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Chapter 3 John Barton's 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."
  • >                                —HOOD.
  • In the middle of that same night a neighbour of the Bartons was roused fro_er sound, well-earned sleep, by a knocking, which had at first made part o_er 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 missi_s 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, sh_eard the cries of agony, which resounded in the little court in the stillnes_f the night. In less than five minutes she was standing by Mrs. Barton'_edside, relieving the terrified Mary, who went about where she was told lik_n automaton; her eyes tearless, her face calm, though deadly pale, an_ttering 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, an_till longer in understanding who it was that made this sudden call upon hi_ervices; and then he begged Barton just to wait while he dressed himself, i_rder that no time might be lost in finding the court and house. Barto_bsolutely stamped with impatience, outside the doctor's door, before he cam_own; and walked so fast homewards, that the medical man several times aske_im 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 n_ime for listening. He opened the latched door, stayed not to light a candl_or the mere ceremony of showing his companion up the stairs, so well known t_imself; but, in two minutes, was in the room, where lay the dead wife, who_e had loved with all the power of his strong heart. The doctor stumble_pstairs 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, wit_abitual tiptoe step, approached the poor frail body, that nothing now coul_ore disturb. Her daughter knelt by the bedside, her face buried in th_lothes, which were almost crammed into her mouth, to keep down the chokin_obs. The husband stood like one stupefied. The doctor questioned th_eighbour in whispers, and then approaching Barton, said, "You must g_ownstairs. 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 loo_f death was too clear upon her face. Still, when he heard one or two unusua_oises, the thought burst on him that it might only be a trance, a fit, a—h_id not well know what—but not death! Oh, not death! And he was starting up t_o up-stairs again, when the doctor's heavy cautious creaking footstep wa_eard on the stairs. Then he knew what it really was in the chamber above.
  • "Nothing could have saved her—there has been some shock to the system"—and s_e 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 th_tore-house of memory, for a more convenient season. The doctor, seeing th_tate of the case, grieved for the man; and, very sleepy, thought it best t_o, and accordingly wished him good-night—but there was no answer, so he le_imself 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 stif_nseasoned drawer, in which his wife kept her clothes, pulled open. He saw th_eighbour come down, and blunder about in search of soap and water. He kne_ell what she wanted, and WHY she wanted them, but he did not speak nor offe_o 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 t_ther days, to far different times. He thought of their courtship; of hi_irst seeing her, an awkward beautiful rustic, far too shiftless for th_elicate 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 o_he dresser, to be kept for Mary. He wondered if it was there yet, and with _trange curiosity he got up to feel for it; for the fire by this time was wel_igh 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 al_o tired. He was reminded of one of the daily little actions, which acquir_uch power when they have been performed for the last time by one we love. H_egan to think over his wife's daily round of duties: and something in th_emembrance that these would never more be done by her, touched the source o_ears, and he cried aloud. Poor Mary, meanwhile, had mechanically helped th_eighbour in all the last attentions to the dead; and when she was kissed an_poken to soothingly, tears stole quietly down her cheeks; but she reserve_he luxury of a full burst of grief till she should be alone. She shut th_hamber-door softly, after the neighbour was gone, and then shook the bed b_hich 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, mother, mother!"
  • At last she stopped, because it flashed across her mind that her violence o_rief might disturb her father. All was still below. She looked on the face s_hanged, and yet so strangely like. She bent down to kiss it. The col_nyielding flesh struck a shudder to her heart, and hastily obeying he_mpulse, she grasped the candle, and opened the door. Then she heard the sob_f her father's grief; and quickly, quietly stealing down the steps, she knel_y him, and kissed his hand. He took no notice at first; for his burst o_rief would not be controlled. But when her shriller sobs, her terrified cries (which she could not repress), rose upon his ear, he checked himself.
  • "Child, we must be all to one another, now SHE is gone," whispered he.
  • "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 _sk. 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 hav_nough 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 coul_ever, never sleep, so threw herself on her bed in her clothes, and before te_inutes had passed away, the passionate grief of youth had subsided int_leep.
  • Barton had been roused by his daughter's entrance, both from his stupor an_rom his uncontrollable sorrow. He could think on what was to be done, coul_lan for the funeral, could calculate the necessity of soon returning to hi_ork, as the extravagance of the past night would leave them short of money i_e long remained away from the mill. He was in a club, so that money wa_rovided for the burial. These things settled in his own mind, he recalled th_octor's words, and bitterly thought of the shock his poor wife had s_ecently had, in the mysterious disappearance of her cherished sister. Hi_eelings towards Esther almost amounted to curses. It was she who had brough_n all this sorrow. Her giddiness, her lightness of conduct had wrought thi_oe. His previous thoughts about her had been tinged with wonder and pity, bu_ow 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 wa_oosened, and henceforward the neighbours all remarked he was a changed man.
  • His gloom and his sternness became habitual instead of occasional. He was mor_bstinate. But never to Mary. Between the father and the daughter ther_xisted in full force that mysterious bond which unites those who have bee_oved by one who is now dead and gone. While he was harsh and silent t_thers, he humoured Mary with tender love: she had more of her own way than i_ommon in any rank with girls of her age. Part of this was the necessity o_he case; for of course all the money went through her hands, and th_ousehold arrangements were guided by her will and pleasure. But part was he_ather's indulgence, for he left her, with full trust in her unusual sense an_pirit, to choose her own associates, and her own times for seeing them.
  • With all this, Mary had not her father's confidence in the matters which no_egan 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 likel_hat a girl of Mary's age (even when two or three years had elapsed since he_other's death) should care much for the differences between the employers an_he 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 wit_resh violence at any depression of trade, showing that in its apparent quiet, the ashes had still smouldered in the breasts of a few.
  • Among these few was John Barton. At all times it is a bewildering thing to th_oor weaver to see his employer removing from house to house, each one grande_han the last, till he ends in building one more magnificent than all, o_ithdraws his money from the concern, or sells his mill, to buy an estate i_he country, while all the time the weaver, who thinks he and his fellows ar_he 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 alread_ade, and consequently that there is no demand for more; when he would bea_nd endure much without complaining, could he also see that his employers wer_earing 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. Larg_ouses are still occupied, while spinners' and weavers' cottages stand empty, because the families that once filled them are obliged to live in rooms o_ellars. Carriages still roll along the streets, concerts are still crowded b_ubscribers, 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 childre_sking in vain for enough of food—of the sinking health, of the dying life o_hose near and dear to him. The contrast is too great. Why should he alon_uffer from bad times?
  • I know that this is not really the case; and I know what is the truth in suc_atters; but what I wish to impress is what the workman feels and thinks.
  • True, that with child-like improvidence, good times will often dissipate hi_rumbling, and make him forget all prudence and foresight.
  • But there are earnest men among these people, men who have endured wrong_ithout complaining, but without ever forgetting or forgiving those whom (the_elieve) have caused all this woe.
  • Among these was John Barton. His parents had suffered; his mother had die_rom absolute want of the necessaries of life. He himself was a good, stead_orkman, and, as such, pretty certain of steady employment. But he spent al_e got with the confidence (you may also call it improvidence) of one who wa_illing, and believed himself able, to supply all his wants by his ow_xertions. And when his master suddenly failed, and all hands in the mill wer_urned 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 bein_mployed at some other mill, and accordingly, before returning home, he spen_ome hours in going from factory to factory, asking for work. But at ever_ill was some sign of depression of trade! some were working short hours, som_ere turning off hands, and for weeks Barton was out of work, living o_redit. It was during this time that his little son, the apple of his eye, th_ynosure of all his strong power of love, fell ill of the scarlet fever. The_ragged 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 feve_ad left him. Mocking words! when the commonest food in the house would no_urnish one little meal. Barton tried credit; but it was worn out at th_ittle provision shops, which were now suffering in their turn. He thought i_ould be no sin to steal, and would have stolen; but he could not get th_pportunity in the few days the child lingered. Hungry himself, almost to a_nimal pitch of ravenousness, but with the bodily pain swallowed up in anxiet_or his little sinking lad, he stood at one of the shop windows where al_dible luxuries are displayed; haunches of venison, Stilton cheeses, moulds o_elly—all appetising sights to the common passer-by. And out of this shop cam_rs. Hunter! She crossed to her carriage, followed by the shopman loaded wit_urchases 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 hi_nly boy a corpse!
  • You can fancy, now, the hoards of vengeance in his heart against th_mployers. For there are never wanting those who, either in speech or i_rint, 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 wh_se their knowledge with unrelenting purpose to either party.
  • So while Mary took her own way, growing more spirited every day, and growin_n her beauty too, her father was chairman at many a Trades' Union meeting; _riend of delegates, and ambitious of being a delegate himself; a Chartist, and ready to do anything for his order.
  • But now times were good; and all these feelings were theoretical, no_ractical. His most practical thought was getting Mary apprenticed to _ressmaker; for he had never left off disliking a factory life for a girl, o_ore 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 he_trong will. What that will might have been able to achieve had her fathe_een 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 considere_omestic servitude as a species of slavery; a pampering of artificial wants o_he one side, a giving up of every right of leisure by day and quiet rest b_ight on the other. How far his strong exaggerated feelings had any foundatio_n truth, it is for you to judge. I am afraid that Mary's determination not t_o to service arose from far less sensible thoughts on the subject than he_ather's. Three years of independence of action (since her mother's death suc_ time had now elapsed) had little inclined her to submit to rules as to hour_nd associates, to regulate her dress by a mistress's ideas of propriety, t_ose the dear feminine privileges of gossiping with a merry neighbour, an_orking night and day to help one who was sorrowful. Besides all this, th_ayings of her absent, the mysterious aunt Esther, had an unacknowledge_nfluence over Mary. She knew she was very pretty; the factory people as the_oured from the mills, and in their freedom told the truth (whatever it migh_e) to every passer-by, had early let Mary into the secret of her beauty. I_heir remarks had fallen on an unheeding ear, there were always young me_nough, in a different rank from her own, who were willing to compliment th_retty weaver's daughter as they met her in the streets. Besides, trust a gir_f sixteen for knowing it well if she is pretty; concerning her plainness sh_ay be ignorant. So with this consciousness she had early determined that he_eauty should make her a lady; the rank she coveted the more for her father'_buse; 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 hi_ervant by all who visited at her master's house, a dressmaker's apprentic_ust (or so Mary thought) be always dressed with a certain regard t_ppearances; must never soil her hands, and need never redden or dirty he_ace with hard labour. Before my telling you so truly what folly Mary felt o_hought, injures her without redemption in your opinion, think what are th_illy fancies of sixteen years of age in every class, and under al_ircumstances. The end of all the thoughts of father and daughter was, as _aid before, Mary was to be a dressmaker; and her ambition prompted he_nwilling father to apply at all the first establishments, to know on wha_erms of painstaking and zeal his daughter might be admitted into ever s_umble 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 ha_ccompanied him, the case might have been rather different, as her beaut_ould have made her desirable as a show-woman. Then he tried second-rat_laces; at all the payment of a sum of money was necessary, and money he ha_one. Disheartened and angry, he went home at night, declaring it was tim_ost; that dressmaking was at all events a troublesome business, and not wort_earning. Mary saw that the grapes were sour, and the next day she set ou_erself, as her father could not afford to lose another day's work; and befor_ight (as yesterday's experience had considerably lowered her ideas) she ha_ngaged herself as apprentice (so called, though there were no deeds o_ndentures to the bond) to a certain Miss Simmonds, milliner and dressmaker, in a respectable little street leading off Ardwick Green, where her busines_as duly announced in gold letters on a black ground, enclosed in a bird's-ey_aple frame, and stuck in the front-parlour window; where the workwomen wer_alled "her young ladies"; and where Mary was to work for two years withou_ny remuneration, on consideration of being taught the business; and wher_fterwards she was to dine and have tea, with a small quarterly salary (pai_uarterly 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 t_ome till after breakfast. Her time for returning home at night must alway_epend 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, an_oaxed and planned for the future so cheerily, that both went to bed with eas_f not happy hearts.