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

smiled.

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

pause.

"Yes. She has been very kind to the children while I have been sick."

"Very."

"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

then--

"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

bed."

"And then I'm SUCH a little skeleton!" finished Harrie, royally, with a

great gulp.

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

girls.

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

than either.

Had you stood in some unobserved corner of Essex Street, at four o'clock

one Saturday afternoon towards the last of November, 1859, watching the

impatient stream pour out of the Pemberton Mill, eager with a saddening

eagerness for its few holiday hours, you would have observed one girl

who did not bound.

She was slightly built, and undersized; her neck and shoulders were

closely muffled, though the day was mild; she wore a faded scarlet hood

which heightened the pallor of what must at best have been a pallid

face. It was a sickly face, shaded off with purple shadows, but with a

certain wiry nervous strength about the muscles of the mouth and chin:

it would have been a womanly, pleasant mouth, had it not been crossed by

a white scar, which attracted more of one's attention than either the

womanliness or pleasantness. Her eyes had light long lashes, and shone

through them steadily.

You would have noticed as well, had you been used to analyzing crowds,

another face,--the two were side by side,--dimpled with pink and white

flushes, and framed with bright black hair. One would laugh at this girl

and love her, scold her and pity her, caress her and pray for her,--then

forget her perhaps.

The girls from behind called after her: "Del! Del Ivory!

look over

there!"

Pretty Del turned her head. She had just flung a smile at a young clerk

who was petting his mustache in a shop-window, and the smile lingered.

One of the factory boys was walking alone across the Common in his

factory clothes.

"Why, there's Dick! Sene, do you see?"

Sene's scarred mouth moved slightly, but she made no reply. She had seen

him five minutes ago.

One never knows exactly whether to laugh or cry over them, catching

their chatter as they file past the show-windows of the long, showy

street.

"Look a' that pink silk with the figures on it!"

"I've seen them as is betther nor that in the ould counthree.--Patsy

Malorrn, let alon' hangin' onto the shawl of me!"

"That's Mary Foster getting out of that carriage with the two white

horses,--she that lives in the brown house with the cupilo."

"Look at her dress trailin' after her. I'd like my dresses trailin'

after me."

"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,--

especially girls

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,

and fell.

"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!"

cried the

children,--the very children who could leap and laugh.

One day she and little Del Ivory made mud-houses after school.

"I'm going to have a house of my own, when I'm grown up," said pretty

Del; "I shall have a red carpet and some curtains; my husband will buy

me a piano."

"So will mine, I guess," said Sene, simply.

"_Yours!"_ Del shook back her curls; "who do you suppose would ever

marry _you_?"

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

Richard Cross.

"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

ready, father."

But her voice rasped bitterly. Life's pleasures were so new and late

and important to her, poor thing! It went hard to miss the least of

them. Very happy people will not understand exactly how hard.

Old Martyn took off his leather apron with a troubled face, and, as he

passed his daughter, gently laid his tremulous, stained hand upon her

head. He felt her least uneasiness, it would seem, as a chameleon feels

a cloud upon the sun.

She turned her face softly and kissed him. But she did not smile.

She had planned a little for this holiday supper; saving three

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

suffer.

"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

unconsciously?

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

breath.

The young man paced to the window and back again. The firelight touched

her shoulders, and the sad, white scar.

"You shall have me always, Asenath," he made answer. He took her face

within his hands and kissed it; and so they shelled the corn together,

and nothing more was said about it.

He had spoken this last spring of their marriage; but the girl, like all

girls, was shyly silent, and he had not urged it.

Asenath started from her pleasant dreaming just as the 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

Cross's face.

Of course you knew it from the beginning, but remember that the girl did

not. She might have known it, perhaps, but she had not.

Asenath stood up, sat down again.

She had a distinct consciousness, for the moment, of seeing herself

crouched down there under the aspens and the shadow, a humpbacked white

creature, with distorted face and wide eyes. She remembered a picture

she had somewhere seen of a little chattering goblin in a graveyard, and

was struck with the resemblance. Distinctly, too, she heard herself

saying, with a laugh, she thought, "I might have known it; I might have

known."

Then the blood came through her heart with a hot rush, and she saw Del

on the log, smoothing the red feather of her hat. She heard a man's

step, too, that rang over the bridge, passed the toll-house, grew faint,

grew fainter, died in the sand by the Everett Mill.

Richard's face! Richard's face, looking--God help her!--

as it had never

looked at her; struggling--God pity him!--as it had never struggled for

her.

She shut her hands, into each other, and sat still a little while. A

faint hope came to her then perhaps, after all; her face lightened

grayly, and she crept down the bank to Del.

"I won't be a fool," she said, "I'll make sure,--I'll make as sure as

death."

"Well, where did _you_ drop down from, Sene?" said Del, with a guilty

start.

"From over the bridge, to be sure. Did you think I swam, or flew, or

blew?"

"You came on me so sudden!" said Del, petulantly; "you nearly frightened

the wits out of me. You didn't meet anybody on the bridge?" with a quick

look.

"Let me see." Asenath considered gravely. "There was one small boy

making faces, and two--no, three--dogs, I believe; that was all."

"Oh!"

Del looked relieved, but fell silent.

"You're sober, Del. Been sending off a lover, as usual?"

"I don't know anything about its being usual," answered Del, in an

aggrieved, coquettish way, "but there's been somebody here that liked me

well enough."

"You like him, maybe? It's time you liked somebody, Del."

Del curled the red feather about her fingers, and put her hat on over

her eyes, then a little cry broke from her, half sob, half anger.

"I might, perhaps,--I don't know. He's good. I think he'd let me have a

parlor and a door-bell. But he's going to marry somebody else, you see.

I sha'n't tell you his name, so you 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

humpbacked fright!

"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

Martyn?"

Sene swung slowly back, and sat down.

"Amusing myself a little;--well, unless somebody died, you said? But I

believe I won't talk any more to-night. My head aches.

Go home, Del."

Del muttered a weak protest at leaving her there alone; but, with her

bright face clouded and uncomfortable, went.

Asenath turned her head to listen for the last rustle of her dress, then

folded her arms, and, with her eyes upon the sluggish current, sat

still.

An hour and a half later, an Andover farmer, driving home across the

bridge, observed on the river's edge--a shadow cut within a shadow--the

outline of a woman's figure, sitting perfectly still with folded arms.

He reined up and looked down; but it sat quite still.

"Hallo there!" he called; "you'll fall in if you don't look out!" for

the wind was strong, and it blew against the figure; but it did not move

nor make reply. The Andover farmer looked over his shoulder with the

sudden recollection of a ghost-story which he had charged his

grandchildren not to believe last week, cracked his whip, and rumbled

on.

Asenath began to understand by and by that she was cold, so climbed the

bank, made her way over the windy 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

their voices.

"He's sorry for her, and all that," they said.

A dead bough shot down the current while she stood there, went over and

down, and out of sight, throwing up its little branches like helpless

hands.

It fell in with a thought of Asenath's, perhaps; at any rate she did

not like the looks of it, 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,

maybe,--you?"

She felt better after that. She had not gone to sleep now for many a

night unkissed; it had seemed hard at first.

When she had gone half-way up stairs, Dick came to the door of his room

on the first floor, and called her. He held the little kerosene lamp

over his head; his face was grave and pale.

"I 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.

She turned

herself about and about before the glass, letting the cruel light gloat,

over her shoulders, letting the sickly shadows grow purple on her face.

Then she put her elbows on the table and her chin into her hands, and

so, for a motionless 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

repulsive mouth.

By and by she dropped her head into her hands. The poor, mistaken face!

She felt as if she would like to blot it out of the world, as her tears

used to blot out the wrong sums upon her slate. It had been so happy!

But he was sorry for it, and all that. Why did a good God make such

faces?

She slipped upon her knees, bewildered.

"He _can't_ mean any harm nohow," she said, speaking fast, and knelt

there and said it over till she felt sure of it.

Then she thought of Del once more,--of her colors and sinuous springs,

and little cries and chatter.

After a time she found that she was growing faint, and so stole down

into the kitchen for some 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

nights.

I am quite aware that, according to all romantic precedents, this

conduct was preposterous in Asenath, Floracita, in the novel, never so

far forgets the whole duty of a heroine as to struggle, waver, doubt,

delay. It is proud and proper to free the young fellow; proudly and

properly she frees him; "suffers in silence"--till she marries another

man; and (having had a convenient opportunity to refuse the original

lover) overwhelms the reflective reader with a sense of poetic justice

and the eternal fitness of things.

But I am not writing a novel, and, as the biographer of this simple

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

her dark?

As for the other man to marry, he was out of the question. Then, none

love with the tenacity of the unhappy; no life is so lavish of itself as

the denied life: to him that hath not shall be given,--

and Asenath loved

this Richard Cross.

It might be altogether the grand and suitable thing to say to him, "I

will not be your wife." It might be that she would thus regain a strong

shade of lost self-respect. It might be that she would make him happy,

and give pleasure to Del. It might be that the two young people would be

her "friends," and love her in a way.

But all this meant that Dick must go out of her life.

Practically, she

must make up her mind to 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

to herself.

November blew into December, December congealed into January, while she

kept her silence. Dick, in his honorable heart, seeing that she

suffered, wearied himself with plans to make her eyes shine; brought her

two pails of water instead of one, never forgot the fire, helped her

home from the mill. She saw him meet Del Ivory once upon Essex Street

with a grave and silent bow; he never spoke with her now. He meant to

pay the debt he owed her down to the uttermost farthing; that grew

plain. Did she try to speak her wretched secret, he suffocated her with

kindness, struck her dumb with tender words.

She used to analyze her life in those days, considering what it would be

without him. To be up by half past five o'clock in the chill of all the

winter mornings, to build the fire and cook the breakfast and sweep the

floor, to hurry away, faint and weak, over the raw, slippery streets, to

climb at half past six the endless stairs and stand at the endless loom,

and hear the endless wheels go buzzing round, to sicken in the oily

smells, and deafen at the remorseless noise, and weary 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

solemnly.

"Dick," said Asenath, "this is a dreadful place! Take me home."

But when he would have turned, she held him back with a sudden cry, and

stood still.

"I meant to tell you--I meant to say--Dick! I was going to say--"

But she did not say it. She opened her lips to speak once and again, but

no sound came from them.

"Sene! why, Sene, what ails you?"

He turned, and took her in his arms.

"Poor Sene!"

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

be!"

But Dick drew her arm through his, and led her gravely away. "I like you

well enough, Asenath," he said, with that motherly pity in his eyes;

"I've always liked you. So don't let us have any more of this."

So Asenath said nothing more.

The sleek black river beckoned to her across the snow as they went home.

A thought came to her as she passed the bridge,--it is a curious 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

day.

The silent city steeped and bathed itself in rose-tints; the river ran

red, and the snow crimsoned on the distant New Hampshire hills;

Pemberton, mute and cold, frowned across the disk of the climbing sun,

and dripped, as she had seen it drip before, with blood.

The day broke softly, the snow melted, the wind blew warm from the

river. The factory-bell chimed cheerily, and a few sleepers, in safe,

luxurious beds, were wakened by hearing the girls sing on their way to

work.

Asenath came down with a quiet face. In her communing with the sunrise

helpful things had been spoken to her. Somehow, she knew not how, the

peace of the day was creeping into her heart. For some reason, she knew

not why, the torment and unrest of the night were gone.

There was a

future to be settled, but she would not trouble herself about that just

now. There was breakfast to get; and the sun shone, and a snow-bird was

chirping outside of the door. She noticed how the 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.

"Father!"

"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

on?"

"It's the new machinery they're h'isting in," observed the overseer,

carelessly. "Great improvement, but heavy, very heavy; they calc'late on

getting it all into place to-day; you'd better be tending to your frame,

Miss Ivory."

As the day wore on, the quiet of Asenath's morning deepened. Round and

round with the pulleys over her head she wound her thoughts 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

frames.

"It's time for lights," said Meg Match, and swore a little at her

spools.

Sene, in the pauses of her thinking, heard snatches of the girls' talk.

"Going to ask out to-morrow, Meg?"

"Guess so, yes; me and Bob Smith we thought we'd go to Boston, and come

up in the theatre train."

"Del Ivory, I want the pattern of your zouave."

"Did I go to church? No, you don't catch me! If I slave 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

ground_."

So the record flashed over the telegraph wires, sprang into large type

in the newspapers, passed from lip to lip, a nine days'

wonder, gave

place to the successful candidate, and the muttering South, and was

forgotten.

Who shall say what it was to the seven hundred and fifty souls who were

buried in the ruins? What to the eighty-eight who died that death of

exquisite agony? What to the wrecks of men and women who endure unto

this day a life that is worse than death? What to that architect and

engineer who, when the fatal pillars were first delivered to them for

inspection, had found one broken under their eyes, yet accepted the

contract, and built with them a mill whose thin walls and wide,

unsupported stretches might have tottered over massive columns and on

flawless ore?

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.

The church-clocks

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