The Tenth of January
THE city of Lawrence is unique in its way.
For simooms that scorch you and tempests that freeze; for sand-heaps and sand-hillocks and sand-roads ; for men digging sand, for women shaking off sand, for minute boys crawling in sand ; for sand in the church-slips and the gingerbread-windows, for sand in your eyes, your nose, your mouth, down your neck, up your sleeves, under your chignon, down your throat ; for unexpected corners where tornadoes lie in wait; for “ bleak, uncomforted ” sidewalks, where they chase you, dog you, confront you, strangle you, twist you, blind you, turn your umbrella wrong side out; for “ dimmykhrats ” and bad ice-cream ; for unutterable circus-bills and religious tea-parties ; for uncleared ruins, and mills that spring up in a night ; for jaded faces and busy feet; for an air of youth and incompleteness at which you laugh, and a consciousness of growth and greatness which you respect, — it —
I believe, when I commenced that sentence, I intended to say that it would be difficult to find Lawrence’s equal.
Of the twenty-five thousand souls who inhabit that city, ten thousand are prisoners, — prisoners of factories perhaps the most healthfully, considerately, and generously conducted of any in this country or in any country, but factories just the same. Dust, whir, crash, clang ; dizziness, peril, exhaustion, discontent, — that is what the word means, taken at its best. Of these ten thousand two thirds are girls : voluntary captives, indeed ; but what is the practical difference? It is an old story,— that of going to jail for want of bread.
My story is written as one sets a bit of marble to mark a mound. I linger over it as we linger beside the grave of one who sleeps well: half sadly, half gladly, — more gladly than sadly, — but hushed.
The time to see Lawrence is when the mills open or close. So languidly the dull-colored, inexpectant crowd wind in ! So briskly they come bounding out! Factory faces have a look of their own. Not only their common dinginess, and a general air of being in a hurry to find the wash-bowl, but an appearance of restlessness, — often of envious restlessness, not habitual in most departments of “ healthy labor.” Watch them closely : you can read their histories at a venture. A widow this, in the dusty black, with she can scarcely remember how many mouths to feed at home. Worse than widowed that one: she has put her baby out to board, — and humane people know what that means, — to keep the little thing beyond its besotted father’s reach. There is a group who have “just come over.” A child’s face here, old before its time. That girl — she climbs five flights of stairs twice a day — will climb no more stairs for herself or another by the time the clover-leaves are green. “ The best thing about one’s grave is that it will be level,” she was heard once to say. Somebody muses a little here, — she is to be married this winter. There is-a face just behind her whose fixed eyes repel and attract you ; there may be more love than guilt in them, more despair than either.
Had you stood in some unobserved corner of Essex Street, at four o'clock one Saturday afternoon towards the last of November, 1859, watching the impatient stream pour out of the Pemberton Mill, eager with a saddening eagerness for its few holiday hours, you would have observed one girl who did not bound.
She was slightly built, and undersized ; her neck and shoulders were closely muffled, though the day was mild ; she wore a faded scarlet hood which heightened the pallor of what must at best have been a pallid face. It was a sickly face, shaded off with purple shadows, but with a certain wiry nervous strength about the muscles of the mouth and chin : it would have been a womanly, pleasant mouth, had it not been crossed by a white scar, which attracted more of one’s attention than either the womanliness or pleasantness. Her eyes had light long lashes, and shone through them steadily.
You would have noticed as well, had you been used to analyzing crowds, another face, — the two were side by side, — dimpled with pink and white flushes, and framed with bright black hair. One would laugh at this girl and love her, scold her and pity her, caress her and pray for her, -— then forget her perhaps.
The girls from behind called after her: “ Del! Del Ivory ! look over there ! ”
Pretty Del turned her head. She had just flung a smile at a young clerk who was petting his mustache in a shopwindow, and the smile lingered.
One of the factory boys was walking alone across the Common in his factory clothes.
“ Why, there’s Dick ! Sene, do you see ? ”
Sene’s scarred mouth moved slightly, but,she made no reply. She had seen him five minutes ago.
One never knows exactly whether to laugh or cry over them, catching their chatter as they file past the show-windows of the long, showy street.
“Look a’ that pink silk with the figures on it ! ”
“ I’ve seen them as is betther nor that in the ould counthree. -— Patsy Malorrn, let alon’ hangin’ onto the shawl of me ! ”
“That’s Mary Foster getting out of that carriage with the two white horses, — she that lives in the brown house with the cupilo.”
“ Look at her dress trailin’ after her.
T m like my dresses trailin’ after me.”
“Well may they be good,—these rich folks ! ”
“ That’s so. I kl be good if I was rich ; wouldn’t you, Moll ? ”
“ You kl keep growing wilder than ever, if you went to hell, Meg Match : yes you would, because my teacher said so.”
“ So, then, he would n’t marry her, after all; and she — ”
“ Going to the circus to-night, Bess ? ”
“ 1 can’t help crying, Jenny. You don’t know how my head aches ! It aches, and it aches, and it seems as if it would never stop aching. I wish — I wish I was dead, Jenny ! ”
They separated at last, going each her own way, — pretty Del Ivory to her boarding-place by the canal, her companion walking home alone.
This girl, Asenath Martvn, when left to herself, fell into a contented dream not common to girls who have reached her age, — especially girls who have seen the phases of life which she had seem Yet few of the faces in the streets that led her home were more gravely lined. She puzzled one at the first glance, and at the second. An artist, meeting her musing on a canalbridge one day, went home and painted a May-flower budding in November.
It was a damp, unwholesome place, the street in which she lived, cut short by a broken fence, a sudden steep, and the water; filled with children,—they ran from the gutters after her, as she passed,—and filled to the brim ; it tipped now and then, like an over-full soupplate, and spilled out two or three through the break in the fence.
Down in the corner, sharp upon the water, the east-winds broke about a little yellow house, where no children played ; an old man’s face watched at a window, and a nasturtium-vine crawled in the garden. The broken panes of glass about the place were well mended, and a clever little gate, extemporized from a wild grape-vine, swung at the entrance. It was not an old man’s work.
Asenath went in with expectant eyes ; they took in the room at a glance, and fell.
“ Dick has n’t come, father ? ”
“ Come and gone, child ; did n’t want any supper, he said. You ’re an hour before time, Senath.”
“ Yes. Did n’t want any supper, you say? 1 don’t see why not.”
“ Xo more do I, but it’s none of our concern as I knows on ; very like the pickles hurt him for dinner; Dick never had an o’er-strong stomach, as you might say. But you don’t tell me how it m’ happen you ’re let out at four o’clock, Senath,” half complaining.
“O, something broke in the machinery, father; you know you would n’t understand if I told you what.”
He looked up from his bench,—he cobbled shoes there in' the corner on his strongest days, — and after her as she turned quickly away and up stairs to change her dress. She was never exactly cross with her father; but her words rang impatiently sometimes.
She came down presently, transformed as only factory-girls are transformed by the simple little toilet she had been making ; her thin, soft hair knotted smoothly, the tips of her fingers rosy from the water, her pale neck well toned by her gray stuff dress and cape ;—Asenath always wore a cape : there was one of crimson flannel, with a hood, that she had meant to wear to-night; she had thought about it coming home from the mill; she was apt to wear it on Saturdays and Sundays; Dick had more time at home. Going up stairs to-night, she had th3rown it away into a drawer, and shut the drawer with a snap; then opened it softly, and cried a little ; but she had not taken it out.
As she moved silently about the room, setting the supper-table for two, crossing and recrossing the broad belt of sunlight that fell upon the floor, it was easy to read the sad story of the little hooded capes.
They might have been graceful shoulders. The hand which had scarred her face had rounded and bent them, —her own mother’s hand.
Of a bottle always on the shelf; of brutal scowls where smiles should be ; of days when she wandered dinnerless and supperless in the streets through loathing of her home ; of nights when she sat out in the snowdrifts through terror of her home ; of a broken jug one day, a blow, a fall, then numbness, and the silence of the grave, — she had her distant memories ; of waking on a sunny afternoon, in bed, with a little cracked glass upon the opposite wall; of creeping out and up to it in her night-dress ; of the ghastly twisted thing that looked back at her. Through the open window she heard the children laughing and leaping in the sweet summer air. She crawled into bed and shut her eyes. She remembered stealing out at last, after many days, to the grocery around the corner for a pound of coffee. “ Humpback ! humpback ! ” cried the children, — the very children who could leap and laugh.
One day she and little Del Ivory made mud-houses after school.
“ I’m going to have a house of my own, when I’m grown up,” said pretty Del; “ I shall have a red carpet and some curtains ; my husband will buy me a piano.”
“ So will mine, I guess,” said Sene, simply.
“Yours/” Del shook back her curls ; “ who do you suppose would ever marryyon?”
One night there was a knocking at the door, and a hideous, sodden thing borne in upon a plank. The crowded street, tired of tipping out little children, had sent her mother staggering through the broken fence. At the funeral she heard some one say, “ How glad Sene must be ! ”
Since that, life had meant three things,—her father, the mills, and Richard Cross.
“ You ’re a bit put out that the young fellow did n't stay to supper, — eh, Senath ? ” the old man said, laying down his boot.
“ Put out! Why should I be ? His time is his own. It’s likely to be the Union that took him out, — such a fine day for the Union ! I’m sure 1 never Expected him to go to walk with me every Saturday afternoon. I’m not a fool to tie him up to the notions of a crippled girl. Supper is ready, father.”
But her voice rasped bitterly. Life’s pleasures were so new and late and important to her, poor thing ! It went hard to miss the least of them. Very happy people will not understand exactly how hard.
Old Martyn took off his leather apron with a troubled face, and, as he passed his daughter, gently laid his tremulous, stained hand upon her head. He felt her least uneasiness, it would seem, as a chameleon feels a cloud upon the sun.
She turned her face softly and kissed him. But she did not smile.
She had planned a little for this holiday supper; saving three mellowcheeked Louise Bonnes—expensive pears just then — to add to their bread and molasses. She brought them out from the closet, and watched her father eat them.
“Going out again, Senath?” he asked, seeing that she went for her hat and shawl, “ and not a mouthful have you eaten ! Find your old father dull company hey? Well, well!”
She said something about needing the air ; the mill was hot; she should soon be back ; she spoke tenderly and she spoke truly, but she went out into the windy sunset with her little trouble, and forgot him. The old man, left alone, sat for a while with his head sunk upon his breast. She was all he had in the world, — this one little crippled girl that the world had dealt hard]y with. She loved him ; but he was not, probably would never be, to her exactly what she was to him. Usually he forgot this. Sometimes he quite understood it, as to-night.
Asenath, with the purpose only of avoiding Dick, and of finding a still spot where she might think her thoughts undisturbed, wandered away over the eastern bridge, and down by the river’s brink. It was a moody place ; such a one as only apathetic or healthy natures (I wonder if that is tautology !) can healthfully yield to. The bank sloped steeply; a fringe of stunted aspens and willows sprang from the frozen sand : it was a sickening, airless place in summer, — it was damp and desolate now. There was a sluggish wash of water under foot, and a stretch of dreary flats behind. Belated locomotives shrieked to each other across the river, and the wind bore down the current the roar and rage of the darn. Shadows were beginning to skulk under the huge brown bridge. The silent mills stared up and down and over the streams with a blank, unvarying stare. An oriflamme of scarlet burned in the west, flickered dully in the dirty, curdling water, flared against the windows of the Pemberton, which quivered and dripped, Asenath thought, as if with blood.
She sat down on a gray stone, wrapped in her gray shawl, curtained about by the aspens from the eye of passers on the bridge. She had a fancy for tliis place when things went ill with her. She had always borne her troubles alone, but she must be alone to bear them.
She knew very well that she was tired and nervous that afternoon, and that, if she could reason quietly about this little neglect of Dick’s, it would cease to annoy her. Indeed, why should she be annoyed ? Had he not done everything for her, been everything to her, for two long, sweet years ? She dropped her head with ashy smile. She was never tired of living over these two years. She took positive pleasure in recalling the wretchedness in which they found her, for the sake of their dear relief. Many a time, sitting with her happy face hidden in his arms, she had laughed softly to remember the day on which he came to her. It was at twilight, and she was tired. Her reels had troubled her all the afternoon ; the overseer was cross ; the day was hot and long. Somebody, on the way home, had said in passing her: “ Look at that girl ! I’d kill myself if I looked like that”: it was in a whisper, but she heard it. All life looked hot and long ; the reels would always be out of order ; the overseer would never be kind. Her temples would always throb, and her back would ache. People would always say, “ Look at that girl ! ”
“ Can you direct me to — ” She looked up ; she had been sitting on the door-steps with her face in her hands. Dick stood there with his cap off. He forgot that he was to inquire the way to Newbury Street, when he saw the tears on her shrunken cheeks. Dick could never bear to see a woman suffer.
“ I would n’t cry,” he said simply, sitting down beside her. Telling a girl not to cry is an infallible recipe tor keeping her at it. What could the child do, but sob as if her heart would break ? Of course he had the whole story in ten minutes, she his in another ten. It was common and short enough : — a “ Down-East” boy, fresh from his father’s farm, hunting for work and board, —-a bit homesick here in the strange, unhomelike city, it might be, and glad of some one to say so to.
What more natural than, that, when her father came out and was pleased with the lad, there should be no more talk of Newbury Street ; that the little yellow house should become his home; that he should swing the fantastic gate, and plant the nasturtiums; that his life should grow to be one with hers and the old man’s, his future and theirs unite unconsciously ?
She remembered — it was not exactly pleasant, somehow, to remember it tonight— just the look of his face when they came into the house that summer evening, and lie for llic first time saw what she was, her cape having fallen off, in the full lamplight. His kindly blue eyes widened with shocked surprise, and fell; when he raised them, a pity like a mother’s had crept into them ; it broadened and brightened as time slid by, but it never left them.
So you see, after that, lite unfolded in a burst of little surprises for Asenath. If she came home very tired, some one said, “ I am sorry.” If she wore a pink ribbon, she heard a whisper, “ It suits you.” If she sang a little song, she knew that somebody listened.
“ I did not know the world was like this ! ” cried the girl.
After a time there came a night that he chanced to be out late, — they had planned an arithmetic lesson together, which he had forgotten, — and she sat grieving by the kitchen fire.
“ You missed me so much then ? ” he said regretfully, standing with his hand upon her chair. She was trying to shell some corn ; she dropped the pan, and the yellow kernels rolled away on the floor.
“ What should I have, if I did n’t have you?” she said, and caught her breath.
The young man paced to the window and back again. The firelight touched her shoulders, and the sad, white scar.
“ You shall have me always, Asenath,” he made answer. He took her face within his hands and kissed it; and so they shelled the corn together, and nothing more was said about it.
He had spoken this last spring of their marriage ; but the girl, like all girls, was shyly silent, and he had not urged it.
Asenath started from her pleasant dreaming just as the orillamme was furling into gray, suddenly conscious that she was not alone. Below her, quite on the brink of the water, a girl was sitting, — a girl with a bright plaid shawl, and a nodding red feather in her hat. Her head was bent, and her hair fell against a profile cut in pinkand-white.
“ Del is too pretty to be here alone so late,” thought Asenath, smiling tenderly. Good-natured Del was kind to her in a certain way, and she rather loved the girl. She rose to speak to her, but concluded, on a second glance through the aspens, that Miss Ivory was quite able to take care of herself
Del was sitting on an old log that jutted into the stream, dabbling in the water with the tips ot her feet. (Had she lived on The Avenue, she could not have been more particular about her shoemaker.) Some one — it was too dark to see distinctly—-stood beside her, his eyes upon her face. Attitudes translate themselves. Asenath could hear nothing, but she needed to hear nothing, to know how the young fellow’s eyes drank in the coquettish picture. Besides, it was an old story. Del counted her rejected lovers by the score.
“It’s no wonder,” she thought in her honest way, standing still to watch them with a sense of puzzled pleasure much like that with which she watched the print-windows, — “ it’s no wonder they love her. I ’d love her if I was a man : so pretty ! so pretty ! She ’s just good for nothing, Del is ; — would let the kitchen fire go out, and wouldn't mend the baby’s aprons ; but I ’d love her all the same ; marry her, probably, and be sorry all my life.”
Pretty Del! Poor Del! Asenath wondered whether she wished that she were like her; she could not quite make out; it would be pleasant to sit on a log and look like that; it would be more pleasant to be watched as Del was watched just now : it struck her suddenly that Dick had never looked like this at her.
The hum of their voices ceased while she stood there with her eyes upon them ; Del turned her head away with a sudden movement, and the young man left her, apparently without bow or farewell, sprang up the bank at a bound, and crushed the undergrowth with quick, uneasy strides.
Asenath, with some vague idea that it would not be honorable to see his face, — poor fellow ! — shrank back into the aspens and the shadow.
He towered tall in the twilight as he passed her, — he was so near that she might have touched him, — and a dull, umber gleam, the last of the sunset, struck him from the west.
Struck it out into her sight,— the haggard struggling face, — Richard Cross’s face.
Of course you knew it from the beginning, but remember that the girl did not. She might have known it perhaps, but she had not.
Asenath stood up, sat down again.
She had a distinct consciousness, for the moment, of seeing herself crouched down there under the aspens and the shadow, a humpbacked white creature, with distorted face and wide eyes. She remembered a picture she had somewhere seen of a little chattering goblin in a graveyard, and was struck with the resemblance. Distinctly, too, she heard herself saying, with a laugh, she thought, “ I might have known it; I might have known.”
Then the blood came through her heart with a hot rush, and she saw Del on the log, smoothing the red feather of her hat. She heard a man’s step, too, that rang over the bridge, passed the toll-house, grew faint, grew fainter, died in the sand by the Everett Mill.
Richard’s face ! Richard’s face, looking — God help her ! — as it had never looked at her ; struggling — God pity him! — as it had never struggled for her.
She shut her hands into each other, and sat still a little while. A faint hope came to her then perhaps, after all ; her face lightened grayly, and she crept down the bank to Del.
“ I won’t be a fool,” she said, “ I ’ll make sure, — I ’ll make as sure as death.”
“ Well, where did you drop down from, Sene ? ” said Del, with a guilty start.
“ From over the bridge, to be sure. Did you think I swam, or flew, or blew ? ”
“You came on me so sudden ! ” said Del, petulantly ; “ you nearly frightened the wits out of me. You did n’t meet anybody on the bridge ? ” with a quick look.
“ Let me see.” Asenath considered gravely. “ There was one small boy making faces, and two — no, three — dogs, I believe ; that was all.”
“ Oh ! ”
Del looked relieved, but fell silent.
“You ’re sober, Del. Been sending off a lover, as usual ? ”
“ I don’t know anything about its being usual,” answered Del, in an aggrieved, coquettish way, “but there’s been somebody here that liked me well enough.”
“You like him, maybe? It’s time you liked somebody, Del.”
Del curled the red feather about her fingers, and put her hat on over her eyes, then a little cry broke from her, half sob, half anger.
“ I might perhaps, — I don’t know. He’s good. I think he’d let me have a parlor and a door-bell. But he ’s going to marry somebody else, you see. I sha’n’t tell you his name, so you need n’t ask.”
Asenath looked out straight upon the water. A dead leaf that had been caught in an eddy attracted her attention ; it tossed about for a minute, then a tiny whirlpool sucked it down.
“ I was n’t going' to ask ; it’s nothing to me, of course. He does n’t care for her then, — this other girl ? ”
“ Not so much as he does for me. He did n’t mean to tell me, but he said that I — that I looked so — pretty, it came right out. But there ! I mustn’t tell you any more.”
Del began to be frightened; she looked up sideways at Asenath’s quiet face. “ I won’t say another word,” and so chattered on, growing a little cross ; Asenath need not look so still, and sure of herself, — a mere humpbacked fright!
“He ’ll never break his engagement, not even for me ; he’s sorry lor her, and all that. I think it ’s too bad. He’s handsome. He makes me feel like saying my prayers, too, he ’s so good ! Besides, I want to be married. I hate the mill. I hate to work. I ’d rather be taken care of, a sight rather. I feel bad enough about it to cry.”
Two tears rolled over her cheeks, and fell on the soft plaid shawl. Del wiped them away carefully with her rounded fingers.
Asenath turned and looked at this Del Ivory long and steadily through the dusk. The pretty, shallow thing ! The worthless, bewildering thing !
A fierce contempt for her pink-andwhite, and tears and eyelashes and attitudes, came upon her; then a sudden sickening jealousy that turned her faint where she sat.
What did God mean, — Asenath believed in God, having so little else to believe in, — what did he mean, when he had blessed the girl all her happy life with such wealth of beauty, by filling her careless hands with this one best, last gift? Why, the child could not hold such golden love ! She would throw it away by and by. What a waste it was !
Not that she had these words for her thought, but she had the thought distinctly through her dizzy pain.
“ So there’s nothing to do about it,” said Del, pinning her shawl. “We can't have anything to say to each other, — unless anybody should die, or anything; and of course I ’m not wicked enough to think of that — Sene ! Sene ! what are you doing ? ”
Sene had risen slowly, stood upon the log, caught at an aspen-top, and swung out with it its whole length above the water. The slight tree writhed and quivered about the roots. Sene looked down and moved her marred Ups without sound.
Del screamed and wrung her hands. It was an ugly sight!
“O don’t, Sene, don't.' You’ll drown yourself! you will be drowned! you will be-— O, what a start you gave me ! What were you doing, Senath Martyn ? ”
Sene swung slowly back, and sat down.
“Amusing myself a little;—well, unless somebody died, you said ? But I believe I won’t talk any more to-night. My head aches. Go home, Del.”
Del muttered a weak protest at leaving her there alone ; but, with her bright face clouded and uncomfortable, went.
Asenath turned her head to listen for the last rustle of her dress, then folded her arms, and with her eyes upon the sluggish current, sat still.
An hour and a half later, an Andover farmer, driving home across the bridge, observed on the river’s edge — a shadow cut within a shadow— the outline of a woman’s figure, sitting perfectly still with folded arms. He reined up and looked down ; but it sat quite still.
“ Hallo there ! ” he called ; “ you ’ll fall in if you don’t look out ! ” for the wind was strong, and it blew against the figure ; but it did not move nor make reply. The Andover farmer looked over his shoulder with a sudden recollection of a ghost-story which he had charged his grandchildren not to believe last week, cracked his whip, and rumbled on.
Asenath began to understand by and by that she was cold, so climbed the bank, made her way over the windy fiats, the railroad, and the western bridge confusedly with an idea of going home. She turned aside by the toll-gate. The keeper came out to see what she was doing, but she kept out of his sight behind the great willow and his little blue house, — the blue house with the green blinds and red moulding. The dam thundered that night, the wind and the water being high. She made her way up above it, and looked in. She had never seen it so black and smooth there. As she listened to the roar, she remembered something that she had read — was it in the, Bible or the Ledger ? —about seven thunders uttering their voices.
“ He’s sorry for her, and all that,” they said.
A dead bough shot down the current while she stood there, went over and down, and out of sight, throwing up its little branches like helpless hands.
It fell in with a thought of Asenath’s, perhaps ; at any rate she did not like the looks of it, arid went home.
Over the bridge, and the canal, and the lighted streets, the falls called after her : “ He ’s sorry for her, and all that.” The curtain was drawn aside when she came home, and she saw her father through the window, sitting alone, with his gray head bent.
It occurred to her that she had often Heft him alone, — poor old father ! It occurred to her, also, that she understood now what it was to be alone. Had she forgotten him in these two comforted, companioned years ?
She came in weakly, and looked about.
“Dick’s in, and gone to bed,” said the old man, answering her look. “ You 're tired, Senath.”
“ I am tired, father.”
She sunk upon the floor, —the heat of the room made her a little faint, — and laid her head upon his knee ; oddly enough, she noticed that the patch on it had given way, — wondered how many days it had been so, — whether he had felt ragged and neglected while she was busy about that blue neck-tie for Dick. She put her hand up and smoothed the corners of the rent.
“ You shall be mended up to-morrow, poor father! ”
He smiled, pleased like a child to be remembered. She looked up at him,
— at his gray hair and shrivelled face, at bis blackened hands and bent shoulders, and dusty, ill-kept coat. What would it be like, if the days brought her nothing but him ?
“Something’s the matter with my little gal ? Tell father, can't ve ? ”
Her face flushed hot, as if she had done him wrong. She crept up into his arms, and put her hands behind his rough old neck.
“Would you kiss me, father? You don’t think I ’m too ugly to kiss, maybe,
— you? ”
She felt better after that. She had not gone to sleep now for many a night unkissed ; it had seemed hard at first.
When she had gone half-way up stairs, Dick came to the door of his room on the first floor, and called her. He held the little kerosene lamp over his head ; his face was grave and pale.
“ I have n’t said good night, Sene.”
She made no reply.
“ Asenath, good night.”
She stayed her steps upon the stairs without turning her head. Her father had kissed her to-night. Was not that enough ?
“Why, Sene, what’s the matter with you ? ”
Dick mounted the stairs, and touched his lips to her forehead with a gently compassionate smile.
She fled from him with a cry like the cry of a suffocated creature, shut her door, and locked it with a ringing clang.
“ She’s walked too far, and got a little nervous,” said Dick, screwing up his lamp ; “ poor thing ! ”
Then he went into his room to look at Del’s photograph awhile before he burned it up ; for he meant to burn it up.
Asenath, when she had locked her door, put her lamp before the lookingglass and tore off her gray cape ; tore it off so savagely that the button snapped and rolled away, — two little crystal semicircles like tears upon the floor.
There was no collar about the neck of her dress, and this heightened the plainness and the pallor of her face. She shrank instinctively at the first sight of herself, and opened the drawer where the crimson cape was folded, but shut it resolutely.
“ I ’ll see the worst of it,” she said with pinched lips. She turned herself about and about before the glass, letting the cruel light gloat over her shoulders, letting the sickly shadows grow purple on her face. Then she put her elbows on the table and her chin into her hands, and so, for a motionless halfhour. studied the unrounded, uncolored, unlightened face that stared back at her ; her eyes darkening at its eyes, her hair touching its hair, her breath dimming the outline of its repulsive mouth.
By and by she dropped her head into her hands. The poor, mistaken face ! She felt as if she would like to blot it out of the world, as her tears used to blot out the wrong sums upon her slate. It had been so happy! But he was sorry for it, and all that. W hy did a good God make such faces ?
She slipped upon her knees, bewildered.
“ He can't mean any harm nohow,” she said, speaking fast, and knelt there and said it over till she felt sure of it.
Then she thought of Del once more, — of her colors and sinuous springs, and little cries and chatter.
After a time she found that she was growing faint, and so stole down into the kitchen for some foodShe stayed a minute to warm her feet. The fire was red and the clock was ticking. It seemed to her home-like and comfortable, and she seemed to herself very homeless and lonely ; so she sat down on the floor, with her head in a chair, and cried as hard as she ought to have done four hours ago.
She climbed into bed about one o’clock, having decided, in a dull way, to give Dick up to-morrow.
But when to-morrow came he was up with a bright face, and built the kitchen fire for her, and brought in all the water, and helped her fry the potatoes, and whistled a little about the house, and worried at her paleness, and so she said nothing about it.
“ I ’ll wait till night,” she planned, making ready for the in ill.
“O, I can’t!” she cried at night. So other mornings came, and other nights.
I am quite aware that, according to all romantic precedents, this conduct was preposterous in Asenath. Floracita, in the novel, never so far forgets the whole duty of a heroine as to struggle, waver, doubt, delay. It is proud and proper to free the young fellow ; proudly and properly she frees him; “suffers in silence” —till she marries another man ; and (having had a convenient opportunity to refuse the original lover) overwhelms the reflective reader with a sense of poetic justice and the eternal fitness of things.
But I am not writing a novel, and, as the biographer of this simple factor girl, am offered few advantages.
Asenath was no heroine, you see. Such heroic elements as were in her — none could tell exactly what they were, or whether there were any: she was one of those people in whom it is easy to be quite mistaken ; — her life had not been one to develop. She might have a certain pride of her own, under given circumstances ; but plants grown in a cellar will turn to the sun at any cost; how could she go back Into her dark ?
As for the other man to marry, he was out of the question. Then, none love with the tenacity of the unhappy; no life is so lavish of itself as the denied life : to him that hath not shall be given, — and Asenath loved this Richard Cross.
It might be altogether the grand and suitable thing to say to him, “ I will not be your wife.” It might be that she would thus regain a strong shade of lost self-respect. It might be that she would make him happy, and give pleasure to Del. It might be that the two young people would be her “friends,” and love her in a way.
But all this meant that Dick must go out of her life. Practically, she must make up her mind to buikl the fires, and pump the water, and mend the windows alone. In dreary fact, he would not listen when she sung; would not say, “You are tired, Sene”; would never kiss away an undried tear. There would be nobody to notice the crimson cape, nobody to make blue neck-ties for; none for whom to save the Bonnes de Jersey, or to take sweet, tired steps, or make dear, dreamy plans. To be sure, there was her father ; but fathers do not count for much in a time like this on which Sene had fallen.
That Del Ivory was— Del Ivory added intricacies to the question. It was a very unpoetic but undoubted fact that Asenath could in no way so insure Dick’s unhappiness as to pave the way to his marriage with the woman whom he loved. There would be six merry months, perhaps, or three; then slow worry and disappointment ; pretty Del accepted at last, not as the crown of his young life, but as its silent burden and misery. Poor Dick ! good Dick! Who deserved more wealth of wifely sacrifice ? Asenath, thinking this, crimsoned with pain and shame. A streak ot good common sense in the girl told her — though she half scorned herself for the conviction — that even a crippled woman who should bear all things and hope all things for his sake might blot out the memory of this rounded Del; that, uo matter what the motive with which he married her, he would end by loving his wife like other people.
She watched him sometimes in the evenings, as he turned his kind eyes after her over the library book which he was reading.
“ I know I could make him happy ! I know I could ! ” she muttered fiercely to herself.
November blew into December, December congealed into January, while she kept her silence. Dick, in his honorable heart, seeing that she suffered, wearied himself with plans to make her eyes shine ; brought her two pails of water instead of one, never forgot the fire, helped her home from the mill. She saw him meet Del Ivory once upon Essex Street with a grave and silent bow; he never spoke with her now. He meant to pay the debt he owed her down to the uttermost farthing; that grew plain. Did she try to speak her wretched secret, he suffocated her with kindness, struck her dumb with tender words.
She used to analyze her life in those days, considering what it would be without him. To be up by half past five o’clock in the chill of all the winter mornings, to build the fire and cook the breakfast and sweep the floor, to hurry away faint and weak over the raw, slippery streets, to climb at half past six the endless stairs and stand at the endless loom, and hear the endless wheels go buzzing round, to sicken in the oily smells, and deafen at the remorseless noise, and weary ofthe rough girl swearing at the other end of the pass; to eat her cold dinner from a little cold tin pail out on the stairs in the three-quarters-of-an-hour recess ; to come exhausted home at half past six at night, and get the supper, and brush up about the shoemaker’s bench, and be too weak to eat; to sit with aching shoulders and make the button-holes of her best dress, or darn her father’s stockings till nine o’clock ; to hear no bounding step or cheery whistle about the house ; to creep into bed and lie there trying not to think, and wishing that so she might creep into her grave,— this not for one winter, but for all the winters, — how should you like it, you young girls, with whom time runs like a story ?
The very fact that her employers dealt honorably by her; that she was fairly paid, and promptly, for her wearing toil; that the limit of endurance was consulted in the temperature of the room, and her need of rest in an occasional holiday, — perhaps, after all, in the mood she was in, did not make this factory life more easy. She would have found it rather a relief to have somebody to complain of,— wherein she was like the rest of us, I fancy.
Tut at last there came a day—it chanced lobe the ninth of January — when Asenath went away alone at noon, and sat where Merrimack sung his songs to her. She hid her face upon her knees, and listened, and thought her own thoughts, till they and the slow torment of the winter seemed greater than she could bear. So, passing her hands confusedly over her forehead, she said at last aloud, That ’s what God means, Asenath Martyn ! ” and went back to work with a purpose in her eyes.
She “ asked out ” a little earlier than usual, and went slowly home. Dick was there before her ; he had been taking a half-holiday. He had made the tea and toasted the bread for a little surprise. He came up and said, “ Why, Sene, your hands are cold! ” and wanned them for her in his own.
After tea she asked him, would he walk out with her for a little while, and he in wonder went.
The streets were brightly lighted, and the moon was up. The ice cracked crisp under their feet. Sleighs, with two riders in each, shot merrily by. People were laughing in groups before the shop-windows. In the glare of a jeweller’s counter somebody was buying a wedding-ring, and a girl with red cheeks was looking hard the other way.
“ Let ’s get away,” said Asenath, — “get away from here!”
They chose by tacit consent that favorite road of hers over the eastern bridge. Their steps had a hollow, lonely ring on the frosted wood ; she was glad when the softness of the snowin the road received them. She looked back once at the water, wrinkled into thin ice on the edge for a foot or two, then open and black and still.
“ What are you doing ? ” asked Dick. She said that she was wondering howcold it was, and Dick laughed at her.
They strolled on in silence for perhaps a mile of the desolate road.
“Well, this is social!” said Dick at length; “ how much farther do you want to go ? I believe you’d walk to Reading if nobody stopped you !”
She was taking slow, regular steps like an automaton, and looking straight before her.
“How much farther? Oh!” She stopped and looked about her.
A wide young forest spread away at their feet, to the right and to the left. There was iee on the tiny oaks and miniature pines; it glittered sharply under the moon ; the light upon the snow was blue ; cold roads wound away through it, deserted ; little piles of dead leaves shivered ; a fine keen spray ran along the tops of the drifts ; inky shadows lurked and dodged about the undergrowth ; in the broad spaces the snow glared ; the lighted mills, a zone of fire, blazed from east to west; the skies were bare, and live wind was up, and Merrimack in the distance chanted solemnly.
They were alone there, — they two, and God.
“Dick,” said Asenath, “this is a dreadful place ! Take me home.”
But when he would have turned, she held him back with a sudden cry, and stood still.
“ I meant to tell you — I meant to say — Dick ! I was going to say — ”
But she did not say it. She opened her lips to speak once and again, but no sound came from them.
“ Sene ! why, Sene, what ails you ? ”
He turned, and took her in his arms ; he hid the sky and the snow from her sight; she felt his breath upon her hair.
“ Poor Sene ! ”
He kissed her, feeling sorry for her unknown trouble. She struggled at his touch. He kissed her again. She broke from him, and away with a great bouud upon the snow. She stood out against the sky, panting hard like a hunted thing.
“ You make it so hard! You've no right to make it so hard! It ain’t as if you loved me, Dick! I know I’m not like other girls ! Go home, and let me be ! ”
But Dick drew her arm through his, and led her gravely away. “ I like you well enough, Asenath,” he said, with that motherly pity in his eyes ; “ I Ve always liked you. So don’t let us have any more of this.”
So Asenath said nothing more.
The sleek black river beckoned to her across the snow as they went home. A thought came to her as she passed the bridge — it is a curious studywhat wicked thoughts will come to good people ! — she found herself considering the advisability of leaping the low brown parapet ; and if it would not be like Dick to go over after her ; if there would be a chance for them, even should he swim from the banks ; how soon the icy current would paralyze him how sweet it would be to chill to death there in his arms ; how all this wavering and pain would be over ; how Del would look when they dragged them out down below the machine-shop!
“ Sene, are you cold ? " asked puzzled Dick. She was warmly wrapped in her little squirrel furs ; but he felt her quivering upon his arm, like one in an ague, all the way home.
About eleven o’clock that night her father waked from an exciting dream concerning the best method of blacking patent-leather ; Sene stood beside his bed with her gray shawl thrown over her night-dress.
“ Father, suppose some time there should be only you and me —”
“Well, well, Sene,” said the old man sleepily, — “ very well.”
“ I’d try to be a good girl ! Could you love me enough to make up?”
He told her indistinctly that she always was a good girl ; she never bad a whipping from the day her mother died. She turned away impatiently ; then cried out and fell upon her knees.
“Father, father! I’m in a great trouble. I have n’t got any mother, any friend, anybody. Nobody helps me ! Nobody knows. I’ve been thinking such things— O, such wicked things — up in my room ! Then I got afraid of myself. You ’re good. You love me. I want you to put your hand on my head and say, ‘ God bless you, child, and show you how.’ ”
Bewildered, he put his hand upon her unbound hair, and said: “God bless you, child, and show you how ! ”
Asenath looked at the old withered hand a moment, as it lay beside her on the bed, kissed it, and went away.
There was a scarlet sunrise the next morning. A pale pink flush stole through a hole in the curtain, and fell across Asenath’s sleeping face, and lay there like a crown. It woke her, and she threw on her dress ; and sat down for a while on the window-sill, to watch the coming-on of the day.
The silent city steeped and bathed itself in rose-tints ; the river ran red, and the snow crimsoned on the distant New Hampshire hills ; Pemberton, mute and cold, frowned across the disk of the climbing sun, and dripped, as she had seen it drip before, with blood.
The day broke softly, the snow melted, the wind blew warm from the river. The factory-bell chimed cheerily, and a few sleepers, in safe, luxurious beds, were wakened by hearing the girls singon their way to work.
Asenath came down with a quiet face. In her communing with the sunrise helpful things had been spoken to her. Somehow, she knew not how, the peace of the day was creeping into her heart. For some reason, she knew not why, the torment and unrest of the night were gone. There was a future to be settled, but she would not trouble herself about that just now. There was breakfast to get; and the sun shone, and a snow-bird was chirping outside of the door. She noticed how the teakettle hummed, and how well the new curtain, with the castle and waterfall on it, fitted the window. She thought that she would scour the closet at night, and surprise her father by finishing those list slippers. She kissed him when she had tied on the red hood, and said good-by to Dick, and told them just where to find the squash-pie for dinner.
When she had closed the twisted gate, and taken a step or two upon the snow, she came thoughtfully back. Her father was on his bench, mending one of Meg Match’s shoes. She pushed it gently out of his hands, sat down upon his lap, and stroked the shaggy hair away from his forehead.
“ Father! ”
“Well, what now, Sene?-—-what now ? ”
“Sometimes I believe I ’ve forgotten you a bit, you know. 1 think we ’re going to be happier after this. That’s all.”
She went out singing, and he heard the gate shut again with a click.
Sene was a little dizzy that morning, — the constant palpitation of the floors always made her dizzy after a wakeful night, — and so her colored cotton threads danced out of place, and troubled her.
Del Ivory, working beside her, said, "How the mill shakes! What ’s going on ? ”
“ It ’s the new machinery they ’re h’isting in,” observed the overseer, carelessly. " Great improvement, but heavy, very heavy ; they calc’late on getting it all into place to-day; you d better be tending to your frame, Miss Ivory.”
As the day wore on, the quiet of Asenath’s morning deepened. Round and round with the pulleys over her head she wound her thoughts o! Dick. In and out with her black and duncolored threads she spun her iuture. Pretty Del, just behind her. was twisting a pattern like a rainbow. She noticed this, and smiled.
“Never mind!” she thought, “ I guess God knows.”
Was He ready “to bless her, and show her how”? She wondered. If, indeed, it were best that she should never be Dick’s wife, it seemed to her that He would help her about it. She had been a coward last night; her blood leaped in her veins with shame at the memory of it. Did He understand ? Did He not know how she loved Dick, and how hard it was to lose him?
However that might be, she began to feel at rest about herself. A curious apathy about means and ways and decisions took possession of her. A bounding sense that a way of escape was provided from all her troubles, such as she had when her mother died, came upon her.
Years before, an unknown workman in South Boston, casting an iron pillar upon its core, had suffered it to “float” a little, a very little more, till the thin, unequal side cooled to the measure of an eighth of an inch. That workman had provided Asenath’s way of escape.
She went out at noon with her luncheon, and found a place upon the stairs, away from the rest, and sat there awhile, with her eyes upon the river, thinking. She could not help wondering a little, after all, why God need to have made her so unlike the rest of his fair handiwork. Del came bounding by, and nodded at her carelessly. Two young Irish girls, sisters, — the beauties of the mill, — magnificently colored creatures, — were singing a little love-song together, while they tied on their hats to go home.
“ There are such pretty things in the world ! ” thought poor Sene.
Did anybody speak to her after the girls were gone ? Into her heart these words fell suddenly, “ He hath no form nor comeliness. His visage was so marred more than any man.”
They clung to her fancy all the afternoon. She liked the sound of them. She wove them in with her black and dun colored threads.
The wind began at last to blow chilly up the staircases, and in at the cracks ; the melted drifts out under the walls to harden ; the sun dipped above the dam ; the mill dimmed slowly ; shadows crept down between the frames.
“ It !s time ‘for lights,” said Meg Match, and swore a little at her spools.
Sene, in the pauses of her thinking, heard snatches of the girls’ talk.
“ Going to ask out to-morrow, Meg ? ”
“ Guess so, yes ; me and Bob Smith we thought we ’d go to Boston, and come up in the theatre train.”
“ Del Ivory, I want the pattern of your zouave.”
“ Did I go to church ? No, you don’t catch me ! If I slave ah' the week, I ’ll do what I please on Sunday.”
“ Hush-sh ! There’s the boss looking over here ! ”
“ Kathleen Donnavon, be still with your ghost-stories. There ’s one thing in the world I never will hear about, and that’s dead people.”
“ Del,” said Sene, “ I think to-morrow— ”
She stopped. Something strange had happened to her frame ; it jarred, buzzed, snapped; the threads untwisted, and flew out of place.
“ Curious ! ” she said, and looked up.
Looked up to see her overseer turn wildly, clap his hands to his head, and fall; to hear a shriek from Del that froze her blood ; to see the solid ceiling gape above her ; to see the walls and windows stagger ; to see iron pillars reel, and vast machinery throw up its helpless, giant arms, and a tangle of human faces blanch and writhe !
She sprang as the floor sunk. As pillar after pillar gave way, she bounded up an inclined plane, with the gulf yawning after her. It gained upon her, leaped at her, caught her ; beyond were the stairs and an open door; she threw out her arms, and struggled on with hands and knees, tripped in the gearing, and saw, as she fell, a square, oaken beam above her yield and crash ; it was of a fresh red color ; she dimly wondered why, — as she felt her hands slip, her knees slide, support, time, place, and reason, go utterly out.
“ At ten minutes before five, on Tuesday, the tenth of January, the Pemberton Mill, all hands being at the time on duty, fell to the ground.”
So the record flashed over the telegraph wires, sprang into large type in the newspapers, passed from lip to lip, a nine days’ wonder, gave place to the successful candidate, and the muttering South, and was forgotten.
Who shall say what it was to the seven hundred and fifty souls who were buried in the ruins ? What to the eighty-eight who died that death of exquisite agony ? What to the wrecks of men and women who endure unto this day a life that is worse than death ? What to that architect and engineer who, when the fatal pillars were first delivered to them for inspection, had found one broken under their eyes, yet accepted the contract, and built with them a mill whose thin walls and wide, unsupported stretches could never keep their place unaided ?
One that we love may go to the battle-ground, and we are ready for the worst: we have said our good-bys ; our hearts wait and pray: it is his life, not his death, which is the surprise. But that he should go out to his safe, daily, commonplace occupations, unnoticed and uncaressed, — scolded a little, perhaps, because he leaves the door open, and tells us how cross we are this morning; and they bring him up the steps by and by, a mangled mass of death and horror, — that is hard.
Old Martyn, working at Meg Match’s shoes, — she was never to wear those shoes, poor Meg! —heard, at tea minutes before five, what he thought to be the rumble of an earthquake under his very feet, and stood with bated breath, waiting for the crash. As nothing further appeared to happen, he took his stick and limped out into the street.
A vast crowd surged through it from end to end. Women with white lips were counting the mills, — Pacific, Atlantic, Washington, — Pemberton ? Where was Pemberton ?
Where Pemberton had blazed with its lamps last night, and hummed with its iron lips this noon, a cloud of dust, black, silent, horrible, puffed a hundred feet into the air.
Asenath opened her eyes after a time. Beautiful green and purple lights had been dancing about her, but she had had no thoughts. It occurred to her now that she must have been struck upon the head. The churchclocks were striking eight. A bonfire which had been built at a distance, to light the citizens in the work of rescue, cast a little gleam in through the debris across her two hands, which lay clasped together at her side. One of her fingers, she saw, was gone ; it was the finger which held Dick’s little engagement ring. The red beam lay across her forehead, and drops dripped from it upon her eyes. Her feet, still tangled in the gearing which had tripped her, were buried beneath a pile of bricks.
A broad piece of flooring that had fallen slantwise roofed her in, and saved her from the mass of iron-work overhead, which would have crushed the breath out of Hercules. Fragments of looms, shafts, and pillars were in heaps about. Some one whom she could not see was dying just behind her. A little girl who worked in her room — a mere child — was crying between her groans for her mother, Del Ivory sat in a little open space, cushioned about with reels of cotton ; she had a shallow gash upon her cheek ; she was wringing her hands. They were at work from the outside, sawing entrances through the labyrinth of planks. A dead woman lay close by, and Sene saw them draw her out. it was Meg Match. One of the pretty Irish girls was crushed quite out of sight; onlyone hand was free ; she moved it feebly. They could hear her calling for Jimmy Mahoney, Jimmy Mahoney ! and would they be sure and give him back the handkerchief? Poor Jimmy Mahoney ! By and by she called no more ; and in a little while the hand was still. The other side of the slanted flooring some one prayed aloud. She had a little baby at home. She was asking God to take care of it for her. “For Christ’s sake,” she said. Sene listened long for the Amen, but it was never spoken. Beyond, they dug a man out from under a dead body, unhurt. He crawled to his feet, and broke into furious blasphemies.
As consciousness came fully, agony grew. Sene shut her lips and folded her bleeding hands together, and uttered no cry. Del did screaming enough for two, she thought. She pondered things calmly as the night deepened, and the words that the workers outside were saying came brokenly to her. Her hurt, she knew, was not unto death ; but it must be cared for before very long ; how far could she support this slow bleeding away ? And what were the chances that they could hew their way to her without crushing her?
She thought of her father, of Dick ; of the bright little kitchen and suppertable set for three ; of the song that she had sung in the flush of the morning. Li fe — e ven her li fe — grew sweet, now that it was slipping from her.
Del cried presently, that they were cutting them out. The glare of the bonfires struck through an opening; saws and axes flashed ; voices grew distinct.
“ They never can get at me,” said Sene. “ I must be able to crawl. If you could get some of those bricks off of my feet, Del ! ”
Del took off two or three in a frightened way ; then, seeing the blood on them, sat down and cried.
A Scotch girl, with one arm shattered. crept up and removed the pile ; then fainted.
The opening broadened, brightened ; the sweet night-wind blew in ; the safe night sky shone through. Sene’s heart leaped within her. Out in the wind and under the sky she should stand again after all ! Back in the little kitchen, where the sun shone, and she could sing a song, there would yet be a place for her. She worked her head from under the beam, and raised herself upon her elbow.
At that moment she heard a cry:
“ Fire ! fire ! GOD ALMIGHTY HELP
THEM, — THE RUINS ARE ON FIRE ! ”
A man working over the debris from the outside had taken the notion —it being rather dark just there— to carry a lantern with him.
“For God’s sake,” a voice cried from the crowd, “don’t stay there with that light ! ”
But while this voice yet sounded, it was the dreadful fate of the man with the lantern to let it fall, — and it broke upon the ruined mass.
That was at nine o’clock. What there was to see from then till morning could never be told or forgotten.
A network twenty feet high, of rods and girders, of beams, pillars, stairways, gearing, roofing, ceiling, walling; wrecks of looms, shafts, twisters, pullevs, bobbins, mules, locked and interwoven ; wrecks of human creatures wedged in ; a face that you knowturned up at you from some pit which twenty-four hours’ hewing could not open ; a voice that you know crying after you from God knows where ; a mass of long, fair hair visible here ; a foot there ; three fingers of a hand over there ; the snow bright-red under foot ; charred limbs and headless trunks tossed about; strong men carrying covered things by you, at sight of which other strong men have fainted ; the little yellow jet that flared up, and died in smoke, and flared again, leaped out, licked the cotton-bales, tasted the oiled machinery, crunched the netted wood, danced on the heapedup stone, threw its cruel arms high into the night, roared for joy at helpless firemen, and swallowed wreck, death, and life together out of your sight,— the lurid thing stands alone in the gallery of tragedy.
“ Del,” said Sene, presently, “ I smell the smoke.” And in a little while, “ How red it is growing away over there at the left! ”
To lie here and watch the hideous redness crawling after her, springing at her! — it had seemed greater than reason could bear, at first.
Now it did not trouble her. She grew a little faint, and her thoughts wandered. She put her head down upon her arm, and shut her eyes. Dreamily she heard them saying a dreadful thing outside, about one of the overseers ; at the alarm of fire he had cut his throat, and before the flames touched him he was taken out. Dreamily she heard Del cry that the shaft behind the heap of reels was growing hot. Dreamily she saw a tiny puff of smoke struggle through the cracks of a broken fly-frame.
They were working to save her, with rigid, stern faces. A plank snapped, a rod yielded ; they drew out the Scotch girl; her hair was singed ; then a man with blood upon his face and wrists, held down his arms.
“ There ’s time for one more ! God save the rest of ye, — I can’t! ”
Del sprang ; then stopped, — even Del, — stopped ashamed, and looked back at the cripple.
Asenath at this sat up erect. The latent heroism in her awoke. All her thoughts grew clear and bright. The tangled skein of her perplexed and troubled winter unwound suddenly. This, then, was the way. It was better so. God had provided himself a lamb for the burnt-offering. So she said, “ Go, Del, and tell him I sent you with my dear love, and that it ’s all right.”
And Del at the first word went. She sat and watched them draw her out ; it was a slow process ; the loose sleeve of her factory sack was scorched.
Somebody at work outside turned suddenly and caught her. It was Dick. The love which he had fought so long broke free of barrier in that hour. He kissed her pink arm where the burnt sleeve fell off. He uttered a cry at the blood upon her face. She turned faint with the sense of safety, and with a face as white as her own he bore her away in his arms to the hospital, over the crimson snow.
Asenath looked out through the glare and smoke with parched lips. For a scratch upon the girl’s smooth cheek, he had quite forgotten her. They find left her, tombed alive here in this furnace, and gone their happy way. Yet it gave her a curious sense of relief and triumph. If this were all that she could be to him, the thing which she had done was right, quite right. God must have known. She turned away, and shut her eyes again.
When she opened them, neither Dick nor Del, nor crimsoned snow, nor sky, were there, only the smoke writhing up a pillar of blood-red flame.
The child who had called for her mother began to sob out that she was afraid to die alone.
“ Come here, Molly,” said Sene. “ Can you crawl around ? ”
Molly crawled around.
“ Put your head in my lap, and your arms about my waist, and I will put my hands in yours,—so. There! I guess that’s better, is n't it? ”
But they had not given them up yet. In the still unburnt rubbish at the right some one had wrenched an opening within a foot of Sene’s face. They clawed at the solid iron pintles like savage things. A fireman fainted in the glow.
“ Give it up ! ” cried the crowd from behind. “ It can’t be done ! Fall back ! ” — then hushed, awe-struck.
An old man was crawling along upon his hands and knees over the heated bricks. He was a very old man. His gray hair blew about in the wind.
“ I want my little gal ! ” he said. “ Can’t anybody tell me where to find my little gal ? ”
A rough-looking young fellow pointed in perfect silence through the smoke.
“ I 'll have her out yet. I ’m an old man, but I can help. She’s my little gal, ye see. Hand me that there dipper of water ; it ’ll keep her from choking, maybe. Now ! Keep cheery, Sene ! Your old father ’ll get ye out. Keep up good heart, child ! That’s it! ”
“ It ’s no use, father. Don’t feel bad, father. I don’t mind it very much.”
He hacked at the timber ; he tried to laugh ; he bewildered himself with cheerful words.
“No more ye needn’t, Senatb, for it ’ll be over in a minute. Don’t be downcast yet ! We ’ll have ye safe at home before ye know it. Drink a little more water, — do now ! They ’ll get at ye now, sure ! ”
But out above the crackle and the roar a woman’s voice rang like a bell:
A child’s notes quavered in the chorus. From sealed and unseen graves, white young lips swelled the glad refrain, —
“We ’re going, going home.”
The crawling smoke turned yellow, turned red. Voice after voice broke and hushed utterly. One only sang on like silver. It flung defiance down at death. It chimed into the lurid sky without a tremor. For one stood beside her in the furnace, and his form was like unto the form of the Son of God. Their eyes met. Why should not Asenath sing ?
“ Senath! ” cried the old man out upon the burning bricks ; he was scorched now, from his gray hair to his patched boots.
The answer came triumphantly, —
“ Sene ! little Sene ! ”
But some one pulled him back.