Part 1 out of 9
This etext was prepared by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.
Additional proof reading by Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.
by Elizabeth Gaskell
I. A mysterious disappearance.
II. A Manchester tea-party.
III. John Barton's great trouble.
IV. Old Alice's history.
V. The mill on fire--Jem Wilson to the rescue.
VI. Poverty and death.
VII. Jem Wilson's repulse.
VIII. Margaret's debut as a public singer.
IX. Barton's London experiences.
X. Return of the prodigal.
XI. Mr. Carson's intentions revealed.
XII. Old Alice's bairn.
XIII. A traveller's tales.
XIV. Jem's interview with poor Esther.
XV. A violent meeting between the rivals.
XVI. Meeting between masters and workmen.
XVII. Barton's night errand.
XIX. Jem Wilson arrested on suspicion.
XX. Mary's dream--and the awakening.
XXI. Esther's motive in seeking Mary.
XXII. Mary's efforts to prove an alibi.
XXIII. The sub-poena.
XXIV. With the dying.
XXV. Mrs. Wilson's determination.
XXVI. The journey to Liverpool.
XXVII. In the Liverpool docks.
XXVIII. "John Cropper," ahoy!
XXIX. A true bill against Jem.
XXX. Job Legh's deception.
XXXI. How Mary passed the night.
XXXII. The trial and verdict--"Not guilty!"
XXXIII. Requiescat in pace.
XXXIV. The return home.
XXXV. "Forgive us our trespasses."
XXXVI. Jem's interview with Mr. Duncombe.
XXXVII. Details connected with the murder.
I. A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.
"Oh! 't is hard, 't is hard to be working
The whole of the live-long day,
When all the neighbours about one
Are off to their jaunts and play.
"There's Richard he carries his baby,
And Mary takes little Jane,
And lovingly they'll be wandering
Through fields and briery lane."
There are some fields near Manchester, well known to the inhabitants
as "Green Heys Fields," through which runs a public footpath to a
little village about two miles distant. In spite of these fields
being flat, and low, nay, in spite of the want of wood (the great
and usual recommendation of level tracts of land), there is a charm
about them which strikes even the inhabitant of a mountainous
district, who sees and feels the effect of contrast in these
commonplace but thoroughly rural fields, with the busy, bustling
manufacturing town he left but half-an-hour ago. Here and there an
old black and white farmhouse, with its rambling outbuildings,
speaks of other times and other occupations than those which now
absorb the population of the neighbourhood. Here in their seasons
may be seen the country business of haymaking, ploughing, etc.,
which are such pleasant mysteries for townspeople to watch: and
here the artisan, deafened with noise of tongues and engines, may
come to listen awhile to the delicious sounds of rural life: the
lowing of cattle, the milkmaid's call, the clatter and cackle of
poultry in the farmyards. You cannot wonder, then, that these
fields are popular places of resort at every holiday time; and you
would not wonder, if you could see, or I properly describe, the
charm of one particular stile, that it should be, on such occasions,
a crowded halting place. Close by it is a deep, clear pond,
reflecting in its dark green depths the shadowy trees that bend over
it to exclude the sun. The only place where its banks are shelving
is on the side next to a rambling farmyard, belonging to one of
those old world, gabled, black and white houses I named above,
overlooking the field through which the public footpath leads. The
porch of this farmhouse is covered by a rose-tree; and the little
garden surrounding it is crowded with a medley of old-fashioned
herbs and flowers, planted long ago, when the garden was the only
druggist's shop within reach, and allowed to grow in scrambling and
wild luxuriance--roses, lavender, sage, balm (for tea), rosemary,
pinks and wallflowers, onions and jessamine, in most republican and
indiscriminate order. This farmhouse and garden are within a
hundred yards of the stile of which I spoke, leading from the large
pasture field into a smaller one, divided by a hedge of hawthorn and
blackthorn; and near this stile, on the further side, there runs a
tale that primroses may often be found, and occasionally the blue
sweet violet on the grassy hedge bank.
I do not know whether it was on a holiday granted by the masters, or
a holiday seized in right of Nature and her beautiful spring time by
the workmen, but one afternoon (now ten or a dozen years ago) these
fields were much thronged. It was an early May evening--the April
of the poets; for heavy showers had fallen all the morning, and the
round, soft, white clouds which were blown by a west wind over the
dark blue sky, were sometimes varied by one blacker and more
threatening. The softness of the day tempted forth the young green
leaves, which almost visibly fluttered into life; and the willows,
which that morning had had only a brown reflection in the water
below, were now of that tender grey-green which blends so delicately
with the spring harmony of colours.
Groups of merry and somewhat loud-talking girls, whose ages might
range from twelve to twenty, came by with a buoyant step. They were
most of them factory girls, and wore the usual out-of-doors dress of
that particular class of maidens; namely, a shawl, which at midday
or in fine weather was allowed to be merely a shawl, but towards
evening, if the day was chilly, became a sort of Spanish mantilla or
Scotch plaid, and was brought over the head and hung loosely down,
or was pinned under the chin in no unpicturesque fashion.
Their faces were not remarkable for beauty; indeed, they were below
the average, with one or two exceptions; they had dark hair, neatly
and classically arranged, dark eyes, but sallow complexions and
irregular features. The only thing to strike a passer-by was an
acuteness and intelligence of countenance, which has often been
noticed in a manufacturing population.
There were also numbers of boys, or rather young men, rambling among
these fields, ready to bandy jokes with any one, and particularly
ready to enter into conversation with the girls, who, however, held
themselves aloof, not in a shy, but rather in an independent way,
assuming an indifferent manner to the noisy wit or obstreperous
compliments of the lads. Here and there came a sober, quiet couple,
either whispering lovers, or husband and wife, as the case might be;
and if the latter, they were seldom unencumbered by an infant,
carried for the most part by the father, while occasionally even
three or four little toddlers had been carried or dragged thus far,
in order that the whole family might enjoy the delicious May
Some time in the course of that afternoon, two working men met with
friendly greeting at the stile so often named. One was a thorough
specimen of a Manchester man; born of factory workers, and himself
bred up in youth, and living in manhood, among the mills. He was
below the middle size and slightly made; there was almost a stunted
look about him; and his wan, colourless face gave you the idea, that
in his childhood he had suffered from the scanty living consequent
upon bad times and improvident habits. His features were strongly
marked, though not irregular, and their expression was extreme
earnestness; resolute either for good or evil, a sort of latent
stern enthusiasm. At the time of which I write, the good
predominated over the bad in the countenance, and he was one from
whom a stranger would have asked a favour with tolerable faith that
it would be granted. He was accompanied by his wife, who might,
without exaggeration, have been called a lovely woman, although now
her face was swollen with crying, and often hidden behind her apron.
She had the fresh beauty of the agricultural districts; and somewhat
of the deficiency of sense in her countenance, which is likewise
characteristic of the rural inhabitants in comparison with the
natives of the manufacturing towns. She was far advanced in
pregnancy, which perhaps occasioned the overpowering and hysterical
nature of her grief. The friend whom they met was more handsome and
less sensible-looking than the man I have just described; he seemed
hearty and hopeful, and although his age was greater, yet there was
far more of youth's buoyancy in his appearance. He was tenderly
carrying a baby in arms, while his wife, a delicate, fragile-looking
woman, limping in her gait, bore another of the same age; little,
feeble twins, inheriting the frail appearance of their mother.
The last-mentioned man was the first to speak, while a sudden look
of sympathy dimmed his gladsome face. "Well, John, how goes it with
you?" and in a lower voice, he added, "Any news of Esther yet?"
Meanwhile the wives greeted each other like old friends, the soft
and plaintive voice of the mother of the twins seeming to call forth
only fresh sobs from Mrs. Barton.
"Come, women," said John Barton, "you've both walked far enough. My
Mary expects to have her bed in three weeks; and as for you, Mrs.
Wilson, you know you are but a cranky sort of a body at the best of
times." This was said so kindly, that no offence could be taken.
"Sit you down here; the grass is well nigh dry by this time; and
you're neither of you nesh* folk about taking cold. Stay," he
added, with some tenderness, "here's my pocket-handkerchief to
spread under you to save the gowns women always think so much on;
and now, Mrs. Wilson, give me the baby, I may as well carry him,
while you talk and comfort my wife; poor thing, she takes on sadly
*Nesh; Anglo-Saxon, nesc, tender.
These arrangements were soon completed; the two women sat down on
the blue cotton handkerchiefs of their husbands, and the latter,
each carrying a baby, set off for a further walk; but as soon as
Barton had turned his back upon his wife, his countenance fell back
into an expression of gloom.
"Then you've heard nothing of Esther, poor lass?" asked Wilson.
"No, nor shan't, as I take it. My mind is, she's gone off with
somebody. My wife frets and thinks she's drowned herself, but I
tell her, folks don't care to put on their best clothes to drown
themselves; and Mrs. Bradshaw (where she lodged, you know) says the
last time she set eyes on her was last Tuesday, when she came
downstairs, dressed in her Sunday gown, and with a new ribbon in her
bonnet, and gloves on her hands, like the lady she was so fond of
"She was as pretty a creature as ever the sun shone on."
"Ay, she was a farrantly* lass; more's the pity now," added Barton,
with a sigh. "You see them Buckinghamshire people as comes to work
here has quite a different look with them to us Manchester folk.
You'll not see among the Manchester wenches such fresh rosy cheeks,
or such black lashes to grey eyes (making them look like black), as
my wife and Esther had. I never seed two such pretty women for
sisters; never. Not but what beauty is a sad snare. Here was
Esther so puffed up, that there was no holding her in. Her spirit
was always up, if I spoke ever so little in the way of advice to
her; my wife spoiled her, it is true, for you see she was so much
older than Esther, she was more like a mother to her, doing
everything for her."
*Farrantly; comely, pleasant-looking.
"I wonder she ever left you," observed his friend.
"That's the worst of factory work for girls. They can earn so much
when work is plenty, that they can maintain themselves anyhow. My
Mary shall never work in a factory, that I'm determined on. You see
Esther spent her money in dress, thinking to set off her pretty
face; and got to come home so late at night, that at last I told her
my mind; my missis thinks I spoke crossly, but I meant right, for I
loved Esther, if it was only for Mary's sake. Says I, 'Esther, I
see what you'll end at with your artificials, and your fly-away
veils, and stopping out when honest women are in their beds:
you'll be a street-walker, Esther, and then, don't you go to think
I'll have you darken my door, though my wife is your sister?' So
says she, 'Don't trouble yourself, John, I'll pack up and be off
now, for I'll never stay to hear myself called as you call me.' She
flushed up like a turkey-cock, and I thought fire would come out of
her eyes; but when she saw Mary cry (for Mary can't abide words in a
house), she went and kissed her, and said she was not so bad as I
thought her. So we talked more friendly, for, as I said, I liked
the lass well enough, and her pretty looks, and her cheery ways.
But she said (and at that time I thought there was sense in what she
said) we should be much better friends if she went into lodgings,
and only came to see us now and then."
"Then you still were friendly. Folks said you'd cast her off, and
said you'd never speak to her again."
"Folks always make one a deal worse than one is," said John Barton
testily. "She came many a time to our house after she left off
living with us. Last Sunday se'nnight--no! it was this very last
Sunday, she came to drink a cup of tea with Mary; and that was the
last time we set eyes on her."
"Was she any ways different in her manner?" asked Wilson.
"Well, I don't know. I have thought several times since, that she
was a bit quieter, and more womanly-like; more gentle, and more
blushing, and not so riotous and noisy. She comes in towards four
o'clock, when afternoon church was loosing, and she goes and hangs
her bonnet up on the old nail we used to call hers, while she lived
with us. I remember thinking what a pretty lass she was, as she sat
on a low stool by Mary, who was rocking herself, and in rather a
poor way. She laughed and cried by turns, but all so softly and
gently, like a child, that I couldn't find in my heart to scold her,
especially as Mary was fretting already. One thing I do remember I
did say, and pretty sharply too. She took our little Mary by the
"Thou must leave off calling her 'little' Mary, she's growing up
into as fine a lass as one can see on a summer's day; more of her
mother's stock than thine," interrupted Wilson.
"Well, well, I call her 'little' because her mother's name is Mary.
But, as I was saying, she takes Mary in a coaxing sort of way, and
'Mary,' says she, 'what should you think if I sent for you some day
and made a lady of you?' So I could not stand such talk as that to
my girl, and I said, 'Thou'd best not put that nonsense i' the
girl's head I can tell thee; I'd rather see her earning her bread by
the sweat of brow, as the Bible tells her she should do, ay, though
she never got butter to her bread, than be like a do-nothing lady,
worrying shopmen all morning, and screeching at her pianny all
afternoon, and going to bed without having done a good turn to any
one of God's creatures but herself.'"
"Thou never could abide the gentlefolk," said Wilson, half amused at
his friend's vehemence.
"And what good have they ever done me that I should like them?"
asked Barton, the latent fire lighting up his eye: and bursting
forth he continued, "If I am sick do they come and nurse me? If my
child lies dying (as poor Tom lay, with his white wan lips
quivering, for want of better food than I could give him), does the
rich man bring the wine or broth that might save his life? If I am
out of work for weeks in the bad times, and winter comes, with black
frost, and keen east wind, and there is no coal for the grate, and
no clothes for the bed, and the thin bones are seen through the
ragged clothes, does the rich man share his plenty with me, as he
ought to do, if his religion wasn't a humbug? When I lie on my
death-bed and Mary (bless her!) stands fretting, as I know she will
fret," and here his voice faltered a little, "will a rich lady come
and take her to her own home if need be, till she can look round,
and see what best to do? No, I tell you it's the poor, and the poor
only, as does such things for the poor. Don't think to come over me
with th' old tale, that the rich know nothing of the trials of the
poor; I say, if they don't know, they ought to know. We're their
slaves as long as we can work; we pile up their fortunes with the
sweat of our brows, and yet we are to live as separate as if we were
in two worlds; ay, as separate as Dives and Lazarus, with a great
gulf betwixt us: but I know who was best off then," and he wound
up his speech with a low chuckle that had no mirth in it.
"Well, neighbour," said Wilson, "all that may be very true, but what
I want to know now is about Esther--when did you last hear of her?"
"Why, she took leave of us that Sunday night in a very loving way,
kissing both wife Mary, and daughter Mary (if I must not call her
'little'), and shaking hands with me; but all in a cheerful sort of
manner, so we thought nothing about her kisses and shakes. But on
Wednesday night comes Mrs. Bradshaw's son with Esther's box, and
presently Mrs. Bradshaw follows with the key; and when we began to
talk, we found Esther told her she was coming back to live with us,
and would pay her week's money for not giving notice; and on Tuesday
night she carried off a little bundle (her best clothes were on her
back, as I said before) and told Mrs. Bradshaw not to hurry herself
about the big box, but bring it when she had time. So, of course,
she thought she should find Esther with us; and when she told her
story, my missis set up such a screech, and fell down in a dead
swoon. Mary ran up with water for her mother, and I thought so much
about my wife, I did not seem to care at all for Esther. But the
next day I asked all the neighbours (both our own and Bradshaw's)
and they'd none of 'em heard or seen nothing of her. I even went to
a policeman, a good enough sort of man, but a fellow I'd never
spoken to before because of his livery, and I asks him if his
'cuteness could find anything out for us. So I believe he asks
other policemen; and one on 'em had seen a wench, like our Esther,
walking very quickly, with a bundle under her arm, on Tuesday night,
toward eight o'clock, and get into a hackney coach, near Hulme
Church, and we don't know th' number, and can't trace it no further.
I'm sorry enough for the girl, for bad's come over her, one way or
another, but I'm sorrier for my wife. She loved her next to me and
Mary, and she's never been the same body since poor Tom's death.
However, let's go back to them; your old woman may have done her
As they walked homewards with a brisker pace, Wilson expressed a
wish that they still were the near neighbours they once had been.
"Still our Alice lives in the cellar under No. 14, in Barber Street,
and if you'd only speak the word she'd be with you in five minutes
to keep your wife company when she's lonesome. Though I'm Alice's
brother, and perhaps ought not to say it, I will say there's none
more ready to help with heart or hand than she is. Though she may
have done a hard day's wash, there's not a child ill within the
street, but Alice goes to offer to sit up, and does sit up, too,
though may be she's to be at her work by six next morning."
"She's a poor woman, and can feel for the poor, Wilson," was
Barton's reply; and then he added, "Thank you kindly for your offer,
and mayhap I may trouble her to be a bit with my wife, for while I'm
at work, and Mary's at school, I know she frets above a bit. See,
there's Mary!" and the father's eye brightened, as in the distance,
among a group of girls, he spied his only daughter, a bonny lass of
thirteen or so, who came bounding along to meet and to greet her
father, in a manner that showed that the stern-looking man had a
tender nature within. The two men had crossed the last stile, while
Mary loitered behind to gather some buds of the coming hawthorn,
when an overgrown lad came past her, and snatched a kiss,
exclaiming, "For old acquaintance sake, Mary."
"Take that for old acquaintance sake, then," said the girl, blushing
rosy red, more with anger than shame, as she slapped his face. The
tones of her voice called back her father and his friend, and the
aggressor proved to be the eldest son of the latter, the senior by
eighteen years of his little brothers.
"Here, children, instead o' kissing and quarrelling, do ye each take
a baby, for if Wilson's arms be like mine they are heartily tired."
Mary sprang forward to take her father's charge, with a girl's
fondness for infants, and with some little foresight of the event
soon to happen at home; while young Wilson seemed to lose his rough,
cubbish nature as he crowed and cooed to his little brother.
"Twins is a great trial to a poor man, bless 'em," said the half-
proud, half-weary father, as he bestowed a smacking kiss on the babe
ere he parted with it.
II. A MANCHESTER TEA-PARTY.
"Polly, put the kettle on,
And let's have tea!
Polly, put the kettle on,
And we'll all have tea."
"Here we are, wife; did'st thou think thou'd lost us?" quoth
hearty-voiced Wilson, as the two women rose and shook themselves in
preparation for their homeward walk. Mrs. Barton was evidently
soothed, if not cheered, by the unburdening of her fears and
thoughts to her friend; and her approving look went far to second
her husband's invitation that the whole party should adjourn from
Green Heys Fields to tea, at the Bartons' house. The only faint
opposition was raised by Mrs. Wilson, on account of the lateness of
the hour at which they would probably return, which she feared on
her babies' account.
"Now, hold your tongue, missis, will you," said her husband
good-temperedly. "Don't you know them brats never goes to sleep
till long past ten? and haven't you a shawl, under which you can
tuck one lad's head, as safe as a bird's under its wing? And as for
t'other one, I'll put it in my pocket rather than not stay, now we
are this far away from Ancoats."
"Or, I can lend you another shawl," suggested Mrs. Barton.
"Ay, anything rather than not stay."
The matter being decided the party proceeded home, through many
half-finished streets, all so like one another, that you might have
easily been bewildered and lost your way. Not a step, however, did
our friends lose; down this entry, cutting off that corner, until
they turned out of one of these innumerable streets into a little
paved court, having the backs of houses at the end opposite to the
opening, and a gutter running through the middle to carry off
household slops, washing suds, etc. The women who lived in the
court were busy taking in strings of caps, frocks, and various
articles of linen, which hung from side to side, dangling so low,
that if our friends had been a few minutes' sooner, they would have
had to stoop very much, or else the half-wet clothes would have
flapped in their faces: but although the evening seemed yet early
when they were in the open fields--among the pent-up houses, night,
with its mists and its darkness, had already begun to fall.
Many greetings were given and exchanged between the Wilsons and
these women, for not long ago they had also dwelt in this court.
Two rude lads, standing at a disorderly looking house-door,
exclaimed, as Mary Barton (the daughter) passed, "Eh, look! Polly
Barton's getten* a sweetheart."
*"For he had geten him yet no benefice."
--Prologue to Canterbury Tales.
Of course this referred to young Wilson, who stole a look to see how
Mary took the idea. He saw her assume the air of a young fury, and
to his next speech she answered not a word.
Mrs. Barton produced the key of the door from her pocket; and on
entering the house-place it seemed as if they were in total
darkness, except one bright spot, which might be a cat's eye, or
might be, what it was, a red-hot fire, smouldering under a large
piece of coal, which John Barton immediately applied himself to
break up, and the effect instantly produced was warm and glowing
light in every corner of the room. To add to this (although the
coarse yellow glare seemed lost in the ruddy glow from the fire),
Mrs. Barton lighted a dip by sticking it in the fire, and having
placed it satisfactorily in a tin candlestick, began to look further
about her, on hospitable thoughts intent. The room was tolerably
large, and possessed many conveniences. On the right of the door,
as you entered, was a longish window, with a broad ledge. On each
side of this, hung blue-and-white check curtains, which were now
drawn, to shut in the friends met to enjoy themselves. Two
geraniums, unpruned and leafy, which stood on the sill, formed a
further defence from out-door pryers. In the corner between the
window and the fireside was a cupboard, apparently full of plates
and dishes, cups and saucers, and some more nondescript articles,
for which one would have fancied their possessors could find no use--
such as triangular pieces of glass to save carving knives and forks
from dirtying table-cloths. However, it was evident Mrs. Barton was
proud of her crockery and glass, for she left her cupboard door
open, with a glance round of satisfaction and pleasure. On the
opposite side to the door and window was the staircase, and two
doors; one of which (the nearest to the fire) led into a sort of
little back kitchen, where dirty work, such as washing up dishes,
might be done, and whose shelves served as larder, and pantry, and
storeroom, and all. The other door, which was considerably lower,
opened into the coal-hole--the slanting closet under the stairs;
from which, to the fire-place, there was a gay-coloured piece of
oil-cloth laid. The place seemed almost crammed with furniture
(sure sign of good times among the mills). Beneath the window was a
dresser, with three deep drawers. Opposite the fire-place was a
table, which I should call a Pembroke, only that it was made of
deal, and I cannot tell how far such a name may be applied to such
humble material. On it, resting against the wall, was a bright
green japanned tea-tray, having a couple of scarlet lovers embracing
in the middle. The fire-light danced merrily on this, and really
(setting all taste but that of a child's aside) it gave a richness
of colouring to that side of the room. It was in some measure
propped up by a crimson tea-caddy, also of japan ware. A round
table on one branching leg, really for use, stood in the
corresponding corner to the cupboard; and, if you can picture all
this, with a washy, but clean stencilled pattern on the walls, you
can form some idea of John Barton's home.
The tray was soon hoisted down, and before the merry clatter of cups
and saucers began, the women disburdened themselves of their
out-of-door things, and sent Mary upstairs with them. Then came a
long whispering, and chinking of money, to which Mr. and Mrs. Wilson
were too polite to attend; knowing, as they did full well, that it
all related to the preparations for hospitality; hospitality that,
in their turn, they should have such pleasure in offering. So they
tried to be busily occupied with the children, and not to hear Mrs.
Barton's directions to Mary.
"Run, Mary, dear, just round the corner, and get some fresh eggs at
Tipping's (you may get one apiece, that will be fivepence), and see
if he has any nice ham cut, that he would let us have a pound of."
"Say two pounds, missis, and don't be stingy," chimed in the
"Well, a pound and a half, Mary. And get it Cumberland ham, for
Wilson comes from there-away, and it will have a sort of relish of
home with it he'll like,--and Mary" (seeing the lassie fain to be
off), "you must get a pennyworth of milk and a loaf of bread--mind
you get it fresh and new--and, and--that's all, Mary."
"No, it's not all," said her husband. "Thou must get sixpennyworth
of rum, to warm the tea; thou'll get it at the 'Grapes.' And thou
just go to Alice Wilson; he says she lives just right round the
corner, under 14, Barber Street" (this was addressed to his wife);
"and tell her to come and take her tea with us; she'll like to see
her brother, I'll be bound, let alone Jane and the twins."
"If she comes she must bring a tea-cup and saucer, for we have but
half-a-dozen, and here's six of us," said Mrs. Barton.
"Pooh, pooh, Jem and Mary can drink out of one, surely."
But Mary secretly determined to take care that Alice brought her
tea-cup and saucer, if the alternative was to be her sharing
anything with Jem.
Alice Wilson had but just come in. She had been out all day in the
fields, gathering wild herbs for drinks and medicine, for in
addition to her invaluable qualities as a sick nurse and her worldly
occupations as a washerwoman, she added a considerable knowledge of
hedge and field simples; and on fine days, when no more profitable
occupation offered itself, she used to ramble off into the lanes and
meadows as far as her legs could carry her. This evening she had
returned loaded with nettles, and her first object was to light a
candle and see to hang them up in bunches in every available place
in her cellar room. It was the perfection of cleanliness; in one
corner stood the modest-looking bed, with a check curtain at the
head, the whitewashed wall filling up the place where the
corresponding one should have been. The floor was bricked, and
scrupulously clean, although so damp that it seemed as if the last
washing would never dry up. As the cellar window looked into an
area in the street, down which boys might throw stones, it was
protected by an outside shutter, and was oddly festooned with all
manner of hedge-row, ditch, and field plants, which we are
accustomed to call valueless, but which have a powerful effect
either for good or for evil, and are consequently much used among
the poor. The room was strewed, hung, and darkened with these
bunches, which emitted no very fragrant odour in their process of
drying. In one corner was a sort of broad hanging shelf, made of
old planks, where some old hoards of Alice's were kept. Her little
bit of crockery-ware was ranged on the mantelpiece, where also stood
her candlestick and box of matches. A small cupboard contained at
the bottom coals, and at the top her bread and basin of oatmeal, her
frying-pan, teapot, and a small tin saucepan, which served as a
kettle, as well as for cooking the delicate little messes of broth
which Alice was sometimes able to manufacture for a sick neighbour.
After her walk she felt chilly and weary, and was busy trying to
light her fire with the damp coals, and half-green sticks, when Mary
"Come in," said Alice, remembering, however, that she had barred the
door for the night, and hastening to make it possible for any one to
"Is that you, Mary Barton?" exclaimed she, as the light from the
candle streamed on the girl's face. "How you are grown since I used
to see you at my brother's! Come in, lass, come in."
"Please," said Mary, almost breathless, "mother says you're to come
to tea, and bring your cup and saucer, for George and Jane Wilson is
with us, and the twins, and Jem. And you're to make haste, please!"
"I'm sure it's very neighbourly and kind in your mother, and I'll
come, with many thanks. Stay, Mary, has your mother got any nettles
for spring drink? If she hasn't, I'll take her some."
"No, I don't think she has."
Mary ran off like a hare to fulfil what, to a girl of thirteen, fond
of power, was the more interesting part of her errand--the money-
spending part. And well and ably did she perform her business,
returning home with a little bottle of rum, and the eggs in one
hand, while her other was filled with some excellent red-and-white,
smoke-flavoured, Cumberland ham, wrapped up in paper.
She was at home, and frying ham, before Alice had chosen her
nettles, put out her candle, locked her door, and walked in a very
foot-sore manner as far as John Barton's. What an aspect of comfort
did his house-place present, after her humble cellar! She did not
think of comparing; but for all that she felt the delicious glow of
the fire, the bright light that revelled in every corner of the
room, the savoury smells, the comfortable sounds of a boiling
kettle, and the hissing, frizzling ham. With a little old-fashioned
curtsey she shut the door, and replied with a loving heart to the
boisterous and surprised greeting of her brother.
And now all preparations being made, the party sat down; Mrs. Wilson
in the post of honour, the rocking-chair, on the right-hand side of
the fire, nursing her baby, while its father, in an opposite
arm-chair, tried vainly to quiet the other with bread soaked in
Mrs. Barton knew manners too well to do anything but sit at the
tea-table and make tea, though in her heart she longed to be able to
superintend the frying of the ham, and cast many an anxious look at
Mary as she broke the eggs and turned the ham, with a very
comfortable portion of confidence in her own culinary powers. Jem
stood awkwardly leaning against the dresser, replying rather gruffly
to his aunt's speeches, which gave him, he thought, the air of being
a little boy; whereas he considered himself as a young man, and not
so very young neither, as in two months he would be eighteen.
Barton vibrated between the fire and the tea-table, his only
drawback being a fancy that every now and then his wife's face
flushed and contracted as if in pain.
At length the business actually began. Knives and forks, cups and
saucers made a noise, but human voices were still, for human beings
were hungry and had no time to speak. Alice first broke silence;
holding her tea-cup with the manner of one proposing a toast, she
said, "Here's to absent friends. Friends may meet, but mountains
It was an unlucky toast or sentiment, as she instantly felt. Every
one thought of Esther, the absent Esther; and Mrs. Barton put down
her food, and could not hide the fast-dropping tears. Alice could
have bitten her tongue out.
It was a wet blanket to the evening; for though all had been said
and suggested in the fields that could be said or suggested, every
one had a wish to say something in the way of comfort to poor Mrs.
Barton, and a dislike to talk about anything else while her tears
fell fast and scalding. So George Wilson, his wife, and children
set off early home, not before (in spite of mal-a-propos speeches)
they had expressed a wish that such meetings might often take place,
and not before John Barton had given his hearty consent; and
declared that as soon as ever his wife was well again they would
have just such another evening.
"I will take care not to come and spoil it," thought poor Alice, and
going up to Mrs. Barton, she took her hand almost humbly, and said,
"You don't know how sorry I am I said it."
To her surprise, a surprise that brought tears of joy into her eyes,
Mary Barton put her arms round her neck, and kissed the self-
reproaching Alice. "You didn't mean any harm, and it was me as was
so foolish; only this work about Esther, and not knowing where she
is, lies so heavy on my heart. Good-night, and never think no more
about it. God bless you, Alice."
Many and many a time, as Alice reviewed that evening in her after
life, did she bless Mary Barton for these kind and thoughtful words.
But just then all she could say was, "Good-night, Mary, and may God
III. JOHN BARTONS GREAT TROUBLE.
"But when the morn came dim and sad,
And chill with early showers,
Her quiet eyelids closed--she had
Another morn than ours."
In the middle of that same night a neighbour of the Bartons was
roused from her sound, well-earned sleep, by a knocking, which had
at first made part of her dream; but starting up, as soon as she
became convinced of its reality, she opened the window, and asked
who was there?
"Me--John Barton," answered he, in a voice tremulous with agitation.
"My missis is in labour, and, for the love of God, step in while I
run for th' doctor, for she's fearful bad."
While the woman hastily dressed herself, leaving the window still
open, she heard the cries of agony, which resounded in the little
court in the stillness of the night. In less than five minutes she
was standing by Mrs. Barton's bedside, relieving the terrified Mary,
who went about where she was told like an automaton; her eyes
tearless, her face calm, though deadly pale, and uttering no sound,
except when her teeth chattered for very nervousness.
The cries grew worse.
The doctor was very long in hearing the repeated rings at his
night-bell, and still longer in understanding who it was that made
this sudden call upon his services; and then he begged Barton just
to wait while he dressed himself, in order that no time might be
lost in finding the court and house. Barton absolutely stamped with
impatience, outside the doctor's door, before he came down; and
walked so fast homewards, that the medical man several times asked
him to go slower.
"Is she so very bad?" asked he.
"Worse, much worser than I ever saw her before," replied John.
No! she was not--she was at peace. The cries were still for ever.
John had no time for listening. He opened the latched door, stayed
not to light a candle for the mere ceremony of showing his companion
up the stairs, so well known to himself; but, in two minutes, was in
the room, where lay the dead wife, whom he had loved with all the
power of his strong heart. The doctor stumbled upstairs by the
fire-light, and met the awe-struck look of the neighbour, which at
once told him the state of things. The room was still, as he, with
habitual tiptoe step, approached the poor frail body, that nothing
now could more disturb. Her daughter knelt by the bedside, her face
buried in the clothes, which were almost crammed into her mouth, to
keep down the choking sobs. The husband stood like one stupefied.
The doctor questioned the neighbour in whispers, and then
approaching Barton, said, "You must go downstairs. This is a great
shock, but bear it like a man. Go down."
He went mechanically and sat down on the first chair. He had no
hope. The look of death was too clear upon her face. Still, when
he heard one or two unusual noises, the thought burst on him that it
might only be a trance, a fit, a--he did not well know what--but not
death! Oh, not death! And he was starting up to go up-stairs
again, when the doctor's heavy cautious creaking footstep was heard
on the stairs. Then he knew what it really was in the chamber
"Nothing could have saved her--there has been some shock to the
system"--and so he went on, but to unheeding ears, which yet
retained his words to ponder on; words not for immediate use in
conveying sense, but to be laid by, in the store-house of memory,
for a more convenient season. The doctor, seeing the state of the
case, grieved for the man; and, very sleepy, thought it best to go,
and accordingly wished him good-night--but there was no answer, so
he let himself out; and Barton sat on, like a stock or a stone, so
rigid, so still. He heard the sounds above, too, and knew what they
meant. He heard the stiff unseasoned drawer, in which his wife kept
her clothes, pulled open. He saw the neighbour come down, and
blunder about in search of soap and water. He knew well what she
wanted, and WHY she wanted them, but he did not speak nor offer to
help. At last she went, with some kindly meant words (a text of
comfort, which fell upon a deafened ear), and something about
"Mary," but which Mary, in his bewildered state, he could not tell.
He tried to realise it--to think it possible. And then his mind
wandered off to other days, to far different times. He thought of
their courtship; of his first seeing her, an awkward beautiful
rustic, far too shiftless for the delicate factory work to which she
was apprenticed; of his first gift to her, a bead necklace, which
had long ago been put by, in one of the deep drawers of the dresser,
to be kept for Mary. He wondered if it was there yet, and with a
strange curiosity he got up to feel for it; for the fire by this
time was well nigh out, and candle he had none. His groping hand
fell on the piled-up tea-things, which at his desire she had left
unwashed till morning--they were all so tired. He was reminded of
one of the daily little actions, which acquire such power when they
have been performed for the last time by one we love. He began to
think over his wife's daily round of duties: and something in the
remembrance that these would never more be done by her, touched the
source of tears, and he cried aloud. Poor Mary, meanwhile, had
mechanically helped the neighbour in all the last attentions to the
dead; and when she was kissed and spoken to soothingly, tears stole
quietly down her cheeks; but she reserved the luxury of a full burst
of grief till she should be alone. She shut the chamber-door
softly, after the neighbour was gone, and then shook the bed by
which she knelt with her agony of sorrow. She repeated, over and
over again, the same words; the same vain, unanswered address to her
who was no more. "Oh, mother! mother, are you really dead! Oh,
At last she stopped, because it flashed across her mind that her
violence of grief might disturb her father. All was still below.
She looked on the face so changed, and yet so strangely like. She
bent down to kiss it. The cold unyielding flesh struck a shudder to
her heart, and hastily obeying her impulse, she grasped the candle,
and opened the door. Then she heard the sobs of her father's grief;
and quickly, quietly stealing down the steps, she knelt by him, and
kissed his hand. He took no notice at first; for his burst of grief
would not be controlled. But when her shriller sobs, her terrified
cries (which she could not repress), rose upon his ear, he checked
"Child, we must be all to one another, now SHE is gone," whispered
"Oh, father, what can I do for you? Do tell me! I'll do anything."
"I know thou wilt. Thou must not fret thyself ill, that's the first
thing I ask. Thou must leave me and go to bed now, like a good girl
as thou art."
"Leave you, father! oh, don't say so."
"Ay, but thou must: thou must go to bed, and try and sleep;
thou'lt have enough to do and to bear, poor wench, tomorrow."
Mary got up, kissed her father, and sadly went upstairs to the
little closet, where she slept. She thought it was of no use
undressing, for that she could never, never sleep, so threw herself
on her bed in her clothes, and before ten minutes had passed away,
the passionate grief of youth had subsided into sleep.
Barton had been roused by his daughter's entrance, both from his
stupor and from his uncontrollable sorrow. He could think on what
was to be done, could plan for the funeral, could calculate the
necessity of soon returning to his work, as the extravagance of the
past night would leave them short of money if he long remained away
from the mill. He was in a club, so that money was provided for the
burial. These things settled in his own mind, he recalled the
doctor's words, and bitterly thought of the shock his poor wife had
so recently had, in the mysterious disappearance of her cherished
sister. His feelings towards Esther almost amounted to curses. It
was she who had brought on all this sorrow. Her giddiness, her
lightness of conduct had wrought this woe. His previous thoughts
about her had been tinged with wonder and pity, but now he hardened
his heart against her for ever.
One of the good influences over John Barton's life had departed that
night. One of the ties which bound him down to the gentle
humanities of earth was loosened, and henceforward the neighbours
all remarked he was a changed man. His gloom and his sternness
became habitual instead of occasional. He was more obstinate. But
never to Mary. Between the father and the daughter there existed in
full force that mysterious bond which unites those who have been
loved by one who is now dead and gone. While he was harsh and
silent to others, he humoured Mary with tender love: she had more
of her own way than is common in any rank with girls of her age.
Part of this was the necessity of the case; for of course all the
money went through her hands, and the household arrangements were
guided by her will and pleasure. But part was her father's
indulgence, for he left her, with full trust in her unusual sense
and spirit, to choose her own associates, and her own times for
With all this, Mary had not her father's confidence in the matters
which now began to occupy him, heart and soul; she was aware that he
had joined clubs, and become an active member of the Trades' Union,
but it was hardly likely that a girl of Mary's age (even when two or
three years had elapsed since her mother's death) should care much
for the differences between the employers and the employed--an
eternal subject for agitation in the manufacturing districts, which,
however it may be lulled for a time, is sure to break forth again
with fresh violence at any depression of trade, showing that in its
apparent quiet, the ashes had still smouldered in the breasts of a
Among these few was John Barton. At all times it is a bewildering
thing to the poor weaver to see his employer removing from house to
house, each one grander than the last, till he ends in building one
more magnificent than all, or withdraws his money from the concern,
or sells his mill, to buy an estate in the country, while all the
time the weaver, who thinks he and his fellows are the real makers
of this wealth, is struggling on for bread for his children, through
the vicissitudes of lowered wages, short hours, fewer hands
employed, etc. And when he knows trade is bad, and could understand
(at least partially) that there are not buyers enough in the market
to purchase the goods already made, and consequently that there is
no demand for more; when he would bear and endure much without
complaining, could he also see that his employers were bearing their
share; he is, I say, bewildered and (to use his own word)
"aggravated" to see that all goes on just as usual with the
millowners. Large houses are still occupied, while spinners' and
weavers' cottages stand empty, because the families that once filled
them are obliged to live in rooms or cellars. Carriages still roll
along the streets, concerts are still crowded by subscribers, the
shops for expensive luxuries still find daily customers, while the
workman loiters away his unemployed time in watching these things,
and thinking of the pale, uncomplaining wife at home, and the
wailing children asking in vain for enough of food--of the sinking
health, of the dying life of those near and dear to him. The
contrast is too great. Why should he alone suffer from bad times?
I know that this is not really the case; and I know what is the
truth in such matters; but what I wish to impress is what the
workman feels and thinks. True, that with child-like improvidence,
good times will often dissipate his grumbling, and make him forget
all prudence and foresight.
But there are earnest men among these people, men who have endured
wrongs without complaining, but without ever forgetting or forgiving
those whom (they believe) have caused all this woe.
Among these was John Barton. His parents had suffered; his mother
had died from absolute want of the necessaries of life. He himself
was a good, steady workman, and, as such, pretty certain of steady
employment. But he spent all he got with the confidence (you may
also call it improvidence) of one who was willing, and believed
himself able, to supply all his wants by his own exertions. And
when his master suddenly failed, and all hands in the mill were
turned back, one Tuesday morning, with the news that Mr. Hunter had
stopped, Barton had only a few shillings to rely on; but he had good
heart of being employed at some other mill, and accordingly, before
returning home, he spent some hours in going from factory to
factory, asking for work. But at every mill was some sign of
depression of trade! some were working short hours, some were
turning off hands, and for weeks Barton was out of work, living on
credit. It was during this time that his little son, the apple of
his eye, the cynosure of all his strong power of love, fell ill of
the scarlet fever. They dragged him through the crisis, but his
life hung on a gossamer thread. Everything, the doctor said,
depended on good nourishment, on generous living, to keep up the
little fellow's strength, in the prostration in which the fever had
left him. Mocking words! when the commonest food in the house would
not furnish one little meal. Barton tried credit; but it was worn
out at the little provision shops, which were now suffering in their
turn. He thought it would be no sin to steal, and would have
stolen; but he could not get the opportunity in the few days the
child lingered. Hungry himself, almost to an animal pitch of
ravenousness, but with the bodily pain swallowed up in anxiety for
his little sinking lad, he stood at one of the shop windows where
all edible luxuries are displayed; haunches of venison, Stilton
cheeses, moulds of jelly--all appetising sights to the common
passer-by. And out of this shop came Mrs. Hunter! She crossed to
her carriage, followed by the shopman loaded with purchases for a
party. The door was quickly slammed to, and she drove away; and
Barton returned home with a bitter spirit of wrath in his heart to
see his only boy a corpse!
You can fancy, now, the hoards of vengeance in his heart against the
employers. For there are never wanting those who, either in speech
or in print, find it their interest to cherish such feelings in the
working classes; who know how and when to rouse the dangerous power
at their command; and who use their knowledge with unrelenting
purpose to either party.
So while Mary took her own way, growing more spirited every day, and
growing in her beauty too, her father was chairman at many a Trades'
Union meeting; a friend of delegates, and ambitious of being a
delegate himself; a Chartist, and ready to do anything for his
But now times were good; and all these feelings were theoretical,
not practical. His most practical thought was getting Mary
apprenticed to a dressmaker; for he had never left off disliking a
factory life for a girl, on more accounts than one.
Mary must do something. The factories being, as I said, out of the
question, there were two things open--going out to service and the
dressmaking business; and against the first of these, Mary set
herself with all the force of her strong will. What that will might
have been able to achieve had her father been against her, I cannot
tell; but he disliked the idea of parting with her, who was the
light of his hearth; the voice of his otherwise silent home.
Besides, with his ideas and feelings towards the higher classes, he
considered domestic servitude as a species of slavery; a pampering
of artificial wants on the one side, a giving up of every right of
leisure by day and quiet rest by night on the other. How far his
strong exaggerated feelings had any foundation in truth, it is for
you to judge. I am afraid that Mary's determination not to go to
service arose from far less sensible thoughts on the subject than
her father's. Three years of independence of action (since her
mother's death such a time had now elapsed) had little inclined her
to submit to rules as to hours and associates, to regulate her dress
by a mistress's ideas of propriety, to lose the dear feminine
privileges of gossiping with a merry neighbour, and working night
and day to help one who was sorrowful. Besides all this, the
sayings of her absent, the mysterious aunt Esther, had an
unacknowledged influence over Mary. She knew she was very pretty;
the factory people as they poured from the mills, and in their
freedom told the truth (whatever it might be) to every passer-by,
had early let Mary into the secret of her beauty. If their remarks
had fallen on an unheeding ear, there were always young men enough,
in a different rank from her own, who were willing to compliment the
pretty weaver's daughter as they met her in the streets. Besides,
trust a girl of sixteen for knowing it well if she is pretty;
concerning her plainness she may be ignorant. So with this
consciousness she had early determined that her beauty should make
her a lady; the rank she coveted the more for her father's abuse;
the rank to which she firmly believed her lost aunt Esther had
arrived. Now, while a servant must often drudge and be dirty, must
be known as his servant by all who visited at her master's house, a
dressmaker's apprentice must (or so Mary thought) be always dressed
with a certain regard to appearances; must never soil her hands, and
need never redden or dirty her face with hard labour. Before my
telling you so truly what folly Mary felt or thought, injures her
without redemption in your opinion, think what are the silly fancies
of sixteen years of age in every class, and under all circumstances.
The end of all the thoughts of father and daughter was, as I said
before, Mary was to be a dressmaker; and her ambition prompted her
unwilling father to apply at all the first establishments, to know
on what terms of painstaking and zeal his daughter might be admitted
into ever so humble a workwoman's situation. But high premiums were
asked at all; poor man! he might have known that without giving up a
day's work to ascertain the fact. He would have been indignant,
indeed, had he known that if Mary had accompanied him, the case
might have been rather different, as her beauty would have made her
desirable as a show-woman. Then he tried second-rate places; at all
the payment of a sum of money was necessary, and money he had none.
Disheartened and angry, he went home at night, declaring it was time
lost; that dressmaking was at all events a troublesome business, and
not worth learning. Mary saw that the grapes were sour, and the
next day she set out herself, as her father could not afford to lose
another day's work; and before night (as yesterday's experience had
considerably lowered her ideas) she had engaged herself as
apprentice (so called, though there were no deeds or indentures to
the bond) to a certain Miss Simmonds, milliner and dressmaker, in a
respectable little street leading off Ardwick Green, where her
business was duly announced in gold letters on a black ground,
enclosed in a bird's-eye maple frame, and stuck in the front-parlour
window; where the workwomen were called "her young ladies"; and
where Mary was to work for two years without any remuneration, on
consideration of being taught the business; and where afterwards she
was to dine and have tea, with a small quarterly salary (paid
quarterly because so much more genteel than by the week), a VERY
small one, divisible into a minute weekly pittance. In summer she
was to be there by six, bringing her day's meals during the first
two years; in winter she was not to come till after breakfast. Her
time for returning home at night must always depend upon the
quantity of work Miss Simmonds had to do.
And Mary was satisfied; and seeing this, her father was contented
too, although his words were grumbling and morose; but Mary knew his
ways, and coaxed and planned for the future so cheerily, that both
went to bed with easy if not happy hearts.
IV. OLD ALICE'S HISTORY.
"To envy nought beneath the ample sky;
To mourn no evil deed, no hour misspent;
And like a living violet, silently
Return in sweets to Heaven what goodness lent,
Then bend beneath the chastening shower content."
Another year passed on. The waves of time seemed long since to have
swept away all trace of poor Mary Barton. But her husband still
thought of her, although with a calm and quiet grief, in the silent
watches of the night: and Mary would start from her hard-earned
sleep, and think, in her half-dreamy, half-awakened state, she saw
her mother stand by her bedside, as she used to do "in the days of
long ago"; with a shaded candle and an expression of ineffable
tenderness, while she looked on her sleeping child. But Mary rubbed
her eyes and sank back on her pillow, awake, and knowing it was a
dream; and still, in all her troubles and perplexities, her heart
called on her mother for aid, and she thought, "If mother had but
lived, she would have helped me." Forgetting that the woman's
sorrows are far more difficult to mitigate than a child's, even by
the mighty power of a mother's love; and unconscious of the fact,
that she was far superior in sense and spirit to the mother she
mourned. Aunt Esther was still mysteriously absent, and people had
grown weary of wondering, and begun to forget. Barton still
attended his club, and was an active member of a Trades' Union;
indeed, more frequently than ever, since the time of Mary's return
in the evening was so uncertain; and as she occasionally, in very
busy times, remained all night. His chiefest friend was still
George Wilson, although he had no great sympathy on the questions
that agitated Barton's mind. But their hearts were bound by old
ties to one another, and the remembrance of former things gave an
unspoken charm to their meetings. Our old friend, the cub-like lad,
Jem Wilson, had shot up into the powerful, well-made young man, with
a sensible face enough; nay, a face that might have been handsome,
had it not been here and there marked by the small-pox. He worked
with one of the great firms of engineers, who send from out their
towns of workshops engines and machinery to the dominions of the
Czar and the Sultan. His father and mother were never weary of
praising Jem, at all which commendation pretty Mary Barton would
toss her head, seeing clearly enough that they wished her to
understand what a good husband he would make, and to favour his
love, about which he never dared to speak, whatever eyes and looks
One day, in the early winter time, when people were provided with
warm substantial gowns, not likely soon to wear out, and when,
accordingly, business was rather slack at Miss Simmonds', Mary met
Alice Wilson, coming home from her half-day's work at some
tradesman's house. Mary and Alice had always liked each other;
indeed, Alice looked with particular interest on the motherless
girl, the daughter of her whose forgiving kiss had comforted her in
many sleepless hours. So there was a warm greeting between the tidy
old woman and the blooming young work-girl; and then Alice ventured
to ask if she would come in and take her tea with her that very
"You'll think it dull enough to come just to sit with an old woman
like me, but there's a tidy young lass as lives in the floor above,
who does plain work, and now and then a bit in your own line, Mary;
she's grand-daughter to old Job Legh, a spinner, and a good girl she
is. Do come, Mary! I've a terrible wish to make you known to each
other. She's a genteel-looking lass, too."
At the beginning of this speech Mary had feared the intended visitor
was to be no other than Alice's nephew; but Alice was too
delicate-minded to plan a meeting, even for her dear Jem, when one
would have been an unwilling party; and Mary, relieved from her
apprehension by the conclusion, gladly agreed to come. How busy
Alice felt! it was not often she had any one to tea; and now her
sense of the duties of a hostess were almost too much for her. She
made haste home, and lighted the unwilling fire, borrowing a pair of
bellows to make it burn the faster. For herself she was always
patient; she let the coals take their time. Then she put on her
pattens, and went to fill her kettle at the pump in the next court,
and on her way she borrowed a cup; of odd saucers she had plenty,
serving as plates when occasion required. Half an ounce of tea and
a quarter of a pound of butter went far to absorb her morning's
wages; but this was an unusual occasion. In general, she used
herb-tea for herself, when at home, unless some thoughtful mistress
made a present of tea-leaves from her more abundant household. The
two chairs drawn out for visitors, and duly swept and dusted; an old
board arranged with some skill upon two old candle boxes set on end
(rather rickety to be sure, but she knew the seat of old, and when
to sit lightly; indeed the whole affair was more for apparent
dignity of position than for any real ease); a little, very little
round table, put just before the fire, which by this time was
blazing merrily; her unlacquered ancient, third-hand tea-tray
arranged with a black tea-pot, two cups with a red and white
pattern, and one with the old friendly willow pattern, and saucers,
not to match (on one of the extra supply the lump of butter
flourished away); all these preparations complete, Alice began to
look about her with satisfaction, and a sort of wonder what more
could be done to add to the comfort of the evening. She took one of
the chairs away from its appropriate place by the table, and putting
it close to the broad large hanging shelf I told you about when I
first described her cellar-dwelling, and mounting on it, she pulled
towards her an old deal box, and took thence a quantity of the oat
bread of the north, the "clap-bread" of Cumberland and Westmoreland,
and descending carefully with the thin cakes, threatening to break
to pieces in her hand, she placed them on the bare table, with the
belief that her visitors would have an unusual treat in eating the
bread of her childhood. She brought out a good piece of a
four-pound loaf of common household bread as well, and then sat down
to rest, really to rest, and not to pretend, on one of the
rush-bottomed chairs. The candle was ready to be lighted, the
kettle boiled, the tea was awaiting its doom in its paper parcel;
all was ready.
A knock at the door! It was Margaret, the young workwoman who lived
in the rooms above, who having heard the bustle, and the subsequent
quiet, began to think it was time to pay her visit below. She was a
sallow, unhealthy, sweet-looking young woman, with a careworn look;
her dress was humble and very simple, consisting of some kind of
dark stuff gown, her neck being covered by a drab shawl or large
handkerchief, pinned down behind and at the sides in front.
The old woman gave her a hearty greeting, and made her sit down on
the chair she had just left, while she balanced herself on the board
seat, in order that Margaret might think it was quite her free and
independent choice to sit there.
"I cannot think what keeps Mary Barton. She's quite grand with her
late hours," said Alice, as Mary still delayed.
The truth was, Mary was dressing herself; yes, to come to poor old
Alice's--she thought it worth while to consider what gown she should
put on. It was not for Alice, however, you may be pretty sure; no,
they knew each other too well. But Mary liked making an impression,
and in this it must be owned she was pretty often gratified--and
there was this strange girl to consider just now. So she put on her
pretty new blue merino, made tight to her throat her little linen
collar and linen cuffs, and sallied forth to impress poor gentle
Margaret. She certainly succeeded. Alice, who never thought much
about beauty, had never told Margaret how pretty Mary was; and, as
she came in half-blushing at her own self-consciousness, Margaret
could hardly take her eyes off her, and Mary put down her long black
lashes with a sort of dislike of the very observation she had taken
such pains to secure. Can you fancy the bustle of Alice to make the
tea, to pour it out, and sweeten it to their liking, to help and
help again to clap-bread and bread and butter? Can you fancy the
delight with which she watched her piled-up clap-bread disappear
before the hungry girls and listened to the praises of her
"My mother used to send me some clap-bread by any north-country
person--bless her! She knew how good such things taste when far away
from home. Not but what every one likes it. When I was in service
my fellow-servants were always glad to share with me. Eh, it's a
long time ago, yon."
"Do tell us about it, Alice," said Margaret.
"Why, lass, there's nothing to tell. There was more mouths at home
than could be fed. Tom, that's Will's father (you don't know Will,
but he's a sailor to foreign parts), had come to Manchester, and
sent word what terrible lots of work was to be had, both for lads
and lasses. So father sent George first (you know George, well
enough, Mary), and then work was scarce out toward Burton, where we
lived, and father said I maun try and get a place. And George wrote
as how wages were far higher in Manchester than Milnthorpe or
Lancaster; and, lasses, I was young and thoughtless, and thought it
was a fine thing to go so far from home. So, one day, th' butcher
he brings us a letter fra George, to say he'd heard on a place--and
I was all agog to go, and father was pleased like; but mother said
little, and that little was very quiet. I've often thought she was
a bit hurt to see me so ready to go--God forgive me! But she packed
up my clothes, and some of the better end of her own as would fit
me, in yon little paper box up there--it's good for nought now, but
I would liefer live without fire than break it up to be burnt; and
yet it is going on for eighty years old, for she had it when she was
a girl, and brought all her clothes in it to father's when they were
married. But, as I was saying, she did not cry, though the tears
was often in her eyes; and I seen her looking after me down the lane
as long as I were in sight, with her hand shading her eyes--and that
were the last look I ever had on her."
Alice knew that before long she should go to that mother; and,
besides, the griefs and bitter woes of youth have worn themselves
out before we grow old; but she looked so sorrowful that the girls
caught her sadness, and mourned for the poor woman who had been dead
and gone so many years ago.
"Did you never see her again, Alice? Did you never go home while
she was alive?" asked Mary.
"No, nor since. Many a time and oft have I planned to go. I plan
it yet, and hope to go home again before it please God to take me.
I used to try and save money enough to go for a week when I was in
service; but first one thing came, and then another. First,
missis's children fell ill of the measles, just when the week I'd
asked for came, and I couldn't leave them, for one and all cried for
me to nurse them. Then missis herself fell sick, and I could go
less than ever. For, you see, they kept a little shop, and he
drank, and missis and me was all there was to mind children and shop
and all, and cook and wash besides."
Mary was glad she had not gone into service, and said so.
"Eh, lass! thou little knows the pleasure o' helping others; I was
as happy there as could be; almost as happy as I was at home. Well,
but next year I thought I could go at a leisure time, and missis
telled me I should have a fortnight then, and I used to sit up all
that winter working hard at patchwork, to have a quilt of my own
making to take to my mother. But master died, and missis went away
fra Manchester, and I'd to look out for a place again."
"Well, but," interrupted Mary, "I should have thought that was the
best time to go home."
"No, I thought not. You see it was a different thing going home for
a week on a visit, may be with money in my pocket to give father a
lift, to going home to be a burden to him. Besides, how could I
hear o' a place there? Anyways I thought it best to stay, though
perhaps it might have been better to ha' gone, for then I should ha'
seen mother again"; and the poor old woman looked puzzled.
"I'm sure you did what you thought right," said Margaret gently.
"Ay, lass, that's it," said Alice, raising her head and speaking
more cheerfully. "That's the thing, and then let the Lord send what
He sees fit; not but that I grieved sore, oh, sore and sad, when
towards spring next year, when my quilt were all done to th' lining,
George came in one evening to tell me mother was dead. I cried many
a night at after;* I'd no time for crying by day, for that missis
was terrible strict; she would not hearken to my going to th'
funeral; and indeed I would have been too late, for George set off
that very night by th' coach, and the letter had been kept or summut
(posts were not like th' posts now-a-days), and he found the burial
all over, and father talking o' flitting; for he couldn't abide the
cottage after mother was gone."
*"Come to me, Tyrrel, soon, AT AFTER supper."
--SHAKSPEARE, Richard III.
"Was it a pretty place?" asked Mary.
"Pretty, lass! I never seed such a bonny bit anywhere. You see
there are hills there as seem to go up into th' skies, not near
maybe, but that makes them all the bonnier. I used to think they
were the golden hills of heaven, about which mother sang when I was
"'Yon are the golden hills o' heaven,
Where ye sall never win.'
"Something about a ship and a lover that should hae been na lover,
the ballad was. Well, and near our cottage were rocks. Eh, lasses!
ye don't know what rocks are in Manchester! Grey pieces o' stone as
large as a house, all covered over wi' mosses of different colours,
some yellow, some brown; and the ground beneath them knee-deep in
purple heather, smelling sae sweet and fragrant, and the low music
of the humming-bee for ever sounding among it. Mother used to send
Sally and me out to gather ling and heather for besoms, and it was
such pleasant work! We used to come home of an evening loaded so as
you could not see us, for all that it was so light to carry. And
then mother would make us sit down under the old hawthorn tree
(where we used to make our house among the great roots as stood
above th' ground), to pick and tie up the heather. It seems all
like yesterday, and yet it's a long long time agone. Poor sister
Sally has been in her grave this forty year and more. But I often
wonder if the hawthorn is standing yet, and if the lasses still go
to gather heather, as we did many and many a year past and gone. I
sicken at heart to see the old spot once again. May be next summer
I may set off, if God spares me to see next summer."
"Why have you never been in all these many years?" asked Mary.
"Why, lass! first one wanted me and then another; and I couldn't go
without money either, and I got very poor at times. Tom was a
scapegrace, poor fellow, and always wanted help of one kind or
another; and his wife (for I think scapegraces are always married
long before steady folk) was but a helpless kind of body. She were
always ailing, and he were always in trouble; so I had enough to do
with my hands, and my money too, for that matter. They died within
twelvemonth of each other, leaving one lad (they had had seven, but
the Lord had taken six to Hisself), Will, as I was telling you on;
and I took him myself, and left service to make a bit of a
home-place for him, and a fine lad he was, the very spit of his
father as to looks, only steadier. For he was steady, although
nought would serve him but going to sea. I tried all I could to set
him again a sailor's life. Says I, 'Folks is as sick as dogs all
the time they're at sea. Your own mother telled me (for she came
from foreign parts, being a Manx woman) that she'd ha' thanked any
one for throwing her into the water.' Nay, I sent him a' the way to
Runcorn by th' Duke's canal, that he might know what th' sea were;
and I looked to see him come back as white as a sheet wi' vomiting.
But the lad went on to Liverpool and saw real ships, and came back
more set than ever on being a sailor, and he said as how he had
never been sick at all, and thought he could stand the sea pretty
well. So I told him he mun do as he liked; and he thanked me and
kissed me, for all I was very frabbit* with him; and now he's gone
to South America at t'other side of the sun, they tell me."
Mary stole a glance at Margaret to see what she thought of Alice's
geography; but Margaret looked so quiet and demure, that Mary was in
doubt if she were not really ignorant. Not that Mary's knowledge
was very profound, but she had seen a terrestrial globe, and knew
where to find France and the continents on a map.
After this long talking Alice seemed lost for a time in reverie; and
the girls respecting her thoughts, which they suspected had wandered
to the home and scenes of her childhood, were silent. All at once
she recalled her duties as hostess, and by an effort brought back
her mind to the present time.
"Margaret, thou must let Mary hear thee sing. I don't know about
fine music myself, but folks say Marget is a rare singer, and I know
she can make me cry at any time by singing 'Th' Owdham Weaver.' Do
sing that, Marget, there's a good lass."
With a faint smile, as if amused at Alice's choice of a song,
Do you know "The Oldham Weaver?" Not unless you are Lancashire born
and bred, for it is a complete Lancashire ditty. I will copy it for
THE OLDHAM WEAVER.
Oi'm a poor cotton-weyver, as mony a one knoowas,
Oi've nowt for t' yeat, an' oi've worn eawt my clooas,
Yo'ad hardly gi' tuppence for aw as oi've on,
My clogs are both brosten, an' stuckings oi've none,
Yo'd think it wur hard,
To be browt into th' warld,
To be--clemmed,* an' do th' best as yo con.
Owd Dicky o' Billy's kept telling me long,
Wee s'd ha' better toimes if I'd but howd my tung,
Oi've howden my tung, till oi've near stopped my breath,
Oi think i' my heeart oi'se soon clem to deeath,
Owd Dicky's weel crammed,
He never wur clemmed,
An' he ne'er picked ower i' his loife,**
We tow'rt on six week--thinking aitch day wur th' last,
We shifted, an' shifted, till neaw we're quoite fast;
We lived upo' nettles, whoile nettles wur good,
An' Waterloo porridge the best o' eawr food,
Oi'm tellin' yo' true,
Oi can find folk enow,
As wur livin' na better nor me.
Owd Billy o' Dans sent th' baileys one day,
Fur a shop deebt oi eawd him, as oi could na pay,
But he wur too lat, fur owd Billy o' th' Bent,
Had sowd th' tit an' cart, an' ta'en goods for th' rent,
We'd neawt left bo' th' owd stoo',
That wur seeats fur two,
An' on it ceawred Marget an' me.
Then t' baileys leuked reawnd as sloy as a meawse,
When they seed as aw t' goods were ta'en eawt o' t' heawse;
Says one chap to th' tother, "Aws gone, theaw may see";
Says oi, "Ne'er freet, mon, yeaur welcome ta' me."
They made no moor ado
But whopped up th' eawd stoo',
An' we booath leet, whack--upo' t' flags
Then oi said to eawr Marget, as we lay upo' t' floor,
"We's never be lower i' this warld oi'm sure,
If ever things awtern, oi'm sure they mun mend,
For oi think i' my heart we're booath at t' far eend;
For meeat we ha' none,
Nor looms t' weyve on,--
Edad! they're as good lost as fund."
Eawr Marget declares had hoo clooas to put on,
Hoo'd goo up to Lunnon an' talk to th' greet mon
An' if things were na awtered when there hoo had been,
Hoo's fully resolved t' sew up meawth an' eend;
Hoo's neawt to say again t' king,
But hoo loikes a fair thing,
An' hoo says hoo can tell when hoo's hurt.
*Clem; to starve with hunger.
"Hard is the choice, when the valiant
must eat their arms or CLEM."--BEN JONSON.
**To "pick ower," means to throw the shuttle in hand-loom weaving.
The air to which this is sung is a kind of droning recitative,
depending much on expression and feeling. To read it, it may,
perhaps, seem humorous; but it is that humour which is near akin to
pathos, and to those who have seen the distress it describes it is a
powerfully pathetic song. Margaret had both witnessed the
destitution, and had the heart to feel it, and withal, her voice was
of that rich and rare order, which does not require any great
compass of notes to make itself appreciated. Alice had her quiet
enjoyment of tears. But Margaret, with fixed eye, and earnest,
dreamy look, seemed to become more and more absorbed in realising to
herself the woe she had been describing, and which she felt might at
that very moment be suffering and hopeless within a short distance
of their comparative comfort.
Suddenly she burst forth with all the power of her magnificent
voice, as if a prayer from her very heart for all who were in
distress, in the grand supplication, "Lord, remember David." Mary
held her breath, unwilling to lose a note, it was so clear, so
perfect, so imploring. A far more correct musician than Mary might
have paused with equal admiration of the really scientific knowledge
with which the poor depressed-looking young needlewoman used her
superb and flexile voice. Deborah Travis herself (once an Oldham
factory girl, and afterwards the darling of fashionable crowds as
Mrs. Knyvett) might have owned a sister in her art.
She stopped; and with tears of holy sympathy in her eyes, Alice
thanked the songstress, who resumed her calm, demure manner, much to
Mary's wonder, for she looked at her unweariedly, as if surprised
that the hidden power should not be perceived in the outward
When Alice's little speech of thanks was over, there was quiet
enough to hear a fine, though rather quavering, male voice, going
over again one or two strains of Margaret's song.
"That's grandfather!" exclaimed she. "I must be going, for he said
he should not be at home till past nine."
"Well, I'll not say nay, for I have to be up by four for a very
heavy wash at Mrs. Simpson's; but I shall be terrible glad to see
you again at any time, lasses; and I hope you'll take to one
As the girls ran up the cellar steps together, Margaret said--"Just
step in and see grandfather, I should like him to see you."
And Mary consented.
V. THE MILL ON FIRE-JEM WILSON TO THE RESCUE.
"Learned he was; nor bird nor insect flew,
But he its leafy home and history knew:
Nor wild-flower decked the rock, nor moss the well,
But he its name and qualities could tell."
There is a class of men in Manchester, unknown even to many of the
inhabitants, and whose existence will probably be doubted by many,
who yet may claim kindred with all the noble names that science
recognises. I said in "Manchester," but they are scattered all over
the manufacturing districts of Lancashire. In the neighbourhood of
Oldham there are weavers, common hand-loom weavers, who throw the
shuttle with unceasing sound, though Newton's "Principia" lies open
on the loom, to be snatched at in work hours, but revelled over in
meal times, or at night. Mathematical problems are received with
interest, and studied with absorbing attention by many a broad-
spoken, common-looking factory-hand. It is perhaps less astonishing
that the more popularly interesting branches of natural history have
their warm and devoted followers among this class. There are
botanists among them, equally familiar with either the Linnaean or
the Natural system, who know the name and habitat of every plant
within a day's walk from their dwellings; who steal the holiday of a
day or two when any particular plant should be in flower, and tying
up their simple food in their pocket-handkerchiefs, set off with
single purpose to fetch home the humble-looking weed. There are
entomologists, who may be seen with a rude-looking net, ready to
catch any winged insect, or a kind of dredge, with which they rake
the green and slimy pools; practical, shrewd, hard-working men, who
pore over every new specimen with real scientific delight. Nor is
it the common and more obvious divisions of Entomology and Botany
that alone attract these earnest seekers after knowledge. Perhaps
it may be owing to the great annual town-holiday of Whitsun-week so
often falling in May or June, that the two great beautiful families
of Ephemeridae and Phryganidae have been so much and so closely
studied by Manchester workmen, while they have in a great measure
escaped general observation. If you will refer to the preface to
Sir J. E. Smith's Life (I have it not by me, or I would copy you the
exact passage), you will find that he names a little circumstance
corroborative of what I have said. Being on a visit to Roscoe, of
Liverpool, he made some inquiries of him as to the habitat of a very
rare plant, said to be found in certain places in Lancashire. Mr.
Roscoe knew nothing of the plant; but stated, that if any one could
give him the desired information, it would be a hand-loom weaver in
Manchester, whom he named. Sir J. E. Smith proceeded by boat to
Manchester, and on arriving at that town, he inquired of the porter
who was carrying his luggage if he could direct him to So-and-So.
"Oh, yes," replied the man. "He does a bit in my way"; and, on
further investigation, it turned out that both the porter and his
friend the weaver were skilful botanists, and able to give Sir J. E.
Smith the very information which he wanted.
Such are the tastes and pursuits of some of the thoughtful, little
understood, working-men of Manchester.
And Margaret's grandfather was one of these. He was a little
wiry-looking old man, who moved with a jerking motion, as if his
limbs were worked by a string like a child's toy, with dun-coloured
hair lying thin and soft at the back and sides of his head; his
forehead was so large it seemed to overbalance the rest of his face,
which had, indeed, lost its natural contour by the absence of all
the teeth. The eyes absolutely gleamed with intelligence; so keen,
so observant, you felt as if they were almost wizard-like. Indeed,
the whole room looked not unlike a wizard's dwelling. Instead of
pictures were hung rude wooden frames of impaled insects; the little
table was covered with cabalistic books; and beside them lay a case
of mysterious instruments, one of which Job Legh was using when his
On her appearance he pushed his spectacles up so as to rest midway
on his forehead, and gave Mary a short, kind welcome. But Margaret
he caressed as a mother caresses her first-born; stroking her with
tenderness, and almost altering his voice as he spoke to her.
Mary looked round on the odd, strange things she had never seen at
home, and which seemed to her to have a very uncanny look.
"Is your grandfather a fortune-teller?" whispered she to her new
"No," replied Margaret, in the same voice; "but you are not the
first as has taken him for such. He is only fond of such things as
most folks know nothing about."
"And do you know aught about them too?"
"I know a bit about some of the things grandfather is fond on; just
because he's fond on 'em, I tried to learn about them."
"What things are these?" said Mary, struck with the weird-looking
creatures that sprawled around the room in their roughly-made glass
But she was not prepared for the technical names, which Job Legh
pattered down on her ear, on which they fell like hail on a
skylight; and the strange language only bewildered her more than
ever. Margaret saw the state of the case, and came to the rescue.
"Look, Mary, at this horrid scorpion. He gave me such a fright: I
am all of a twitter yet when I think of it. Grandfather went to
Liverpool one Whitsun-week to go strolling about the docks and pick
up what he could from the sailors, who often bring some queer thing
or another from the hot countries they go to; and so he sees a chap
with a bottle in his hand, like a druggist's physic-bottle; and says
grandfather, 'What have ye gotten there?' So the sailor holds it
up, and grandfather knew it was a rare kind o' scorpion, not common
even in the East Indies where the man came from; and says he, 'How
did you catch this fine fellow, for he wouldn't be taken for
nothing, I'm thinking?' And the man said as how when they were
unloading the ship he'd found him lying behind a bag of rice, and he
thought the cold had killed him, for he was not squashed nor injured
a bit. He did not like to part with any of the spirit out of his
grog to put the scorpion in, but slipped him into the bottle,
knowing there were folks enow who would give him something for him.
So grandfather gives him a shilling."
"Two shillings," interrupted Job Legh; "and a good bargain it was."
"Well! grandfather came home as proud as Punch, and pulled the
bottle out of his pocket. But you see th' scorpion were doubled up,
and grandfather thought I couldn't fairly see how big he was. So he
shakes him out right before the fire; and a good warm one it was,
for I was ironing, I remember. I left off ironing and stooped down
over him, to look at him better, and grandfather got a book, and
began to read how this very kind were the most poisonous and vicious
species, how their bite were often fatal, and then went on to read
how people who were bitten got swelled, and screamed with pain. I
was listening hard, but as it fell out, I never took my eyes off the
creature, though I could not ha' told I was watching it. Suddenly
it seemed to give a jerk, and before I could speak it gave another,
and in a minute it was as wild as it could be, running at me just
like a mad dog."
"What did you do?" asked Mary.
"Me! why, I jumped first on a chair, and then on all the things I'd
been ironing on the dresser, and I screamed for grandfather to come
up by me, but he did not hearken to me."
"Why, if I'd come up by thee, who'd ha' caught the creature, I
should like to know?"
"Well, I begged grandfather to crush it, and I had the iron right
over it once, ready to drop, but grandfather begged me not to hurt
it in that way. So I couldn't think what he'd have, for he hopped
round the room as if he were sore afraid, for all he begged me not
to injure it. At last he goes to th' kettle, and lifts up the lid,
and peeps in. What on earth is he doing that for, thinks I; he'll
never drink his tea with a scorpion running free and easy about the
room. Then he takes the tongs, and he settles his spectacles on his
nose, and in a minute he had lifted the creature up by th' leg, and
dropped him into the boiling water."
"And did that kill him?" said Mary.
"Ay, sure enough; he boiled for longer time than grandfather liked,
though. But I was so afeard of his coming round again, I ran to the
public-house for some gin, and grandfather filled the bottle, and
then we poured off the water, and picked him out of the kettle, and
dropped him into the bottle, and he were there about a twelvemonth."
"What brought him to life at first?" asked Mary.
"Why, you see, he were never really dead, only torpid--that is, dead
asleep with the cold, and our good fire brought him round."
"I'm glad father does not care for such things," said Mary.
"Are you? Well, I'm often downright glad grandfather is so fond of
his books, and his creatures, and his plants. It does my heart good
to see him so happy, sorting them all at home, and so ready to go in
search of more, whenever he's a spare day. Look at him now! he's
gone back to his books, and he'll be as happy as a king, working
away till I make him go to bed. It keeps him silent, to be sure;
but so long as I see him earnest, and pleased, and eager, what does
that matter? Then, when he has his talking bouts, you can't think
how much he has to say. Dear grandfather! you don't know how happy
Mary wondered if the dear grandfather heard all this, for Margaret
did not speak in an undertone; but no! he was far too deep, and
eager in solving a problem. He did not even notice Mary's
leave-taking, and she went home with the feeling that she had that
night made the acquaintance of two of the strangest people she ever
saw in her life. Margaret, so quiet, so commonplace, until her
singing powers were called forth; so silent from home, so cheerful
and agreeable at home; and her grandfather so very different to any
one Mary had ever seen. Margaret had said he was not a
fortune-teller, but she did not know whether to believe her.
To resolve her doubts, she told the history of the evening to her
father, who was interested by her account, and curious to see and
judge for himself. Opportunities are not often wanting where
inclination goes before, and ere the end of that winter Mary looked
upon Margaret almost as an old friend. The latter would bring her
work when Mary was likely to be at home in the evenings and sit with
her; and Job Legh would put a book and his pipe in his pocket and
just step round the corner to fetch his grandchild, ready for a talk
if he found Barton in; ready to pull out pipe and book if the girls
wanted him to wait, and John was still at his club. In short, ready
to do whatever would give pleasure to his darling Margaret.
I do not know what points of resemblance, or dissimilitude (for this
joins people as often as that) attracted the two girls to each
other. Margaret had the great charm of possessing good strong
common sense, and do you not perceive how involuntarily this is
valued? It is so pleasant to have a friend who possesses the power
of setting a difficult question in a clear light; whose judgment can
tell what is best to be done; and who is so convinced of what is
"wisest, best," that in consideration of the end, all difficulties
in the way diminish. People admire talent, and talk about their
admiration. But they value common sense without talking about it,
and often without knowing it.
So Mary and Margaret grew in love one toward the other; and Mary
told many of her feelings in a way she had never done before to any
one. Most of her foibles also were made known to Margaret, but not
all. There was one cherished weakness still concealed from every
one. It concerned a lover, not beloved, but favoured by fancy. A
gallant, handsome young man; but--not beloved. Yet Mary hoped to
meet him every day in her walks, blushed when she heard his name,
and tried to think of him as her future husband, and above all,
tried to think of herself as his future wife. Alas! poor Mary!
Bitter woe did thy weakness work thee.
She had other lovers. One or two would gladly have kept her
company, but she held herself too high, they said. Jem Wilson said
nothing, but loved on and on, ever more fondly; he hoped against
hope; he would not give up, for it seemed like giving up life to
give up thought of Mary. He did not dare to look to any end of all
this; the present, so that he saw her, touched the hem of her
garment, was enough. Surely, in time, such deep hope would beget
He would not relinquish hope, and yet her coldness of manner was
enough to daunt any man; and it made Jem more despairing than he
would acknowledge for a long time even to himself.
But one evening he came round by Barton's house, a willing messenger
for his father, and opening the door saw Margaret sitting asleep
before the fire. She had come in to speak to Mary; and worn-out by
a long, working, watching night, she fell asleep in the genial
An old-fashioned saying about a pair of gloves came into Jem's mind,
and stepping gently up, he kissed Margaret with a friendly kiss.
She awoke, and perfectly understanding the thing, she said, "For
shame of yourself, Jem! What would Mary say?"
Lightly said, lightly answered.
"She'd nobbut say, practice makes perfect." And they both laughed.
But the words Margaret had said rankled in Jem's mind. Would Mary
care? Would she care in the very least? They seemed to call for an
answer by night and by day; and Jem felt that his heart told him
Mary was quite indifferent to any action of his. Still he loved on,
and on, ever more fondly.
Mary's father was well aware of the nature of Jem Wilson's feelings
for his daughter, but he took no notice of them to any one, thinking
Mary full young yet for the cares of married life, and unwilling,
too, to entertain the idea of parting with her at any time, however
distant. But he welcomed Jem at his house, as he would have done
his father's son, whatever were his motives for coming; and now and
then admitted the thought, that Mary might do worse, when her time
came, than marry Jem Wilson, a steady workman at a good trade, a
good son to his parents, and a fine manly spirited chap--at least
when Mary was not by; for when she was present he watched her too
closely, and too anxiously, to have much of what John Barton called
"spunk" in him.
It was towards the end of February, in that year, and a bitter black
frost had lasted for many weeks. The keen east wind had long since
swept the streets clean, though in a gusty day the dust would rise
like pounded ice, and make people's faces quite smart with the cold
force with which it blew against them. Houses, sky, people, and
everything looked as if a gigantic brush had washed them all over
with a dark shade of Indian ink. There was some reason for this
grimy appearance on human beings, whatever there might be for the
dun looks of the landscape; for soft water had become an article not
even to be purchased; and the poor washerwomen might be seen vainly
trying to procure a little by breaking the thick grey ice that
coated the ditches and ponds in the neighbourhood. People
prophesied a long continuance to this already lengthened frost; said
the spring would be very late; no spring fashions required; no
summer clothing chased for a short uncertain summer. Indeed, there
was no end to the evil prophesied during the continuance of that
bleak east wind.
Mary hurried home one evening, just as daylight was fading, from
Miss Simmonds', with her shawl held up to her mouth, and her head
bent as if in deprecation of the meeting wind. So she did not
perceive Margaret till she was close upon her at the very turning
into the court.
"Bless me, Margaret! is that you? Where are you bound to?"
"To nowhere but your own house (that is, if you'll take me in).
I've a job of work to finish to-night; mourning, as must be in time
for the funeral to-morrow; and grandfather has been out moss-
hunting, and will not be home till late."
"Oh, how charming it will be! I'll help you if you're backward.
Have you much to do?"
"Yes, I only got the order yesterday at noon; and there's three
girls beside the mother; and what with trying on and matching the
stuff (for there was not enough in the piece they chose first), I'm
above a bit behindhand. I've the skirts all to make. I kept that
work till candlelight; and the sleeves, to say nothing of little
bits to the bodies; for the missis is very particular, and I could
scarce keep from smiling while they were crying so, really taking on
sadly I'm sure, to hear first one and then t'other clear up to
notice the set of her gown. They weren't to be misfits, I promise
you, though they were in such trouble."
"Well, Margaret, you're right welcome, as you know, and I'll sit
down and help you with pleasure, though I was tired enough of sewing
to-night at Miss Simmonds'!"
By this time Mary had broken up the raking coal, and lighted her
candle; and Margaret settled herself to her work on one side of the
table, while her friend hurried over her tea at the other. The
things were then lifted en masse to the dresser; and dusting her
side of the table with the apron she always wore at home, Mary took
up some breadths and began to run them together.
"Who's it all for, for if you told me I've forgotten?"
"Why, for Mrs. Ogden as keeps the greengrocer's shop in Oxford Road.
Her husband drank himself to death, and though she cried over him
and his ways all the time he was alive, she's fretted sadly for him
now he's dead."
"Has he left her much to go upon?" asked Mary, examining the texture
of the dress. "This is beautifully fine soft bombazine."
"No, I'm much afeard there's but little, and there's several young
children, besides the three Miss Ogdens."
"I should have thought girls like them would ha' made their own
gowns," observed Mary.
"So I dare say they do, many a one, but now they seem all so busy
getting ready for the funeral; for it's to be quite a grand affair,
well-nigh twenty people to breakfast, as one of the little ones told
me. The little thing seemed to like the fuss, and I do believe it
comforted poor Mrs. Ogden to make all the piece o' work. Such a
smell of ham boiling and fowls roasting while I waited in the
kitchen; it seemed more like a wedding nor* a funeral. They said
she'd spend a matter o' sixty pound on th' burial."
*Nor; generally used in Lancashire for "than."
"They had lever sleep NOR be in laundery."--DUNBAR
"I thought you said she was but badly off," said Mary.
"Ay, I know she's asked for credit at several places, saying her
husband laid hands on every farthing he could get for drink. But
th' undertakers urge her on, you see, and tell her this thing's
usual, and that thing's only a common mark of respect, and that
everybody has t'other thing, till the poor woman has no will o' her
own. I dare say, too, her heart strikes her (it always does when a
person's gone) for many a word and many a slighting deed to him
who's stiff and cold; and she thinks to make up matters, as it were,
by a grand funeral, though she and all her children, too, may have
to pinch many a year to pay the expenses, if ever they pay them at
"This mourning, too, will cost a pretty penny," said Mary. "I often
wonder why folks wear mourning; it's not pretty or becoming; and it
costs a deal of money just when people can spare it least; and if
what the Bible tells us be true, we ought not to be sorry when a
friend, who's been good, goes to his rest; and as for a bad man,
one's glad enough to get shut* on him. I cannot see what good comes
out o' wearing mourning."
"I'll tell you what I think the fancy was sent for (old Alice calls
everything 'sent for,' and I believe she's right). It does do good,
though not as much as it costs, that I do believe, in setting people
(as is cast down by sorrow and feels themselves unable to settle to
anything but crying) something to do. Why now I told you how they
were grieving; for, perhaps, he was a kind husband and father, in
his thoughtless way, when he wasn't in liquor. But they cheered up
wonderful while I was there, and I asked 'em for more directions
than usual, that they might have something to talk over and fix
about; and I left 'em my fashion-book (though it were two months
old) just a purpose."
"I don't think every one would grieve a that way. Old Alice
"Old Alice is one in a thousand. I doubt, too, if she would fret
much, however sorry she might be. She would say it were sent, and
fall to trying to find out what good it were to do. Every sorrow in
her mind is sent for good. Did I ever tell you, Mary, what she said
one day when she found me taking on about something?"
"No; do tell me. What were you fretting about, first place?"
"I can't tell you, just now; perhaps I may some time."
"Perhaps this very evening, if it rises in my heart; perhaps never.
It's a fear that sometimes I can't abide to think about, and
sometimes I don't like to think on anything else. Well, I was
fretting about this fear, and Alice comes in for something, and
finds me crying. I would not tell her no more than I would you,
Mary; so she says, 'Well, dear, you must mind this, when you're
going to fret and be low about anything--An anxious mind is never a
holy mind.' O Mary, I have so often checked my grumbling sin'* she
"SIN that his lord was twenty yere of age."
--Prologue to Canterbury Tales.
The weary sound of stitching was the only sound heard for a little
while, till Mary inquired--
"Do you expect to get paid for this mourning?"
"Why, I do not much think I shall. I've thought it over once or
twice, and I mean to bring myself to think I shan't, and to like to
do it as my bit towards comforting them. I don't think they can
pay, and yet they're just the sort of folk to have their minds
easier for wearing mourning. There's only one thing I dislike
making black for, it does so hurt the eyes."
Margaret put down her work with a sigh, and shaded her eyes. Then
she assumed a cheerful tone, and said--
"You'll not have to wait long, Mary, for my secret's on the tip of
my tongue. Mary, do you know I sometimes think I'm growing a little
blind, and then what would become of grandfather and me? Oh, God
help me, Lord help me!"
She fell into an agony of tears, while Mary knelt by her, striving
to soothe and to comfort her: but, like an inexperienced person,
striving rather to deny the correctness of Margaret's fear, than
helping her to meet and overcome the evil.
"No," said Margaret, quietly fixing her tearful eyes on Mary; "I
know I'm not mistaken. I have felt one going some time, long before
I ever thought what it would lead to; and last autumn I went to a
doctor; and he did not mince the matter, but said unless I sat in a
darkened room, with my hands before me, my sight would not last me
many years longer. But how could I do that, Mary? For one thing,
grandfather would have known there was somewhat the matter; and, oh!
it will grieve him sore whenever he is told, so the later the
better; and besides, Mary, we've sometimes little enough to go upon,
and what I earn is a great help. For grandfather takes a day here,
and a day there, for botanising or going after insects, and he'll
think little enough of four or five shillings for a specimen; dear
grandfather! and I'm so loath to think he should be stinted of what
gives him such pleasure. So I went to another doctor to try and get
him to say something different, and he said, 'Oh, it was only
weakness,' and gived me a bottle of lotion; but I've used three
bottles (and each of 'em cost two shillings), and my eye is so much
worse, not hurting so much, but I can't see a bit with it. There
now, Mary," continued she, shutting one eye, "now you only look like
a great black shadow, with the edges dancing and sparkling."
"And can you see pretty well with th' other?"
"Yes, pretty near as well as ever. Th' only difference is, that if
I sew a long time together, a bright spot like th' sun comes right
where I'm looking; all the rest is quite clear but just where I want
to see. I've been to both doctors again and now they're both o' the
same story; and I suppose I'm going dark as fast as may be. Plain
work pays so bad, and mourning has been so plentiful this
winter, that I were tempted to take in any black work I could; and
now I'm suffering from it."
"And yet, Margaret, you're going on taking it in; that's what you'd
call foolish in another."
"It is, Mary! and yet what can I do? Folk mun live; and I think I
should go blind any way, and I daren't tell grandfather, else I
would leave it off; but he will so fret."
Margaret rocked herself backward and forward to still her emotion.
"O Mary!" she said, "I try to get his face off by heart, and I stare
at him so when he's not looking, and then shut my eyes to see if I
can remember his dear face. There's one thing, Mary, that serves a
bit to comfort me. You'll have heard of old Jacob Butterworth, the
singing weaver? Well, I know'd him a bit, so I went to him, and
said how I wished he'd teach me the right way o' singing; and he
says I've a rare fine voice, and I go once a week, and take a lesson
fra' him. He's been a grand singer in his day. He led the choruses
at the Festivals, and got thanked many a time by London folk; and
one foreign singer, Madame Catalani, turned round and shook him by
th' hand before the Oud Church* full o' people. He says I may gain
ever so much money by singing; but I don't know. Any rate, it's sad
work, being blind."
*Old Church; now the Cathedral of Manchester,
She took up her sewing, saying her eyes were rested now, and for
some time they sewed on in silence.
Suddenly there were steps heard in the little paved court, person
after person ran past the curtained window.
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