IN the factory valley that I am describing rum-shops are plentiful. Commerce exists, as well as manufacture. Boys and girls go out from their homes at an early age upon business errands. The moral problem inevitably takes on a serious aspect in such a region, and any solution of it must include both sexes in its operation.
Some years ago, Eunice and Katy, having lost their mother in early childhood, were left fatherless when they were respectively sixteen and fourteen years old. They had two little brothers. They worked in a mill, and determined to keep up their home, — an unwise determination, for that home was a wretched tenement in an evil neighborhood, where a bad old woman kept house for them.
One day the chief of police had these girls arrested, — on general principles, apparently, for they were committing no offense at the time. The chief was acting from kindly motives, for he knew that they were frequently in the streets at night, and were in bad company. An older girl, who was undeniably a moral offender, was arrested with them. They were all three taken to the station-house, where the younger ones broke down, and cried in childish terror.
Now mark the significance of this fact as to future health and morality : the oldest girl was known to belong to a vicious circle of comradeship, which included in its ranks more than forty men and boys, whose names were in the possession of the chief of police, but no man or boy was arrested, either to save himself or anybody else from further corruption.
The oldest girl was sent to a correctional institution. The chief summoned the agent of the Associated Charities to help him deal with the pair of younger ones. Undoubtedly, the two men talked with fatherly kindness as well as wisdom to the frightened children. Eunice and Katy promised that they would do anything, live anywhere and in any way that the agent thought best, if only they need not be sent to the state institution for young offenders. The agent gave bail for them, broke up their housekeeping, sent their brothers to a Catholic asylum, obtained hoard for the girls themselves in a family of which their priest approved, and engaged a “ friendly visitor” to look after them awhile, — a motherly woman, who was determined not to think them very bad girls.
It was impossible not to hope that they had thus been withdrawn permanently from that vicious circle into which they had only just entered ; but that hope was the less pleasing, because, unless more radical measures were employed, the withdrawal of Eunice and Katy from their companions meant simply a wilder and a wider movement of loose revelry among those who were left, and a more urgent temptation pressed upon some other two girls to join the circle and fill the vacant places.
Jenny Dolan was a timid, awkward child of twelve or thirteen when I first observed her in the crowd of dirty-fingered little creatures who chattered and wriggled over their calico patchwork in the sewing-school. It was a wet winter night, and she had no overshoes. I promised her that I would give her a pair if she came again to the school and told me that her parents could not afford to get them, but said I trusted that she would be perfectly truthful with me, and would not ask me for the shoes if her mother could buy them. The next week she came with new overshoes. When I learned more about the family, I often wondered how she had prevailed upon her parents to make the purchase, and I felt that her instinct of honesty must have been stirred by my trial of it.
I never saw Jenny’s father, but I inferred that he was possessed of no distinguishing merit as a member of a domestic circle. Mrs. Dolan was a big, blatant, dark-faced vixen, a beer-drinker, a woman who taught her daughters little that they should know, about housework or about cleanliness and decency of personal habits. I do not mean that she was an immoral woman, but she lived as a coarse and violent animal lives. Jenny had an older sister, a girl with a loosely made frame, and of a type morally and mentally inferior to herself. When Mrs. Dolan became angry, she would drag her daughters around the room by their hair, and beat them with a little iron instrument designed to lift the covers off a stove, or with any other convenient weapon. There were two or three boys in the family, one of whom was badly deformed and crippled.
The Dolan children were all sent to school more or less, except Jenny, who was kept at home to help in the housework, until she was put into the mill. She never learned to read, but she used to take books regularly from the sewingschool library and carry them home to her crippled brother. It was rather slowly that I became aware that there was something touching in her personality. A year or two later she attended for a season a sewing-class taught by some friends of mine, and manifested there the same quiet amiability I had noticed in her.
“ When we give the girls apples or oranges,” said one of her teachers, “Jenny never eats hers; she always carries them home to her lame brother. Her sister Mary just gobbles hers up. There’s something about Jenny that goes to your heart.”
She grew to be a tall, slim young woman, and when she was about seventeen she married a boy not yet of age, a lad of an English Protestant family belonging to a somewhat better class than the Dolans. They began housekeeping without money, and there was little or none on hand when the first baby came ; and though Jenny finally learned to save — “ put nickels by,” as she expressed it — when other babies were expected, she never got together enough at once to lift her domestic life above the plane of a hand-to-mouth struggle for existence.
For years she came to see me in all her troubles. Her manner was subdued and serious, but she did not show much ability to think, though once she hazarded the reflection: “ We must bear what comes to us. He ” — she meant her husband — “ says God is good.” She always spoke of her husband either with great formality as “ Mr. Smith,” or simply as “ he.” I never had any reason, except what might be drawn from the remark just quoted, to suppose that “ he ” was in any sense a religiously inclined character.
As the years went by, Jenny gradually glided into the position of a person who must be regularly assisted over hard places. In the course of this long and familiar intimacy I learned some startling facts as to the training of a girl in such a home as hers had been, — facts the nature of which will he sufficiently indicated by the fact that I discovered, several years after her marriage, that she had never owned a hair-brush, but that she and her husband had one broken comb in joint possession.
She had been married only a year or two when her husband went out driving one night with a horse which he had no clear moral or legal right to use. It was not at all a case of stealing, — only of boyish borrowing from somebody who had not the authority to lend. He drove too fast and ran against something, doing a trifling damage. He was thoroughly alarmed, and promptly fled from the town. Jenny waited only a few days before deciding that he had deliberately deserted her. She showed unexpected energy, sold what little furniture they had, and went with her child to her mother’s home. Hardly had she installed herself there when she received a letter from her husband, and soon afterwards he came himself and settled up the difficulty about the horse in a manner satisfactory to all persons concerned. He had been away only about a fortnight, and had some grounds for complaint against his wife that she had shown so little faith in him. Conjugal desertions and temporary separations between husband and wife are things of such common occurrence in this class of society that Jenny naturally leaped to the conclusion that she had become the victim of one of these happenings ; and when we talked to the husband and wife together, both seemed meekly willing to admit that each had done wrong and must forgive the other. A little money was lent them, and they redeemed their furniture, and for Some time afterwards Jenny came honestly at irregular intervals, bringing a dollar to pay towards liquidating her debt, until her creditors could bear no longer to receive her savings, and forgave her the rest.
This transaction and the evident effort which she made then to realize the nature of an obligation did not prevent her, as time wore on, from falling into the habit of coming with requests for “ change ” when she needed medicine for the children, or for clothing and even food, when “ he ” had been “ sick ” or “ loafing ” more than usual because he was out of work. I was never able to learn certainly whether he had any definite vices or not. She always said, when I asked her if he drank. “ I don’t know, but I never smell any liquor on him.” I grew, however, to suspect that he indulged in petty gambling. Jenny was certainly a poor housekeeper and manager. She knew very little about cooking or the use of grain foods, and had been married a number of years before she learned that rice was a thing her children would eat and that it was cheap.
After a season of especial distress I inquired closely into the distribution of her income, and she then confessed that “ he” kept back a dollar a week for his own use, to buy tobacco and newspapers and to do what he pleased with. This seemed a pretty large sum to be appropriated to such purposes by a man whose wife had sometimes worn a pair of men’s shoes, or had even been obliged to borrow a pair to enable her to go out of doors and come to me for assistance. I told her that he kept too much of the money for his own use, and she said in her usual meek way that she would talk to him about it; but she added, “ I never jaw him ; I just get on.” They looked upon their weekly income as something to be spent as it came in for three weeks, and they threw the burden of the whole month’s rent on the proceeds of the fourth week. I reasoned with Jenny on this subject. She got hold of the idea at last that the rent should be saved week by week, and on a subsequent visit she naïvely informed me that she had told “ him ” what I had said, and he had admitted that my theory of rent must be correct; “ but,” she said, “ he had never before thought of it that way.” Jenny also accomplished the intellectual feat of learning that it was as difficult to go without food and fuel in order to pay up a back store bill as it was to stint herself and her family during any season of “sickness” or “loafing” which reduced the amount of money available for food and fuel. After she had learned this, she made some heroic effort to take her hardships in the period of reduced income, and to avoid running up bills. Doctors’ bills could not be so avoided, and the family was perennially in debt to a physician.
One phase of her mental experience was curious to me. Having married a Protestant, she grew indifferent to the Catholic faith, and did not have her children baptized in that church.
“ Is it because of the expense,” I asked her, “ or don’t you care ? ”
“ It’s because I don’t care anything about it,” she answered.
She seemed to love her babies, but when one little girl was ill it was amazing to see how ignorant the mother was, and how unable to care for the child or make it comfortable. After it died, she came for several years to get flowers to put on its grave on Memorial Day.
When her little boy was about six years old, she sent him two or three times, during one of her more impoverished seasons, to ask for money. Then I wrote her a note. I knew she could not read it herself, and was very willing that her husband should be obliged to read it to her. I had the notion that he was perfectly content that begging should be the part of the family labor which belonged to his wife, but I did not wish this task passed on to his child. I wrote to Jenny that either she or her husband must come in person for any aid they needed in money. She came within a few hours to see me, gentle and patient as ever, and I explained to her why it must have a bad effect on the child’s character to accustom him to do begging errands. She admitted, with something of that touching element evident in her humility which had kept my interest in her so long alive, that I was right, and she promised never to send the boy again.
Jenny did not improve in her appearance as she grew older. She was never very pretty, but when quite young she had rather sweet, Madonna-like eyes. She became coarser in color and outline. I did not like her looks. Rumors began to reach me that she was drinking, and at last I asked her if these stories were true. She gently but. decidedly denied them. Two years have passed since she last came to me for aid or sympathy. I cannot but believe that she has really taken to drinking, and that since she is not willing to confess her fault, she has refrained from making any moral or material demands upon me, because she could not quite bring herself to repeat her denials.
There was one young girl whose story is of value in the study I am trying to make, chiefly because of the light it throws on the careless tenure of the family obligation in the class which drifts easily into the ranks of vice and crime. The girl had apparently a nature poised between good and evil. Mr. B. found her, at five or six o’clock one morning, standing on the platform of a railroad station, where she had just alighted from a train that had come a long distance. She was a little creature, wore a childish frock, carried for baggage a small parcel, and seemed to be about thirteen years old.
She was asking the freight agent how she could get a carriage to take her to a certain house in the town, naming the street and the number. Startled and horrified, the impulse of the Good Samaritan awoke in Mr. B.’s heart, and he took upon himself the responsibility of answering.
“ You don’t want to go there,” he said.
“ Yes, I do.” she persisted. “ My sister lives there,”
She went on to tell him that her sister was a member of a theatrical company in the town, and had sent for her to come and make a visit, and she had just arrived, having come from some town in Pennsylvania.
“ Well,” said Mr. B. at last, “ I am going by that house, and can show you the way, so you don’t need a carriage ; but you’d better not go. That house was raided by the police a night or two ago. Do you know what that means ? ”
She appeared to understand that it implied something rather bad, but still declared that she must go and see if her sister was there. She was a delicate child, not pretty, not intelligent looking, yet with something wistful about her face, and something in her undeveloped expression that appealed to one’s sympathy, as a little stray animal might appeal to it.
Her new-found friend conducted her to the house, but resolved not to leave her till some clear indication appeared as to what he ought to do for her. He went in, and waited in a downstairs room, while somebody received the girl in a manner which showed that she was expected, told her that her sister had gone away, and took her upstairs.
Concerning the events of the next few minutes nothing need be said, except that the child rushed down to her protector, eagerly imploring him to take her away at once. No one dared to interfere as he led her forth, and he took her straight home to his wife.
That good woman received her as if she had been the daughter of a near friend. The girl seemed perfectly satisfied to make no further effort to find her sister. She described her home life in Pennsylvania as not very happy. The sister had lived away from her family a long time. Did not her father and mother know about her character ? To such a question she had little to answer. “ We knew she had been bad,” she admitted, “ but she had been home on a visit, an’ we thought she was all right now, an’ we forgive her.”
She did not satisfactorily explain how she came to be allowed to take such a journey and run so great a risk to visit such a sister. One parent had wanted her to accept the invitation ; the other had not, but had finally consented. The sister had promised “ to do ” for her when she came, had told stories of money and luxury as a result of her theatrical business. The child accounted for her lack of baggage by the fact that her sister had promised to give her clothes.
A letter was sent to the address she gave, and a reply manifesting no interest in her was received. She undoubtedly had a father and probably a mother in the place whence she said she came, but they were evidently not inclined to do anything about getting her back, and she herself had no money with which to return.
She was a capable and industrious little body. She helped the woman who had sheltered her, and was even anxious to do more and harder work about the house than her new friends would permit. Notwithstanding her energy she was very childish in her looks and ways, and sobbed and cried in her sleep as if some terror were upon her.
“ Don’t be frightened ; you are safe with us,” the woman assured her in motherly fashion, when she awoke from her troubled dreams.
At last a situation as child’s nurse was found for her in a neighboring city. She took in a docile spirit the good advice given her, and was sure the glimpse of evil which she had had in that awful house where she had sought her sister would make her turn away from many temptations. Her new friends let her go with feelings of real interest and affection. After she had gone, they came sadly to the conclusion that she had carried with her the contents of a ten-cent savings-bank, which she had stolen from them.
“ I never knew a happy hour till I left home. Of course I would n’t have gone if my father had n’t given his consent, but he did say I might. He works in the same mill I do. Oh yes, he and I are good friends. My mother, she was pretty well educated, but my father is a man who can’t read or write.”
I looked at the girl as she sat sewing and talking, and saw a young creature With delicately cut though slightly irregular features, and large expressive eyes that had big black circles under them. She had a colorless skin, pale brown hair, and a singularly bright and charming smile. Her personality was of the kind that proclaims itself at once as interesting. She was twenty years old, and looked about seventeen.
Her name was Jessie March. Her mother died when she was a baby. A stepmother, burdened as the years went on with the care of many children, and not dowered with any especial graces of nature, made of the poor little stepchild a household drudge, to whom no kindly caress was ever vouchsafed, for whom no gentle or helpful deed was ever done.
Jessie was put to work in a mill when she was eleven years old, after which she came out four times for a three months’ term of school attendance. She never went to an evening school. Her only holidays were when she was sick, and nobody took care of her. She was obliged to do a great deal of housework out of mill hours. The poor little girl dragged on this unchildlike life till childhood was gone. When she was seventeen, she felt that she could bear it no longer, and agreed with her father that she should control her own wages and take charge of herself.
“I don’t see how you dared attempt it,” I said, “ when you were ill so much.”
“I don’t think I should have lived much longer if I had n’t,” she answered. “ I ’m ever so much better now. Oh, I ’ve got on splendid the last year. I make a dollar a day, an’ I pay three dollars a week for my board. The lady I live with does my washing with hers in the winter. I don’t have much. In the summer I do my own washing. I don’t like to iron very well. The sleeves and the basque of a dress bother me,” with a little laugh, as if she remembered some particular struggles over the ironing-board. “ But you just set me down before a tubful of suds and clothes, and I’m happy. I love to wash. The people I board with are real good to me. They ’re what you call Irish Protestants. I go to St. Mary’s Church, — Catholic.”
Jessie joined a working-girls’ club after she had been away from home about a year, and she enjoyed very much the social life it gave her. “I feel,” she said eagerly, “ as if I had so many more friends than I ever had before.”
One summer she went to the seashore through some club arrangement, and for a week was as happy as possible. “I came home so well! ” she said. “ I gained six pounds in that week.”
She loved amusements, and went to parties and even to balls occasionally, — “ nice balls,” given by a certain “ literary society.” She did not know much about the literary character of this society, but she knew it was a “select crowd ” that attended their dances. She spent three hours one evening — after her day’s work, of course — ironing the clothes she was to wear at a ball the next night. Once she wore white muslin over pink, and once she went to a dance all in white to her shoes, and carried a redand-white bouquet. Her dress, when I saw her, showed that she liked ornaments. Her movements had a sort of dainty freedom when she walked. As for dancing, she had danced till three o’clock on a certain Friday night, taken her breakfast at four, sat laughing and enjoying herself with her friends until it was necessary to leave the house in order to reach the mill at half past six, and then, not having been in bed at all, she had worked through the Saturday half-day, and would have been glad to go to a dance again Saturday night. But she confessed, with a laugh, that she felt tired on Sunday. A doctor, she said, had told her once that her health would be better if she had more “good times.” The amount of her dancing dissipation must not be overestimated. She had been to only two balls and four home parties in a whole winter. Hers was evidently a rich, feminine nature that had been undernourished, but she was very willing to be happy. I have asked her how she was getting on, when she was looking particularly ill, and she has smiled dashingly and answered enthusiastically, “ Oh, fine ! ”
Jessie had a generous pleasure in the beauty of other women, and I have heard her describe very eagerly how pretty a certain younger girl had been a year or two before, when she came first to work in the mill, and had golden curls falling down on her shoulders. She had aix intimate friend whom she also thought “ very pretty.” “ She’s three years older ’n me,” she said. “ We work on the same bench, an’ I’ve been to her for advice about almost everything since I left home, and what she tells me to do always turns out the right thing. She’s been a real guardian angel to me.”
James O’Halloran had served in India under the British flag. He was a tall, dark man, with large, soft, melancholy eyes. Some strange fate had married him to a common-looking, pale-faced little woman, and brought him to end his days in a New England factory village. During the last years of his life he was too ill of consumption to work in the mill, so he swept and cooked at home, and his wife and older children worked in the factory. There was a certain element of beauty in the man’s personality, and a pathetic quality either in himself or in his situation which strongly appealed to the sympathetic imagination.
There was a lady who used to visit the family occasionally in a friendly maixner, which moved greatly the hearts of the husband and wife. Probably no woman of her class ever treated them just as she did, though what she did was without much thought on her part, and she was stirred with some remorse later to think how little she deserved their gratitude. Indeed, she confessed to me that her memory retained only three or four distinct and vivid impressions of her intercourse with them.
She remembered that once O℉Halloran came in the springtime and stood near a great hawthorn-tree at her gate, and she went forward to speak with him. He looked very thin and haggard and feeble, — his life so wasted and worn, and the earth so fresh and sweet, that the contrast printed his image upon hexbrain. Another day she passed his house, and seeing him at the open window with the look of illness on his face, she gave him two or three flowers which she chanced to be carrying. Finally, she was going away from the village, and she went to bid him good-by. He lay on his bed, too weak to rise any more.
“ Good-by,” he whispered, as she and his wife stood beside him. “I ’ll never see you again.”
All difference in rank seemed to the lady of no consequence at that moment. She and the husband and the wife were three human souls together, and one of them was about to learn the mystery of things which she did not know. She took his hand, and his dying eyes gazed into hers through the mist that death was already drawing over them. “ Good-by,” she said gently.
Some time afterward she returned to the village, and Mrs. O’Halloran sought her, and told her, with tears in her eyes, of her husband’s last days.
“ He was losing his senses, and his mind was full of you. He’d forget, an’ each day he would say, ‘Was the lady here to-day ? ’ An’ I ’d say, ‘ The other day, James.’ An’ he’d say, ‘ Tell her I blessed her on my dyin’ bed, an’ that I said I ’d never forget her, an’ I ’d pray for her when I ’d left this life forever.’ He could n’t forget you, never. He even went so far as to say he ’d give up his place in heaven to you, but he knew that was n’t needed ; heaven was for all. He gave the prettiest smile when he was dyin’ you ever see. He turned his head, — I was a-settin’ by the side of the bed, — turned his head so, an’ smiled. You never could forget it, it was so pretty. I fretted a deal for him. I could n’t help it. I cried the day I heard you ’d come back, it brought him so to my mind. Ellen says : ‘ Mother, what do you cry for ? Father ’s better off where he is. He had to suffer so much here.’ She ’d say that, she’s so wise, but she’d cry herself an’ not let me see it. He said he ’d ’a’ been glad to die long ago, he’d suffered so much in the beginnin’ of his sickness, but he kept it to himself. He was n’t a man to give in easy. He buried it in. He was a smart man, but he got disheartened, he’d had such a hard time.”
So the widow rambled on innocently, telling how the life-insurance money had paid up the expenses of her husband’s death and funeral, and had enabled her to start with her children on their new mode of life, now that the invalid father was gone.
The “ lady ” left Ann O’Halloran and her brood as a sort of legacy to me, and an occasional visit to them kept me for several years informed as to their general welfare.
The oldest child was the “ wise ” daughter Ellen, who was about seventeen when her father died. She was a slender girl, with a face a little longer and thinner than the perfect oval, brown hair, quiet eyes, and a delicately cut aquiline nose. Although a demure and serious expression was that most characteristic of her, she had a very winning and happy smile.
Ellen was a skillful seamstress; that is, skillful for one of her class, factory girls not being generally very clever in their use of the needle. She could run a sewing-machine, cut out garments after a fashion, and sewed by hand moderately well. She did a kind of work in the factory which sometimes permitted her to leave the mill quite early in the afternoon. The mother and the other children who were old enough also worked in the mill, and the housework was done at odd hours.
Ellen was not robust, but she grew stronger as time went on, and when she reached her twentieth year the family struck a period of comparative prosperity, such as frugal factory families are apt to enjoy for a few years, after a number of the children are pretty well grown, but before these same children are old enough to claim the use of their own wages. It is a short, happy season for parents, who are at last able to draw breath with a leisurely mind, and to feel that life is not a burden beyond their strength. It ends speedily as a period of family life, for the children marry, and the parents are thus gradually deprived of their wages, and the brief season of parental prosperity and authority dwindles to a close.
Before we consider how Ann O’Halloran and her sweet-faced daughter bore themselves during this harvest-time of the family existence, it is just not only to remember the strong and healthy impulses of youth and the holy sanction that nature sets upon a young girl’s desires, but to reflect a moment on the mother’s past life. For years she had borne children, thirteen in all, and had not been able to cease her labors during a large proportion of those hours which are sacred to repose in the lives of more fortunate women. Eight of her children had died. Sickness and sorrow had added themselves to poverty in her lot. Her husband’s long illness had obliged her to supplement her maternal and housewifely cares with mill work. He had done all he could in the house, but as he grew sicker she had had to do more, and during the last months of his life she had been obliged to leave the mill to take care of him and the home, so that the family income had been reduced to the lowest point when she most needed money. Poor Ann must often have seen those whom she most loved needing medicines which she could not get, and dying without comforts which she had no money to procure for them. After his death came indeed an easier time, but life still meant for her hours of toil before and after each day of ten to eleven hours in the factory. It meant washing, sweeping, baking, and scrubbing, and the daily tramp back and forth beside the cotton-machines sandwiched in between, as if it were a relish to a woman’s household occupations.
When Ellen was twenty, there were two boys beside herself and her mother at work, and only a couple of younger children to be supported. Mrs. O’Halloran realized that now had come the time when she might hope to buy rocking-chairs, bits of carpet, or other things dear to the matronly heart, and still make provision for her old age.
One summer the united earnings of the family amounted to seventy dollars a month, and Ann would have been happy but that her confidence in the future was shaken by the fact that Matt Hughes kept coming to see Ellen. He did not act like an ordinary lover, sat quietly in the kitchen with the family during his evening visits, and showed no signs to the chance visitor which would give the impression that he was “ keeping company ” with Ellen, unless it were indeed the cheerful alacrity with which he would go down into the cellar to get a hod of coal for the tired mother. Notwithstanding his attentions to her, Ann complained bitterly to Ellen about his visits.
“ If you don’t want him to come here, mother,” the girl would answer calmly, “ you tell him so yourself. He won’t come if you ask him not to.”
Ann was too wise or too polite to act on her daughter’s suggestion and turn Matt out of her house. She undoubtedly liked the young fellow, and possibly felt in his presence that subjection to masculine energy which had marked her relations to her husband, whom she had always treated as a superior being. Poor soul, she was not accustomed to order men here and there, and in and out. It had been her rôle to be ordered. But however much she liked Matt or deferred to him personally, she had no mind that he should marry her Ellen and possess himself of twenty dollars a month of her rightful income. In a sense, Ellen might be said to be earning that twenty dollars now; but had not the mother preëmpted it and really earned it in her long sleepless nights beside the couch of dying children, in the fearful days when she had dragged herself about her tasks with new-born babies at her breast, in the months when she had worked with the buzzing cotton-machinery foretelling her approaching widowhood ?
She probably did not reason out the grounds of her claim to dispose of her sweet young daughter’s life as she wished, hut she held to her claim obstinately, and showed such an ugly temper about it that Ellen came to the conclusion that if she attempted to marry Matt in the usual fashion, her mother would pursue her to the altar and make her wrathful outcry in the very church.
Ellen had no fancy for being “shamed” before her little world. If there must be “ scenes ” about her marriage, she had a healthy, undramatic preference for private ones. What conferences she had with Matt upon the subject I know not, but it is not likely that those peaceful hours spent in the society of the family, around the kitchen stove, represented all the intercourse between these two honest young lovers, and at last Ellen came to a wise and virtuous resolution as to what she would do.
She went, with her brave, steady, maidenly eyes, straight to the parish priest, and told him just how she was situated. The priest apparently held that Ann could manage very well on fifty dollars instead of seventy a month, and doubtless he also reflected upon the fact that Ellen was a full-grown woman and a sensible one by this time ; for he gave his sanction to the plan she had formed and upon the execution of which her heart was intent.
When a girl has “ the magic circle of the Church ” thus drawn around her young purposes, what need has she to torment her conscience with further scruples ? Ellen, indeed, does not appear to have troubled herself or her lover with any more questioning or hesitation. She appealed to a girl friend whose domestic arrangements permitted her the control of her own wages, and she borrowed of her twenty dollars. With this money she purchased materials, and as this was one of the seasons when she could get through her mill work, nearly every afternoon, at about four o’clock, she had plenty of time to work on her stuff, and then hide it away before her mother and the boys came home, soon after six. She had a sewing-machine to use, in making her little trousseau; for Ann, giddy with prosperity, had taken one to he paid for by installments. The payments had not all been made, but Ellen had the machine as she pursued her secret labors, her gray eyes doubtless growing tender, and her sweet, prim mouth curving into a smile that was half shrewd, half simple, as she fed the needle with the long seams.
Christmas was near at hand, when one morning Ellen started for the mill as usual, carrying her early lunch in her little tin pail. The mother and daughter worked in different buildings, so that their paths diverged, and as soon as Ellen was sure Ann could not see what she did she turned and fled back to the house. There she made some change in her dress, left the deceitful little pail, and then, with such a beating of her heart as may be guessed, she left once more the home of her girlhood. She shut behind her the door that had closed after the dead body of her soldier father, and, with a spirit as high as his had ever been in India, she stepped forth alone into the world.
Matt met her a short distance down the street. All that she had to do alone was now done. He had a carriage waiting. They jumped into it and drove to the church. Whether they went that short half-mile in a carriage so as to make it certain that no one who might see them would have time to get report to the mother before they should reach their destination, or whether they took that bridal drive for the mere splendor of it, I do not know, but in this fine though hurried fashion they proceeded on their way to the nuptial altar. The priest married them immediately, and they came back to a house opposite Ellen’s own home. Some friends received them, and here the bride remained hidden all day.
Soon after the ceremony somebody went into the mill and told Ann what had happened. She rushed like a crazy woman into the street. On the way she met one of the mill overseers, who vainly attempted to quiet her with sensible masculine advice not to take the matter too much to heart. She flew on to her home, and was speedily convinced that Ellen, married or not, had really gone somewhere. Ann had a brother who lived in a town some six or seven miles distant, and she seized the idea that perhaps her daughter had gone thither ; so she started for his house, walking or riding in public conveyance, always hurrying, and her heart growing hotter all the way, till she nearly fainted when at last she reached his doorstep.
Her excitement and rage were not allayed by learning that she had had her journey for nothing, since nobody at her brother’s knew anything about Ellen. She went wearily back to her own habitation, and was maddened afresh to learn towards night that the runaway had been in a house so near her as probably to have seen her start forth and return from her frantic search. She scurried across the street, forced her way into the house and the room where the bride was, leaped upon her like a wild animal, beat and tore her with her hands and berated her with her tongue.
Village opinion did not wholly justify Ann for making this assault. “ I should n’t have thought she was a woman to do as she did,” said one of her neighbors, telling me the story rather obscurely, as if she were a little ashamed to put in words how outrageous had been Ann“s conduct.
Ann herself seemed to feel no shame, when relating the occurrences of that strange wedding-day. “ I bate her, she said frankly, — “I bate her till I felt satisfied.”
Ellen never alluded to the attack in talking to me, but dwelt rather on the speedy overtures her mother made towards reconciliation. “ I knew she could n’t keep away from me long,” she said, with her delicate smile, “ an’ it was n’t a week before I looked out one mornin’ an’ saw her comin’ in to see me.”
At that time the factory help were paid only once a month, and so it happened that it was not until days after her marriage that Ellen received the envelope containing the wages due for the work done in the last part of her maidenhood. The sum amounted to twenty-three dollars. Matt put two dollars more with it and paid it over to Ann, and then he and Ellen felt their consciences very clear of offense.
They went after a little while to board with the mother, so that she, rather than a stranger, might profit by what they could pay. Filial-minded as she was, Ellen, however, was as clear-headed and resolute as ever, and she soon saw that, notwithstanding its apparent advantages, this was not an arrangement likely to conduce to the final happiness of any of the persons concerned, and she and Matt, after a short trial of it, decided to leave and go to housekeeping. When the borrowed twenty dollars which had furnished her trousseau were paid back, Matt’s wages easily supported the little establishment, while hers —for she continued during some time to work in the mill — could be saved or used to pay for furniture.
I was very much amused, at this period in her life, to see that, notwithstanding all she had dared to “ marry her own love,” she still manifested the true Irish reserve as to confessing that she really loved Matt. “ Oh yes, she liked him,” spoken in an indifferent tone, or, “ Yes, he’s pleasant,” — such admissions as these were all I could draw from her, till at last I boldly asked her if it would have made any difference to her relation with her lover if her mother had forbidden him to come to the house, as she so nonchalantly told the widow she might do before their marriage. A gleam came into Ellen’ gray eyes, and she smiled demurely. “ I ’ll tell you the truth,” she said. “ It would n’t have made any difference ; I ’d ha’ seen him somewheres else.”
Her womanly reticence did not prevent her from waxing enthusiastic over her enjoyment in her housekeeping. She was delighted over a present of a toilet set given them by one of Matt’s relatives, and she described the life that she and her young husband led in a way that betrayed the happiness they felt in their companionship. “ He never goes out without me,” she said, “ not of an evening or a Sunday. He stays in the house all day,” —she repeated the joyous fact, — “ unless we go for a little walk together. We take books from the library, — books of travel an’ the like. He reads aloud to me, while I ’m workin’ round the room. It gives us something to talk about; an’ sometimes he reads something funny, an’ the other day we got to laughing so hard ! ” Life was eminently satisfying to her. and her instincts prompted her to make generous use of it. “ I do all mother’s sewing for her,” she said, “ just the same as I did before I was married.”
She left off working in the mill after a while, and devoted herself entirely to home duties. When I went to see her, more than a year after her marriage, she had a baby in her arms. She stood with the child’s head close to her own. Her gentle eyes were full of love and happiness.
The O’Halloran family, however, still nursed their grudge against her. Things had not gone as well with them as Ellen had expected,and owing to various causes the widow’s income had not maintained itself at the figure upon which the daughter had calculated when she seceded from that little household union.
“ Ellen has got a good man.” said her nineteen-year-old brother, “ there’s no mistake about that, but she did wrong to get married. I shall never marry. I’m going to take care of my mother. A man might as well take care of his mother, I say, as of some other woman.”
“ An’ do you think,” argued Ann, “ I ’d ever have undertaken to pay forty dollars for that sewing-machine if I ’d known I was goin’ to lose her wages ? ” She went on for some time urging her grievances against Ellen, then gave a smile, half ashamed, half proud, and admitted that it was better, now the matter could not be helped, to be on friendly terms with her daughter, adding simply, “ An’ they named the baby for me, after all.”
It seems to me that there are many suggestions conveyed by the different characters and experiences which I have tried to depict faithfully in these sketches. I cannot but wish that all these suggestions could be studied out to some beneficial end, but if there be one hint which is common to them all, I think it is a hint which points to the need of all those influences in society which tend to the development of a proper family life.
To make a home happy and moral, a good man and a good and capable woman are necessary in its constitution. To make it also a comfortable home and secure a permanent basis for its happiness and morality, the man as well as the woman should be not only good, but capable. Goodness is indispensable in both, but in the home the heavier burden, physical, mental, and moral, is thrown by natural forces upon the woman. It were a grace added to chivalry, if man were to feel it a worthy enterprise voluntarily to assume a responsibility towards the family which nature apparently permits him to evade, — an evasion which, notwithstanding that apparent permission, still reacts upon him and makes him an equal victim with woman in the misfortunes that ensue from any flaw in the family life.
Lillie B. Chace Wyman.