EBooks - Fiction, Nonfiction 1000s of them ~ Index


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 every day.

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, half-repulsively:—

"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 you!"

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 sometimes."

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 broken-hearted mother.

"Good heavens!" said Mr. Williams—"you are not without food, surely?"

"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 silence.

"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 week."

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 strangers.

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 of Emily.

"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 lonely widow.

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 surprised salutation.

"Why, didn't you know that I had left your house for the market-house?"

"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 newly-adopted calling.

"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.


EBooks - Fiction, Nonfiction 1000s of them ~ Index