The Sisters by T. S. Arthur
[THE following unadorned narrative, the reminiscence of a friend, I
give as if related by him from whom I received it. He was, in early
years, the apprentice of a tradesman, in whose family the principal
incidents occurred. The picture presented is one of every-day life.]
MR. WILLIAMS, to whom, when a boy, I was apprenticed to learn the
art and mystery by which he supported a pretty large family, was not
rich, although, by industry and economy, he had gathered together a
few thousand dollars, and owned, besides, two or three neat little
houses, the aggregate annual rent of which was something like six
hundred dollars. His wife, a weak-minded woman, however, considered
him independent, in regard to wealth, and valued herself accordingly.
Few held their heads higher, or trode the pavement with a statelier
step than Mrs. Williams.
An elder sister, greatly her superior in every quality of mind, had
been far less fortunate in her marriage. She was the wife of a man,
who, instead of increasing his worldly goods, the fruit of some
twenty years' prudence and industry, had become dissipated, and at
the time now referred to, was sinking rapidly, and bearing his
family, of course, down with him. All energy seemed lost, and though
his family was steadily increasing, he grew more and more careless
He spent much time in taverns, and wasted there a good deal of
money, that his family needed. Mrs. Haller, his wife, was, as has
been said, in intelligence and feeling, much the superior of Mrs.
Williams, but appeared to little advantage in her peculiar situation.
She was the elder sister, by four or five years. At the time of which
I am now writing, Mrs. Haller had five children, two of them grown up,
and the rest small. Her husband had become so indolent and sottish,
that all her exertions were needed to keep her little flock from
suffering with cold and hunger. No woman could have laboured more
untiringly than she did, but it was labouring against a strong current
that bore her little bark slowly, but surely backward. Here, then, are
the two sisters; one, the elder, and superior in all the endowments of
head and heart—the other with few claims to estimation other than
those afforded by a competence of worldly goods. Let us view them a
little closer. Perhaps we can read a lesson in their mutual conduct
that will not soon be forgotten.
In earlier years, I have learned, that they were much attached to
each other. In their father's house, they knew no cares, and when
they married, which was within a few years of each other, their
prospects were equal for future happiness. While this equality
existed, their intercourse was uninterrupted and affectionate. But,
as Mr. Haller began to neglect his family, the cloud that settled
upon the brow of his poor wife was not pleasant for Mrs. Williams to
look upon. Nor were the complaints that a full heart too often forced
to the lips, at all agreeable to her ears. Naturally proud and
selfish, these two feelings had been gaining strength with the
progress of years, and were now so confirmed, that even towards an
only sister in changed circumstances they remained in full activity.
When I first went to live with Mr. Williams, Mrs. Haller resided in
a neatly furnished, small two-story brick house. Her husband had not
then shown his vagabond propensities very distinctly, though he spent
in his family, and otherwise, all that he earned each week, thus
leaving nothing for a rainy day. He was a little in debt, too, but not
so much as to make him feel uneasy. Mrs. Haller was anxious to lay up
something, and to be getting ahead in the world, and was,
consequently, always troubled because things never got any better.
She came to our house every week, and Mr. Williams would visit her
once in a month or two. Mrs. Haller often talked of her troubles to
her sister, who used then to sympathize with her, and make many
suggestions of means to gender things more accordant with her
desires. As matters gradually grew worse in the progress of time, and
Mrs. Haller began to make rather an indifferent appearance, the manner
of her sister became evidently constrained and unsympathizing. She
began to look upon her in the light of a "poor relation." Her
children, cousins of course to Mrs. Williams's, were not treated
encouragingly when they came to our house, and if company happened to
be there, they were kept out of sight, or sent home. Mrs. Williams
rarely visited Mrs. Haller—not so often as once in six months.
Long before the period of which I am now writing, Haller had become
drunken and very lazy. Their comfortable house and furniture had been
changed for poor rooms, with little in them, except what was barely
necessary. The oldest child, a son, about nineteen years of age, on to
whose maturity the mother had often looked with a lively hope,
following the example of his father, had become idle and dissipated;
spending most of his time in low taverns and gambling-shops. Here was
a keen sorrow which no heart but a mother's can understand. Oh, what a
darkening of all the dreams of early years! When a warm-hearted girl,
looking into the pleasant future with a tremulous joy, she stood
beside her chosen one at the altar, how little did she dream of the
shadows and darkness that were to fall upon her path! And alas! how
little does many a careless girl, who gives herself away,
thoughtlessly, to a young man of unformed character, dream of the
sorrow too deep for tears that awaits her. Surely this were anguish
enough,—and surely it called for the sustaining sympathy of friends.
But the friend of her early years, the sister in whose arms, in the
days of innocent childhood, she had slept peacefully, now turned from
her coldly, and even repulsively.
So unnatural and revolting seems the picture I am drawing, even in
its dim outlines, that I turn from it myself, half-resolved to leave
it unfinished. But many reasons, stronger than feeling, urge me to
complete my task with the imperfect skill I possess, and I take the
pencil which I had laid down in shame and disgust, and proceed to
fill up more distinctly.
I had observed for some time the growing coolness of Mrs. Williams
towards her unfortunate sister, and had noted more than once the deep
dejection of Mrs. Haller's manner, whenever she went away from our
house. She began to come less and less frequently, and her children at
still more remote intervals. Things became desperate with her at
length, and she came, forced by necessity, to seek a little aid and
comfort in her sorrow from her once kind sister, and with the faint
hope that some relief would be offered. I was sitting in the neatly
furnished breakfast-room, one evening, a little after tea, reading a
book, when Mrs Haller came in. She had on a dark calico dress, faded,
but clean, a rusty shawl that had once been black, and a bonnet that
Mrs. Williams's kitchen-servant would not have worn. My eye
instinctively glanced to the face of Mrs. Williams as she entered; it
had at once contracted into a cold and forbidding expression. She
neither rose from her chair, nor asked Mrs. Haller to take one,
greeting her only with a chilling "well, Sally." The latter naturally
sought a chair, and waited silently, and surely with an aching heart,
for a kinder manifestation of sisterly regard. I immediately left the
room; but learned afterwards enough of the interview to make it
distinct to the imagination of the reader.
The sisters sat silent for some moments, the one vainly trying to
keep down the struggling anguish of a stricken heart, and the other,
half-angry at the intrusion, endeavouring to fashion a form of
greeting that should convey her real impressions, without being
verbally committed. At length the latter said, half-kindly,
"Why, Sally, what has brought you so far from home, after dark?"
"Nothing very particular. Only I thought I would like to drop in a
little while and see how you all did. Besides, little Thomas is sick,
and I wanted to get a few herbs from you, as you always keep them."
"What kind of herbs do you want?"
"Only a few sprigs of balm, and some woodbitney."
"Kitty"—bawled out this unfeeling woman to the servant in the
kitchen—"go up into the garret and bring me a handful of balm and
woodbitney—and don't stay all night!"
"No, ma'am," said Kitty, thinking the last part of the order most
requiring a reply.
A further pause of a few minutes ensued, when Mrs. Haller, after
almost struggling to keep silence, at length ventured to say, sadly,
and despondingly, that she should have to move again.
"And what, in the name of heaven, Sally, are you going to move
again for? You can't be suited much better."
"Nor much worse, either, Mary. But John has paid no rent, and we
can't stay any longer. The landlord has ordered us to leave by next
Wednesday, or he will throw our few things into the street."
"Well, I declare, there is always something occurring with you to
worry my mind. Why do you constantly harass me with your troubles? I
have enough at home in my own family to perplex me, without being
made to bear your burdens. I never trouble you with my grievances, or
anybody else, and do not think it kind in you to make me feel bad
every time you come here. I declare, I grow nervous whenever I see
Poor Mrs. Haller, already bending beneath her burden, found this
adding a weight that made it past calm endurance, and she burst into
tears, and sobbed aloud. But not the slightest impression did this
exhibition of sorrow make upon Mrs. Williams. She even reproached her
with unbecoming weakness.
Although her sister had before shown indifference and great
coolness, yet never had she spoken thus unkindly. In a few moments
Mrs. Haller regained her calmness, and with it came back some of her
former pride of feeling. For a moment she sat with her eyes cast upon
the floor, endeavouring to keep down her struggling emotions; in the
next she rose up, and looking her sister fixedly in the face, read her
this impressive lesson.
"Mary, I could not have dreamed of such harshness from you! I have
thought you cold and indifferent, long; but I tried hard to believe
that you were not unkind. I have never come to see you in the last
three years, that I did not go away sad in spirit. There was
something in your manner that seemed to say that you thought my
presence irksome, and as you were the only friend I had to speak to
about my wearying cares and anxieties, it grieved me more than I can
tell to think that that only friend was growing cold—and that friend
a sister! As things have become worse with me, your manner has grown
colder, and now you have spoken out distinctly, and destroyed the
little resting place I sometimes sought when wearied to faintness.
Mary, may God who has afflicted me, grant you a happier lot in the
future! May you never know the anguish of one who sees a once idolized
husband become a brute—her children growing up worthless under the
dreadful example of their father, and all often wanting food to
sustain nature! You have everything you desire. I have not the
necessaries of life. We were born of the same mother, and nursed at
the same bosom. We played together in childhood,—once I saved your
life. And now, because our ways are different; yours even and flowery,
and mine rough and thorny, you turn from me, as from an importunate
beggar. Mary, we shall meet our father and mother at the bar of God!"
Thus saying, Mrs. Haller turned slowly away, and left the house
before her sister, who was startled at this unexpected appeal, could
sufficiently collect her senses to reply. Her real errand, or,
rather, her principal errand to the house of Mrs. Williams, had been
to ask for some food for her children. It was many weeks since her
husband had contributed a single dollar towards the daily family
expenses, and all the burden of their support devolved upon the wife
and mother. Night and day, in pain, and exhaustion of body and mind,
had she toiled to get food for those who looked up to her, but all
her efforts were inadequate. Like thousands of others, when a girl,
she had acquired an education that was more ornamental than useful.
The consequence was, that she had no ready means of earning money.
The wants of a family of children, had, it is true, given her some
skill with her needle, but not of a kind that would enable her to
earn much by sewing.
She did, however, at first try what she could do by working for the
cheap clothing-stores. But twelve-and-a-half cents a pair for
pantaloons, ten cents for vests, and eight cents for shirts, yielded
so little, that she was driven to something else. That something else
was the washtub; over which, and the ironing-table, she toiled early
and late, often ready to sink to the floor from exhaustion.
Of this, she said nothing to Mrs. Williams, who would have been
terribly mortified at the idea of her sister, taking in washing for a
support. The labour of one pair of hands in the wash-tub, was,
however, unequal to the task of providing food for seven mouths, even
of a very poor quality. Consequently, Mrs. Haller found the wants of
her family pressing, every day, harder and harder upon the slender
means by which they were supplied. Often, when she carried home her
work, there was no food in the house, and often did she work half the
night, so as to be able to take her clothes home early on the next
day, and get the money she had earned to meet that day's wants.
Among those for whom she washed and ironed, was a woman in good
circumstances, who never paid her anything until she asked for it,
and then the money came with an air of reluctance. Of course, she
applied to her for her hard earnings, only when pressed by necessity.
On the morning before the interview with her sister, just detailed,
Mrs. Haller found herself nearly out of everything, and with not a
cent in the world. The woman just alluded to, owed her two dollars,
and she had nearly completed another week's washing for her, which
would make the amount due her two dollars and a half. At dinner-time,
every mouthful of food, and that a scanty portion, was consumed, and
there would be nothing for supper, or breakfast, on the next morning,
unless Mrs. Hamil should pay her. It was nearly night when she
finished ironing the last piece. Hurriedly putting on her things,
after sending two of her children with the clothes in a basket, she
joined them as they were about entering the dwelling of Mrs. Hamil.
Her heart beat, audibly to her own ear, as she went in, and asked
to see the woman for whom she had been labouring. Although,
heretofore, whenever she had asked for her money, she had received it,
sometimes with reluctance, it is true, yet her extremity being now so
great, she trembled lest, from some cause, she should not be able to
get the pittance due her.
For a few moments she sat in the kitchen hesitating to ask for Mrs.
Hamil, after the clothes had been given to the servant. When she did
do so, she was told that she was engaged and could not be seen.
"Ask her, then, for me, if you please," she said, "to send me a
dollar. I want it very much."
The servant went up and delivered her message, and in a few moments
came back with the answer, that Mrs. Hamil was engaged, and could not
attend to such matters;—that she could step in on the next day, and
get her money.
The words fell coldly upon her feelings, and oppressed her with a
faint sickness. Then she got up slowly from her chair, hesitated a
moment, took one or two steps towards the door, and then pausing,
said to the servant,
"Go up and tell Mrs. Hamil, that I am sorry to trouble her, but
that I want the money very much, and that if she will send it down to
me, she will confer a very great favour, indeed."
"I had rather not," the servant replied. "She didn't appear pleased
at my going up the first time. And I am sure she will be less pleased
if I go again."
"But you do not know how much I am in want of this money, Jane—"
and the poor woman's voice quivered.
"Well, Mrs. Haller, I will try again," the kind-hearted girl said,
"but I can't promise to be successful. Mrs. Hamil is very queer
In a few minutes Jane returned with a positive refusal. Mrs. Hamil
couldn't and wouldn't be troubled in that way.
In a state of half-conscious, dreamy wretchedness, did Mrs. Haller
turn her steps slowly homewards. The shadows of evening were falling
thickly around, adding a deeper gloom to her feelings.
"O, mother! I'm glad you've come. I'm so hungry!" cried one of her
little ones, springing to her side as she entered. "Won't we have
supper soon, now?"
This was too much for her, and she sank exhausted and almost
fainting into a chair. Tears soon brought temporary relief to an
overburdened heart. Then she soothed her hungry little ones as well
as she could, promising them a good supper before they went to bed.
"But why can't we have it now?" urged one, more impatient, or more
hungry, than the rest.
"Because mother hasn't got any good bread for little Henry—" she
replied—"But she will have some soon. So all be good children, and
wait until mother goes out and gets some bread and meat, and then we
will all have a nice supper."
After quieting the importunities of her children in this way, and
soothing little Thomas, who was sick and fretful, Mrs. Haller again
left them, and bent her steps, with a reluctant spirit, towards the
comfortable dwelling of her sister, nearly a mile away from where she
lived. The interview with that sister has already been given.
When she turned away, as has been seen, empty-handed, from the door
of that sister, it was with feelings that few can imagine. It seemed
to her as if she were forsaken both of earth and heaven. How she got
home, she hardly knew, but when she entered that cheerless place she
found her poor sick child, for whom she had no money to buy medicine,
burning with fever, and crying bitterly. Her brutal husband was
snoring on the bed the smaller children quarrelling among themselves,
and her oldest boy, half-intoxicated, leaning over the back of a
chair, and swinging his body backward and forward in the (sic) idiotcy
of drunkenness. As she entered, the children crowded round her, asking
fretfully for their suppers; but nothing had she to give them, for she
had come away empty-handed and repulsed from the door of her affluent
sister, to whose dwelling she had gone solely to ask for some food for
her children! In the momentary energy of despair she roused her
husband rudely from the bed, and bade him, in an excited tone, to go
and get some bread for the children: The brute, angered by her words
and manner, struck her a blow upon the head, which brought her
senseless to the floor.
An hour at least passed before she recovered her senses; when she
opened her eyes, she found herself on a bed, her sister sitting by
her side, weeping, and Mr. Williams standing over her. Her husband
was not there, some of the children were crying about the room, and
others had fallen asleep on the floor. The oldest boy was sitting in
the position before-mentioned. Brief explanations were made, and Mrs.
Williams offered a faint apology for her harsh treatment. The appeal
of her sister had touched her feelings, and she had proposed to Mr.
Williams to go over and see her. On entering her dwelling they found
her senseless on the floor, and the children screaming around her. The
husband was not there.
As soon as the mother's voice was heard by the smallest child, a
little girl, she climbed up the side of the bed, and simply, and
earnestly, in lisping tones, asked for a "piece of bread." The poor
woman burst into tears, and turned her head away from her child. Mrs.
Williams went to the closet, saying—"Come, Emma, I will get you some
bread. "The little thing was at her side in a moment. But the search
there was in vain.
"Where is the bread, Sally?" she asked.
"There is none in the house," faintly murmured the almost
"Good heavens!" said Mr. Williams—"you are not without food,
"We have tasted nothing to-day," was the startling reply.
"Where is Mr. Haller?"
"I know not—he left the house a short time ago."
"He ran out when he struck you, mother," spoke up the little child
who had asked for the bread.
Mr. and Mrs. Williams looked at each other for some moments in
"Get a basket and come with me, John," said Mr. Williams, to the
oldest boy, who was gazing on with indifference or stupidity.
Mechanically he took a basket and followed his uncle. They soon
returned with bread, dried meat, ham, and in a brief space, a
comfortable meal was prepared for the starving family.
Conscience felt about the heart of Mrs. Williams that night, with
touches of pain, and she repented of her cruel neglect, and unkind
treatment of her sister. She dreamed not of the extent of her
destitution and misery—simply, because she had refused to make
herself acquainted with her real condition. Now that the sad reality
had been forced upon her almost unwilling eyes, a few returning
impulses of nature demanded relief for her suffering sister.
Mr. Williams, whose benevolent feelings were easily excited, was
shocked at the scene before him, and blamed himself severely for not
having earlier become acquainted with Mrs. Haller's condition. He
immediately set about devising means of relief. Haller had become so
worthless that he despaired of making him do anything for his family.
He therefore invited his sister-in-law to come home to our house, and
bring her two youngest girls with her. The rest were provided with
places. The family had grown pretty large, and she could assist in
sewing, and thus render a service, and live comfortably. Mrs. Williams
seconded the proposition, though not with much cordiality; she could
not, however, make any objections.
We look at the sisters now in a different relation. The superior in
dependence on the inferior. Can any for a moment question the result?
It was not without a struggle that poor Mrs. Haller consented to
disband her little family—and virtually to divorce herself from her
husband. No matter how cruel the latter had been, nor how deplorable
the condition of the former, her heart still retained its household
affections, and would not consent willingly to have her little flock
scattered-perhaps for ever. But stern necessity knows no law. In due
time, with little Emma, and Emily, Mrs. Haller was assigned a
comfortable room over the kitchen, and became a member of our family.
All of us in the shop felt for her a warm interest, but hesitated not
to express among ourselves a regret that she could do no better than
to trust herself and little ones to the tender mercies of a sister,
whom we knew too well to respect.
At first, Mrs. Haller was employed in needle-work, but as she was
neither a very fast nor neat sewer, her sister soon found it better
policy to let her do the chamber-work, and sometimes assist in
cooking. For about three months, her situation was comfortable,
except that her children were required to act "just so," and were
driven about and scolded if they ventured to amuse themselves in the
yard, or anywhere in the sight or hearing of their aunt. Her own
children were indulged in almost everything, but her little nieces
were required to be as staid and circumspect as grown-up women. After
about six months had elapsed, Mrs. Williams began to find fault with
her sister for various trifles, and to be petulant and unkind in
manner towards her. This thing was not done right, and the other thing
was neglected. If she sat down for half an hour to sew for herself or
children, something would be said or hinted to wound her, and make her
feel that she was viewed by her sister in no other light than that of
a hired servant.
Something occurring to make the kitchen-servant leave her place,
Mrs. Haller cooked and attended in her situation until another could
be obtained. There was, however, no effort made to procure another;
week after week passed away, and still all the menial employments of
the house and the hard duties of the kitchen fell upon Mrs. Haller.
From her place at the first table, where she sat for a short time
after she came into the house, she was assigned one with us. To all
these changes she was not indifferent. She felt them keenly. But what
could she do? Unfortunately for her, she had been so raised (as too
many of our poor, proud, fashionable girls are now raised) as to be
almost helpless when thrown upon her own resources. She was
industrious, and saving; but understood nothing about getting a
living. Therefore, she felt that endurance was her only present
course. It was grievous to the heart to be trampled upon by a sister
whose condition was above her's; but as that sister had offered her
an (sic) assylum, when in the utmost destitution, she resolved to
bear patiently the burden she imposed upon her.
It was now tacitly understood between the sisters that Sally was to
be kitchen-servant to the other. And as a servant she was treated.
When company were at the house, she was not to know them or sit down
in the parlour with them. Her little ones were required to keep
themselves out of the family sitting-room, and Mrs. Williams's
children taught, not by words, but by actions, to look upon them as
inferiors. From confinement, and being constantly checked in the
outburst of their feelings, they soon began to look much worse than
they did when first taken from their comfortless abode. The youngest,
a quiet child, might usually be found sitting on a little stool by her
mother in the kitchen, playing with some trifling toy; but the other
was a wild little witch, who was determined to obey no arbitrary laws
of her aunt's enacting. There was no part of the house that she did
not consider neutral ground. Now she would be playing with her little
cousins in the breakfast-room, or in some of the chambers, and now
clambering over the shop-board among the boys and journeymen. All
liked her but Mrs. Williams, and to her she was a thorn in the flesh,
because she set at defiance all her restrictions. This was a cause of
much trouble to Mrs. Haller, who saw that the final result would be a
separation from one or both of her children. The only reason that
weighed with her and caused her to remain in her unpleasant and
degraded situation, was the ardent desire she felt to keep her two
youngest children with her. She could not trust them to the tender
mercies of strangers. Deep distress and abject poverty had not blunted
a single maternal feeling, and her heart yearned for her babes with an
increased anxiety and tenderness as the chances every day appeared
less in favour of her retaining them with her. One had nearly grown
up, and was a sorrow and an anguish to her heart. Two others, quite
young, were bound out, and but one of them had found a kind guardian.
And now, one of the two that remained she feared would have to be
removed from her.
One day, her sister called her into the sitting-room, where she
found a lady of no very prepossessing appearance.
"Sally," said she, "this is Mrs. Tompkins. She has seen Emily, and
would like to have her very much. You, of course, have no objections
to getting so good a place for Emily. How soon can you get her ready
to go? Mrs. Tompkins would like to have her by the first of next
Thus, without a moment's warning, the dreaded blow fell upon her.
She murmured a faint assent, named an early day, and retired. She
could not resist the will of her sister, for she was a dependant.
In the disposition of other people's children, we can be governed
by what we call rational considerations; but when called upon to part
with our own helpless offspring, how differently do we estimate
circumstances! Every day we hear some one saying, "Why don't she put
out her children?"—and, "Why don't she put out her children? They
will be much better off." And perhaps these children are but eight,
nine, and ten years old. Mother! father! whoever you may be, imagine
your own children, of that tender age, among strangers as servants
(for that is the capacity of children who are thus put out) required
to be, in all respects, as prudent, as industrious, as renouncing of
little recreations and pleasures as men and women, and subject to
severe punishments for all childish faults and weaknesses, such as
you would have borne with and gently corrected. Don't draw parallels
between your own and poor people's children, as if they were to be
less regarded than yours. Even as your heart yearns over and loves
with unspeakable tenderness your offspring, does the mother, no
matter how poor her condition, yearn over and love her children—and
when they are removed from under her protecting wing, she feels as
keen a sorrow as would rend your heart, were the children of your
tenderest care and fondest love, taken from you and placed among
In due time, Emily was put out to Mrs. Tompkins, a woman who had
wonderful fine notions about rearing up children so as to make men
and women of them, (than her own, there were not a more graceless set
in the whole city.) She had never been able to carry into full
practice her admirable theories in regard to the education of
children among her own hopefuls; because—first: Johnny was a very
delicate boy, and to have governed him by strict rules, would have
been to have ruined his constitution. She had never dared to break
him of screaming by conquering him, in a single instance, because the
rupture of a blood-vessel would doubtless have been the consequence,
or a fit in which he might have died. Once indeed she did try to force
him to give up his will, but he grew black in the face from passion,
and she had hard work to recover him—after this he was humoured in
everything. And Tommy was a high-spirited and generous fellow, and it
would have been a pity to warp his fine disposition. Years of
discretion would make him a splendid specimen of perfect manhood.
Angelina, (a forward, pert little minx,) was, from her birth, so
gentle, so amiable, so affectionate, that no government was
necessary—and Victorine was so naturally high-tempered, that her
mother guarded against the developement of anger by never allowing her
to be crossed in anything.
In Emily, Mrs. Tompkins supposed she had found a fine subject on
which to demonstrate her theories. A wilful, spoiled child, she was,
eleven years of age, and needed curbing, and in a few days Mrs.
Tompkins found it necessary to exercise her prerogative. Emily was,
of course, put right to work, so soon as she came into the house. Her
first employment was to sweep up the breakfast-room, after the maid
had removed the breakfast-things and placed back the table. She had
never handled a broom, and was, of course, very awkward. With this
awkwardness, Mrs. Tompkins had no patience, and once or twice took the
broom from her hand, and directed her how to hold and use it, in a
high tone, and half-angry manner. In due course she got through this
duty; and then was directed to rock the cradle, while Mrs. Tompkins
went through her chamber and made herself look a little tidy. Sitting
still a whole hour was a terrible trial to Emily's patience, but she
made out to stick at her post until Mrs. Tompkins re-appeared. She was
then sent into the cellar to bring up three or four armfuls of wood,
and immediately after to the grocer's for a pound of soap, then to the
milliner's with a band-box. When she returned, it was about eleven
o'clock, and she was set to help one of the servants wash the windows,
which were taken out of the frames and washed in the yard. This
occupied until twelve. Then she must rock the cradle again, which she
did until one o'clock, when it waked, and she had to sit on a little
chair and hold it, while the family dined. Her own dinner was
afterwards put on a plate, and she made to stand by the kitchen-table
and eat it. All the afternoon was taken up in some employment or
other, and as soon as supper was over (which she eat, as before,
standing at the kitchen-table) she was sent to bed—and glad she was
to get there, for she was so tired she could hardly stand up.
The next day passed in the same unrelaxing round of duties, and the
third commenced in a similar way. The little thing had by this time
become almost sick from such constant confinement and extra labour
for one of her strength. She was set, on this day, to scrub down a
pair of back stairs, a task to which she was unequal. Before she had
got down to the third step, she accidentally upset the basin and
flooded the whole stair-case—dashing the dirty-water in the face of
Mrs. Tompkins who was just coming up. She was a good deal frightened,
for Mrs. Tompkins had shown so much anger towards her on different
occasions in the last three days, and had once threatened to correct
her, that she feared punishment would follow the accident. A slight
box on the ear was indeed administered. Trembling from head to foot
with fear, and weakness, for the child was by no means well, she
brought up another basin of water, and commenced scouring the steps
again. By some strange fatality, the basin was again upset, and
unfortunately fell in the face of Mrs. Tompkins again. A cruel
chastisement followed, with a set of leather thongs, upon the poor
child's bare back and shoulders.
That night the child came home to her mother, and gave a history of
her treatment. Her lacerated back was sufficient evidence how cruelly
she had been punished. The little thing was in a high fever, and
moaned and talked in her sleep all night.
Finding that the child was not sent back in the morning, Mrs.
Williams wished to know the reason, and was told the real condition
"She's a bad child, Sally, and has no doubt deserved a whipping!
You have spoiled your older children by mistaken kindness, and will
spoil the rest. But I can tell you very distinctly that I am not
going to be a party in this matter, and will not consent that Emily
stay here any longer. So, if you don't send her back to Mrs.
Tompkins, you may get her a place somewhere else, for after this week
she shall not stay here. She has almost ruined my Clara, now!"
To this, poor Mrs. Haller made no reply. Her home at our house had
only been endured because there she thought she could keep her babes
with her. She left the presence of her unfeeling sister, and began to
study how she could manage to support herself and two children by her
own unaided exertions. Many plans were suggested to her mind, but none
seemed to promise success. At length she resolved to rent a small
room, and put into it a bed, a table, and a few chairs, with some
other necessary articles which she still had, and then buy some kind
of vegetables with about five dollars that were due her, and go to
market as a huckster! Let not the sentimental and romantic turn away
in disgust. When humanity is reduced to a last resource, be it what it
may, the heart endures pains, and doubts, and fears of a like
character, whether the resource be that offered to a noble lady, or a
Before Saturday night, Mrs. Haller had found a room near the market
that just suited her, which she rented at two dollars a month with
the use of the cellar. When she made known to Mrs. Williams her
intention of leaving her house, and told her how she intended to make
a living, the latter was almost speechless with surprise.
"Surely, Sally," said she, "you cannot be in earnest?"
"Indeed I am in earnest, though?"
"But consider the disgrace it will be to your family."
"Nothing is disgraceful that is honest."
"I never will consent to your being a huckster:—Sally! if you do
so disgrace yourself as to stand in the market and sell potatoes and
cabbages, I will disown you! You have a comfortable home here, and
where then is the use of your exposing yourself in the market-house?"
"You will not let Emily stay here with me, and I cannot part with
my poor babes." A flood of tears burst forth, even though she
struggled hard to conceal them.
"You are very weak and foolish, Sally. Emily will be much better
off, away from you. She is growing up a spoiled child, and needs
other care than yours. You are too indulgent."
"In any case, Mary, I am determined to keep these children with me.
I know that it is not pleasant for you to have them here, and I don't
want to have them in your way. The best thing I can do is that which I
have determined on."
"If you will go, why not take in sewing, or washing and ironing?"
"Simply, because I cannot make a living with my needle, and my
health will not permit me to stand over the wash-tub from morning
till night. There is no resource left me but the market-house,
reluctantly as I go there."
"Well, Sally, you can do as you please. But let me tell you, that
if you do turn huckster, I will never own you as my sister again."
"Any such foolish and rash resolution on your part, I should regret
very much; for, unkindly and unfeelingly as you have acted towards
me, I have no wish to dissolve the tie of nature."
"It shall be dissolved, you may rely upon it, if you do so
disgraceful a thing."
On Saturday she got what was due to her, and on Monday removed to
her new abode. Of all this, Mr. Williams had not the slightest
knowledge. After getting her room fixed up, she went down to the
wharf and bought a few bushels of potatoes, and some apples: with
these she went to the market. Her feelings in thus exposing herself,
can only be imagined by such as have had to resort to a similar
method of obtaining a livelihood, when they first appeared in the
market-house. She had not been long at her stand, when Mr. Williams,
who generally went to market, came unexpectedly upon her.
"Why, Sally, what in the world are you doing here?" was his
"Why, didn't you know that I had left your house for the
"No! How should I know You never told me that you were going.
"But surely sister did?"
"Indeed she did not."
"She knew last week that I was going, and that I had determined to
make a living for myself and children in this way."
"I am sorry you left our house, Sally! You should have had a home
there as long as I lived. You must not stay here, anyhow. Something
better can be done for you. Surely you and Mary have not quarrelled?"
"She has renounced me for ever!"
Mr. Williams was a good deal shocked by this unexpected interview,
and when he went home inquired into the state of affairs. He censured
his wife severely for her part in the matter, upon her own statement;
and told her plainly that she had not treated Sally as a sister should
have been treated. He went to see Mrs. Haller that day, and used many
arguments to induce her to come back, or at least to give up her
"Put me in a better and more comfortable way of making a living,
Mr. Williams," was her answer—"and I will most gladly adopt it. I
know of no other that will suit me. I cannot longer remain dependent.
In your house I was dependent, and daily and hourly I was made to feel
that dependence, in the most galling manner."
By her first day's efforts in the market-house, Mrs. Haller earned
three-quarters of a dollar, with which she bought food for herself
and children, and re-invested the original amount. On the next day,
as on the first, she disposed of her whole stock, and was so
fortunate in her sales as to clear one dollar. On the next day she
did not sell more than half of her little stock, and cleared only
thirty-seven-and-a-half cents on that. Greatly discouraged she went
home at twelve o'clock, and was still further cast down at finding
her husband there, come to take up his lodgings, and eat up her
meagre earnings from her children. She remonstrated against his
coming back, but with drunken oath and cruel threats he let her know
that he should stay there in spite of her. Before night, her oldest
son, a worthless vagabond, also made his appearance, and between them
swept off all the food, that she had bought with the profits on her
five dollars, which she had resolved from the first not to break. On
the next morning she cleared a full dollar, and on Saturday, another.
But her increased family prevented her adding a cent of the profits to
her original capital. After the market on Saturday morning, she went
out and bought about three dollars worth of eggs, at ten cents a
dozen, which, before night, she sold at twelve-and-a-half cents, thus
clearing twenty-five cents on the dollar, or three-quarters of a
dollar in all. With a dollar and three-quarters that she had made that
day, she laid in a supply of common and substantial food.
On Sunday she went, as was her custom, to church, and took her two
little girls with her. Her husband and son remained at home. When she
returned from service they were gone; instinctively turning to where
she had concealed her little treasure, of five dollars, she found that
it had also disappeared! She knew well how to account for its loss.
Her husband and son had robbed her! The little hope that had animated
her breast for the last few days, gave way, and she sunk down into a
condition of mind that was almost despair. Towards evening, her
husband and son came home drunk, and lay all night stupid. In the
morning, they stole off by day-light, and she was left alone with her
little ones, to brood over her melancholy prospect. She could not, of
course, go to market, for she had nothing to sell, nor anything with
which to purchase a little stock.
Mr. Williams, who felt a lively interest in her case, especially on
account of the unkind treatment she had received from his wife, used
to stop and inquire into her prospects whenever he saw her in the
market, and had been looking round for something better for her to
do. Missing her this morning, he went to her house, and there found
her in a state of complete despondency. He encouraged her in the best
way he could, but did not advance her another little capital, which he
would willingly have done under other circumstances, and then went
away, determined to get her some situation which would be more
suitable for one of her habits and feelings.
Not an hour after he learned that a head nurse was much wanted at
the alms-house. He made immediate application for her, and was happy
in securing the place. It was at once offered to her, and she
accepted it with gladness, especially as she would be allowed to
bring her two children with her. In due time, she removed to her new
abode, and soon won the good-will and kind consideration of the Board
of Trustees, and the affectionate regards of those to whose
afflictions she was called to minister. Her two little girls were
educated at the alms-house school, and grew up amiable, intelligent,
and industrious. Of her other children, I never knew much.
Mrs. Williams seemed to think the situation of her sister at the
alms-house, almost as disgraceful as her place in the market. She
never renewed a communication with her. Even up to the hour when Mrs.
Haller was called to her final account, which was many years after,
her sister neither saw nor spoke to her.