by Elizabeth Gaskell
When Death is present in a household on a Christmas Day, the very
contrast between the time as it now is, and the day as it has often
been, gives a poignancy to sorrow, — a more utter blankness to the
desolation. James Leigh died just as the far away bells of Rochdale
Church were ringing for morning service on Christmas Day, 1836. A few
minutes before his death, he opened his already glazing eyes, and made
a sign to his wife, by the faint motion of his lips, that he had yet
something to say. She stooped close down, and caught the broken
whisper, 'I forgive her, Anne! May God forgive me!'
'Oh my love, my dear! only get well, and I will never cease showing
my thanks for those words. May God in heaven bless thee for saying
them. Thou'rt not so restless, my lad! may be — Oh God!'
For even while she spoke, he died.
They had been two-and-twenty years man and wife; for nineteen of
those years their life had been as calm and happy, as the most perfect
uprightness on the one side> and the most complete confidence and
loving submission on the other, could make it. Milton's famous line
might have been framed and hung up as the rule of their married life,
for he was truly the interpreter, who stood between God and her; she
would have considered herself wicked if she had ever dared even to
think him austere, though as certainly as he was an upright man, so
surely was he hard, stern, and inflexible. But for three years the moan
and the murmur had never been out of her heart; she had rebelled
against her husband as against a tyrant, with a bidden, sullen
rebellion, which tore up the old land-marks of wifely duty and
affection, and poisoned the fountains whence gentlest love and
reverence had once been for ever springing.
But those last blessed words replaced him on his throne in her
heart, and called out penitent anguish for all the bitter estrangement
of later years. It was this which made her refuse all the entreaties of
her sons, that she would see the kind-hearted neighbours, who called on
their way from church to sympathise and condole. No! she would stay
with the dead husband that had spoken tenderly at last, if for three
years he had kept silence; who knew but what, if she had only been more
gentle and less angrily reserved, he might have relented earlier — and
She sate rocking herself to and fro by the side of the bed, while
the footsteps below went in and out; she had been in sorrow too long to
have any violent burst of deep grief now; the furrows were well worn in
her cheeks, and the tears flowed quietly, if incessantly, all the day
long. But when the winter' s night drew on, and the neighbours had gone
away to their homes, she stole to the window, and gazed out, long and
wistfully, over the dark grey moors. She did not hear her son's voice,
as he spoke to her from the door, nor his footstep as he drew nearer.
She started when he touched her.
'Mother! come down to us. There's no one but Will and me. Dearest
mother, we do so want you.' The poor lad's voice trembled, and he began
to cry. It appeared to require an effort on Mrs Leigh's part to tear
herself away from the window, but with a sigh she complied with his
The two boys (for though Will was nearly twenty-one, she still
thought of him as a lad) had done everything in their power to make the
house-place comfortable for her. She herself, in the old days before
her sorrow, had never made a brighter fire or a cleaner hearth, ready
for her husband's return home, than now awaited her. The tea-things
were all put out, and the kettle was boiling; and the boys had calmed
their grief down into a kind of sober cheerfulness. They paid her every
attention they could think of, but received little notice on her part;
she did not resist — she rather submitted to all their arrangements;
but they did not seem to touch her heart.
When tea was ended, — it was merely the form of tea that had been
gone through, — Will moved the things away to the dresser. His mother
leant back languidly in her chair.
'Mother, shall Tom read you a chapter? He's a better scholar than
'Aye, lad!.' said she, almost eagerly. 'That's it. Read me the
Prodigal Son. Aye, aye, lad. Thank thee.'
Tom found the chapter, and read it in the high-pitched voice which
is customary in village-schools. His mother bent forward, her lips
parted, her eyes dilated; her whole body instinct with eager attention.
Will sate with his head depressed, and hung down. He knew why that
chapter had been chosen; and to him it recalled the family's disgrace.
When the reading was ended, he still hung down his head in gloomy
silence. But her face was brighter than it had been before for the day.
Her eyes looked dreamy, as if she saw a vision; and by and by she
pulled the bible towards her, and putting her finger underneath each
word, began to read them aloud in a low voice to herself; she read
again the words of bitter sorrow and deep humiliation; but most of all
she paused and brightened over the father's tender reception of the
So passed the Christmas evening in the Upclose Farm.
The snow had fallen heavily over the dark, waving moor land, before
the day of the funeral. The black storm-laden dome of heaven lay very
still and close upon the white earth, as they carried the body forth
out of the house which had known his presence so long as its ruling
power. Two and two the mourners followed, making a black procession, in
their win ding march over the unbeaten snow, to Milne-Row Church — now
lost in some hollow of the bleak moors, now slowly climbing the heaving
ascents. There was no long tarrying after the funeral, for many of the
neighbours who accompanied the body to the grave had far to go, and the
great white flakes which came slowly down, were the boding forerunners
of a heavy storm. One old friend alone accompanied the widow and her
sons to their home.
The Upclose Farm had belonged for generations to the Leighs; and
yet its possession hardly raised them above the rank of labourers.
There was the house and outbuildings, all of an old-fashioned kind, and
about seven acres of barren unproductive land, which they had never
possessed capital enough to improve; indeed they could hardly rely upon
it for subsistence; and it had been customary to bring up the sons to
some trade — such as a wheelwright's, or blacksmith's.
James Leigh had left a will, in the possession of the old man who
accompanied them home. He read it aloud. James had bequeathed the farm
to his faithful wife, Anne Leigh, for her lifetime; and afterwards, to
his son William. The hundred and odd pounds in the savings'-bank was to
accumulate for Thomas.
After the reading was ended, Anne Leigh sate silent for a time; and
then she asked to speak to Samuel Orme alone. The sons went into the
back-kitchen, and thence strolled out into the fields regardless of the
driving snow. The brothers were dearly fond of each other, although
they were very different in character. Will, the eider, was like his
father, stern, reserved, and scrupulously upright. Tom (who was ten
years younger) was gentle and delicate as a girl, both in appearance
and character. He had always clung to his mother, and dreaded his
father. They did not speak as they walked, for they were only in the
habit of talking about facts, and hardly knew the more sophisticated
language applied to the description of feelings.
Meanwhile their mother had taken hold of Samuel Orme's arm with her
'Samuel, I must let the farm — I must.'
'Let the farm! What's come o'er the woman?'
'Oh, Samuel!' said she, her eyes swimming in tears, 'I'm just fain
to go and live in Manchester. I must let the farm.'
Samuel looked, and pondered, but did not speak for some time. At
last he said, —
'If thou hast made up my mind, there's no speaking again it; and
thou must e'en go. Thou'lt be sadly pottered wi' Manchester ways; but
that's not my look out. Why, thou'lt have to buy potatoes, a thing thou
hast never done afore in all thy born life. Well! it's not my look out.
It's rather for me than again me. Our Jenny is going to be married to
Tom Higginbotham, and he was speaking of wanting a bit of land to begin
upon. His father will be dying sometime, I reckon, and then step into
the Croft Farm. But meanwhile — ,
'Then, thou'lt let the farm,' said she, still as eagerly as ever.
'Aye, aye, he'll take it fast enough, I've a notion. But I'll not
drive a bargain with thee just now; it would not be right; we'll wait a
'No; I cannot wait, settle it out at once.'
'Well, well; I'll speak to Will about it. I see him out yonder.
I'll step to him and talk it over.'
Accordingly he went and joined the two lads, and without more ado,
began the subject to them.
'Will, thy mother is fain to go live in Manchester, and covets to
her the farm. Now, I'm willing to take it for Tom Higginbotham; but I
like to drive a keen bargain, and there would be no fun chaffering with
thy mother just now. Let thee and me buckle to, my lad! and try and
cheat each other; it will warm us this cold day.'
'Let the farm!' said both the lads at once, with infinite surprise.
'Go live in Manchester!'
When Samuel Orme found that the plan had never before been named to
either Will or Tom, he would have nothing to do with it, he said, until
they had spoken to their mother; likely she was 'dazed' by her
husband's dearly; he would wait a day or two, and not name it to any
one; not to Tom Higginbotham himself, or may be he would set his heart
upon it. The lads had better go in and talk it over with their mother.
He bade them good day, and left them.
Will looked very gloomy, but he did not speak till they got near
the house. Then he said, —
'Tom, go to th' shippon, and supper the cows. I want to speak to
mother alone.' When he entered the house-place, she was sitting before
the fire, looking into its embers. She did not hear him come in: for
some time she had lost her quick perception of outward things.
'Mother! what's this about going to Manchester?' asked he.
'Oh, lad!' said she, turning round, and speaking in a beseeching
tone, 'I must go and seek our Lizzie. I cannot rest here for thinking
on her. Many's the time I've left thy father sleeping in Led, and stole
to th' window, and looked and looked my heart out towards Manchester,
till I thought I must just set out and tramp over moor and moss
straight away till I got there, and then lift up every downcast face
till I came to our Lizzie. And often, when the south wind was blowing
soft among the hollows, I've fancied (it could but be fancy, thou
knowest) I heard her crying upon me; and I've thought the voice came
closer and closer, till at last it was sobbing out "Mother" close to
the door; and I've stolen down, and undone the latch before now, and
looked out into the still black night, thinking to see her, — and
turned sick and sorrowful when I heard no living sound but the sough of
the wind dying away. Oh! speak not to me of stopping here, when she may
be perishing for hunger, like the poor lad in the parable.' And now she
lifted up her voice, and wept aloud.
Will was deeply grieved. He had been old enough to be told the
family shame when, more than two years before, his father had had his
letter to his daughter returned by her mistress in Manchester, telling
him that Lizzie had left her service some time — and why. He had
sympathised with his father's stern anger; though he had thought him
something hard, it is true, when he had forbidden his weeping,
heart-broken wife to go and try to find her poor, sinning child, and
declared that henceforth they would have no daughter; that she should
be as one dead, and her name never more be named at market or at meal
time, in blessing or in prayer. He had held his peace, with compressed
lips and contracted brow, when the neighbours had noticed to him how
poor Lizzie's death had aged both his father and his mother; and how
they thought the bereaved couple would never hold up their heads again.
He himself had felt as if that one event had made him old before his
time; and had envied Tom the tears he had shed over poor, pretty,
Innocent, dead Lizzie. He thought about her sometimes, till he ground
his teeth together, and could have struck her down in her shame. His
mother had never named her to him until now.
'Mother!' said he at last. 'She may be dead. Most likely she is.'
'No, Will; she is not dead,' said Mrs Leigh. 'God will not let her
die till I've seen her once again. Thou dost not know how I've prayed
and prayed just once again to see her sweet face, and tell her I've
forgiven her, though she's broken my heart — she has, Will.' She could
not go on for a minute or two for the choking sobs. 'Thou dost not know
that, or thou wouldst not say she could be dead, — for God is very
merciful, Will; He is, — He is much more pitiful than man, — I could
never ha' spoken to thy father as I did to Him, — and yet thy father
forgave her at last. The last words he said were that he forgave her.
Thou'lt not be harder than thy father, Will? Do not try and hinder me
going to seek her, for it's no use.'
Will sate very still for a long time before he spoke. At last he
said, 'I'll not binder you. I think she's dead, but that' s no matter.'
'She is not dead,' said her mother, with low earnestness. Will took
no notice of the interruption.
'We will all go to Manchester for a twelvemonth, and let the farm
to Tom Higginbotham. I'll get blacksmith's work; and Tom can have good
schooling for a while, which he's always craving for. At the end of the
year you'll come back, mother, and give over fretting for Lizzie, and
think with me that she is dead, — and, to my mind, that would be more
comfort than to think of her living;' he dropped his voice as he spoke
these last words. She shook her head, but made no answer. He asked
'Will you, mother, agree to this?'
'I'll agree to it a-this-ns,' said she. 'If I hear and see nought
of her for a twelvemonth, me being in Manchester looking out, I'll just
ha' broken my heart fairly before the year's ended, and then I shall
know neither love nor sorrow for her any more, when I'm at rest in the
grave — I'll agree to that, Will.'
'Well, I suppose it must be so. I shall not tell Tom, mother, why
we're flitting to Manchester. Best spare him.'
'As thou wilt,' said she, sadly, 'so that we go, that's all'
Before the wild daffodils were in flower in the sheltered copses
round Upclose Farm, the Leighs were settled in their Manchester home;
if they could ever grow to consider that place as a home, where there
was no garden, or outbuilding, no fresh breezy outlet, no
far-stretching view, over moor and hollow, — no dumb animals to be
tended, and, what more than all they missed, no old haunting memories,
even though those remembrances told of sorrow, and the dead and gone.
Mrs Leigh heeded the loss of all these things less than her sons.
She had more spirit in her countenance than she had had for months,
because now she had hope; of a sad enough kind, to be sure, but still
it was hope. She performed all her household duties, strange and
complicated as they were, and bewildered as she was with all the town
necessities of her new manner of life; but when her house was 'sided,'
and the boys come home from their work, in the evening, she would put
on her things and steal Out, unnoticed, as she thought, but not without
many a heavy sign from Will, after she had closed the house-door and
departed. It was often past midnight before she came back, pale and
weary, with almost a guilty look upon her face; but that face so full
of disappointment and hope deferred, that Will had never the heart to
say what he thought of the folly and hopelessness of the search. Night
after night it was renewed, till days grew to weeks, and weeks to
months. All this time Will did his duty towards her as well as he
could, without having sympathy with her. He stayed at home in the
evenings for Tom's sake, and often wished he had Tom' s pleasure in
reading, for the time hung heavily on his hands as he sate up for his
I need not tell you how the mother spent the weary hours. And yet I
will tell you something. She used to wander Out, at first as if without
a purpose, till she rallied her thoughts, and brought all her energies
to bear on the one point; then she went with earnest patience along the
least-known ways to some new part of the town, looking wistfully with
dumb entreaty into people's faces; sometimes catching a glimpse of a
figure which had a kind of momentary likeness to her child's, and
following that figure with never-wearying perseverance, till some light
from shop or lamp showed the cold, strange face which was not her
daughter's. Once or twice a kind-hearted passer-by, struck by her look
of yearning woe, turned back and offered help, or asked her what she
wanted. When so spoken to, she answered only, 'You don't know a poor
girl they call Lizzie Leigh, do you?' and when they denied all
knowledge, she shook her head, and went on again. I think they believed
her to be crazy. But she never spoke first to any one. She sometimes
took a few minutes' rest on the door-steps, and sometimes (very seldom)
covered her face and cried; but she could not afford to lose time and
chances in this way; while her eyes were blinded with tears, the lost
one might pass by unseen.
One evening, in the rich time of shortening autumn-days, Will saw
an old man, who, without being absolutely drunk, could not guide
himself rightly along the foot-path, and was mocked for his
unsteadiness of gait by the idle boys of the neighbourhood. For his
father's sake Will regarded old age with tenderness, even when most
degraded and removed from the stern virtues which dignified that
father; so he took the old man home, and seemed to believe his
often-repeated assertions, that he drank nothing but water. The
stranger tried to stiffen himself up into steadiness as he drew nearer
home, as if there were some one there for whose respect he cared even
in his half-intoxicated state, or whose feelings he feared to grieve.
His home was exquisitely dean and neat, even in outside appearance;
threshold, window, and window-sill, were outward signs of some spirit
of purity within. Will was rewarded for his attention by a bright
glance of thanks, succeeded by a blush of shame, from a young woman of
twenty, or thereabouts. She did not speak or second her father's
hospitable invitations to him to be seated. She seemed unwilling that a
stranger should witness her father's attempts at stately sobriety, and
Will could not bear to stay and see her distress. But when the old man,
with many a flabby shake of the hand, kept asking him to come again
some other evening and see them, Will sought her down-cast eyes, and,
though he could not read their veiled meaning, he answered timidly, 'If
it's agreeable to everybody, I'll come, and thank ye.' But there was no
answer from the girl, to whom this speech was in reality addressed; and
Will left the house, liking her all the better for never speaking.
He thought about her a great deal for the next day or two; he
scolded himself for being so foolish as to think of her, and then fell
to with fresh vigour, and thought of her more than ever. He tried to
depreciate her: he told himself she was not pretty, and then made
indignant answer that he liked her looks much better than any beauty of
them all. He wished he was not so country-looking, so red-faced, so
broad-shouldered; while she was like a lady, with her smooth,
colourless complexion, her bright, dark hair and her spotless dress.
Pretty, or not pretty, she drew his footsteps towards her; he could not
resist the impulse that made him wish to see her once more, and find
out some fault which should unloose his heart from her unconscious
keeping. But there she was, pure and maidenly as before. He sate and
looked, answering her father at cross-purposes, while she drew more and
more into the shadow of the chimney-corner out of sight. Then the
spirit that possessed him (it was not he himself, sure, that did so
impudent a thing!) made him get up and carry the candle to a different
place, under the pretence of giving her more light at her sewing, but,
in reality, to be able to see her better; she could not stand this much
longer, but jumped up, and said she must put her little niece to bed;
and surely, there never was, before or since, so troublesome a child of
two years old; for though Will stayed an hour and a half longer, she
never came down again. He won the father's heart, though, by his
capacity as a listener, for some people are not at all particular, and,
so that they themselves may talk on undisturbed, are not so
unreasonable as to expect attention to what they say.
Will did gather .this much, however, from the old man's talk. He
had once been quite in a genteel line of business, but had failed for
more money than any greengrocer he had heard of; at least, any who did
not mix up fish and game with greengrocery proper. This grand failure
seemed to have been the event of his life, and one on which he dwelt
with a strange kind of pride. It appeared as if at present he rested
from his past exertions (in the bankrupt line), and depended on his
daughter, who kept a small school for very young children. But all
these particulars Will only remembered and understood when he had left
the house; at the time he heard them, he was thinking of Susan. After
he had made good his footing at Mr Palmer's, he was not long, you may
be sure, without finding some reason for returning again and again. 11e
listened to her father, he talked to the little niece, but he looked at
Susan, both while he listened and while he talked. Her father kept on
insisting upon his former gentility, the details of which would have
appeared very questionable to Will's mind, if the sweet, delicate,
modest Susan had not thrown an inexplicable air of refinement over all
she came near. She never spoke much; she was generally diligently at
work; but when she moved, it was so noiselessly, and when she did
speak, it was in so low and soft a voice, that silence, speech, motion,
and stillness, alike seemed to remove her high above Will's reach into
some saintly and inaccessible air of glory — high above his reach,
even as she knew him! And, if she were made acquainted with the dark
secret behind, of his sister's shame, which was kept ever present to
his mind by his mother's nightly search among the outcast and forsaken,
would not Susan shrink away from him with loathing, as if he were
tainted by the involuntary relationship? This was his dread; and there
upon followed a resolution that he would withdraw from her sweet
company before it was too late. So he resisted internal temptation, and
stayed at home, and suffered and sighed. He became angry with his
mother for her untiring patience in seeking for one who, he could not
help hoping, was dead rather than alive. He spoke sharply to her, and
received only such sad deprecatory answers as made him reproach
himself, and still more lose sight of peace of mind. This struggle
could not last long without affecting his health; and Tom, his sole
companion through the long evenings, noticed his increasing languor,
his restless irritability, with perplexed anxiety, and at last resolved
to call his mother's attention to his brother's haggard, care-worn
looks. She listened with a startled recollection of Will's claims upon
her love. She noticed his decreasing appetite, and half-checked sighs.
'Will, lad! what come o'er thee?' said she to him, as he sate
listlessly gazing into the fire.
'There's nought the matter with me,' said he, as if annoyed at her
'Nay, lad, but there is.' He did not speak again to contradict her;
indeed she did not know if he had heard her, so unmoved did he look.
'Would'st like to go back to Upclose Farm?' asked she, sorrowfully.
'It's just blackberrying time,' said Tom. Will shook his head. She
looked at him awhile, as if trying to read that expression of
despondency and trace it back to its source.
'You and Tom could go,' said she; 'I must stay here till I've found
her, the know'st,' continued she, dropping her voice.
He turned quickly round, and with the authority he at all times
exercised over Tom, bade him begone to bed.
When Tom had left the room, he prepared to speak.
'Mother,' then said Will, 'why will you keep on thinking she's
alive? If she were but dead, we need never name her name again. We've
never heard nought on her, since father wrote her that letter; we never
knew whether she got it or not. She'd left her place before then. Many
a one dies in — '
'Oh my lad! dunnot speak so to me, or my heart will break
outright,' said his mother, with a sort of cry. Then she calmed
herself, for she yearned to persuade him to her own belief. 'Thou never
asked, and thou'rt too like thy father for me to tell without asking —
but it were all to be near Lizzie's old place that I settled down on
this side o' Manchester; and the very day at after we came, I went to
her old missus, and asked to speak a word wi' her. I had a strong mind
to cast it up to her, that she should ha' sent my poor lass away,
without telling on it to us first; but she were in black and looked so
sad I could not find in my heart to threep it up. But I did ask her a
bit about our Lizzie. The master would have her turned away at a day's
warning (he's gone to t'other place; I hope he'll meet wi' more mercy
there than he showed our Lizzie, — I do, — ), and when the missus
asked her should she write to us, she says Lizzie shook her head; and
when she speered at her again, the poor lass went down on her knees,
and begged her not, for she said it would break my heart (as it has
done, Will — God knows it has),' said the poor mother, choking with
her struggle to keep down her hard, overmastering grief, 'and her
father would curse her Oh, God, teach me to be patient.' She could not
speak for a few minutes, — 'and the lass threatened, and said she'd go
drown herself in the canal, if the missus wrote home, — and so —
'Well! I'd got a trace 0f my child, — the missus thought she'd
gone to th' workhouse to be nursed; and there I went, — and there,
sure enough, she had been, — and they'd turned her out as soon as she
were strong, and told her she were young enough to work, — but whatten
kind o' work would be open to her, lad, and her baby to keep?'
Will listened to his mother's tale with deep sympathy, not unmixed
with the old bitter shame. But the opening of her heart had unlocked
his, and after a while he spoke.
'Mother! I think I'd e'en better go home. Tom can stay wi' thee. I
know I should stay too, but I cannot stay in peace so near — her, —
without craving to see her, — Susan Palmer, I mean.'
'Has the old Mr Palmer thou telled me on a daughter?' asked Mrs
'Aye, he has. And I love her above a bit. And it's because I love
her I want to leave Manchester. That's all.'
Mrs Leigh tried to understand this speech for some time, but found
it difficult of interpretation.
'Why shouldst thou not tell her the love's her? Thou'rt a likely
lad, and sure o' work. Thou'lt have Upclose at my death; and as for
that I could let thee have it now, and keep mysel by doing a bit of
charring. It seems to me a very backwards sort o' way of winning her to
think of leaving Manchester.'
'Oh mother, she's so gentle and so good, — she's downright holy.
She's never known a touch of sin; and can I ask her to marry me,
knowing what we do about Lizzie, and fearing worse? I doubt if one like
her could ever care for me; but if she knew about my sister, it would
put a gulf between us, and she'd shudder up at the thought of crossing
it. You don't know how good she is, mother!'
'Will, Will! if she's so good as thou say'st, she'll have pity on
such as my Liz. If she has no pity for such, she's a cruel Pharisee,
and thou'rt best without her.'
But he only shook his head, and sighed; and for the time the
But a new idea sprang up in Mrs Leigh's head. She thought that she
would go and see Susan Palmer, and speak up for Will, and tell her the
truth about Lizzie; and according to her pity for the poor sinner,
would she be worthy or unworthy of him. She resolved to go the very
next afternoon, but without telling any one of her plan. Accordingly
she looked out the Sunday clothes she had never before had the heart to
unpack since she came to Manchester, but which she now desired to
appear in, in order to do credit to Will. She put on her old-fashioned
black mode bonnet, trimmed with real lace; her scarlet cloth cloak,
which she had ever since she was married; and always spotlessly dean,
she set forth on her unauthorised embassy. She knew the Palmers lived
in Crown Street, though where she had heard it she could not tell; and
modestly asking her way, she arrived in the street about a quarter to
four o'clock. She stopped to inquire the exact number, and the woman
whom she addressed told her that Susan Palaver's school would not be
loosed till four, and asked her to step in and wait until then at her
'For,' said she, smiling, 'them that wants Susan Paler wants a kind
friend of ours; so we, in a manner, call cousins. Sit down, missus, sit
down. I'll wipe the chair, so that it shanna dirty your cloak. My
mother used to wear them bright cloaks, and they're right gradely
things again a green field.'
'Han ye known Susan Palmer long?' asked Mrs Leigh, pleased with the
admiration of her cloak.
'Ever since they comed to live in our street. Our Sally goes to her
'Whatten sort of a lass is she, for I ha' never seen her?'
'Well, — as for looks, I cannot say. It's so long since I first
knowed her, that I've dean forgotten what I thought of her then. My
master says he never saw such a smile for gladdening the heart. But may
be it's not looks you 're asking about. The best thing I can say of her
looks is, that she's just one a stranger would stop in the street to
ask help from if he needed it. All the little childer creeps as close
as they can to her; she'll have as many as three or four hanging to her
apron all at once.'
'Is she cocket at all?'
'Cocket, bless you! you never saw a creature less set up in all
your life. Her father's cocket enough. No! she's not cocket anyway.
You've not heard much of Susan Palmer, I reckon, if you think she's
cocket. She's just one to come quietly in, and do the very thing most
wanted; little things, maybe, that any one could do, but that few would
think on, for another. She'll bring her thimble wi' her, and mend up
after the childer o'nights, — and she writes all Betty Harker's
letters to her grandchild out at service, — and she's in nobody's way,
and that's a great matter, I take it. Here's the childer running past!
School is loosed. You'll find her now, missus, ready to hear and to
help. But we none on us frab her by going near her in school-time.'
Poor Mrs Leigh's heart began to beat, and she could almost have
turned round and gone home again. Her country breeding had made her shy
of strangers, and this Susan Palmer appeared to her like a real born
lady by all accounts. so she knocked with a timid feeling at the
indicated door, and when it was opened, dropped a simple curtsey
without speaking. Susan had her little niece in her arms, curled up
with fond endearment against her breast, but she put her gently down to
the ground, and instantly placed a chair in the best corner of the room
for Mrs Leigh, when she told her who she was. 'It's not Will as has
asked me to come,' said the mother, apologetically, 'I'd a wish just to
speak to you myself!'
Susan coloured up to her temples, and stooped to pick up the little
toddling girl. In a minute or two Mrs Leigh began again.
'Will thinks you would na respect us if you knew all; but I think
you could na help feeling for us in the sorrow God has put upon us; so
I just put on my bonnet, and came off unknownst to the lads. Every one
says you 're very good, and that the Lord has keeped you from falling
from his ways; but maybe you've never yet been tried and tempted as
some is. I'm perhaps speaking too plain, but my heart's welly broken,
and I can't be choice in my words as them who are happy can. Well now!
I'll tell you the truth. Will dreads you to hear it, but I'll just tell
it you. You mun know,' — but here the poor woman' s words failed her,
and she could do nothing but sit rocking herself backwards and
forwards, with sad eyes, straight-gazing into Susan's face, as if they
tried to tell the tale of agony which the quivering lips refused to
utter. Those wretched, stony eyes forced the tears down Susan's cheeks,
and, as if this sympathy gave the mother strength, she went on in a low
voice, 'I had a daughter once, my heart's darling. Her father thought I
made too much on her, and that she'd grow marred staying at home; so he
said she mun go among strangers, and learn to rough it. She were young,
and liked the thought of seeing a bit of the world; and her father
heard on a place in Manchester. Well! I'll not weary you. That poor
girl were led astray; and first thing we heard on it, was when a letter
of her father's was sent back by her missus, saying she'd left her
place, or, to speak right, the master had turned her into the street
soon as he had heard of her condition — and she not seventeen!'
She now cried aloud; and Susan wept too. The little child looked up
into their faces, and, catching their sorrow, began to whimper and
wail. Susan took it softly up, and hiding her face in its little neck,
tried to restrain her tears, and think of comfort for the mother. At
last she said, —
'Where is she now?'
'Lass! I dunnot know,' said Mrs Leigh, checking her sobs to
communicate this addition to her distress. 'Mrs Lomax telled me she
went — ,
'Mrs Lomax — what Mrs Lomax?'
'Her as lives in Brabazon-street. She telled me my poor wench went
to the workhouse fra there. I'll not speak again the dead; but if her
father would but ha' letten me, — but he were one who had no notion —
no, I'll not say that; best say nought. He forgave her on his
death-bed. I dare say I did na go th' right way to work.'
'Will you hold the child for me one instant?' said Susan.
'Aye, if it will come to me. Childer used to be fond on me till I
got the sad look on my face that scares them, I think.'
But the little girl clung to Susan; so she carried it upstairs with
her. Mrs Leigh sate by herself — how long she aid not know.
Susan came down with a bundle of far-worn baby-clothes.
'You must listen to me a bit, and not think too much about what I'm
going to tell you. Nanny is not my niece, nor any km to me, that I know
0f. I used to go out working by the day. One night, as I came home, I
thought some woman was following me; I turned to look. The woman,
before I could see her face (for she turned it to one side), offered me
something. I held out my arms by instinct; she dropped a bundle into
them, with a bursting sob that went straight to my heart. It was a
baby. I looked round again; but the woman was gone. She had run away as
quick as lightning. There was a little packet of clothes — very few —
and as if they were made out of its mother's gowns, for they were large
patterns to buy for a baby. I was always fond of babies; and I had not
my wits about me, father says: for it was very cold, and when I'd seen
as well as I could (for it was past ten) that there was no one in the
street, I brought it in and warmed it. Father was very angry when he
came, and said he'd take it to the workhouse the next morning, and
flyted me sadly about it. But when morning came I could not bear to
part with it; it had slept in my arms all night; and I've heard what
workhouse bringing-up is. So I told father I'd give up going out
working, and stay at home and keep school, if I might only keep the
baby; and after awhile, he said if I earned enough for him to have his
comforts, he'd let me; but he's never taken to her. Now, don't tremble
so, — I've but a little more to tell, — and maybe I'm wrong in
telling it; but I used to work next door to Mrs Lomax's, in
Brabazon-street, and the servants were all thick together; and I heard
about Bessy (they called her) being sent away. I don't know that ever I
saw her; but the time would be about fitting to this child's age, and
I've sometimes fancied it was hers. And now, will you look at the
little clothes that came with her — bless her!'
But Mrs Leigh had fainted. The strange joy and shame, and gushing
love for the little child had overpowered her; it was some time before
Susan could bring her round. Then she was all trembling, sick
impatience to look at the little frocks. Among them was a slip of paper
which Susan had forgotten to name, that had been pinned to the bundle.
On it was scrawled in a round, stiff hand, —
'Call her Anne. She does not cry much, and takes a deal of notice.
God bless you and forgive me.'
The writing was no due at all; the name 'Anne,' common though it
was, seemed something to build upon. But Mrs Leigh recognised one 0f
the frocks instantly, as being made out of a gown that she and her
daughter had bought together in Rochdale.
She stood up and stretched out her hands in the attitude of
blessing over Susan's bent head.
'God bless you, and show you His mercy in your need, as you have
shown it to this little child.'
She took the little creature in her arms, and smoothed away her sad
looks to a smile, and kissed it fondly, saying over and over again,
'Nanny, Nanny my little Nanny.' At last the child was soothed, and
looked in her face and smiled back again.
'It has her eyes,' said she to Susan.
'I never saw her to the best of my knowledge. I think it must be
hers by the frock. But where can she be?'
'God knows,' said Mrs Leigh; 'I dare not think she's dead. I'm sure
'No! she's not dead. Every now and then a little packet is thrust
in under our door, with may be two half-crowns in it; once it was
half-a-sovereign. Altogether I've got seven-and-thirty shillings
wrapped up for Nanny. I never touch it, but I've often thought the poor
mother feels near to God when she brings this money. Father wanted to
set the policeman to watch, but I said No, for I was afraid if she was
watched she might not come, and it seemed such a holy thing to be
checking her in, I could not find in my heart to do it.'
'Oh, if we could but find her! I'd take her in my arms, and we'd
just be down and die together.'
'Nay, don't speak so!' said Susan gently, 'for all that's come and
gone, she may turn right at last. Mary Magdalen did, you know.'
'Eh! but I were nearer right about thee than Will. He thought you
would never look on him again if you knew about Lizzie. But thou'rt not
'I'm sorry he thought I could be so hard,' said Susan in a low
voice, and colouring up. Then Mrs Leigh was alarmed, and in her
motherly anxiety she began to fear lest she had injured Will in Susan's
'You see Will thinks so much of you — gold would not be good
enough for you to walk on, in his eye. He said you'd never look at him
as he was, let alone his being brother to my poor wench. He loves you
so, it makes him think meanly on everything belonging to himself, as
not fit to come near ye, — but he's a good lad, and a good son, —
thou'lt be a happy woman if thou'lt have him, — so don't let my words
go against him; don't!'
But Susan hung her head, and made no answer. She had not known
until now, that Will thought so earnestly and seriously about her; and
even now she felt afraid that Mrs Leigh's words promised her too much
happiness, and that they could not be true. At any rate the instinct of
modesty made her shrink from saying anything which might seem like a
confession of her own feelings to a third person. Accordingly she
turned the conversation on the child.
'I'm sure he could not help loving Nanny,' said she. 'There never
was such a good little darling; don't you think she'd win his heart if
he knew she was his niece, and perhaps bring him to think kindly on his
'I dunnot know,' said Mrs Leigh, shaking her head. 'He has a turn
in his eye like his father, that makes me — . He's right down good
though. But you see I've never been a good one at managing folk; one
severe look turns me sick, and then I say just the wrong thing, I'm so
fluttered. Now I should like nothing better than to take Nanny home
with me, but Tom knows nothing but that his sister is dead, and I've
not the knack of speaking rightly to Will. I dare not do it, and that's
the truth. But you mun not think badly of Will. He's so good hissel,
that he can't understand how any one can do wrong; and, above all, I'm
sure he loves you dearly.'
'I don't think I could part with Nanny,' said Susan, anxious to
stop this revelation of Will's attachment to herself. 'He'll come round
to her soon; he can't fail; and I'll keep a sharp look-out after the
poor mother, and try and catch her the next time she comes with her
little parcels of money.'
'Aye, lass; we mun get hold of her; my Lizzie. I love thee dearly
for thy kindness to her child: but, if thou canst catch her for me,
I'll pray for thee when I'm too near my death to speak words; and,
while I live, I'll serve thee next to her, — she mun come first, thou
know'st. God bless thee, lass. My heart is lighter by a deal than it
was when I corned in. Them lads will be looking for me home, and I mun
go, and leave this little sweet one,' kissing it. 'If I can take
courage, l's tell Will all that has come and gone between us two. He
may come and see thee, mayn't he?'
'Father will be very glad to see him, I'm sure,' replied Susan. The
way in which this was spoken satisfied Mrs Leigh's anxious heart that
she had done Will no harm by what she had said; and with many a kiss to
the little one, and one more fervent, tearful blessing on Susan, she
That night Mrs Leigh stopped at home; that only night for many
months. Even Tom, the scholar, looked up from his books in amazement;
but then he remembered that Will had lot been well, and that his mother
's attention having been called to the circumstance, it was only
natural she should stay to watch him. And no watching could be more
tender, or more complete. Her loving eyes seemed never averted from his
face; his grave, sad, careworn face. When Tom went to bed the mother
left her seat, and going up to Will, where he sate looking at the fire,
but lot seeing it, she kissed his forehead, and said, —
'Will! lad, I've been to see Susan Palmer!'
She felt the start under her hand which was placed on his shoulder,
but he was silent for a minute or two. Then he said, —
'What took you there, mother?'
'Why, my lad, it was likely I should wish to see one you cared for;
I did not put myself forward. I put on my Sunday clothes, and tried to
behave as yo'd ha' liked me. At least I remember trying at first; but
after, I forgot all.'
She rather wished that he would question her as to what made her
forget all. But he only said, —
'How was she looking, mother?'
'Will, thou seest I never set eyes on her before; but she's a good,
gentle-looking creature; and I love her dearly, as I've reason to.'
Will looked up with momentary surprise; for his mother was too shy
to be usually taken with strangers. But after all it was natural in
this case, for who could look at Susan without loving her? So still he
did not ask any questions, and his poor mother had to take courage, and
try again to introduce the subject near to her heart. But how?
'Will!' said she (jerking it out, in sudden despair of her own
powers to lead to what she wanted to say), 'I telled her all.'
'Mother! you've ruined me,' said he, standing up, and standing
opposite to her with a stern white look of affright on his face.
'No! my own dear lad; dunnot look so scared, I have not ruined
you!' she exclaimed, placing her two hands on his shoulders, and
looking fondly into his face. 'She's not one to harden her heart
against a mother's sorrow. My own lad, she's too good for that. She's
not one to judge and scorn the sinner. She's too deep read in her New
Testament for that. Take courage, Will; and thou mayst, for I watched
her well, though it is not for one woman to let out another's secret.
Sit thee down, lad, for thou look'st very white.'
He sate down. His mother drew a stool towards him, and sate at his
'Did you tell her about Lizzie, then?' asked he, hoarse and low.
'I did, I telled her all; and she fell a-crying over my deep
sorrow, and the poor wench's sin. And then a light comed into her face,
trembling and quivering with some new glad thought; and what dost thou
think it was, Will, lad? Nay, I'll not misdoubt but that thy heart will
give thanks as mine did, afore God and His angels, for her great
goodness. That lithe Nanny is not her niece, she's our Lizzie's own
child, my little grandchild.' She could no longer restrain her tears,
and they fell hot and fast, but still she looked into his face.
'Did she know it was Lizzie's child? I do not comprehend,' said he,
'She knows now: she did not at first, but took the little helpless
creature in, out of her own pitiful, loving heart, guessing only that
it was the child of shame, and she's worked for it, and kept it, and
tended it ever sin' it were a mere baby, and loves it fondly. Will!
won't you love it'? asked she beseechingly.
He was silent for an instant; then he said, 'Mother, I'll try. Give
me time, for all these things startle me. To think of Susan having to
do with such a child!'
'Aye, Will! and to think (as may be yet) of Susan having to do with
the child's mother! For she is tender and pitiful, and speaks hopefully
of my lost one, and will try and find her for me, when she comes as she
does sometimes, to thrust money under the door, for her baby. Think of
that, Will. Here 's Susan, good and pure as the angels in heaven, yet,
like them, full of hope and mercy, and one who, like them, will rejoice
over her as repents. Will, my lad, I'm not afeard of you flow, and I
must speak, and you must listen. I am your mother, and I dare to
command you, because I know I am in the right and that God is on my
side. If He should lead the poor wandering lassie to Susan's door, and
she comes back crying and sorrowful, led by that goo d angel to us once
more, thou shalt never say a casting-up word to her about her sin, but
be tender and helpful towards one "who was lost and is found," so may
God's blessing rest on thee, and so mayst thou lead Susan home as thy
She stood, no longer, as the meek, imploring, gentle mother, but
firm and dignified, as if the interpreter of God's will. Her manner was
so unusual and solemn, that it overcame all Will's pride and
stubbornness. He rose softly while she was speaking, and bent his head
as if in reverence at her words, and the solemn injunction which they
conveyed. When she had spoken, he said in so subdued a voice that she
was almost surprised at the sound, 'Mother, I will.'
'I may be dead and gone, — but all the same, — thou wilt take
home the wandering sinner, and heal up her sorrows, and lead her to her
Father's house. My lad! I can speak no more; I'm turned very faint.'
He placed her in a chair; he ran for water. She opened her eyes and
'God bless you, Will. Oh! I am so happy. It seems as if she were
found; my heart is so filled with gladness.'
That night Mr Palmer stayed out late and long. Susan was afraid
that he was at his old haunts and habits, — getting tipsy at some
public-house: and this thought oppressed her, even though she had so
much to make her happy in the consciousness that Will loved her. She
sate up long, and then she went to bed, leaving all arranged as well as
she could for her father's return. She looked at the little, rosy,
sleeping girl who was her bed-fellow, with redoubled tenderness, and
with many a prayerful thought. The little arms entwined her neck as she
lay down, for Nanny was a light sleeper, and was conscious that she,
who was loved with all the power of that sweet, childish heart, was
near her, and by her, although she was too sleepy to utter any of her
And by-and-by she heard her father come home, stumbling uncertain,
trying first the windows, and next the door-fastenings, With many a
loud, incoherent murmur. The little Innocent twined around her seemed
all the sweeter and more lovely, when she thought sadly of her erring
father. And presently he called aloud for a light; she had left matches
and all arranged as usual on the dresser, but fearful of some accident
from fire, in his unusually intoxicated state, she now got up softly,
and putting on a cloak, went down to his assistance.
Alas! the little arms that were unclosed from her soft neck
belonged to a light, easily awakened sleeper. Nanny missed her darling
Susy, and terrified at being left alone in the vast, mysterious
darkness, which had no bounds, and seemed infinite, she slipped out of
bed, and tottered in her little nightgown towards the door. There was a
light below, and there was Susy and safety! So she went onwards two
steps towards the steep, abrupt stairs; and then dazzled with
sleepiness, she stood, she wavered, she fell! Down on her head on the
stone floor she fell! Susan flew to her, and spoke all soft,
entreating, loving words; but her white lids covered up the blue
violets of eyes, and there was no murmur came out of the pale lips. The
warm tears that rained down did not awaken her; she lay stiff, and
weary with her short life, on Susan's knee. Susan went sick with
terror. She carried her upstairs, and laid her tenderly in bed; she
dressed herself most hastily, with her trembling fingers. Her father
was asleep on the settle down stairs; and useless, and worse than
useless if awake. But Susan flew out of the door, and down the quiet,
resounding street, towards the nearest doctor's house. Quickly she
went: but as quickly a shadow followed, as if impelled by some sudden
terror. Susan rung wildly at the night-bell, — the shadow crouched
near. The doctor looked out from an upstairs window.
'A little child has fallen down stairs at No. 9, Crown-street, and
is very ill, — dying, I'm afraid. Please, for God's sake, sir, come
directly. No. 9, Crown-street.'
'I'll be there directly,' said he, and shut the window.
'For that God you have just spoken about, — for His sake — tell
me are you Susan Palmer? Is it my child that lies a-dying?' said the
shadow springing forwards, and clutching poor Susan's arm.
'It is a little clipped of two years old, — I do not know Whose it
is; I love it as my own. Come with me, whoever you are; come with me.'
The two sped along the silent streets, — as silent as the night
were they. They entered the house; Susan snatched up the light, and
carried it upstairs. The other followed.
She stood with wild, glaring eyes by the bedside, never looking at
Susan, but hungrily gazing at the little, white, still child. She
stooped down, and put her hand tight on her own heart, as if to still
its beating, and bent her ear to the pale lips. Whatever the result
was, she did not speak; but threw off the bed-clothes wherewith Susan
had tenderly covered up the little creature, and felt its left side.
Then she threw up her arms with a cry of wild despair.
'She's dead! she's dead!'
She looked so fierce, so mad, so haggard, that for an instant Susan
was terrified — the next, the holy God had put courage into her heart,
and her pure arms were round that guilty, wretched creature, and her
tears were falling fast and warm upon her breast. But she was thrown
off with violence.
'You killed her — you slighted her — you let her fail down those
stairs! you killed her!'
Susan cleared off the thick mist before her, and gazing at the
mother with her clear, sweet, angel-eyes, said mournfully, —
'I would have laid down my own life for her.'
'Oh, the murder is on my soul!' exclaimed the wild, bereaved
mother, with the fierce impetuosity of one who has none to love her and
to be beloved, regard to whom might teach self-restraint.
'Hush!' said Susan, her finger on her lips. 'Here is the doctor.
God may suffer her to live.'
The poor mother turned sharp round. The doctor mounted the stair.
Ah! that mother was right; the little child was really dead and gone.
And when he confirmed her judgment, the mother fell down in a fit.
Susan, with her deep grief, had to forget herself, and forget her
darling (her charge for years), and question the doctor what she must
do with the poor wretch, who lay on the floor in such extreme of
'She is the mother!' said she.
'Why did not she take better care of her child?' asked he, almost
But Susan only said, 'The little child slept with me; and it was I
that left her.'
'I will go back and make up a composing draught; and while I am
away you must get her to bed.'
Susan took out some of her own clothes, and softly undressed the
stiff, powerless form. There was no other bed in the house but the one
in which her father slept. So she tenderly lifted the body of her
darling; and was going to take it down stairs, but the mother opened
her eyes, and seeing what she was about, she said, —
'I am not worthy to touch her, I am so wicked; I have spoken to you
as I never should have spoken; but I think you are very good; may I
have my own child to be in my arms for a little while?'
Her voice was so strange a contrast to what it had been before she
had gone into the fit, that Susan hardly recognised it; it was now so
unspeakably soft, so irresistibly pleading, the features too had lost
their fierce expression, and were almost as placid as death. Susan
could not speak, but she carried the little child, and laid it in its
mother's arms; then as she looked at them, something overpowered her,
and she knelt down, crying aloud, —
'Oh, my God, my God, have mercy on her, and forgive, and comfort
But the mother kept smiling, and stroking the little face,
murmuring soft, tender words, as if it were alive; she was going mad,
Susan thought; but she prayed on, and on, and ever still she prayed
with streaming eyes.
The doctor came with the draught. The mother took it, with docile
unconsciousness of its nature as medicine. The doctor sate by her; and
soon she fell asleep. Then he rose softly, and beckoning Susan to the
door, he spoke to her there.
'You must take the corpse out of her arms. She will not awake. That
draught will make her sleep for many hours. I will call before noon
again. It is now daylight. Good-bye.'
Susan shut him out; and then gently extricating the dead child from
its mother's arms, she could not resist making her own quiet moan over
her darling. She tried to learn off its little, placid face, dumb and
pale before her.
'Not all the scalding tears of care Shall wash away that vision
fair; Not all the thousand thoughts that rise, Not all the sights
that dim her eyes, Shall e'er usurp the place of that little
And then she remembered what remained to be done. She saw that all
was right in the house; her father was still dead asleep on the settle,
in spite of all the noise of the night. She went out through the quiet
streets, deserted still although it was broad daylight, and to where
the Leighs lived. Mrs Leigh who kept her country hours, was opening her
window shutters. Susan took her by the arm, and, without speaking went
into the house-place. There she knelt down before the astonished Mrs
Leigh, and cried as she had never done before but the miserable night
had overpowered her, and she who had gone through so much calmly, now
that the pressure seemed removed could not find the power to speak.
'My poor dear! What has made thy heart so sore as to come and cry
a-this-ons? Speak and tell me. Nay, cry on, poor wench, if thou canst
not speak yet. It will ease the heart, an then thou canst tell me.'
'Nanny is dead!' said Susan. 'I left her to go to father, an she
fell down stairs, and never breathed again. Oh, that's m sorrow! but
I've more to tell. Her mother is come — is in our house! Come and see
if it's your Lizzie.' Mrs Leigh could not speak, but, trembling, put on
her things and went with Susan dizzy haste back to Crown-street.
As they entered the house in Crown-street, they perceive that the
door would not open freely on its hinges, and Susan instinctively
looked behind to see the cause of the obstruction. She immediately
recognised the appearance of a little parcel wrapped in a scrap of
newspaper, and evidently containing money. She stooped and picked it
up. 'Look!' said she, sorrowfully, 'the mother was bringing this for
her child last night.'
But Mrs Leigh did not answer. So near to the ascertaining if it
were her lest child or no, she could not be arrested, but pressed
onwards with trembling steps and a beating, fluttering heart. She
entered the bed-room, dark and still. She took no heed of the little
corpse, over which Susan paused, but she went straight to the bed, and
withdrawing the curtain, saw Lizzie, — but not the former Lizzie,
bright, gay, buoyant, and undimmed. This Lizzie was old before her
time; her beauty was gone; deep lines of care, and alas! of want (or
thus the mother imagined) were printed on the cheek, se round, and
fair, and smooth, when last she gladdened her mother's eyes. Even in
her sleep she bore the look of woe and despair which was the prevalent
expression of her face by day; even in her sleep she had forgotten how
to smile. But all these marks of the sin and sorrow she had passed
through only made her mother love her the more. She stood looking at
her with greedy eyes, which seemed as though no gazing could satisfy
their longing; and at last she stooped down and kissed the pale, worn
hand that lay outside the bed-clothes. No touch disturbed the sleeper;
the mother need not have laid the hand so gently down upon the
counterpane. There was no sign of life, save only now and then a deep
sob-like sign. Mrs Leigh sate down beside the bed, and, still holding
back the curtain, looked on and on, as if she could never be satisfied.
Susan would fain have stayed by her darling one; but she had many
calls upon her time and thoughts, and her will had now, as ever, to be
given up to that of others. All seemed to devolve the burden of their
cares on her. Her father ill-humoured from his last night's
intemperance, did not scruple to reproach her with being the cause of
little Nanny's death; and when, after bearing his upbraiding meekly for
some time, she could no longer restrain herself, but began to cry, he
wounded her even more by his injudicious attempts at comfort: for he
said it was as well the child was dead; it was none of theirs, and why
should they be troubled with it? Susan wrung her hands at this, and
came and stood before her father, and implored him to forbear. Then she
had to take all requisite steps for the coroner's inquest; she had to
arrange for the dismissal of her school; she had to summon a little
neighbour, and send his willing feet on a message to William Leigh,
who, she felt, ought to be informed of his mother's whereabouts, and of
the whole state of affairs. She asked her messenger to tell him to come
and speak to her, — that his mother was at her house. She was thankful
that her father sauntered out to have a gossip at the nearest
coach-stand, and to relate as many of the night's adventures as he
knew; for as yet he was in ignorance of the watcher and the watched,
who silently passed away the hours upstairs.
At dinner-time Will came. He looked red, glad, impatient, excited.
Susan stood calm and white before him, her soft, loving eyes gazing
straight into his.
'Will,' said she, in a low, quiet voice, 'your sister is upstairs.'
'My sister!' said he, as if affrighted at the idea, and losing his
glad look in one of gloom. Susan saw it, and her heart sank a little,
but she went on as calm to all appearance as ever.
'She was little Nanny's mother, as perhaps you know. Poor little
Nanny was killed last night by a fall down stairs.' All the calmness
was gone; all the suppressed feeling was displayed in spite of every
effort. She sate down, and hid her face from him, and cried bitterly.
He forgot everything but the wish, the longing to comfort her. He put
his arm round her waist, and bent over her. But all he could say, was,
'Oh, Susan, how can I comfort you! Don't take on so, — pray don't!' He
never changed the words, but the tone varied every time he spoke. At
last she seemed to regain her power over herself; and she wiped her
eyes, and once more looked upon him with her own quiet, earnest,
'Your sister was near the house. She came in on hearing my words to
the doctor. She is asleep now, and your mother is watching her. I
wanted to tell you all myself. Would you like to see your mother?'
'No!' said he. 'I would rather see none but thee. Mother told me
thou know'st all.' His eyes were downcast in their shame.
But the holy and pure did not lower or vail her eyes.
She said, 'Yes, I know all — all but her sufferings. Think what
they must have been!'
He made answer low and stern, 'She deserved them all; every jot.'
'In the eye of God, perhaps she does. He is the judge; we are not.'
'Oh!' she said with a sudden burst, 'Will Leigh! I have thought so
well of you; don't go and make me think you cruel and hard. Goodness is
not goodness unless there is mercy and tenderness with it. There is
your mother who has been nearly heart-broken, now full of rejoicing
over her child — think of your mother.'
'I do think of her,' said he. 'I remember the promise I gave her
last night. Thou shouldst give me time. I would do right time. I never
think it e'er in quiet. But I will do what is right and fitting, never
fear. Thou hast spoken out very plain to me; and misdoubted me, Susan;
I love thee so, that thy words cut me. If I did hang back a bit from
making sudden promises, it was because not even for love of thee, would
I say what I was not feeling; and at first I could not feel all at once
as thou wouldst have me. But I'm not cruel and hard; for if I had been,
I should na' have grieved as I have done.'
He made as if he were going away; and indeed he did feel he would
rather think it over in quiet. But Susan, grieved at her incautious
words, which had all the appearance of harshness, went a step or two
nearer — paused — and then, all over blushes, said in a low soft
'Oh, Will! I beg your pardon. I am very sorry — Won't you forgive
She who had always drawn back, and been se reserved, said this in
the very softest manner; with eyes now uplifted beseechingly, now
dropped to the ground. Her sweet confusion told more than words could
do; and Will turned back, all joyous in his certainty of being beloved,
and took her in his arms and kissed her.
'My own Susan!' he said.
Meanwhile the mother watched her child in the room above.
It was late in the afternoon before she awoke; for the sleeping
draught had been very powerful. The instant she awoke, her eyes were
fixed on her mother's face With a gaze as unflinching as if she were
fascinated. Mrs Leigh did not turn away; nor move. For it seemed as if
motion would unlock the stony command over herself which, while se
perfectly still, she was enabled to preserve. But by-and-by Lizzie
cried out in a piercing voice of agony, —
'Mother, don't look at me! I have been se wicked!' and instantly
she hid her face, and grovelled among the bedclothes, and lay like one
dead — so motionless was she.
Mrs Leigh knelt down by the bed, and spoke in the most soothing
'Lizzie, dear, don't speak so. I'm thy mother, darling; don't be
afeard of me. I never left off loving thee, Lizzie. I was always
a-thinking of thee. Thy father forgave thee afore he died.' (There was
a little start here, but no sound was heard.) 'Lizzie, lass, I'll do
aught for thee; I'll live for thee; only don't be afeard of me.
Whate'er thou art or hast been, we'll ne'er speak on't. We'll leave th'
oud times behind us, and go back to the Upclose Farm. I but left it to
find thee, my lass; and God has led me to thee. Blessed be His name.
And God is good too, Lizzie. Thou hast not forgot thy Bible, I'll be
bound, for thou wert always a scholar. I'm no reader, but I learnt off
them texts to comfort me a bit, and I've said them many a time a day to
myself. Lizzie, lass, don't hide thy head so, it's thy mother as is
speaking to thee. Thy little child clung to me only yesterday; and if
it's gone to be an angel, it will speak to God for thee. Nay, don't sob
a-that-as; thou shalt have it again 'n Heaven; I know thou'lt strive to
get there, for thy little Nanny's sake — and listen! I'll tell thee
God's promises to them that are penitent — only doan't be afeard.'
Mrs Leigh folded her hands, and strove to speak very clearly, while
she repeated every tender and merciful text she could remember. She
could tell from the breathing that her daughter was listening; but she
was so dizzy and sick herself when she had ended, that she could not go
on speaking. It was all she could do to keep from crying aloud.
At last she heard her daughter' s voice.
'Where have they taken her to?' she asked.
'She is down stairs. So quiet and peaceful, and happy she looks.'
'Could she speak? Oh, if God — if I might but have heard her
little voice! Mother, I used to dream of it. May I see her once again
— Oh mother, if I strive very hard, and God is very merciful, and I go
to heaven, I shall not know her — I shall not know my own again — she
will shun me as a stranger and cling to Susan Palmer and to you. Oh
woe! Oh woe!' She shook with exceeding sorrow.
In her earnestness of speech she had uncovered her face, and tried
to read Mrs Leigh's thoughts through her looks. And when she saw those
aged eyes brimming full of tears, and marked the quivering lips, she
threw her arms round the faithful mother's neck, and wept there as she
had done in many a childish sorrow; but with a deeper, a more wretched
Her mother hushed her on her breast; and lulled her as if she were
a baby; and she grew still and quiet.
They sate thus for a long, long time. At last Susan Palmer came up
with some tea and bread and butter for Mrs Leigh. She watched the
mother feed her sick, unwilling child, with every fend inducement to
eat which she could devise; they neither of them took notice of Susan's
presence. That night they lay in each other's arms; but Susan slept on
the ground beside them.
They took the little corpse (the little, unconscious sacrifice,
whose early calling-home had reclaimed her poor, wandering mother) to
the hills, which in her life-time she had never seen. They dared not
lay her by the stern grandfather in Milne-Row churchyard, but tile bore
her to a lone moorland graveyard, where long age the Quakers used to
bury their dead. They laid her there on the sunny slope, where the
earliest spring-flowers blow.
Will and Susan live at the Upclose Farm. Mrs Leigh and Lizzie dwell
in a cottage se secluded that, until you drop into the very hollow
where it is placed, you do not see it. Tom is a school-master in
Rochdale, and he and Will help to support their mother. I only know
that, if the cottage be hidden in a green hollow of the hills, every
sound of sorrow in the whole upland is heard there — every call of
suffering or of sickness for help is listened to by a sad,
gentle-looking woman, who rarely smiles (and when she does, her smile
is more sad than other people's tears), but who comes out of her
seclusion whenever there's a shadow in any household. Many hearts bless
Lizzie Leigh, but she — she prays always and ever for forgiveness —
such forgiveness as may enable her to see her child once more. Mrs
Leigh is quiet and happy. Lizzie is to her eyes something precious, —
as the lest piece of silver — found once more. Susan is the bright one
who brings sunshine to all. Children grew around her and call her
blessed. One is called Nanny. Her, Lizzie often takes to the sunny
graveyard in the uplands, and while the little creature gathers the
daisies, and makes chains, Lizzie sits by a little grave and weeps