« AnteriorContinuar »
What Uncle Knine said about
family prayer .... 121
Where there is a will there is
Why so downcast? . . . . 154
Wishing cap, the 238
THREE PICTURES IN A LIFE.
A TRUE TALE OF FACTORY LIFE.
"How pale you look, Susan. Have you been helping old nurse Jones before you came to work? I doubt it has been too much for you."
"No, it isn't that, Jane; something very dreadful has happened. But may be I oughtn't to call it so."
Jane looked anxiously into the sorrowful face.
"Your father, Susan?" she asked. "Not dead, surely?"
"Oh no," said Susan; "but he came home last night. I must tell you about it. I thought some one was following me when I left work yesterday, but whenever I looked no one was there, and just as I had my bonnet off and was putting on the kettle, father came in, like the last time five or six years ago, when mother was alive. I turned white, I know I did, and he asked me if I was so unnatural as to want to turn my own father into the street; but, Jane, indeed I made him as welcome as I could, and gave him the best I had, and this morning I left him asleep:—but what shall I do?"
The speakers were two factory girls, coming from their work at the dinner hour. They were very different from each other in appearance, though a likeness in dress marked them as sisters or companions. Jane, the elder, was short and plain-looking, but with a good, honest face; you fancied her at once the comfort of some busy mother or old father, or the elder sister whom the little ones would look up to. Susan was younger, she looked scarcely twenty; tall and pleasant looking, with a gentle face and good, honest brown eyes, but they were downcast now and full of tears, as she waited for Jane's answer.
"My poor lassie, it comes hard on you I know," said the
elder, with something of the protecting tenderness which seemed natural to her.
"Hard! 'tis bitter hard. I wouldn't grudge him half my earnings; I'd live on dry bread to keep him comfortable : for after all he is my father: but to come and disgrace me afore all and take away my good name!"
"Susan, do I guess right? Isn't there something as you haven't said, may be to yourself, as makes this a sorer fret to you?"
Susan crimsoned suddenly to the roots of her hair, either at the words of her companion, or at the frank greeting and outstretched hand of a young man who overtook them at this moment.
"I was bent on catching you, Susan," he said. "My mother sent me after you to ask you to come in this evening. Poor Fanny wants to see you, and I'll take care of you home," he said in a lower voice; "I may tell Fanny you'll come, mayn't I?"
"I can't, thank you," said Susan in a constrained voice, whilst all her colour died away again; "tell Fanny I will come and see her soon."
"Is that all the answer?" said Edward Morris, in a disappointed tone. "Here have I run all this way, to be sent back after this fashion. I'll see you home anyhow," as Jane, unable to wait longer, walked on.
"You mustn't, Edward, indeed you mustn't," said Susan, trying to pass on.
"I can't stand this. "What have I done to make you turn against me?"
"Not you, you have done nothing. Please let me go, I shall be late," said Susan, trying hard for her usual tone.
"Some one has come between us," he said. "Who has been talking to you?"
"It isn't that."
"Then what is it? Haven't I a right to know?"
"What do you mean, Edward?"
"You needn't to wait for me to tell what you are to me, and have been," answered the young man.
"Stop, Edward," said Susan, "before you say a word more; you shall come home with me." The two walked on in silence, till Susan opened the door of the room where she lived alone; there, crouching over the fire, sat a man still in full strength and vigour of body; his face as he turned it was one you could not but notice, if only for the contrast • .
between its dogged determination, and the man's listless, indifferent attitude. He might once have been handsome and attractive, but now you scarcely knew whether to shrink from the too evident marks of what he was, or to be filled with pity and regret at the thought of what he might have been. He spoke as the two entered, " So, my girl, you've kept away as long as you could; but I knew you'd be forced to come home for your dinner, and I'll have some with you," he said, in a tone half defiant, half coaxing.
"What does this mean?" said Edward, in a shocked undertone.
"Ay!" said the man, looking at him, "who's this?" "It is Edward Morris. He was kind enough to walk home with me, father," answered Susan, speaking the last word clearly, and looking at her companion. He turned, made some excuse about time being up, and abruptly left the house.
Six months after the scene which I have been describing, Susan was sitting in the dusk, in the same room in which we last saw her; she was doing nothing, rather an unusual state of things for her, only gazing earnestly into the hollows of the little fire, scarcely as if she was looking at it, rather through it at some picture her own thoughts had made. The Bible was lying open on the table by her side. She had been seeking guidance from its wise counsels, and comfort from its precious promises while the lingering light lasted; now she could see to read no longer, and was brooding over what she had read. Her face was paler and older than it looked last year, the lines about her mouth were more sharply drawn, and an expression of patient suffering had taken the place of her former merry glance and happy smile.
The door softly opened, and Susan's smile came back for a moment as Jane entered, and coming to her, knelt by her side in the circle of firelight and took her hands in her own.
"All alone, Susan; what did you see in the fixe to look at it so earnest?"
"I was waiting till father should come in for supper; and then I got thinking—about you Jane, partly, and what a help you have been to me. You always bring tne comfort when you come."
"I am afraid I have not brought any now, my poor lass."
"What is it? Something about Mm I know. Not dead!"
"No, no, dear; but the girls were talking to-day, and I feared you might hear it sudden-like, and"
"He is married," said Susan.
"No, not yet; but they do say he walks with a lass at the other end of the town; Eose Clark said they'd been asked in church, but I don't believe it."
Susan did not speak, only drew away her hands and pressed them closely together; both girls were silent, till she suddenly bent down and laying her head on Jane's shoulder sobbed bitterly.
Jane said no word to soothe her, only smoothed tenderly the brown hair, and, with her arm round Susan, waited till the tears should cease. Presently Susan looked up. "I am very foolish, Jane; I gave him up long ago. I suppose I ought to be glad he can be happy, and find some one to care for him as I would have done. I want to do my duty to father. I pray God to teach and help me to do right."
"Poor child, poor child! it's easy talking for them as hasn't felt it," said Jane.
"You see, Jane, I never told any one rightly how it was; but I don't want you to think any harm of him, so you shall know all. When he saw my father, and when he heard what a sore burden and disgrace he had been to mother and all of us, he told me I must choose between father and him; that if I married him I must never see father nor do aught for him. I can't tell you or any one what I felt; I didn't know how to decide, for though I had never given Edward my promise, it had been understood between us for many a month. One evening I had well nigh made up my mind to leave father, who was going on worse than ever. I was sitting, as it might be now, looking at the fire, and all at once I seemed to go back to when I was about four years old. I remembered how one evening l lay very sick in my cot, for I was a weakly child,—I couldn't sleep, but lay moaning just for weariness and pain; till father—he was a good father to us then—came and lifted me out and carried me up and down the room in his strong arms so easy for a long, long time. Mother said, 'Father, that child's a rare weight, and your arms are tired enough with your day's work; lay her down.' But father wouldn't hear it. Says he, 'Eare weight indeed I why I scarce knew her from a feather. The little one 's welcome to all I can do for her now; like enough when she's a big girl she'll care and fend for her old father and mother.' I