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Chapter 8 Margaret's debut as a public singer

  • > "Deal gently with them, they have much endured; >  Scoff not at their fond hopes and earnest plans, >  Though they may seem to thee wild dreams and fancies.
  • >  Perchance, in the rough school of stern Experience, >  They've something learned which Theory does not teach; >  Or if they greatly err, deal gently still, >  And let their error but the stronger plead, >  'Give us the light and guidance that we need!'"
  • >                                     —LOVE THOUGHTS.
  • One Sunday afternoon, about three weeks after that mournful night, Jem Wilso_et out with the ostensible purpose of calling on John Barton. He was dresse_n his best—his Sunday suit of course; while his face glittered with th_crubbing he had bestowed on it. His dark black hair had been arranged an_earranged before the household looking-glass, and in his button-hole he stuc_ narcissus (a sweet Nancy is its pretty Lancashire name), hoping it woul_ttract Mary's notice, so that he might have the delight of giving it her.
  • It was a bad beginning of his visit of happiness that Mary saw him som_inutes before he came into her father's house. She was sitting at the end o_he dresser, with the little window-blind drawn on one side, in order that sh_ight see the passers-by, in the intervals of reading her Bible, which la_pen before her. So she watched all the greeting a friend gave Jem; she sa_he face of condolence, the sympathetic shake of the hand, and had time t_rrange her own face and manner before Jem came in, which he did, as if he ha_yes for no one but her father, who sat smoking his pipe by the fire, while h_ead an old Northern Star, borrowed from a neighbouring public-house.
  • Then he turned to Mary, who, he felt through the sure instinct of love, b_hich almost his body thought, was present. Her hands were busy adjusting he_ress; a forced and unnecessary movement Jem could not help thinking. He_ccost was quiet and friendly, if grave; she felt that she reddened like _ose, and wished she could prevent it, while Jem wondered if her blushes aros_rom fear, or anger, or love.
  • She was very cunning, I am afraid. She pretended to read diligently, and no_o listen to a word that was said, while in fact she heard all sounds, even t_em's long, deep sighs, which wrung her heart. At last she took up her Bible, and as if their conversation disturbed her, went upstairs to her little room.
  • And she had scarcely spoken a word to Jem; scarcely looked at him; neve_oticed his beautiful sweet Nancy, which only awaited her least word of prais_o be hers! He did not know—that pang was spared—that in her little ding_edroom stood a white jug, filled with a luxuriant bunch of early sprin_oses, making the whole room fragrant and bright. They were the gift of he_icher lover. So Jem had to go on sitting with John Barton, fairly caught i_is own trap, and had to listen to his talk, and answer him as best he might.
  • "There's the right stuff in this here Star, and no mistake. Such a right-dow_iece for short hours."
  • "At the same rate of wages as now?" asked Jem.
  • "Aye, aye! else where's the use? It's only taking out o' the masters' pocke_hat they can well afford. Did I ever tell yo what th' Infirmary chap let m_nto, many a year agone?"
  • "No," said Jem listlessly.
  • "Well! yo must know I were in th' Infirmary for a fever, and times were rar_nd bad, and there be good chaps there to a man while he'_ick,[[22]](footnotes.xml#footnote_22) whate'er they may be about cutting hi_p at after.[[23]](footnotes.xml#footnote_23) So when I were better o' th'
  • fever, but weak as water, they says to me, says they, 'If yo can write, yo_ay stay in a week longer, and help our surgeon wi' sorting his papers; an_e'll take care yo've your bellyful of meat and drink. Yo'll be twice a_trong in a week.' So there wanted but one word to that bargain. So I were se_o writing and copying; th' writing I could do well enough, but they'd suc_ueer ways o' spelling, that I'd ne'er been used to, that I'd to look first a_h' copy and then at my letters, for all the world like a cock picking u_rains o' corn. But one thing startled me e'en then, and I thought I'd mak_old to ask the surgeon the meaning o't. I've getten no head for numbers, bu_his I know, that by FAR TH' GREATER PART O' THE ACCIDENTS AS COMED IN, HAPPENED IN TH' LAST TWO HOURS O' WORK, when folk getten tired and careless.
  • Th' surgeon said it were all true, and that he were going to bring that fac_o light."
  • Jem was pondering Mary's conduct; but the pause made him aware he ought t_tter some civil listening noise; so he said—
  • "Very true."
  • "Ay, it's true enough, my lad, that we're sadly over-borne, and worse wil_ome of it afore long. Block-printers is going to strike; they'n getten _ang-up Union, as won't let 'em be put upon. But there's many a thing wil_appen afore long, as folk don't expect. Yo may take my word for that, Jem."
  • Jem was very willing to take it, but did not express the curiosity he shoul_ave done. So John Barton thought he'd try another hint or two.
  • "Working folk won't be ground to the dust much longer. We'n a' had as much t_ear as human nature can bear. So, if th' masters can't do us no good, an_hey say they can't, we mun try higher folk."
  • Still Jem was not curious. He gave up hope of seeing Mary again by her ow_ood free-will; and the next best thing would be, to be alone to think of her.
  • So muttering something which he meant to serve as an excuse for his sudde_eparture, he hastily wished John good-afternoon, and left him to resume hi_ipe and his politics.
  • For three years past trade had been getting worse and worse, and the price o_rovisions higher and higher. This disparity between the amount of th_arnings of the working classes and the price of their food, occasioned, i_ore cases than could well be imagined, disease and death. Whole families wen_hrough a gradual starvation. They only wanted a Dante to record thei_ufferings. And yet even his words would fall short of the awful truth; the_ould only present an outline of the tremendous facts of the destitution tha_urrounded thousands upon thousands in the terrible years 1839, 1840, an_841. Even philanthropists who had studied the subject, were forced to ow_hemselves perplexed in their endeavour to ascertain the real causes of th_isery; the whole matter was of so complicated a nature, that it became nex_o impossible to understand it thoroughly. It need excite no surprise, then, to learn that a bad feeling between working-men and the upper classes becam_ery strong in this season of privation. The indigence and sufferings of th_peratives induced a suspicion in the minds of many of them, that thei_egislators, their magistrates, their employers, and even the ministers o_eligion, were, in general, their oppressors and enemies; and were in leagu_or their prostration and enthralment. The most deplorable and enduring evi_hat arose out of the period of commercial depression to which I refer, wa_his feeling of alienation between the different classes of society. It is s_mpossible to describe, or even faintly to picture, the state of distres_hich prevailed in the town at that time, that I will not attempt it; and ye_ think again that surely, in a Christian land, it was not known even s_eebly as words could tell it, or the more happy and fortunate would hav_hronged with their sympathy and their aid. In many instances the sufferer_ept first, and then they cursed. Their vindictive feelings exhibite_hemselves in rabid politics. And when I hear, as I have heard, of th_ufferings and privations of the poor, of provision shops where ha'porths o_ea, sugar, butter, and even flour, were sold to accommodate the indigent—o_arents sitting in their clothes by the fireside during the whole night, fo_even weeks together, in order that their only bed and bedding might b_eserved for the use of their large family—of others sleeping upon the col_earthstone for weeks in succession, without adequate means of providin_hemselves with food or fuel (and this in the depth of winter)—of others bein_ompelled to fast for days together, uncheered by any hope of better fortune, living, moreover, or rather starving, in a crowded garret, or damp cellar, an_radually sinking under the pressure of want and despair into a prematur_rave; and when this has been confirmed by the evidence of their carewor_ooks, their excited feelings, and their desolate homes—can I wonder that man_f them, in such times of misery and destitution, spoke and acted wit_erocious precipitation?
  • An idea was now springing up among the operatives, that originated with th_hartists, but which came at last to be cherished as a darling child by man_nd many a one. They could not believe that Government knew of their misery; they rather chose to think it possible that men could voluntarily assume th_ffice of legislators for a nation who were ignorant of its real state; as wh_hould make domestic rules for the pretty behaviour of children without carin_o know that those children had been kept for days without food. Besides, th_tarving multitudes had heard, that the very existence of their distress ha_een denied in Parliament; and though they felt this strange and inexplicable, yet the idea that their misery had still to be revealed in all its depths, an_hat then some remedy would be found, soothed their aching hearts, and kep_own their rising fury.
  • So a petition was framed, and signed by thousands in the bright spring days o_839, imploring Parliament to hear witnesses who could testify to th_nparalleled destitution of the manufacturing districts. Nottingham, Sheffield, Glasgow, Manchester, and many other towns, were busy appointin_elegates to convey this petition, who might speak, not merely of what the_ad seen, and had heard, but from what they had borne and suffered. Life-worn, gaunt, anxious, hunger-stamped men, were those delegates.
  • One of them was John Barton. He would have been ashamed to own the flutter o_pirits his appointment gave him. There was the childish delight of seein_ondon—that went a little way, and but a little way. There was the vain ide_f speaking out his notions before so many grand folk—that went a littl_urther; and last, there was the really pure gladness of heart arising fro_he idea that he was one of those chosen to be instruments in making known th_istresses of the people, and consequently in procuring them some gran_elief, by means of which they should never suffer want or care any more. H_oped largely, but vaguely, of the results of his expedition. An argosy of th_recious hopes of many otherwise despairing creatures, was that petition to b_eard concerning their sufferings.
  • The night before the morning on which the Manchester delegates were to leav_or London, Barton might be said to hold a levee, so many neighbours cam_ropping in. Job Legh had early established himself and his pipe by Joh_arton's fire, not saying much, but puffing away, and imagining himself of us_n adjusting the smoothing-irons that hung before the fire, ready for Mar_hen she should want them. As for Mary, her employment was the same as that o_eau Tibbs' wife, "just washing her father's two shirts," in the pantry back- kitchen; for she was anxious about his appearance in London. (The coat ha_een redeemed, though the silk handkerchief was forfeited.) The door stoo_pen, as usual, between the house-place and back-kitchen, so she gave he_reeting to their friends as they entered.
  • "So, John, yo're bound for London, are yo?" said one.
  • "Ay, I suppose I mun go," answered John, yielding to necessity as it were.
  • "Well, there's many a thing I'd like yo to speak on to the Parliament people.
  • Thou'lt not spare 'em, John, I hope. Tell 'em our minds: how we're thinkin_e'n been clemmed long enough, and we donnot see whatten good they'n bee_oing, if they can't give us what we're all crying for sin' the day we wer_orn."
  • "Ay, ay! I'll tell 'em that, and much more to it, when it gets to my turn; bu_hou knows there's many will have their word afore me."
  • "Well, thou'lt speak at last. Bless thee, lad, do ask 'em to make th' master_o break th' machines. There's never been good times sin' spinning-jennie_ame up."
  • "Machines is th' ruin of poor folk," chimed in several voices.
  • "For my part," said a shivering, half-clad man, who crept near the fire, as i_gue-stricken, "I would like thee to tell 'em to pass th' Short-hours Bill.
  • Flesh and blood gets wearied wi' so much work; why should factory hands wor_o much longer nor other trades? Just ask 'em that, Barton, will ye?"
  • Barton was saved the necessity of answering, by the entrance of Mrs.
  • Davenport, the poor widow he had been so kind to. She looked half-fed, an_ager, but was decently clad. In her hand she brought a little newspape_arcel, which she took to Mary, who opened it, and then called out, dangling _hirt collar from her soapy fingers—
  • "See, father, what a dandy you'll be in London! Mrs. Davenport has brought yo_his; made new cut, all after the fashion. Thank you for thinking on him."
  • "Eh, Mary!" said Mrs. Davenport in a low voice, "whatten's all I can do, t_hat he's done for me and mine? But, Mary, sure I can help ye, for you'll b_usy wi' this journey."
  • "Just help me wring these out, and then I'll take 'em to the mangle."
  • So Mrs. Davenport became a listener to the conversation; and after a whil_oined in.
  • "I'm sure, John Barton, if yo are taking messages to the Parliament folk, yo'll not object to telling 'em what a sore trial it is, this law o' theirs, keeping childer fra' factory work, whether they be weakly or strong. There'_ur Ben; why, porridge seems to go no way wi' him, he eats so much; and I ha_otten no money to send him t' school, as I would like; and there he is, rampaging about the streets a' day, getting hungrier and hungrier, and pickin_p a' manner o' bad ways; and th' inspector won't let him in to work in th'
  • factory, because he's not right age; though he's twice as strong as Sankey'_ittle ritling[[24]](footnotes.xml#footnote_24) of a lad, as works till h_ries for his legs aching so, though he is right age, and better."
  • "I've one plan I wish to tell John Barton," said a pompous, careful-speakin_an, "and I should like him for to lay it afore the Honourable House. M_other comed out o' Oxfordshire, and were under-laundry-maid in Sir Franci_ashwood's family; and when we were little ones, she'd tell us stories o_heir grandeur: and one thing she named were, that Sir Francis wore two shirt_ day. Now he were all as one as a Parliament man; and many on 'em, I han n_oubt, are like extravagant. Just tell 'em, John, do, that they'd be doing th_ancashire weavers a great kindness, if they'd ha' their shirts a' made o'
  • calico; 't would make trade brisk, that would, wi' the power o' shirts the_ear."
  • Job Legh now put in his word. Taking the pipe out of his mouth, and addressin_he last speaker, he said—
  • "I'll tell ye what, Bill, and no offence, mind ye; there's but hundreds o_hem Parliament folk as wear so many shirts to their back; but there'_housands and thousands o' poor weavers as han only gotten one shirt i' th_orld; ay, and don't know where t' get another when that rag's done, thoug_hey're turning out miles o' calico every day; and many a mile o't is lying i_arehouses, stopping up trade for want o' purchasers. Yo take my advice, Joh_arton, and ask Parliament to set trade free, so as workmen can earn a decen_age, and buy their two, ay and three, shirts a year; that would make weavin_risk."
  • He put his pipe in his mouth again, and redoubled his puffing, to make up fo_ost time.
  • "I'm afeard, neighbours," said John Barton, "I've not much chance o' telling
  • 'em all yo say; what I think on, is just speaking out about the distress tha_hey say is nought. When they hear o' children born on wet flags, without _ag t' cover 'em or a bit o' food for th' mother; when they hear of folk lyin_own to die i' th' streets, or hiding their want i' some hole o' a cellar til_eath come to set 'em free; and when they hear o' all this plague, pestilence, and famine, they'll surely do somewhat wiser for us than we can guess at now.
  • Howe'er, I han no objection, if so be there's an opening, to speak up for wha_o say; anyhow, I'll do my best, and yo see now, if better times don't com_fter Parliament knows all."
  • Some shook their heads, but more looked cheery: and then one by one droppe_ff, leaving John and his daughter alone.
  • "Didst thou mark how poorly Jane Wilson looked?" asked he, as they wound u_heir hard day's work by a supper eaten over the fire, which glowed an_limmered through the room, and formed their only light.
  • "No, I can't say as I did. But she's never rightly held up her head since th_wins died; and all along she has never been a strong woman."
  • "Never sin' her accident. Afore that I mind her looking as fresh and likely _irl as e'er a one in Manchester."
  • "What accident, father?"
  • "She cotched[[25]](footnotes.xml#footnote_25) her side again a wheel. It wer_fore wheels were boxed up. It were just when she were to have been married, and many a one thought George would ha' been off his bargain; but I knew h_ern't the chap for that trick. Pretty near the first place she went to whe_he were able to go about again, was th' Oud Church; poor wench, all pale an_imping, she went up the aisle, George holding her up as tender as a mother, and walking as slow as e'er he could, not to hurry her, though there wer_lenty enow of rude lads to cast their jests at him and her. Her face wer_hite like a sheet when she came in church, but afore she got to th' altar sh_ere all one flush. But for a' that it's been a happy marriage, and George ha_tuck by me through life like a brother. He'll never hold up his head again i_e loses Jane. I didn't like her looks to-night."
  • And so he went to bed, the fear of forthcoming sorrow to his friend minglin_ith his thoughts of to-morrow, and his hopes for the future.
  • Mary watched him set off, with her hands over her eyes to shade them from th_right slanting rays of the morning sun, and then she turned into the house t_rrange its disorder before going to her work. She wondered if she should lik_r dislike the evening and morning solitude; for several hours when the cloc_truck she thought of her father, and wondered where he was; she made goo_esolutions according to her lights; and by-and-bye came the distractions an_vents of the broad full day to occupy her with the present, and to deaden th_emory of the absent.
  • One of Mary's resolutions was, that she would not be persuaded or induced t_ee Mr. Harry Carson during her father's absence. There was something crooke_n her conscience after all; for this very resolution seemed an acknowledgmen_hat it was wrong to meet him at any time; and yet she had brought herself t_hink her conduct quite innocent and proper, for although unknown to he_ather, and certain, even did he know it, to fail of obtaining his sanction, she esteemed her love-meetings with Mr. Carson as sure to end in her father_ood and happiness. But now that he was away, she would do nothing that h_ould disapprove of; no, not even though it was for his own good in the end.
  • Now, amongst Miss Simmonds' young ladies was one who had been from th_eginning a confidante in Mary's love affair, made so by Mr. Carson himself.
  • He had felt the necessity of some third person to carry letters and messages, and to plead his cause when he was absent. In a girl named Sally Leadbitter h_ad found a willing advocate. She would have been willing to have embarked i_ love affair herself (especially a clandestine one), for the mere excitemen_f the thing; but her willingness was strengthened by sundry half-sovereigns, which from time to time Mr. Carson bestowed upon her.
  • Sally Leadbitter was vulgar-minded to the last degree; never easy unless he_alk was of love and lovers; in her eyes it was an honour to have had a lon_ist of wooers. So constituted, it was a pity that Sally herself was but _lain, red-haired, freckled girl; never likely, one would have thought, t_ecome a heroine on her own account. But what she lacked in beauty she trie_o make up for by a kind of witty boldness, which gave her what her better_ould have called piquancy. Considerations of modesty or propriety neve_hecked her utterance of a good thing. She had just talent enough to corrup_thers. Her very good nature was an evil influence. They could not hate on_ho was so kind; they could not avoid one who was so willing to shield the_rom scrapes by any exertion of her own; whose ready fingers would at any tim_ake up for their deficiencies, and whose still more convenient tongue woul_t any time invent for them. The Jews, or Mohammedans (I forget which), believe that there is one little bone of our body,—one of the vertebrae, if _emember rightly,—which will never decay and turn to dust, but will li_ncorrupt and indestructible in the ground until the Last Day: this is th_eed of the Soul. The most depraved have also their Seed of the Holiness tha_hall one day overcome their evil; their one good quality, lurking hidden, bu_afe, among all the corrupt and bad.
  • Sally's seed of the future soul was her love for her mother, an aged bedridde_oman. For her she had self-denial; for her, her good- nature rose int_enderness; to cheer her lonely bed, her spirits, in the evenings, when he_ody was often woefully tired, never flagged, but were ready to recount th_vents of the day, to turn them into ridicule, and to mimic, with admirabl_idelity, any person gifted with an absurdity who had fallen under her kee_ye. But the mother was lightly principled like Sally herself; nor was ther_eed to conceal from her the reason why Mr. Carson gave her so much money. Sh_huckled with pleasure, and only hoped that the wooing would be long a-doing.
  • Still neither she, nor her daughter, nor Harry Carson liked this resolution o_ary, not to see him during her father's absence.
  • One evening (and the early summer evenings were long and bright now), Sall_et Mr. Carson by appointment, to be charged with a letter for Mary, implorin_er to see him, which Sally was to back with all her powers of persuasion.
  • After parting from him she determined, as it was not so very late, to go a_nce to Mary's, and deliver the message and letter.
  • She found Mary in great sorrow. She had just heard of George Wilson's sudde_eath: her old friend, her father's friend, Jem's father—all his claims cam_ushing upon her. Though not guarded from unnecessary sight or sound of death, as the children of the rich are, yet it had so often been brought home to he_his last three or four months. It was so terrible thus to see friend afte_riend depart. Her father, too, who had dreaded Jane Wilson's death th_vening before he set off. And she, the weakly, was left behind, while th_trong man was taken. At any rate the sorrow her father had so feared for hi_as spared. Such were the thoughts which came over her.
  • She could not go to comfort the bereaved, even if comfort were in her power t_ive; for she had resolved to avoid Jem; and she felt that this of all other_as not the occasion on which she could keep up a studiously cold manner.
  • And in this shock of grief, Sally Leadbitter was the last person she wished t_ee. However, she rose to welcome her, betraying her tear-swollen face.
  • "Well, I shall tell Mr. Carson to-morrow how you're fretting for him; it's n_ore nor he's doing for you, I can tell you."
  • "For him, indeed!" said Mary, with a toss of her pretty head.
  • "Ay, miss, for him! You've been sighing as if your heart would break now fo_everal days, over your work; now arn't you a little goose not to go and se_ne who I am sure loves you as his life, and whom you love; 'How much, Mary?'
  • 'This much,' as the children say" (opening her arms very wide).
  • "Nonsense," said Mary, pouting; "I often think I don't love him at all."
  • "And I'm to tell him that, am I, next time I see him?" asked Sally.
  • "If you like," replied Mary. "I'm sure I don't care for that or anything els_ow"; weeping afresh.
  • But Sally did not like to be the bearer of any such news. She saw she had gon_n the wrong tack, and that Mary's heart was too full to value either messag_r letter as she ought. So she wisely paused in their delivery and said, in _ore sympathetic tone than she had hitherto used—
  • "Do tell me, Mary, what's fretting you so? You know I never could abide to se_ou cry."
  • "George Wilson's dropped down dead this afternoon," said Mary, fixing her eye_or one minute on Sally, and the next hiding her face in her apron as sh_obbed anew.
  • "Dear, dear! All flesh is grass; here to-day and gone tomorrow, as the Bibl_ays. Still he was an old man, and not good for much; there's better folk tha_im left behind. Is th' canting old maid as was his sister alive yet?"
  • "I don't know who you mean," said Mary sharply; for she did know, and did no_ike to have her dear, simple Alice so spoken of.
  • "Come, Mary, don't be so innocent. Is Miss Alice Wilson alive, then; will tha_lease you? I haven't seen her hereabouts lately."
  • "No, she's left living here. When the twins died, she thought she could, maybe, be of use to her sister, who was sadly cast down, and Alice thought sh_ould cheer her up; at any rate she could listen to her when her heart gre_verburdened; so she gave up her cellar and went to live with them."
  • "Well, good go with her. I'd no fancy for her, and I'd no fancy for her makin_y pretty Mary into a Methodee."
  • "She wasn't a Methodee; she was Church o' England."
  • "Well, well, Mary, you're very particular. You know what I meant.
  • Look, who is this letter from?" holding up Henry Carson's letter.
  • "I don't know, and don't care," said Mary, turning very red.
  • "My eye! as if I didn't know you did know and did care."
  • "Well, give it me," said Mary impatiently, and anxious in her present mood fo_er visitor's departure.
  • Sally relinquished it unwillingly. She had, however, the pleasure of seein_ary dimple and blush as she read the letter, which seemed to say the write_as not indifferent to her.
  • "You must tell him I can't come," said Mary, raising her eyes at last. "I hav_aid I won't meet him while father is away, and I won't."
  • "But, Mary, he does so look for you. You'd be quite sorry for him, he's so pu_ut about not seeing you. Besides, you go when your father's at home, withou_etting on[[26]](footnotes.xml#footnote_26) to him, and what harm would ther_e in going now?"
  • "Well, Sally, you know my answer, I won't; and I won't."
  • "I'll tell him to come and see you himself some evening, instead o' sendin_e; he'd maybe find you not so hard to deal with."
  • Mary flashed up.
  • "If he dares to come here while father's away, I'll call the neighbours in t_urn him out, so don't be putting him up to that."
  • "Mercy on us! one would think you were the first girl that ever had a lover; have you never heard what other girls do and think no shame of?"
  • "Hush, Sally! that's Margaret Jennings at the door."
  • And in an instant Margaret was in the room. Mary had begged Job Legh to le_er come and sleep with her. In the uncertain firelight you could not hel_oticing that she had the groping walk of a blind person.
  • "Well, I must go, Mary," said Sally. "And that's your last word?"
  • "Yes, yes; good-night." She shut the door gladly on her unwelcom_isitor—unwelcome at that time at least.
  • "O Margaret, have ye heard this sad news about George Wilson?"
  • "Yes, that I have. Poor creatures, they've been so tried lately.
  • Not that I think sudden death so bad a thing; it's easy, and there's no terrors for him as dies. For them as survives it's very hard.
  • Poor George! he were such a hearty-looking man."
  • "Margaret," said Mary, who had been closely observing her friend, "thou'r_ery blind to-night, arn't thou? Is it wi' crying? Your eyes are so swolle_nd red."
  • "Yes, dear! but not crying for sorrow. Han ye heard where I was last night?"
  • "No; where?"
  • "Look here." She held up a bright golden sovereign. Mary opened her large gre_yes with astonishment.
  • "I'll tell you all and how about it. You see there's a gentleman lecturing o_usic at th' Mechanics', and he wants folk to sing his songs. Well, last nigh_he counter got a sore throat and couldn't make a note. So they sent for me.
  • Jacob Butterworth had said a good word for me, and they asked me would I sing?
  • You may think I was frightened, but I thought, Now or never, and said I'd d_y best. So I tried o'er the songs wi' th' lecturer, and then th' manager_old me I were to make myself decent and be there by seven."
  • "And what did you put on?" asked Mary. "Oh, why didn't you come in for m_retty pink gingham?"
  • "I did think on't; but you had na come home then. No! I put on my merino, a_as turned last winter, and my white shawl, and did my hair pretty tidy; i_id well enough. Well, but as I was saying, I went at seven. I couldn't see t_ead my music, but I took th' paper in wi' me, to ha' something to do wi' m_ingers. Th' folks' heads danced, as I stood as right afore 'em all as if I'_een going to play at ball wi' 'em. You may guess I felt squeamish, but min_eren't the first song, and th' music sounded like a friend's voice telling m_o take courage. So, to make a long story short, when it were all o'er th'
  • lecturer thanked me, and th' managers said as how there never was a new singe_o applauded (for they'd clapped and stamped after I'd done, till I began t_onder how many pair o' shoes they'd get through a week at that rate, le_lone their hands). So I'm to sing again o' Thursday; and I got a sovereig_ast night, and am to have half-a-sovereign every night th' lecturer is at th'
  • Mechanics'."
  • "Well, Margaret, I'm right glad to hear it."
  • "And I don't think you've heard the best bit yet. Now that a way seemed ope_o me, of not being a burden to any one, though it did please God to make m_lind, I thought I'd tell grandfather. I only tell'd him about the singing an_he sovereign last night, for I thought I'd not send him to bed wi' a heav_eart; but this morning I telled him all."
  • "And how did he take it?"
  • "He's not a man of many words; and it took him by surprise like."
  • "I wonder at that; I've noticed it in your ways ever since you telled me."
  • "Ay, that's it! If I'd not telled you, and you'd seen me every day, you'd no_a' noticed the little mite o' difference fra' day to day."
  • "Well, but what did your grandfather say?"
  • "Why, Mary," said Margaret, half smiling, "I'm a bit loth to tell yo, fo_nless yo knew grandfather's ways like me, yo'd think it strange. He was take_y surprise, and he said: 'Damn yo!' Then he began looking at his book as i_ere, and were very quiet, while I telled him all about it; how I'd feared, and how downcast I'd been; and how I were now reconciled to it, if it were th'
  • Lord's will; and how I hoped to earn money by singing; and while I wer_alking, I saw great big tears come dropping on th' book; but in course _ever let on that I saw 'em. Dear grandfather! and all day long he's bee_uietly moving things out o' my way, as he thought might trip me up, an_utting things in my way as he thought I might want; never knowing I saw an_elt what he were doing; for, yo see, he thinks I'm out and out blind, _uess—as I shall be soon."
  • Margaret sighed in spite of her cheerful and relieved tone.
  • Though Mary caught the sigh, she felt it was better to let it pass withou_otice, and began, with the tact which true sympathy rarely fails to supply, to ask a variety of questions respecting her friend's musical debut, whic_ended to bring out more distinctly how successful it had been.
  • "Why, Margaret," at length she exclaimed, "thou'lt become as famous, maybe, a_hat grand lady fra' London as we see'd one night driving up to th' concert- room door in her carriage."
  • "It looks very like it," said Margaret, with a smile. "And be sure, Mary, I'l_ot forget to give thee a lift now and then when that comes about. Nay, wh_nows, if thou'rt a good girl, but may-happen I may make thee my lady's maid!
  • Wouldn't that be nice? So I e'en sing to myself th' beginning o' one o' m_ongs—
  • 'An' ye shall walk in silk attire,        An' siller hae to spare.'"
  • "Nay, don't stop; or else give me something rather more new, for somehow _ever quite liked that part about thinking o' Donald mair?"
  • "Well, though I'm a bit tired I don't care if I do. Before I come I wer_ractising well-nigh upon two hours this one which I'm to sing o' Thursday.
  • The lecturer said he were sure it would just suit me, and I should do justic_o it; and I should be right sorry to disappoint him, he were so nice an_ncouraging like to me. Eh! Mary, what a pity there isn't more o' that way, and less scolding and rating i' th' world! It would go a vast deal further.
  • Beside, some o' th' singers said, they were a'most certain that it were a son_' his own, because he were so fidgety and particular about it, and so anxiou_ should give it th' proper expression. And that makes me care still more. Th'
  • first verse, he said, were to be sung 'tenderly, but joyously!' I'm afraid _on't quite hit that, but I'll try.
  • 'What a single word can do!
  • Thrilling all the heart-strings through,       Calling forth fond memories,       Raining round hope's melodies,       Steeping all in one bright hue—       What a single word can do !'
  • "Now it falls into th' minor key, and must be very sad-like. I feel as if _ould do that better than t'other.
  • 'What a single word can do!
  • Making life seem all untrue,       Driving joy and hope away,       Leaving not one cheering ray,       Blighting every flower that grew—       What a single word can do!'"
  • Margaret certainly made the most of this little song. As a factory worker, listening outside, observed, "She spun i_eet[[27]](footnotes.xml#footnote_27) fine!" And if she only sang it at th_echanics' with half the feeling she put into it that night, the lecturer mus_ave been hard to please if he did not admit that his expectations were mor_han fulfilled.
  • When it was ended, Mary's looks told more than words could have done what sh_hought of it; and partly to keep in a tear which would fain have rolled out, she brightened into a laugh, and said, "For certain th' carriage is coming. S_et us go and dream on it."