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Chapter 12 Old Alice's bairn

  • > "I lov'd him not; and yet now he is gone, >             I feel I am alone.
  • >       I check'd him while he spoke; yet could he speak, >             Alas! I would not check.
  • >       For reasons not to love him once I sought, >             And wearied all my thought."—W. S. LANDOR.
  • And now Mary had, as she thought, dismissed both her lovers. But they looke_n their dismissals with very different eyes. He who loved her with all hi_eart and with all his soul, considered his rejection final. He did no_omfort himself with the idea, which would have proved so well founded in hi_ase, that women have second thoughts about casting off their lovers. He ha_oo much respect for his own heartiness of love to believe himself unworthy o_ary; that mock humble conceit did not enter his head. He thought he did not
  • "hit Mary's fancy"; and though that may sound a trivial every-day expression, yet the reality of it cut him to the heart. Wild visions of enlistment, o_rinking himself into forgetfulness, of becoming desperate in some way o_nother, entered his mind; but then the thought of his mother stood like a_ngel with a drawn sword in the way to sin. For, you know, "he was the onl_on of his mother, and she was a widow"; dependent on him for daily bread. S_e could not squander away health and time, which were to him money wherewit_o support her failing years. He went to his work, accordingly, to all outwar_emblance just as usual; but with a heavy, heavy heart within.
  • Mr. Carson, as we have seen, persevered in considering Mary's rejection of hi_s merely a "charming caprice." If she were at work, Sally Leadbitter was sur_o slip a passionately loving note into her hand, and then so skilfully mov_way from her side, that Mary could not all at once return it, without makin_ome sensation among the workwomen. She was even forced to take several hom_ith her. But after reading one, she determined on her plan. She made no grea_esistance to receiving them from Sally, but kept them unopened, an_ccasionally returned them in a blank half-sheet of paper. But far worse tha_his, was the being so constantly waylaid as she went home by her perseverin_over; who had been so long acquainted with all her habits, that she found i_ifficult to evade him. Late or early, she was never certain of being fre_rom him. Go this way or that, he might come up some cross street when she ha_ust congratulated herself on evading him for that day. He could not hav_aken a surer mode of making himself odious to her.
  • And all this time Jem Wilson never came! Not to see her—that she did no_xpect—but to see her father; to—she did not know what, but she had hoped h_ould have come on some excuse, just to see if she hadn't changed her mind. H_ever came. Then she grew weary and impatient, and her spirits sank. Th_ersecution of the one lover, and the neglect of the other, oppressed he_orely. She could not now sit quietly through the evening at her work; or, i_he kept, by a strong effort, from pacing up and down the room, she felt as i_he must sing to keep off thought while she sewed. And her songs were th_addest, merriest, she could think of. "Barbara Allen," and such sorrowfu_itties, did well enough for happy times; but now she required all the ai_hat could be derived from external excitement to keep down the impulse o_rief.
  • And her father, too—he was a great anxiety to her, he looked so changed and s_ll. Yet he would not acknowledge to any ailment. She knew, that be it as lat_s it would, she never left off work until (if the poor servants paid he_retty regularly for the odd jobs of mending she did for them) she had earne_ few pence, enough for one good meal for her father on the next day. But ver_requently all she could do in the morning, after her late sitting up a_ight, was to run with the work home, and receive the money from the perso_or whom it was done. She could not stay often to make purchases of food, bu_ave up the money at once to her father's eager clutch; sometimes prompted b_ savage hunger it is true, but more frequently by a craving for opium.
  • On the whole he was not so hungry as his daughter. For it was a long fast fro_he one o'clock dinner hour at Miss Simmonds' to the close of Mary's vigil, which was often extended to midnight. She was young, and had not yet learne_o bear "clemming."
  • One evening, as she sang a merry song over her work, stopping occasionally t_igh, the blind Margaret came groping in. It had been one of Mary's additiona_orrows that her friend had been absent from home, accompanying the lecture_n music in his round among the manufacturing towns of Yorkshire an_ancashire. Her grandfather, too, had seen this a good time for going hi_xpeditions in search of specimens; so that the house had been shut up fo_everal weeks.
  • "O Margaret, Margaret! how glad I am to see you. Take care. There now, you'r_ll right, that's father's chair. Sit down."—She kissed her over and ove_gain.
  • "It seems like the beginning o' brighter times, to see you again, Margaret. Bless you! And how well you look!"
  • "Doctors always send ailing folk for change of air: and you know I've had plenty o' that same lately."
  • "You've been quite a traveller for sure! Tell us all about it, do, Margaret. Where have you been to, first place?"
  • "Eh, lass, that would take a long time to tell. Half o'er the world, _ometimes think. Bolton and Bury, and Owdham, and Halifax, and—but Mary, gues_ho I saw there? Maybe you know, though, so it's not fair guessing."
  • "No, I dunnot. Tell me, Margaret, for I cannot abide waiting and guessing."
  • "Well, one night as I were going fra' my lodgings wi' the help on a lad a_elonged to th' landlady, to find the room where I were to sing, I heard _ough before me, walking along. Thinks I, that's Jem Wilson's cough, or I'_uch mistaken. Next time came a sneeze and cough, and then I were certain.
  • First I hesitated whether I should speak, thinking if it were a stranger he'_aybe think me forrard.[[41]](footnotes.xml#footnote_41) But I knew blin_olks must not be nesh about using their tongues, so says I, 'Jem Wilson, i_hat you?' And sure enough it was, and nobody else. Did you know he were i_alifax, Mary?"
  • "No," she answered, faintly and sadly; for Halifax was all the same to he_eart as the Antipodes; equally inaccessible by humble penitent looks an_aidenly tokens of love.
  • "Well, he's there, however: he's putting up an engine for some folks there, for his master. He's doing well, for he's getten four or five men under him; we'd two or three meetings, and he telled me all about his invention for doin_way wi' the crank, or somewhat. His master's bought it from him, and ta'e_ut a patent, and Jem's a gentleman for life wi' the money his master gie_im. But you'll ha' heard all this, Mary?"
  • No! she had not.
  • "Well, I thought it all happened afore he left Manchester, and then in cours_ou'd ha' known. But maybe it were all settled after he got to Halifax; however, he's gotten two or three hunder pounds for his invention. But what'_p with you, Mary? you're sadly out of sorts. You've never been quarrellin_i' Jem, surely?"
  • Now Mary cried outright; she was weak in body, and unhappy in mind, and th_ime was come when she might have the relief of telling her grief. She coul_ot bring herself to confess how much of her sorrow was caused by her havin_een vain and foolish; she hoped that need never be known, and she could no_ear to think of it.
  • "O Margaret! do you know Jem came here one night when I were put out, an_ross. Oh, dear! dear! I could bite my tongue out when I think on it. And h_old me how he loved me, and I thought I did not love him, and I told him _idn't; and, Margaret,—he believed me, and went away so sad, and so angry; an_ow, I'd do anything—I would indeed"; her sobs choked the end of her sentence.
  • Margaret looked at her with sorrow, but with hope; for she had no doubt in he_wn mind, that it was only a temporary estrangement,
  • "Tell me, Margaret," said Mary, taking her apron down from her eyes, an_ooking at Margaret with eager anxiety, "what can I do to bring him back t_e? Should I write to him?"
  • "No," replied her friend, "that would not do. Men are so queer, they like t_ave a' the courting to themselves."
  • "But I did not mean to write him a courting letter," said Mary, somewha_ndignantly.
  • "If you wrote at all, it would be to give him a hint you'd taken the rue, an_ould be very glad to have him now. I believe now he'd rather find that ou_imself."
  • "But he won't try," said Mary, sighing. "How can he find it out when he's a_alifax?"
  • "If he's a will he's a way, depend upon it. And you would not have him if he'_ot a will to you, Mary! No, dear!" changing her tone from the somewhat har_ay in which sensible people too often speak, to the soft accents o_enderness which come with such peculiar grace from them, "you must just wai_nd be patient. You may depend upon it, all will end well, and better than i_ou meddled in it now."
  • "But it's so hard to be patient," pleaded Mary.
  • "Ay, dear; being patient is the hardest work we, any of us, have to do throug_ife, I take it. Waiting is far more difficult than doing. I've known tha_bout my sight, and many a one has known it in watching the sick; but it's on_f God's lessons we all must learn, one way or another." After a pause—"Hav_e been to see his mother of late?"
  • "No; not for some weeks. When last I went she was s_rabbit[[42]](footnotes.xml#footnote_42) with me, that I really thought sh_ished I'd keep away."
  • "Well! if I were you I'd go. Jem will hear on't, and it will do you far mor_ood in his mind than writing a letter, which, after all, you would find _ough piece of work when you came to settle to it. 'T would be hard to sa_either too much nor too little. But I must be going, grandfather is at home, and it's our first night together, and he must not be sitting wanting me an_onger."
  • She rose up from her seat, but still delayed going.
  • "Mary! I've somewhat else I want to say to you, and I don't rightly know ho_o begin. You see, grandfather and I know what bad times is, and we know you_ather is out of work, and I'm getting more money than I can well manage; and, dear, would you just take this bit o' gold, and pay me back in good times?"
  • The tears stood in Margaret's eyes as she spoke.
  • "Dear Margaret, we're not so bad pressed as that." (The thought of her fathe_nd his ill looks, and his one meal a day, rushed upon Mary.) "And yet, dear, if it would not put you out o' your way—I would work hard to make it up t_ou;—but would not your grandfather be vexed?"
  • "Not he, wench! It were more his thought than mine, and we have gotten ever s_any more at home, so don't hurry yourself about paying. It's hard to b_lind, to be sure, else money comes in so easily now to what it used to do; and it's downright pleasure to earn it, for I do so like singing."
  • "I wish I could sing," said Mary, looking at the sovereign.
  • "Some has one kind of gifts, and some another. Many's the time when I coul_ee, that I longed for your beauty, Mary! We're like childer, ever wantin_hat we han not got. But now I must say just one more word. Remember, i_ou're sore pressed for money, we shall take it very unkind if you donnot le_s know. Good-bye to ye."
  • In spite of her blindness she hurried away, anxious to rejoin her grandfather, and desirous also to escape from Mary's expressions of gratitude.
  • Her visit had done Mary good in many ways. It had strengthened her patienc_nd her hope; it had given her confidence in Margaret's sympathy; and last, and really least in comforting power (of so little value are silver and gol_n comparison to love, that gift in every one's power to bestow), came th_onsciousness of the money-value of the sovereign she held in her hand. Th_any things it might purchase! First of all came the thought of th_omfortable supper for her father that very night; and acting instantly upo_he idea, she set off in hopes that all the provision shops might not yet b_losed, although it was so late.
  • That night the cottage shone with unusual light and fire gleam; and the fathe_nd daughter sat down to a meal they thought almost extravagant. It was s_ong since they had had enough to eat.
  • "Food gives heart," say the Lancashire people; and the next day Mary made tim_o go and call on Mrs. Wilson, according to Margaret's advice. She found he_uite alone, and more gracious than she had been the last time Mary ha_isited her. Alice was gone out, she said.
  • "She would just step up to the post-office, all for no earthly use. For i_ere to ask if they hadn't a letter lying there for her from her foster-son, Will Wilson, the sailor-lad."
  • "What made her think there were a letter?" asked Mary.
  • "Why, yo see, a neighbour as has been in Liverpool, telled us Will's ship wer_ome in. Now he said last time he were in Liverpool, he'd ha' come to ha' see_lice, but his ship had but a week holiday, and hard work for the men in tha_ime, too. So Alice makes sure he'll come this, and has had her hand behin_er ear at every noise in th' street, thinking it were him. And to-day sh_ere neither to have nor to hold, but off she would go to th' post, and see i_e had na sent her a line to th' old house near yo. I tried to get her to giv_p going, for let alone her deafness she's getten so dark, she cannot see fiv_ards afore her; but no, she would go, poor old body."
  • "I did not know her sight failed her; she used to have good eyes enough whe_he lived near us."
  • "Ay, but it's gone lately a good deal. But you never ask after Jem "—anxiou_o get in a word on the subject nearest her heart.
  • "No," replied Mary, blushing scarlet. "How is he?"
  • "I cannot justly say how he is, seeing he's at Halifax; but he were very wel_hen he wrote last Tuesday. Han ye heard o' his good luck?"
  • Rather to her disappointment, Mary owned she had heard of the sum his maste_ad paid him for his invention.
  • "Well! and did not Margaret tell you what he'd done wi' it? It's just lik_im, though, ne'er to say a word about it. Why, when he were paid, what doe_e do but get his master to help him to buy an income for me and Alice. He ha_er name put down for her life; but, poor thing, she'll not be long to th_ore, I'm thinking. She's sadly failed of late. And so, Mary, yo see, we'r_wo ladies o' property. It's a matter o' twenty pound a year, they tell me. _ish the twins had lived, bless 'em," said she, dropping a few tears. "The_hould ha' had the best o' schooling, and their bellyfuls o' food. I suppos_hey're better off in heaven, only I should so like to see 'em."
  • Mary's heart filled with love at this new proof of Jem's goodness; but sh_ould not talk about it. She took Jane Wilson's hand, and pressed it wit_ffection; and then turned the subject to Will, her sailor nephew. Jane was _ittle bit sorry, but her prosperity had made her gentler, and she did no_esent what she felt at Mary's indifference to Jem and his merits.
  • "He's been in Africa, and that neighbourhood, I believe. He's a fine chap, bu_e's not getten Jem's hair. His has too much o' the red in it. He sent Alice (but, maybe, she telled you) a matter o' five pound when he were over before: but that were nought to an income, yo know."
  • "It's not every one that can get a hundred or two at a time," said Mary.
  • "No! no! that's true enough. There's not many a one like Jem. That's Alice'_tep," said she, hastening to open the door to her sister-in-law. Alice looke_eary, and sad, and dusty. The weariness and the dust would not have bee_oticed either by her, or the others, if it had not been for the sadness.
  • "No letters?" said Mrs. Wilson.
  • "No, none! I must just wait another day to hear fra' my lad. It's very dre_ork, waiting," said Alice.
  • Margaret's words came into Mary's mind. Every one has their time and kind o_aiting.
  • "If I but knew he were safe, and not drowned!" spoke Alice. "If I but knew h_ERE drowned, I would ask grace to say, Thy will be done. It's the waiting."
  • "It's hard work to be patient to all of us," said Mary; "I know I find it so, but I did not know one so good as you did, Alice; I shall not think so badl_f myself for being a bit impatient, now I've heard you say you find i_ifficult."
  • The idea of reproach to Alice was the last in Mary's mind; and Alice knew i_as. Nevertheless, she said—
  • "Then, my dear, I beg your pardon, and God's pardon, too, if I've weakene_our faith, by showing you how feeble mine was. Half our life's spent i_aiting, and it ill becomes one like me, wi' so many mercies, to grumble. I'l_ry and put a bridle o'er my tongue, and my thoughts too." She spoke in _umble and gentle voice, like one asking forgiveness.
  • "Come, Alice," interposed Mrs. Wilson, "don't fret yoursel for e'er a trifl_rong said here or there. See! I've put th' kettle on, and you and Mary shal_a' a dish o' tea in no time."
  • So she bustled about, and brought out a comfortable-looking substantial loaf, and set Mary to cut bread and butter, while she rattled out the tea- cups—always a cheerful sound.
  • Just as they were sitting down, there was a knock heard at the door, an_ithout waiting for it to be opened from the inside, some one lifted th_atch, and in a man's voice asked, if one George Wilson lived there?
  • Mrs. Wilson was entering on a long and sorrowful explanation of his havin_nce lived there, but of his having dropped down dead; when Alice, with th_nstinct of love (for in all usual and common instances sight and hearin_ailed to convey impressions to her until long after other people had receive_hem), arose, and tottered to the door.
  • "My bairn!—my own dear bairn!" she exclaimed, falling on Will Wilson's neck.
  • You may fancy the hospitable and welcoming commotion that ensued; how Mrs.
  • Wilson laughed, and talked, and cried, all together, if such a thing can b_one; and how Mary gazed with wondering pleasure at her old playmate; now _ashing, bronzed-looking, ringleted sailor, frank, and hearty, an_ffectionate.
  • But it was something different from common to see Alice's joy at once mor_aving her foster-child with her. She did not speak, for she really could not; but the tears came coursing down her old withered cheeks, and dimmed the hor_pectacles she had put on, in order to pry lovingly into his face. So wha_ith her failing sight, and her tear-blinded eyes, she gave up the attempt o_earning his face by heart through the medium of that sense, and trie_nother. She passed her sodden, shrivelled hands, all trembling wit_agerness, over his manly face, bent meekly down in order that she might mor_asily make her strange inspection. At last, her soul was satisfied.
  • After tea, Mary feeling sure there was much to be said on both sides, at whic_t would be better none should be present, not even an intimate friend lik_erself, got up to go away. This seemed to arouse Alice from her dream_onsciousness of exceeding happiness, and she hastily followed Mary to th_oor. There, standing outside, with the latch in her hand, she took hold o_ary's arm, and spoke nearly the first words she had uttered since he_ephew's return.
  • "My dear! I shall never forgive mysel, if my wicked words to-night are an_tumbling-block in your path. See how the Lord has put coals of fire on m_ead! O Mary, don't let my being an unbelieving Thomas weaken your faith. Wai_atiently on the Lord, whatever your trouble may be."