at Home by Elizabeth Gaskell
Well, mother, I've got you a Southport ticket, said Bessy Lee, as
she burst into a room where a pale, sick woman lay dressed on the
outside of a bed. Aren't you glad? asked she, as her mother moved
uneasily, but did not speak.
Yes, dear, I'm very thankful to you; but your sudden coming in has
made my heart flutter so, I'm ready to choke.
Poor Bessy's eyes filled with tears: but, it must be owned, they
were tears half of anger. She had taken such pains, ever since the
doctor said that Southport was the only thing for her mother, to get
her an order from some subscriber to the charity; and she had rushed to
her, in the full glow of success, and now her mother seemed more put
out by the noise she had made on coming in, than glad to receive the
news she had brought.
Mrs. Lee took her hand and tried to speak, but, as she said, she was
almost choked with the palpitation at her heart.
You think it very silly in me, dear, to be so easily startled; but
it is not altogether silliness; it is I am so weak that every little
noise gives me quite a fright. I shall be better, love, please God,
when I come back from Southport. I am so glad you've got the order, for
you've taken a deal of pains about it. Mrs. Lee sighed.
Don't you want to go? asked Bessy, rather sadly. You always seem
so sorrowful and anxious when we talk about it.
It's partly my being ailing that makes me anxious, I know, said
Mrs. Lee. But it seems as if so many things might happen while I was
Bessy felt a little impatient. Young people in strong health can
hardly understand the fears that beset invalids. Bessy was a
kind-hearted girl, but rather headstrong, and just now a little
disappointed. She forgot that her mother had had to struggle hard with
many cares ever since she had been left a widow, and that her illness
now had made her nervous.
What nonsense, mother! What can happen? I can take care of the
house and the little ones, and Tom and Jem can take care of themselves.
What is to happen?
Jenny may fall into the fire, murmured Mrs. Lee, who found little
comfort in being talked to in this way. Or your father's watch may be
stolen while you are in, talking with the neighbours, or
Now come, mother, you know I've had the charge of Jenny ever since
father died, and you began to go out washingand I'll lock father's
watch up in the box in our room.
Then Tom and Jem won't know at what time to go to the factory.
Besides, Bessy, said she, raising herself up, they're are but young
lads, and there's a deal of temptation to take them away from their
homes, if their homes are not comfortable and pleasant to them. It's
that, more than anything, I've been fretting about all the time I've
been ill,that I've lost the power of making this house the cleanest
and brightest place they know. But it's no use fretting, said she,
falling back weakly upon the bed and sighing. I must leave it in God's
hands. He raiseth up and He bringeth low.
Bessy stood silent for a minute or two. Then she said, Well,
mother, I will try to make home comfortable for the lads, if you'll but
keep your mind easy, and go off to Southport quiet and cheerful.
I'll try, said Mrs. Lee, taking hold of Bessy's hand, and looking
up thankfully in her face.
The next Wednesday she set off, leaving home with a heavy heart,
which, however, she struggled against, and tried to make more faithful.
But she wished her three weeks at Southport were over.
Tom and Jem were both older than Bessy, and she was fifteen. Then
came Bill and Mary and little Jenny. They were all good children, and
all had faults. Tom and Jem helped to support the family by their
earnings at the factory, and gave up their wages very cheerfully for
this purpose, to their mother, who, however, insisted on a little being
put by every week in the savings' bank. It was one of her griefs now
that, when the doctor ordered her some expensive delicacy in the way of
diet during her illness (a thing which she persisted in thinking she
could have done without), her boys had gone and taken their money out
in order to procure it for her. The article in question did not cost
one quarter of the amount of their savings, but they had put off
returning the remainder into the bank, saying the doctor's bill had yet
to be paid, and that it seemed so silly to be always taking money in
and out. But meanwhile Mrs. Lee feared lest it should be spent, and
begged them to restore it to the savings' bank. This had not been done
when she left for Southport. Bill and Mary went to school. Little Jenny
was the darling of all, and toddled about at home, having been her
sister Bessy's especial charge when all went on well, and the mother
used to go out to wash.
Mrs. Lee, however, had always made a point of giving all her
children who were at home a comfortable breakfast at seven, before she
set out to her day's work; and she prepared the boys' dinner ready for
Bessy to warm for them. At night, too, she was anxious to be at home as
soon after her boys as she could; and many of her employers respected
her wish, and, finding her hard-working and conscientious, took care to
set her at liberty early in the evening.
Bessy felt very proud and womanly when she returned home from seeing
her mother off by the railway. She looked round the house with a new
feeling of proprietorship, and then went to claim little Jenny from the
neighbour's where she had been left while Bessy had gone to the
station. They asked her to stay and have a bit of chat; but she replied
that she could not, for that it was near dinner-time, and she refused
the invitation that was then given her to go in some evening. She was
full of good plans and resolutions.
That afternoon she took Jenny and went to her teacher's to borrow a
book, which she meant to ask one of her brothers to read to her in the
evenings while she worked. She knew that it was a book which Jem would
like, for though she had never read it, one of her school-fellows had
told her it was all about the sea, and desert islands, and
cocoanut-trees, just the things that Jem liked to hear about. How happy
they would all be this evening.
She hurried Jenny off to bed before her brothers came home; Jenny
did not like to go so early, and had to be bribed and coaxed to give up
the pleasure of sitting on brother Tom's knee; and when she was in bed,
she could not go to sleep, and kept up a little whimper of distress.
Bessy kept calling out to her, now in gentle, now in sharp tones, as
she made the hearth clean and bright against her brothers' return, as
she settled Bill and Mary to their next day's lessons, and got her work
ready for a happy evening.
Presently the elder boys came in.
Where's Jenny? asked Tom, the first thing.
I've put her to bed, said Bessy. I've borrowed a book for you to
read to me while I darn the stockings; and it was time for Jenny to
Mother never puts her to bed so soon, said Tom, dissatisfied.
But she'd be so in the way of any quietness over our reading, said
I don't want to read, said Tom; I want Jenny to sit on my knee,
as she always does, while I eat my supper.
Tom, Tom, dear Tom! called out little Jenny, who had heard his
voice, and, perhaps, a little of the conversation.
Tom made but two steps upstairs, and re-appeared with Jenny in his
arms, in her night-clothes. The little girl looked at Bessy half
triumphant and half afraid. Bessy did not speak, but she was evidently
very much displeased. Tom began to eat his porridge with Jenny on his
knee. Bessy sat in sullen silence; she was vexed with Tom, vexed with
Jenny, and vexed with Jem, to gratify whose taste for reading travels
she had especially borrowed this book, which he seemed to care so
little about. She brooded over her fancied wrongs, ready to fall upon
the first person who might give the slightest occasion for anger. It
happened to be poor little Jenny, who, by some awkward movement,
knocked over the jug of milk, and made a great splash on Bessy's clean
Never mind! said Tom, as Jenny began to cry. I like my porridge
as well without milk as with it.
Oh, never mind! said Bessy, her colour rising, and her breath
growing shorter. Never mind dirtying anything, Jenny; it's only giving
trouble to Bessy! But I'll make you mind, continued she, as she caught
a glance of intelligence peep from Jem's eyes to Tom; and she slapped
Jenny's head. The moment she had done it she was sorry for it; she
could have beaten herself now with the greatest pleasure for having
given way to passion; for she loved little Jenny dearly, and she saw
that she really had hurt her. But Jem, with his loud, deep, For shame,
Bessy! and Tom, with his excess of sympathy with his little sister's
wrongs, checked back any expression which Bessy might have uttered of
sorrow and regret. She sat there ten times more unhappy than she had
been before the accident, hardening her heart to the reproaches of her
conscience, yet feeling most keenly that she had been acting wrongly.
No one seemed to notice her; this was the evening she had planned and
arranged for so busily; and the others, who never thought about it at
all, were all quiet and happy, at least in outward appearance, while
she was so wretched. By-and-by, she felt the touch of a little soft
hand stealing into her own. She looked to see who it was; it was Mary,
who till now had been busy learning her lessons, but uncomfortably
conscious of the discordant spirit prevailing in the room; and who had
at last ventured up to Bessy, as the one who looked the most unhappy,
to express, in her own little gentle way, her sympathy in sorrow. Mary
was not a quick child; she was plain and awkward in her ways, and did
not seem to have many words in which to tell her feelings, but she was
very tender and loving, and submitted meekly and humbly to the little
slights and rebuffs she often met with for her stupidity.
Dear Bessy! good night! said she, kissing her sister; and, at the
soft kiss, Bessy's eyes filled with tears, and her heart began to melt.
Jenny, continued Mary, going to the little spoilt, wilful girl,
will you come to bed with me, and I'll tell you stories about school,
and sing you my songs as I undress? Come, little one! said she,
holding out her arms. Jenny was tempted by this speech, and went off to
bed in a more reasonable frame of mind than any one had dared to hope.
And now all seemed clear and open for the reading, but each was too
proud to propose it. Jem, indeed, seemed to have forgotten the book
altogether, he was so busy whittling away at a piece of wood. At last
Tom, by a strong effort, said, Bessy, mayn't we have the book now?
No! said Jem, don't begin reading, for I must go out and try and
make Ned Bates give me a piece of ash-wooddeal is just good for
Oh! said Bessy, I don't want any one to read this book who does
not like it. But I know mother would be better pleased if you were
stopping at home quiet, rather than rambling to Ned Bates's at this
time of night.
I know what mother would like as well as you, and I'm not going to
be preached to by a girl, said Jem, taking up his cap and going out.
Tom yawned and went up to bed. Bessy sat brooding over the evening.
So much as I thought and I planned! I'm sure I tried to do what was
right, and make the boys happy at home. And yet nothing has happened as
I wanted it to do. Every one has been so cross and contrary. Tom would
take Jenny up when she ought to have been in bed. Jem did not care a
straw for this book that I borrowed on purpose for him, but sat
laughing. I saw, though he did not think I did, when all was going
provoking and vexatious. Maryno! Mary was a help and a comfort, as
she always is, I think, though she is so stupid over her book. Mary
always contrives to get people right, and to have her own way somehow;
and yet I'm sure she does not take half the trouble I do to please
Jem came back soon, disappointed because Ned Bates was out, and
could not give him any ash-wood. Bessy said it served him right for
going at that time of night, and the brother and sister spoke angrily
to each other all the way upstairs, and parted without even saying
good-night. Jenny was asleep when Bessy entered the bedroom which she
shared with her sisters and her mother; but she saw Mary's wakeful eyes
looking at her as she came in.
Oh, Mary, said she, I wish mother was back. The lads would mind
her, and now I see they'll just go and get into mischief to spite and
I don't think it's for that, said Mary, softly. Jem did want that
ash-wood, I know, for he told me in the morning he didn't think that
deal would do. He wants to make a wedge to keep the window from
rattling so on windy nights; you know how that fidgets mother.
The next day, little Mary, on her way to school, went round by Ned
Bates's to beg a piece of wood for her brother Jem; she brought it home
to him at dinner-time, and asked him to be so good as to have
everything ready for a quiet whittling at night, while Tom or Bessy
read aloud. She told Jenny she would make haste with her lessons, so as
to be ready to come to bed early, and talk to her about school (a
grand, wonderful place, in Jenny's eyes), and thus Mary quietly and
gently prepared for a happy evening, by attending to the kind of
happiness for which every one wished.
While Mary had thus been busy preparing for a happy evening, Bessy
had been spending part of the afternoon at a Mrs. Foster's, a neighbour
of her mother's, and a very tidy, industrious old widow. Mrs. Foster
earned part of her livelihood by working for the shops where knitted
work of all kinds is to be sold; and Bessy's attention was caught,
almost as soon as she went in, by a very gay piece of wool-knitting, in
a new stitch, that was to be used as a warm covering for the feet.
After admiring its pretty looks, Bessy thought how useful it might be
to her mother; and when Mrs. Foster heard this, she offered to teach
Bessy how to do it. But where were the wools to come from? Those which
Mrs. Foster used were provided her by the shop; and she was a very poor
womantoo poor to make presents, though rich enough (as we all are) to
give help of many other kinds, and willing too to do what she could
(which some of us are not).
The two sat perplexed. How much did you say it would cost? said
Bessy at last; as if the article was likely to have become cheaper,
since she asked the question before.
Well! it's sure to be more than two shillings if it's German wool.
You might get it for eighteenpence if you could be content with
But I've not got eighteenpence, said Bessy, gloomily.
I could lend it you, said Mrs. Foster, if I was sure of having it
back before Monday. But it's part of my rent-money. Could you make
sure, do you think?
Oh, yes! said Bessy, eagerly. At least I'd try. But perhaps I had
better not take it, for after all I don't know where I could get it.
What Tom and Jem earn is little enough for the house, now that mother's
washing is cut off.
They are good, dutiful lads, to give it to their mother, said Mrs.
Foster, sighing: for she thought of her own boys, that had left her in
her old age to toil on, with faded eyesight and weakened strength.
Oh! but mother makes them each keep a shilling out of it for
themselves, said Bessy, in a complaining tone, for she wanted money,
and was inclined to envy any one who possessed it.
That's right enough, said Mrs. Foster. They that earn it should
have some of the power over it.
But about this wool; this eighteenpence! I wish I was a boy and
could earn money. I wish mother would have let me go to work in the
Come now, Bessy, I can have none of that nonsense. Thy mother knows
what's best for thee; and I'm not going to hear thee complain of what
she has thought right. But may be, I can help you to a way of gaining
eighteenpence. Mrs. Scott at the worsted shop told me that she should
want some one to clean on Saturday; now you're a good strong girl, and
can do a woman's work if you've a mind. Shall I say you will go? and
then I don't mind if I lend you my eighteenpence. You'll pay me before
I want my rent on Monday.
Oh! thank you, dear Mrs. Foster, said Bessy. I can scour as well
as any woman, mother often says so; and I'll do my best on Saturday;
they shan't blame you for having spoken up for me.
No, Bessy, they won't, I'm sure, if you do your best. You're a good
sharp girl for your years.
Bessy lingered for some time, hoping that Mrs. Foster would remember
her offer of lending her the money; but finding that she had quite
forgotten it, she ventured to remind the kind old woman. That it was
nothing but forgetfulness, was evident from the haste with which Mrs.
Foster bustled up to her tea-pot and took from it the money required.
You're as welcome to it as can be, Bessy, as long as I'm sure of
its being repaid by Monday. But you're in a mighty hurry about this
coverlet, continued she, as she saw Bessy put on her bonnet and
prepare to go out. Stay, you must take patterns, and go to the right
shop in St. Mary's Gate. Why, your mother won't be back this three
No. But I can't abide waiting, and I want to set to it before it is
dark; and you'll teach me the stitch, won't you, when I come back with
the wools? I won't be half an hour away.
But Mary and Bill had to abide waiting that afternoon; for though
the neighbour at whose house the key was left could let them into the
house, there was no supper ready for them on their return from school;
even Jenny was away spending the afternoon with a playfellow; the fire
was nearly out, the milk had been left at a neighbour's; altogether
home was very comfortless to the poor tired children, and Bill grumbled
terribly; Mary's head ached, and the very tones of her brother's voice,
as he complained, gave her pain; and for a minute she felt inclined to
sit down and cry. But then she thought of many little sayings which she
had heard from her teachersuch as Never complain of what you can
cure, Bear and forbear, and several other short sentences of a
similar description. So she began to make up the fire, and asked Bill
to fetch some chips; and when he gave her the gruff answer, that he did
not see any use in making a fire when there was nothing to cook by it,
she went herself and brought the wood without a word of complaint.
Presently Bill said, Here! you lend me those bellows; you're not
blowing it in the right way; girls never do! He found out that Mary
was wise in making a bright fire ready; for before the blowing was
ended, the neighbour with whom the milk had been left brought it in,
and little handy Mary prepared the porridge as well as the mother
herself could have done. They had just ended when Bessy came in almost
breathless; for she had suddenly remembered, in the middle of her
knitting-lesson, that Bill and Mary must be at home from school.
Oh! she said, that's right. I have so hurried myself! I was
afraid the fire would be out. Where's Jenny? You were to have called
for her, you know, as you came from school. Dear! how stupid you are,
Mary. I am sure I told you over and over again. Now don't cry, silly
child. The best thing you can do is to run off back again for her.
But my lessons, Bessy. They are so bad to learn. It's tables day
to-morrow, pleaded Mary.
Nonsense; tables are as easy as can be. I can say up to sixteen
times sixteen in no time.
But you know, Bessy, I'm very stupid, and my head aches so
Well! the air will do it good. Really, Mary, I would go myself,
only I'm so busy; and you know Bill is too careless, mother says, to
fetch Jenny through the streets; and besides they would quarrel, and
you can always manage Jenny.
Mary sighed, and went away to bring her sister home. Bessy sat down
to her knitting. Presently Bill came up to her with some question about
his lesson. She told him the answer without looking at the book; it was
all wrong, and made nonsense; but Bill did not care to understand what
he learnt, and went on saying, Twelve inches make one shilling, as
contentedly as if it were right.
Mary brought Jenny home quite safely. Indeed, Mary always did
succeed in everything, except learning her lessons well; and sometimes,
if the teacher could have known how many tasks fell upon the willing,
gentle girl at home, she would not have thought that poor Mary was slow
or a dunce; and such thoughts would come into the teacher's mind
sometimes, although she fully appreciated Mary's sweetness and humility
To-night she tried hard at her tables, and all to no use. Her head
ached so, she could not remember them, do what she would. She longed to
go to her mother, whose cool hands around her forehead always seemed to
do her so much good, and whose soft, loving words were such a help to
her when she had to bear pain. She had arranged so many plans for
to-night, and now all were deranged by Bessy's new fancy for knitting.
But Mary did not see this in the plain, clear light in which I have put
it before you. She only was sorry that she could not make haste with
her lessons, as she had promised Jenny, who was now upbraiding her with
the non-fulfilment of her words. Jenny was still up when Tom and Jem
came in. They spoke sharply to Bessy for not having their porridge
ready; and while she was defending herself, Mary, even at the risk of
imperfect lessons, began to prepare the supper for her brothers. She
did it all so quietly, that, almost before they were aware, it was
ready for them; and Bessy, suddenly ashamed of herself, and touched by
Mary's quiet helpfulness, bent down and kissed her, as once more she
settled to the never-ending difficulty of her lesson.
Mary threw her arms round Bessy's neck, and began to cry, for this
little mark of affection went to her heart; she had been so longing for
a word or a sign of love in her suffering.
Come, Molly, said Jem, don't cry like a baby; but he spoke very
kindly. What's the matter? the old headache come back? Never mind. Go
to bed, and it will be better in the morning.
But I can't go to bed. I don't know my lesson! Mary looked
happier, though the tears were in her eyes.
I know mine, said Bill, triumphantly.
Come here, said Jem. There! I've time enough to whittle away at
this before mother comes back. Now let's see this difficult lesson.
Jem's help soon enabled Mary to conquer her lesson; but, meanwhile,
Jenny and Bill had taken to quarrelling in spite of Bessy's scolding,
administered in small sharp doses, as she looked up from her
Well, said Tom, with this riot on one side, and this dull lesson
on the other, and Bessy as cross as can be in the midst, I can
understand what makes a man go out to spend his evenings from home.
Bessy looked up, suddenly wakened up to a sense of the danger which
her mother had dreaded.
Bessy thought it was very fortunate that it fell on a Saturday, of
all days in the week, that Mrs. Scott wanted her; for Mary would be at
home, who could attend to the household wants of everybody; and so she
satisfied her conscience at leaving the post of duty that her mother
had assigned to her, and that she had promised to fulfil. She was so
eager about her own plans that she did not consider this; she did not
consider at all, or else I think she would have seen many things to
which she seemed to be blind now. When were Mary's lessons for Monday
to be learnt? Bessy knew as well as we do, that lesson-learning was
hard work to Mary. If Mary worked as hard as she could after morning
school she could hardly get the house cleaned up bright and comfortable
before her brothers came home from the factory, which loosed early on
the Saturday afternoon; and if pails of water, chairs heaped up one on
the other, and tables put topsy-turvy on the dresser, were the most
prominent objects in the house-place, there would be no temptation for
the lads to stay at home; besides which, Mary, tired and weary (however
gentle she might be), would not be able to give the life to the evening
that Bessy, a clever, spirited girl, near their own age, could easily
do, if she chose to be interested and sympathising in what they had to
tell. But Bessy did not think of all this. What she did think about was
the pleasant surprise she should give her mother by the warm and pretty
covering for her feet, which she hoped to present her with on her
return home. And if she had done the duties she was pledged to on her
mother's departure first, if they had been compatible with her plan of
being a whole day absent from home, in order to earn the money for the
wools, the project of the surprise would have been innocent and
Bessy prepared everything for dinner before she left home that
Saturday morning. She made a potato-pie all ready for putting in the
oven; she was very particular in telling Mary what was to be cleaned,
and how it was all to be cleaned; and then she kissed the children, and
ran off to Mrs. Scott's. Mary was rather afraid of the responsibility
thrust upon her; but still she was pleased that Bessy could trust her
to do so much. She took Jenny to the ever-useful neighbour, as she and
Bill went to school; but she was rather frightened when Mrs. Jones
began to grumble about these frequent visits of the child.
I was ready enough to take care of the wench when thy mother was
ill; there was reason for that. And the child is a nice child enough,
when she is not cross; but still there are some folks, it seems, who,
if you give them an inch, will take an ell. Where's Bessy, that she
can't mind her own sister?
Gone out charing, said Mary, clasping the little hand in hers
tighter, for she was afraid of Mrs. Jones's anger.
I could go out charing every day in the week if I'd the face to
trouble other folks with my children, said Mrs. Jones, in a surly
Shall I take her back, ma'am? said Mary, timidly, though she knew
this would involve her staying away from school, and being blamed by
the dear teacher. But Mrs. Jones growled worse than she bit, this time
No, said she, you may leave her with me. I suppose she's had her
Yes; and I'll fetch her away as soon as ever I can after twelve.
If Mary had been one to consider the hardships of her little lot,
she might have felt this morning's occurrence as one;that she, who
dreaded giving trouble to anybody, and was painfully averse from asking
any little favour for herself, should be the very one on whom it fell
to presume upon another person's kindness. But Mary never did think of
any hardships; they seemed the natural events of life, and as if it was
fitting and proper that she, who managed things badly, and was such a
dunce, should be blamed. Still she was rather flurried by Mrs. Jones's
scolding; and almost wished that she had taken Jenny home again. Her
lessons were not well said, owing to the distraction of her mind.
When she went for Jenny she found that Mrs. Jones, repenting of her
sharp words, had given the little girl bread and treacle, and made her
very comfortable; so much so that Jenny was not all at once ready to
leave her little playmates, and when once she had set out on the road,
she was in no humour to make haste. Mary thought of the potato-pie and
her brothers, and could almost have cried, as Jenny, heedless of her
sister's entreaties, would linger at the picture-shops.
I shall be obliged to go and leave you, Jenny! I must get dinner
I don't care, said Jenny. I don't want any dinner, and I can come
home quite well by myself.
Mary half longed to give her a fright, it was so provoking. But she
thought of her mother, who was so anxious always about Jenny, and she
did not do it. She kept patiently trying to attract her onwards, and at
last they were at home. Mary stirred up the fire, which was to all
appearance quite black; it blazed up, but the oven was cold. She put
the pie in, and blew the fire; but the paste was quite white and soft
when her brothers came home, eager and hungry.
Oh! Mary, what a manager you are! said Tom. Any one else would
have remembered and put the pie in in time.
Mary's eyes filled full of tears; but she did not try to justify
herself. She went on blowing, till Jem took the bellows, and kindly
told her to take off her bonnet, and lay the cloth. Jem was always
kind. He gave Tom the best baked side of the pie, and quietly took the
side himself where the paste was little better than dough, and the
potatoes quite hard; and when he caught Mary's little anxious face
watching him, as he had to leave part of his dinner untasted, he said,
Mary, I should like this pie warmed up for supper; there is nothing so
good as potato-pie made hot the second time.
Tom went off saying, Mary, I would not have you for a wife on any
account. Why, my dinner would never be ready, and your sad face would
take away my appetite if it were.
But Jem kissed her and said, Never mind, Mary! you and I will live
together, old maid and old bachelor.
So she could set to with spirit to her cleaning, thinking there
never was such a good brother as Jem; and as she dwelt upon his
perfections, she thought who it was who had given her such a good, kind
brother, and felt her heart full of gratitude to Him. She scoured and
cleaned in right-down earnest. Jenny helped her for some time,
delighted to be allowed to touch and lift things. But then she grew
tired; and Bill was out of doors; so Mary had to do all by herself, and
grew very nervous and frightened, lest all should not be finished and
tidy against Tom came home. And the more frightened she grew, the worse
she got on. Her hands trembled, and things slipped out of them; and she
shook so, she could not lift heavy pieces of furniture quickly and
sharply; and in the middle the clock struck the hour for her brothers'
return, when all ought to have been tidy and ready for tea. She gave it
up in despair, and began to cry.
Oh, Bessy, Bessy! why did you go away? I have tried hard, and I
cannot do it, said she aloud, as if Bessy could hear.
Dear Mary, don't cry, said Jenny, suddenly coming away from her
play. I'll help you. I am very strong. I can do anything. I can lift
that pan off the fire.
The pan was full of boiling water, ready for Mary. Jenny took hold
of the handle, and dragged it along the bar over the fire. Mary sprung
forwards in terror to stop the little girl. She never knew how it was,
but the next moment her arm and side were full of burning pain, which
turned her sick and dizzy, and Jenny was crying passionately beside
Oh, Mary! Mary! Mary! my hand is so scalded. What shall I do? I
cannot bear it. It's all about my feet on the ground. She kept shaking
her hand to cool it by the action of the air. Mary thought that she
herself was dying, so acute and terrible was the pain; she could hardly
keep from screaming out aloud; but she felt that if she once began she
could not stop herself, so she sat still, moaning, and the tears
running down her face like rain. Go, Jenny, said she, and tell some
one to come.
I can't, I can't, my hand hurts so, said Jenny. But she flew
wildly out of the house the next minute, crying out, Mary is dead.
Come, come, come! For Mary could bear it no longer; but had fainted
away, and looked, indeed, like one that was dead. Neighbours flocked
in; and one ran for a doctor. In five minutes Tom and Jem came home.
What a home it seems! People they hardly knew standing in the
house-place, which looked as if it had never been cleanedall was so
wet, and in such disorder, and dirty with the trampling of many feet;
Jenny still crying passionately, but half comforted at being at present
the only authority as to how the affair happened; and faint moans from
the room upstairs, where some women were cutting the clothes off poor
Mary, preparatory for the doctor's inspection. Jem said directly, Some
one go straight to Mrs. Scott's, and fetch our Bessy. Her place is
here, with Mary.
And then he civilly, but quietly, dismissed all the unnecessary and
useless people, feeling sure that in case of any kind of illness, quiet
was the best thing. Then he went upstairs.
Mary's face was scarlet now with violent pain; but she smiled a
little through her tears at seeing Jem. As for him, he cried outright.
I don't think it was anybody's fault, Jem, said she, softly. It
was very heavy to lift.
Are you in great pain, dear? asked Jem, in a whisper.
I think I'm killed, Jem. I do think I am. And I did so want to see
Nonsense! said the woman who had been helping Mary. For, as she
said afterwards, whether Mary died or lived, crying was a bad thing for
her; and she saw the girl was ready to cry when she thought of her
mother, though she had borne up bravely all the time the clothes were
Bessy's face, which had been red with hard running, faded to a dead
white when she saw Mary; she looked so shocked and ill that Jem had not
the heart to blame her, although the minute before she came in, he had
been feeling very angry with her. Bessy stood quite still at the foot
of Mary's bed, never speaking a word, while the doctor examined her
side and felt her pulse; only great round tears gathered in her eyes,
and rolled down her cheeks, as she saw Mary quiver with pain. Jem
followed the doctor downstairs. Then Bessy went and knelt beside Mary,
and wiped away the tears that were trickling down the little face.
Is it very bad, Mary? asked Bessy.
Oh yes! yes! if I speak, I shall scream.
Then Bessy covered her head in the bed-clothes and cried outright.
I was not cross, was I? I did not mean to bebut I hardly know
what I am saying, moaned out little Mary. Please forgive me, Bessy,
if I was cross.
God forgive me! said Bessy, very low. They were the first words
she had spoken since she came home. But there could be no more talking
between the sisters, for now the woman returned who had at first been
assisting Mary. Presently Jem came to the door, and beckoned. Bessy
rose up, and went with, him below. Jem looked very grave, yet not so
sad as he had done before the doctor came. He says she must go into
the infirmary. He will see about getting her in.
Oh, Jem! I did so want to nurse her myself! said Bessy,
imploringly. It was all my own fault, (she choked with crying); and
I thought I might do that for her, to make up.
My dear Bessy,before he had seen Bessy, he had thought he could
never call her dear again, but now he beganMy dear Bessy, we both
want Mary to get better, don't we? I am sure we do. And we want to take
the best way of making her so, whatever that is; well, then, I think we
must not be considering what we should like best just for ourselves,
but what people, who know as well as doctors do, say is the right way.
I can't remember all that he said; but I'm clear that he told me, all
wounds on the skin required more and better air to heal in than Mary
could have here: and there the doctor will see her twice a day, if need
Bessy shook her head, but could not speak at first. At last she
said, Jem, I did so want to do something for her. No one could nurse
her as I should.
Jem was silent. At last he took Bessy's hand, for he wanted to say
something to her that he was afraid might vex her, and yet that he
thought he ought to say.
Bessy! said he, when mother went away, you planned to do all
things right at home, and to make us all happy. I know you did. Now may
I tell you how I think you went wrong? Don't be angry, Bessy.
I think I shall never have spirit enough in me to be angry again,
said Bessy, humbly and sadly.
So much the better, dear. But don't over-fret about Mary. The
doctor has good hopes of her, if he can get her into the infirmary.
Now, I'm going on to tell you how I think you got wrong after mother
left. You see, Bessy, you wanted to make us all happy your wayas you
liked; just as you are wanting now to nurse Mary in your way, and as
you like. Now, as far as I can make out, those folks who make home the
happiest, are people who try and find out how others think they could
be happy, and then, if it's not wrong, help them on with their wishes
as far as they can. You know, you wanted us all to listen to your book;
and very kind it was in you to think of it; only, you see, one wanted
to whittle, and another wanted to do this or that, and then you were
vexed with us all. I don't say but what I should have been if I had
been in your place, and planned such a deal for others; only lookers-on
always see a deal; and I saw that if you'd done what poor little Mary
did next day, we should all have been far happier. She thought how she
could forward us in our plans, instead of trying to force a plan of her
own on us. She got me my right sort of wood for whittling, and arranged
all nicely to get the little ones off to bed, so as to get the house
quiet, if you wanted some reading, as she thought you did. And that's
the way, I notice, some folks have of making a happy home. Others may
mean just as well, but they don't hit the thing.
I dare say it's true, said Bessy. But sometimes you all hang
about as if you did not know what to do. And I thought reading travels
would just please you all.
Jem was touched by Bessy's humble way of speaking, so different from
her usual cheerful, self-confident manner. He answered, I know you
did, dear. And many a time we should have been glad enough of it, when
we had nothing to do, as you say.
I had promised mother to try and make you all happy, and this is
the end of it! said Bessy, beginning to cry afresh.
But, Bessy! I think you were not thinking of your promise, when you
fixed to go out and char.
I thought of earning money.
Earning money would not make us happy. We have enough, with care
and management. If you were to have made us happy, you should have been
at home, with a bright face, ready to welcome us; don't you think so,
I did not want the money for home. I wanted to make mother a
present of such a pretty thing!
Poor mother! I am afraid we must send for her home now. And she has
only been three days at Southport!
Oh! said Bessy, startled by this notion of Jem's; don't, don't
send for mother. The doctor did say so much about her going to
Southport being the only thing for her, and I did so try to get her an
order! It will kill her, Jem! indeed it will; you don't know how weak
and frightened she is,oh, Jem, Jem!
Jem felt the truth of what his sister was saying. At last, he
resolved to leave the matter for the doctor to decide, as he had
attended his mother, and now knew exactly how much danger there was
about Mary. He proposed to Bessy that they should go and relieve the
kind neighbour who had charge of Mary.
But you won't send for mother, pleaded Bessy; if it's the best
thing for Mary, I'll wash up her things to-night, all ready for her to
go into the infirmary. I won't think of myself, Jem.
Well! I must speak to the doctor, said Jem. I must not try and
fix any way just because we wish it, but because it is right.
All night long, Bessy washed and ironed, and yet was always ready to
attend to Mary when Jem called her. She took Jenny's scalded hand in
charge as well, and bathed it with the lotion the doctor sent; and all
was done so meekly and patiently that even Tom was struck with it, and
admired the change. The doctor came very early. He had prepared
everything for Mary's admission into the infirmary. And Jem consulted
him about sending for his mother home. Bessy sat trembling, awaiting
I am very unwilling to sanction any concealment. And yet, as you
say, your mother is in a very delicate state. It might do her serious
harm if she had any shock. Well! suppose for this once, I take it on
myself. If Mary goes on as I hope, whywell! well! we'll see. Mind
that your mother is told all when she comes home. And if our poor Mary
grows worsebut I'm not afraid of that, with infirmary care and
nursingbut if she does, I'll write to your mother myself, and arrange
with a kind friend I have at Southport all about sending her home. And
now, said he, turning suddenly to Bessy, tell me what you were doing
from home when this happened. Did not your mother leave you in charge
of all at home?
Yes, sir! said Bessy, trembling. But, sir, I thought I could earn
money to make mother a present!
Thought! fiddle-de-dee. I'll tell you what; never you neglect the
work clearly laid out for you by either God or man, to go making work
for yourself, according to your own fancies. God knows what you are
most fit for. Do that. And then wait; if you don't see your next duty
clearly. You will not long be idle in this world, if you are ready for
a summons. Now let me see that you send Mary all clean and tidy to the
Jem was holding Bessy's hand. She has washed everything and made it
fit for a queen. Our Bessy worked all night long, and was content to
let me be with Mary (where she wished sore to be), because I could lift
her better, being the stronger.
That's right. Even when you want to be of service to others, don't
think how to please yourself.
I have not much more to tell you about Bessy. This sad accident of
Mary's did her a great deal of good, although it cost her so much
sorrow at first. It taught her several lessons, which it is good for
every woman to learn, whether she is called upon, as daughter, sister,
wife, or mother, to contribute to the happiness of a home. And Mary
herself was hardly more thoughtful and careful to make others happy in
their own way, provided that way was innocent, than was Bessy
hereafter. It was a struggle between her and Mary which could be the
least selfish, and do the duties nearest to them with the most
faithfulness and zeal. The mother stayed at Southport her full time,
and came home well and strong. Then Bessy put her arms round her
mother's neck, and told her alland far more severely against herself
than either the doctor or Jem did, when they related the same story