
bends in feebleness, as does the heavy one on Atlas-shoulders. We
are too apt to regard those who serve us as mere working machines.
Rarely do we consider them as possessing like wants and weaknesses,
like sympathies and yearnings with ourselves. Anything will do for
them. Under any external circumstances, is their duty to be
I was wrong in this matter. Nothing was now clearer to me than this.
But, how was I to get right? That was the puzzling question. I
thought, and thought--looking at the difficulty first on this side,
and then on that. No way of escape presented itself, except through
some open or implied acknowledgment of wrong; that is, I must have
some plain, kind talk with Polly, to begin with, and thus show her,
by an entire change of manner, that I was conscious of having spoken
to her in a way that was not met by my own self-approval. Pride was
not slow in vindicating her own position among the mental powers.
She was not willing to see me humble myself to a servant. Polly had
given notice that she was going to leave, and if I made concession,
she would, at once conclude that I did so meanly, from
self-interest, because I wished to retain her services. My naturally
independent spirit revolted under this view of the case, but I
marshalled some of the better forces of my mind, and took the field
bravely on the side of right and duty. For some time the conflict
went on; then the better elements of my nature gained the victory.
When the decision was made, I sent a message for Polly. I saw, as
she entered my room, that her cheeks no longer burned, and that the
fire had died out in her eyes. Her face was pale, and its expression
sad, but enduring.
"Polly," said I, kindly, "sit down. I would like to have some talk
The girl seemed taken by surprise. Her face warmed a little, and her
eyes, which had been turned aside from mine, looked at me with a
glance of inquiry.
"There, Polly"--and I pointed to a chair--"sit down."
She obeyed, but with a weary, patient air, like one whose feelings
were painfully oppressed.
"Polly," said I, with kindness and interest in my voice, "has
anything troubled you of late?"
Her face flushed and her eyes reddened.
"If there has, Polly, and I can help you in any way, speak to me as
a friend. You can trust me."
I was not prepared for the sudden and strong emotion that instantly
manifested itself. Her face fell into her hands, and she sobbed out,
with a violence that startled me. I waited until she grew calm, and
then said, laying a hand kindly upon her as I spoke--
"Polly, you can talk to me as freely as if I were your mother. Speak
plainly, and if I can advise you or aid you in any way, be sure that
I will do it."
"I don't think you can help me any, ma'am, unless it is to bear my
trouble more patiently," she answered, in a subdued way.
"Trouble, child! What trouble? Has anything gone wrong with you?"
The manner in which this inquiry was made, aroused her, and she said
quickly and with feeling:
"Wrong with _me_? O no, ma'am!"
"But you are in trouble, Polly."
"Not for myself, ma'am--not for myself," was her earnest reply.
"For whom, then, Polly?"
The girl did not answer for some moments. Then with a long, deep
sigh, she said:
"You never saw my brother Tom, ma'am. Oh, he was such a nice boy,
and I was so fond of him! He had a hard place where he worked, and
they paid him so little that, poor fellow! if I hadn't spent half my
wages on him, he'd never have looked fit to be seen among folks.
When he was eighteen he seemed to me perfect. He was so good and
kind. But--" and the girl's voice almost broke down--"somehow, he
began to change after that. I think he fell into bad company. Oh,
ma'am! It seemed as if it would have killed me the first time I
found that he had been drinking, and was not himself. I cried all
night for two or three nights. When we met again I tried to talk
with Tom about it, but he wouldn't hear a word, and, for the first
time in his life, got angry with his sister.
"It has been going on from bad, to worse ever since, and I've almost
given up hope."
"He's several years younger than you are, Polly."
"Yes, ma'am. He was only ten years old when our mother died. I am
glad she is dead now, what I've never said before. There were only
two of us--Tom and I; and I being nearly six years the oldest, felt
like a mother as well as a sister to him. I've never spent much on
myself as you know, and never had as good clothes as other girls
with my wages. It took nearly everything for Tom. Oh, dear! What is
to come of it all? It will kill me, I'm afraid."
A few questions on my part brought out particulars in regard to
Polly's brother that satisfy me of his great lapse from virtue and
sobriety. He was now past twenty, and from all I could learn, was
moving swift-footed along the road to destruction.
There followed a dead silence for some time after all the story was
told. What could I say? The case was one in which it seemed that I
could offer neither advice nor consolation. But it was in my power
to show interest in the girl, and to let her feel that she had my
sympathy. She was sitting with her eyes cast down, and a look of
sorrow on her pale, thin face--I had not before re-marked the signs
of emaciation--that touched me deeply.
"Polly," said I, with as much kindness of tone as I could express,
"it is the lot of all to have trouble, and each heart knows its own
bitterness. But on some the trouble falls with a weight that seems
impossible to be borne. And this is your case. Yet it only seems to
be so, for as our day is, so shall our strength be. If you cannot
draw your brother away from the dangerous paths in which he is
walking, you can pray for him, and the prayer of earnest love will
bring your spirit so near to his spirit, that God may be able to
influence him for good through this presence of your spirit with
Polly looked at me with a light flashing in her face, as if a new
hope had dawned upon her heart,
"Oh, ma'am," she said, "I have prayed, and do pray for him daily.
But then I think God loves him better than I can love him, and needs
none of my prayer in the case. And so a chill falls over me, and
everything grows dark and hopeless--for, of myself, I can do
"Our prayers cannot change the purposes of God towards any one; but
God works by means, and our prayers may be the means through which
he can help another."
"How? How? Oh, tell me how, Mrs. Wilkins?"
The girl spoke with great eagerness.
I had an important truth to communicate, but how was I to make it
clear to her simple mind? I thought for a moment, and then said--
"When we think of others, we see them."
"In our minds?"
"Yes, Polly. We see them with the eyes of our minds, and are also
present with them as to our minds, or spirits. Have you hot noticed
that on some occasions you suddenly thought of a person, and that in
a little while afterwards that person came in?"
"Oh, yes, I've often noticed, and wondered why it should be so."
"Well, the person in coming to see you, or in approaching the place
where you were, thought of you so distinctly that she was present to
your mind, or spirit, and you saw her with the eyes of your mind. If
this be the right explanation, as I believe it is, then, if we think
intently of others, and especially if we think with a strong
affection, we are present with them so fully that they think of us,
and see our forms with the eyes of their spirits. And now, Polly,
keeping this in mind, we may see how praying, in tender love for
another, may enable God to do him good; for you know that men and
angels are co-workers with God in all good. On the wings of our
thought and love, angelic spirits, who are present with us in
prayer, may pass with us to the object of our tender interest and
thus gaining audience, as it were, stir the heart with good
impulses. And who can tell how effectual this may be, if of daily
act and long continuance?"
I paused to see if I was comprehended. Polly was listening intently,
with her eyes upon the floor. She looked up, after a moment, her
countenance calmer than before, but bearing so hopeful an aspect
that I was touched with wonder.
"I will pray for him morning, noon, and night," she said, "and if,
bodily, I cannot be near him, my spirit shall be present with his
many times each day. Oh, if I could but draw him back from the evil
into which he has fallen!"
"A sister's loving prayer, and the memory of his mother in heaven,
will prove, I trust, Polly, too potent for all his enemies. Take
In the silence that followed this last remark, Polly arose and stood
as if there was something yet unsaid in her mind. I understood her,
and made the way plain for both of us.
"If I had known of this before, it would have explained to me some
things that gave my mind an unfavorable impression. You have not
been like yourself for some time past."
"How could I, ma'am?" Polly's voice trembled and her eyes again
filled with tears. "I never meant to displease you; but----"
"All is explained," said I, interrupting her. "I see just how it is;
and if I have said a word that hurt you, I am sorry for it. No one
could have given better satisfaction in a family than you have
"I have always tried to do right," murmured the poor girl, sadly.
"I know it, Polly." My tones were encouraging. "And if you will
forget the unkind way in which I spoke to you this morning, and let
things remain as they were, it may be better for both of us. You are
not fit, taking your state of mind as it now is, to go among
Polly looked at me with gratitude and forgiveness in her wet eyes.
There was a motion of reply about her lips, but she did not trust
herself to speak.
"Shall it be as it was, Polly?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am! I don't wish to leave you; and particularly, not
now. I am not fit, as you say, to go among strangers. But you must
bear with me a little; for I can't always keep my thoughts about
When Polly retired from my room, I set myself to thinking over what
had happened. The lesson went deeply into my heart. Poor girl! what
a heavy burden rested upon her weak shoulders. No wonder that she
bent under it! No wonder that she was changed! She was no subject
for angry reproof; but for pity and forbearance. If she had come
short in service, or failed to enter upon her daily tasks with the
old cheerfulness, no blame could attach to her, for the defect was
of force and not of will.
"Ah," said I, as I pondered the matter, "how little inclined are we
to consider those who stand below us in the social scale, or to
think of them as having like passions, like weaknesses, like hopes
and fears with ourselves. We deal with them too often as if they
were mere working machines, and grow impatient if they show signs of
pain, weariness, or irritation. We are quick to blame and slow to
praise--chary of kind words, but voluble in reproof--holding
ourselves superior in station, but not always showing ourselves
superior in thoughtfulness, self-control, and kind forbearance. Ah
me! Life is a lesson-book, and we turn a new page every day."
_I HAVE_ a very early recollection of my father as a cheerful man,
and of our home as a place full of the heart's warmest sunshine. But
the father of my childhood and the father of my more advanced years
wore a very different exterior. He had grown silent, thoughtful,
abstracted, but not morose. As his children sprang up around him,
full of life and hope, he seemed to lose the buoyant spirits of his
earlier manhood. I did not observe this at the time, for I had not
learned to observe and reflect. Life was a simple state of
enjoyment. Trial had not quickened my perceptions, nor suffering
taught me an unselfish regard for others.
The home provided by my father was elegant--some would have called
it luxurious. On our education and accomplishments no expense was
spared. I had the best teachers--and, of course, the most expensive;
with none others would I have been satisfied, for I had come
naturally to regard myself as on a social equality with the
fashionable young friends who were my companions, and who indulged
the fashionable vice of depreciating everything that did not come up
to a certain acknowledged standard. Yearly I went to Saratoga or
Newport with my sisters, and at a cost which I now think of with
amazement. Sometimes my mother went with us, but my father never. He
was not able to leave his business. Business! How I came to dislike
the word! It was always "business" when we asked him to go anywhere
with us; "business" hurried him away from his hastily-eaten meals;
"business" absorbed all his thoughts, and robbed us of our father.
"I wish father would give up business," I said to my mother one day,
"and take some comfort of his life. Mr. Woodward has retired, and is
now living on his income."
My mother looked at me strangely and sighed, but answered nothing.
About this time my father showed some inclination to repress our
growing disposition to spend money extravagantly in dress. Nothing
but hundred-dollar shawl would suit my ideas. Ada White had been
presented by her father with a hundred-dollar cashmere, and I did
not mean to be put off with anything less.
"Father, I want a hundred dollars," said I to him one morning as he
was leaving the house, after eating his light breakfast. He had
grown dyspeptic, and had to be careful and sparing in his diet.
"A hundred dollars!" He looked surprised; in fact, I noticed that my
request made him start. "What do you want with so much money?"
"I have nothing seasonable to wear," said I, very firmly; "and as I
must have a shawl, I might as well get a good one while I am about
it. I saw one at Stewart's yesterday that is just the thing. Ada
White's father gave her a shawl exactly like it, and you must let me
have the money to buy this one. It will last my lifetime."
"A hundred dollars is a large price for a shawl," said my father, in
his sober way.
Oh, dear, no!" was my emphatic answer; "a hundred dollars is a low
price for a shawl. Jane Wharton's cost five hundred."
"I'll think about it," said my father, turning from me rather
When he came home at dinner-time, I was alone in the parlor,
practicing a. new piece of music which my fashionable teacher had
left me. He was paid three dollars for every lesson. My father
smiled as he laid a hundred-dollar bill on the keys of the piano. I
started up, and kissing him, said, with the ardor of a pleased
"What a dear good father you are!"
The return was ample. He always seemed most pleased when he could
gratify some wish or supply some want of his children. Ah! if we had
been less selfish--less exacting!
It was hardly to be expected that my sisters would see me the
possessor of a hundred-dollar shawl, and not desire a like addition
to their wardrobes.
"I want a hundred dollars," said my sister Jane, on the next
morning, as my father was about leaving for his store.
"Can't spare it to-day, my child," I heard him answer, kindly, but
"Oh, but I must have it," urged my sister.
"I gave you twenty-five dollars only day before yesterday," my
father replied to this. "What have you done with that?"
"Spent it for gloves and laces," said Jane, in a light way, as if
the sum were of the smallest possible consequence.
"I am not made of money, child." The tone of my father's voice
struck me as unusually sober--almost sad. But Jane replied
instantly, and with something of reproach and complaint in her
tones--"I shouldn't think you were, if you find it so hard to part
with a hundred dollars."
"I have a large payment to make to-day"--my father spoke with
unusual decision of manner--"and shall need every dollar that I can
"You gave sister a hundred dollars yesterday," said Jane, almost
Not a word of reply did my father make. I was looking at him, and
saw an expression on his countenance that was new to me--an
expression of pain, mingled with fear. He turned away slowly, and in
silence left the house.
"Jane," said my mother, addressing her from the stairway, on which
she had been standing, "how could you speak so to your father?"
"I have just as good right to a hundred dollar shawl as Anna,"
replied my sister, in a very undutiful tone. "And what is more, Im
going to have one."
"What reason did your father give for refusing your request to-day?"
asked my mother.
"Couldn't spare the money! Had a large payment to make! Only an
"Stop, my child!" was the quick, firm remark, made with unusual
feeling. "Is that the way to speak of so good a father? Of one who
has ever been so kindly indulgent? Jane! Jane! You know not what you
My sister looked something abashed at this unexpected rebuke, when
my mother took occasion to add, with an earnestness of manner that I
could not help remarking as singular,
"Your father is troubled about something. Business may not be going
on to his satisfaction. Last night I awoke, and found him walking
the floor. To my questions he merely answered that he was wakeful.
His health is not so good as formerly, and his spirits are low.
Don't, let me pray you, do anything to worry him. Say no more about
this money, Jane; you will get it whenever it can be spared."
I did not see my father again until tea-time. Occasionally, business
engagements pressed upon him so closely that he did not come home at
the usual hour for dining. He looked pale--weary--almost haggard.
"Dear father, are you sick?" said I, laying a hand upon him, and
gazing earnestly into his countenance.
"I do not feel very well," he replied, partly averting his face, as
if he did not wish me to read its expression too closely. "I have
had a weary day."
"You must take more recreation," said I. "This excessive devotion to
business is destroying your health. Why will you do it, father?"
He merely sighed as he passed onwards, and ascended to his own room.
At tea-time I observed that his face was unusually sober. His
silence was nothing uncommon, and so that passed without remark from
On the next day Jane received the hundred dollars, which was spent
for a shawl like mine. This brought the sunshine back to her face.
Her moody looks, I saw, disturbed my father.
From this time, the hand which had ever been ready to supply all our
wants real or imaginary, opened less promptly at our demands. My
father talked occasionally of retrenchment and economy when some of
our extravagant bills came in; but we paid little heed to his
remarks on this head. Where could we retrench? In what could we
economize? The very idea was absurd. We had nothing that others
moving in our circle did not have. Our house and furniture would
hardly compare favorably with the houses and furniture of many of
our fashionable friends. We dressed no better--indeed, not so well
as dozens of our acquaintances. Retrenchment and economy! I remember
laughing with my sisters at the words, and wondering with them what
could be coming over our father. In a half-amused way, we enumerated
the various items of imaginary reform, beginning at the annual
summer recreations, and ending with our milliner's bills. In mock
seriousness, we proposed to take the places of cook, chambermaid,
and waiter, and thus save these items of expense in the family. We
had quite a merry time over our fancied reforms.
But our father was serious. Steadily he persisted in what seemed to
us a growing penuriousness. Every demand for money seemed to give
him a partial shock, and every dollar that came to us was parted
with reluctantly. All this was something new; but we thought less
than we felt about it. Our father seemed to be getting into a very
singular state of mind.
Summer came round--I shall never forget that summer--and we
commenced making our annual preparations for Saratoga. Money was, of
course, an indispensable prerequisite. I asked for fifty dollars.
"For what purpose?" inquired my father.
"I haven't a single dress fit to appear in away from home," said I.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
I thought the question a strange one, and replied, a little curtly,
"To Saratoga, of course."
"Oh!" It seemed new to him. Then he repeated my words, in a
questioning kind of a way, as if his mind were not altogether
satisfied on the subject.
"Yes, sir. To Saratoga. We always go there. We shall close the
season at Newport this year."
"Who else is going?" My father's manner was strange. I had never
seen him just in the mood he then appeared to be.
"Jane is going, of course; and so is Emily. And we are trying to
persuade mother, also. She didn't go last year. Won't you spend a
week or two with us? Now do say yes."
My father shook his head at this last proposal, and said, "No,
child!" very decidedly.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I have something of more importance to think about than
Saratoga and its fashionable follies."
"Business! business!" said I, impatiently. "It is the Moloch,
father, to which you sacrifice every social pleasure, every home
delight, every good! Already you have laid health and happiness upon
the bloody altars of this false god!"
A few quick flushes went over his pale face, and then its expression
became very sad.
"Anna," he said, after a brief silence, during which even my
unpracticed eyes could see that an intense struggle was going on in
his mind, "Anna, you will have to give up your visit to Saratoga
"Why, father!" It seemed as if my blood were instantly on fire. My
face was, of course, all in a glow. I was confounded, and, let me
confess it, indignant; it seemed so like a tyrannical outrage.
"It is simply as I say, my daughter." He spoke without visible
excitement. "I cannot afford the expense this season, and you will,
therefore, all have to remain in the city."
"That's impossible!" said I. "I couldn't live here through the
"_I_ manage to live!" There was a tone in my father's voice, as he
uttered these simple words, partly to himself, that rebuked me. Yes,
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