Man, Women and Ghosts by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward - HTML preview
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pretty dancing shadows. Harrie, all alone, turned her face weakly and
Well, they made no fuss about it, after all. Her husband came and stood
beside her; a cricket on which one of the baby's dresses had been
thrown, lay between them; it seemed, for the moment, as if he dared not
cross the tiny barrier. Something of that old fancy about the lights
upon the altar may have crossed his thought.
"So Miss Dallas has fairly gone, Harrie," said he, pleasantly, after a
"Yes. She has been very kind to the children while I have been sick."
"You must miss her," said poor Harrie, trembling; she was very weak yet.
The Doctor knocked away the cricket, folded his wife's two shadowy
hands into his own, and said:--
"Harrie we have no strength to waste, either of us, upon a scene; but I
am sorry, and I love you."
She broke all down at that, and, dear me! they almost had a scene in
spite of themselves. For O, she had always known what a little goose she
was; and Pauline never meant any harm, and how handsome she was, you
know! only _she_ didn't have three babies to look after, nor a snubbed
nose either, and the sachet powder was only American, and the very
servants knew, and, O Myron! she _had_ wanted to be dead so long, and
"Harrie!" said the Doctor, at his wit's end, "this will never do in the
world. I believe--I declare!--Miss Hannah!--I believe I must send you to
"And then I'm SUCH a little skeleton!" finished Harrie, royally, with a
Dr. Sharpe gathered the little skeleton all into a heap in his arms,--it
was a very funny heap, by the way, but that doesn't matter,--and to the
best of my knowledge and belief he cried just about as hard as she did.
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 operatives in the factories. Of these ten thousand two thirds are
These pages are written as one sets a bit of marble to mark a mound. I
linger over them 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
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!
Pretty Del turned her head. She had just flung a smile at a young clerk
who was petting his mustache in a shop-window, and the smile lingered.
One of the factory boys was walking alone across the Common in his
"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
"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. I'd like my dresses trailin'
"Well, may they be good,--these rich folks!"
"That's so. I'd be good if I was rich; wouldn't you, Moll?"
"You'd keep growing wilder than ever, if you went to hell, Meg Match:
yes you would, because my teacher said so."
"So, then, he wouldn't marry her, after all; and she--"
"Going to the circus to-night, Bess?"
"I 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 Martyn, when left to herself, fell into a contented
dream not common to girls who have reached her age,--
who have seen the phases of life which she had seen. 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 canal-bridge one day, went home and painted a May-flower
budding in February.
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
soup-plate, 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,
"Dick hasn't come, father?"
"Come and gone child; didn't want any supper, he said.
Your 're an hour
before time, Senath."
"Yes. Didn't want any supper, you say? I don't see why not."
"No 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 wouldn'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 thrown 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
snow-drifts 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 round
the corner for a pound of coffee. "Humpback! humpback!"
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
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 tipped 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
"You're a bit put out that the young fellow didn'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 I
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
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
mellow-cheeked 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, u 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 hardly 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 to 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 dam. 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
this 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 a shy 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
doorstep 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
"I wouldn't cry," he said simply, sitting down beside her. Telling a
girl not to cry is an infallible recipe for 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
She remembered--it was not exactly pleasant, somehow, to remember it
to-night--just the look of his face when they came into the house that
summer evening, and he for the 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, life 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 didn't have you?" she said, and caught her
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 oriflamme 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 pink-and-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 of 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. 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, 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
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
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
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
"Well, where did _you_ drop down from, Sene?" said Del, with a guilty
"From over the bridge, to be sure. Did you think I swam, or flew, or
"You came on me so sudden!" said Del, petulantly; "you nearly frightened
the wits out of me. You didn't meet anybody on the bridge?" with a quick
"Let me see." Asenath considered gravely. "There was one small boy
making faces, and two--no, three--dogs, I believe; that was all."
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
"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 needn'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 wasn't going to ask; it's nothing to me, of course.
He doesn't care
for her then,--this other girl?"
"Not so much as he does for me. He didn'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
"He'll never break his engagement, not even for me; he's sorry for 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-and-white, 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 lips 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
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
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 the
sudden recollection of a ghost-story which he had charged his
grandchildren not to believe last week, cracked his whip, and rumbled
Asenath began to understand by and by that she was cold, so climbed the
bank, made her way over the windy flats, 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
"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
It fell in with a thought of Asenath's, perhaps; at any rate she did
not like the looks of it, and 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 left 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 his 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 ye?"
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,
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 haven'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
looking-glass 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.
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 half-hour, 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
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. Why did a good God make such
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 food. She 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 mill.
"O, I can't!" she cried at night. So other mornings came, and other
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
factory 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
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.
must make up her mind to build 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 Ivy 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 a few merry months, 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 of 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, no 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
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 of the 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.
But at last there came a day--it chanced to be 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 warmed 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 snow in 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 how
cold 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 ice 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 the wind was up, and Merrimack in the distance chanted
"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
"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 kissed her, feeling sorry for her unknown trouble. He wondered why
she sobbed. He kissed her again. She broke from him, and away with a
great bound upon the snow.
"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
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 study
what 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 had
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 haven'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
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 sing on their way to
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 tea-kettle 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.
"Well, what now, Sene?--what now?"
"Sometimes I believe I've forgotten you a bit, you know.
I 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
"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,
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 of Dick. In
and out with her black and dun-colored threads she spun her future.
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 man 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 stair-cases, 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
"It's time for lights," said Meg Match, and swore a little at her
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 all 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
So the record flashed over the telegraph wires, sprang into large type
in the newspapers, passed from lip to lip, a nine days'
place to the successful candidate, and the muttering South, and was
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 might have tottered over massive columns and on
One that we love may go upon 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 ten 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 winked its many eyes 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.
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 _débris_ across her two hands, which lay clasped together at her
side. One of her fingers, she saw, was gone; it was the finger which