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- MARY BARTON - 10/90 -
"Well, Margaret, you're right welcome, as you know, and I'll sit down and help you with pleasure, though I was tired enough of sewing to-night at Miss Simmonds'!"
By this time Mary had broken up the raking coal, and lighted her candle; and Margaret settled herself to her work on one side of the table, while her friend hurried over her tea at the other. The things were then lifted en masse to the dresser; and dusting her side of the table with the apron she always wore at home, Mary took up some breadths and began to run them together.
"Who's it all for, for if you told me I've forgotten?"
"Why, for Mrs. Ogden as keeps the greengrocer's shop in Oxford Road. Her husband drank himself to death, and though she cried over him and his ways all the time he was alive, she's fretted sadly for him now he's dead."
"Has he left her much to go upon?" asked Mary, examining the texture of the dress. "This is beautifully fine soft bombazine."
"No, I'm much afeard there's but little, and there's several young children, besides the three Miss Ogdens."
"I should have thought girls like them would ha' made their own gowns," observed Mary.
"So I dare say they do, many a one, but now they seem all so busy getting ready for the funeral; for it's to be quite a grand affair, well-nigh twenty people to breakfast, as one of the little ones told me. The little thing seemed to like the fuss, and I do believe it comforted poor Mrs. Ogden to make all the piece o' work. Such a smell of ham boiling and fowls roasting while I waited in the kitchen; it seemed more like a wedding nor* a funeral. They said she'd spend a matter o' sixty pound on th' burial."
*Nor; generally used in Lancashire for "than." "They had lever sleep NOR be in laundery."--DUNBAR
"I thought you said she was but badly off," said Mary.
"Ay, I know she's asked for credit at several places, saying her husband laid hands on every farthing he could get for drink. But th' undertakers urge her on, you see, and tell her this thing's usual, and that thing's only a common mark of respect, and that everybody has t'other thing, till the poor woman has no will o' her own. I dare say, too, her heart strikes her (it always does when a person's gone) for many a word and many a slighting deed to him who's stiff and cold; and she thinks to make up matters, as it were, by a grand funeral, though she and all her children, too, may have to pinch many a year to pay the expenses, if ever they pay them at all."
"This mourning, too, will cost a pretty penny," said Mary. "I often wonder why folks wear mourning; it's not pretty or becoming; and it costs a deal of money just when people can spare it least; and if what the Bible tells us be true, we ought not to be sorry when a friend, who's been good, goes to his rest; and as for a bad man, one's glad enough to get shut* on him. I cannot see what good comes out o' wearing mourning."
"I'll tell you what I think the fancy was sent for (old Alice calls everything 'sent for,' and I believe she's right). It does do good, though not as much as it costs, that I do believe, in setting people (as is cast down by sorrow and feels themselves unable to settle to anything but crying) something to do. Why now I told you how they were grieving; for, perhaps, he was a kind husband and father, in his thoughtless way, when he wasn't in liquor. But they cheered up wonderful while I was there, and I asked 'em for more directions than usual, that they might have something to talk over and fix about; and I left 'em my fashion-book (though it were two months old) just a purpose."
"I don't think every one would grieve a that way. Old Alice wouldn't."
"Old Alice is one in a thousand. I doubt, too, if she would fret much, however sorry she might be. She would say it were sent, and fall to trying to find out what good it were to do. Every sorrow in her mind is sent for good. Did I ever tell you, Mary, what she said one day when she found me taking on about something?"
"No; do tell me. What were you fretting about, first place?"
"I can't tell you, just now; perhaps I may some time."
"Perhaps this very evening, if it rises in my heart; perhaps never. It's a fear that sometimes I can't abide to think about, and sometimes I don't like to think on anything else. Well, I was fretting about this fear, and Alice comes in for something, and finds me crying. I would not tell her no more than I would you, Mary; so she says, 'Well, dear, you must mind this, when you're going to fret and be low about anything--An anxious mind is never a holy mind.' O Mary, I have so often checked my grumbling sin'* she said that."
*Sin'; since. "SIN that his lord was twenty yere of age." --Prologue to Canterbury Tales.
The weary sound of stitching was the only sound heard for a little while, till Mary inquired--
"Do you expect to get paid for this mourning?"
"Why, I do not much think I shall. I've thought it over once or twice, and I mean to bring myself to think I shan't, and to like to do it as my bit towards comforting them. I don't think they can pay, and yet they're just the sort of folk to have their minds easier for wearing mourning. There's only one thing I dislike making black for, it does so hurt the eyes."
Margaret put down her work with a sigh, and shaded her eyes. Then she assumed a cheerful tone, and said--
"You'll not have to wait long, Mary, for my secret's on the tip of my tongue. Mary, do you know I sometimes think I'm growing a little blind, and then what would become of grandfather and me? Oh, God help me, Lord help me!"
She fell into an agony of tears, while Mary knelt by her, striving to soothe and to comfort her: but, like an inexperienced person, striving rather to deny the correctness of Margaret's fear, than helping her to meet and overcome the evil.
"No," said Margaret, quietly fixing her tearful eyes on Mary; "I know I'm not mistaken. I have felt one going some time, long before I ever thought what it would lead to; and last autumn I went to a doctor; and he did not mince the matter, but said unless I sat in a darkened room, with my hands before me, my sight would not last me many years longer. But how could I do that, Mary? For one thing, grandfather would have known there was somewhat the matter; and, oh! it will grieve him sore whenever he is told, so the later the better; and besides, Mary, we've sometimes little enough to go upon, and what I earn is a great help. For grandfather takes a day here, and a day there, for botanising or going after insects, and he'll think little enough of four or five shillings for a specimen; dear grandfather! and I'm so loath to think he should be stinted of what gives him such pleasure. So I went to another doctor to try and get him to say something different, and he said, 'Oh, it was only weakness,' and gived me a bottle of lotion; but I've used three bottles (and each of 'em cost two shillings), and my eye is so much worse, not hurting so much, but I can't see a bit with it. There now, Mary," continued she, shutting one eye, "now you only look like a great black shadow, with the edges dancing and sparkling."
"And can you see pretty well with th' other?"
"Yes, pretty near as well as ever. Th' only difference is, that if I sew a long time together, a bright spot like th' sun comes right where I'm looking; all the rest is quite clear but just where I want to see. I've been to both doctors again and now they're both o' the same story; and I suppose I'm going dark as fast as may be. Plain work pays so bad, and mourning has been so plentiful this winter, that I were tempted to take in any black work I could; and now I'm suffering from it."
"And yet, Margaret, you're going on taking it in; that's what you'd call foolish in another."
"It is, Mary! and yet what can I do? Folk mun live; and I think I should go blind any way, and I daren't tell grandfather, else I would leave it off; but he will so fret."
Margaret rocked herself backward and forward to still her emotion.
"O Mary!" she said, "I try to get his face off by heart, and I stare at him so when he's not looking, and then shut my eyes to see if I can remember his dear face. There's one thing, Mary, that serves a bit to comfort me. You'll have heard of old Jacob Butterworth, the singing weaver? Well, I know'd him a bit, so I went to him, and said how I wished he'd teach me the right way o' singing; and he says I've a rare fine voice, and I go once a week, and take a lesson fra' him. He's been a grand singer in his day. He led the choruses at the Festivals, and got thanked many a time by London folk; and one foreign singer, Madame Catalani, turned round and shook him by th' hand before the Oud Church* full o' people. He says I may gain ever so much money by singing; but I don't know. Any rate, it's sad work, being blind."
*Old Church; now the Cathedral of Manchester,
She took up her sewing, saying her eyes were rested now, and for some time they sewed on in silence.
Suddenly there were steps heard in the little paved court, person after person ran past the curtained window.
"Something's up" said Mary. She went to the door, and stopping the first person she saw, inquired the cause of the Commotion.
"Eh, wench! donna ye see the fire-light? Carsons' mill is blazing away like fun" and away her informant ran.
"Come, Margaret, on wi' your bonnet, and let's go to see Carsons' mill; it's afire, and they say a burning mill is such a grand sight.
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