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- MARY BARTON - 20/90 -
thought of her father, and wondered where he was; she made good resolutions according to her lights; and by-and-bye came the distractions and events of the broad full day to occupy her with the present, and to deaden the memory of the absent.
One of Mary's resolutions was, that she would not be persuaded or induced to see Mr. Harry Carson during her father's absence. There was something crooked in her conscience after all; for this very resolution seemed an acknowledgment that it was wrong to meet him at any time; and yet she had brought herself to think her conduct quite innocent and proper, for although unknown to her father, and certain, even did he know it, to fail of obtaining his sanction, she esteemed her love-meetings with Mr. Carson as sure to end in her fathers good and happiness. But now that he was away, she would do nothing that he would disapprove of; no, not even though it was for his own good in the end.
Now, amongst Miss Simmonds' young ladies was one who had been from the beginning a confidante in Mary's love affair, made so by Mr. Carson himself. He had felt the necessity of some third person to carry letters and messages, and to plead his cause when he was absent. In a girl named Sally Leadbitter he had found a willing advocate. She would have been willing to have embarked in a love affair herself (especially a clandestine one), for the mere excitement of the thing; but her willingness was strengthened by sundry half-sovereigns, which from time to time Mr. Carson bestowed upon her.
Sally Leadbitter was vulgar-minded to the last degree; never easy unless her talk was of love and lovers; in her eyes it was an honour to have had a long list of wooers. So constituted, it was a pity that Sally herself was but a plain, red-haired, freckled girl; never likely, one would have thought, to become a heroine on her own account. But what she lacked in beauty she tried to make up for by a kind of witty boldness, which gave her what her betters would have called piquancy. Considerations of modesty or propriety never checked her utterance of a good thing. She had just talent enough to corrupt others. Her very good nature was an evil influence. They could not hate one who was so kind; they could not avoid one who was so willing to shield them from scrapes by any exertion of her own; whose ready fingers would at any time make up for their deficiencies, and whose still more convenient tongue would at any time invent for them. The Jews, or Mohammedans (I forget which), believe that there is one little bone of our body,--one of the vertebrae, if I remember rightly,--which will never decay and turn to dust, but will lie incorrupt and indestructible in the ground until the Last Day: this is the Seed of the Soul. The most depraved have also their Seed of the Holiness that shall one day overcome their evil; their one good quality, lurking hidden, but safe, among all the corrupt and bad.
Sally's seed of the future soul was her love for her mother, an aged bedridden woman. For her she had self-denial; for her, her good- nature rose into tenderness; to cheer her lonely bed, her spirits, in the evenings, when her body was often woefully tired, never flagged, but were ready to recount the events of the day, to turn them into ridicule, and to mimic, with admirable fidelity, any person gifted with an absurdity who had fallen under her keen eye. But the mother was lightly principled like Sally herself; nor was there need to conceal from her the reason why Mr. Carson gave her so much money. She chuckled with pleasure, and only hoped that the wooing would be long a-doing.
Still neither she, nor her daughter, nor Harry Carson liked this resolution of Mary, not to see him during her father's absence.
One evening (and the early summer evenings were long and bright now), Sally met Mr. Carson by appointment, to be charged with a letter for Mary, imploring her to see him, which Sally was to back with all her powers of persuasion. After parting from him she determined, as it was not so very late, to go at once to Mary's, and deliver the message and letter.
She found Mary in great sorrow. She had just heard of George Wilson's sudden death: her old friend, her father's friend, Jem's father--all his claims came rushing upon her. Though not guarded from unnecessary sight or sound of death, as the children of the rich are, yet it had so often been brought home to her this last three or four months. It was so terrible thus to see friend after friend depart. Her father, too, who had dreaded Jane Wilson's death the evening before he set off. And she, the weakly, was left behind, while the strong man was taken. At any rate the sorrow her father had so feared for him was spared. Such were the thoughts which came over her.
She could not go to comfort the bereaved, even if comfort were in her power to give; for she had resolved to avoid Jem; and she felt that this of all others was not the occasion on which she could keep up a studiously cold manner.
And in this shock of grief, Sally Leadbitter was the last person she wished to see. However, she rose to welcome her, betraying her tear-swollen face.
"Well, I shall tell Mr. Carson to-morrow how you're fretting for him; it's no more nor he's doing for you, I can tell you."
"For him, indeed!" said Mary, with a toss of her pretty head.
"Ay, miss, for him! You've been sighing as if your heart would break now for several days, over your work; now arn't you a little goose not to go and see one who I am sure loves you as his life, and whom you love; 'How much, Mary?' 'This much,' as the children say" (opening her arms very wide).
"Nonsense," said Mary, pouting; "I often think I don't love him at all."
"And I'm to tell him that, am I, next time I see him?" asked Sally.
"If you like," replied Mary. "I'm sure I don't care for that or anything else now"; weeping afresh.
But Sally did not like to be the bearer of any such news. She saw she had gone on the wrong tack, and that Mary's heart was too full to value either message or letter as she ought. So she wisely paused in their delivery and said, in a more sympathetic tone than she had hitherto used--
"Do tell me, Mary, what's fretting you so? You know I never could abide to see you cry."
"George Wilson's dropped down dead this afternoon," said Mary, fixing her eyes for one minute on Sally, and the next hiding her face in her apron as she sobbed anew.
"Dear, dear! All flesh is grass; here to-day and gone tomorrow, as the Bible says. Still he was an old man, and not good for much; there's better folk than him left behind. Is th' canting old maid as was his sister alive yet?"
"I don't know who you mean," said Mary sharply; for she did know, and did not like to have her dear, simple Alice so spoken of.
"Come, Mary, don't be so innocent. Is Miss Alice Wilson alive, then; will that please you? I haven't seen her hereabouts lately."
"No, she's left living here. When the twins died, she thought she could, maybe, be of use to her sister, who was sadly cast down, and Alice thought she could cheer her up; at any rate she could listen to her when her heart grew overburdened; so she gave up her cellar and went to live with them."
"Well, good go with her. I'd no fancy for her, and I'd no fancy for her making my pretty Mary into a Methodee."
"She wasn't a Methodee; she was Church o' England."
"Well, well, Mary, you're very particular. You know what I meant. Look, who is this letter from?" holding up Henry Carson's letter.
"I don't know, and don't care," said Mary, turning very red.
"My eye! as if I didn't know you did know and did care."
"Well, give it me," said Mary impatiently, and anxious in her present mood for her visitor's departure.
Sally relinquished it unwillingly. She had, however, the pleasure of seeing Mary dimple and blush as she read the letter, which seemed to say the writer was not indifferent to her.
"You must tell him I can't come," said Mary, raising her eyes at last. "I have said I won't meet him while father is away, and I won't."
"But, Mary, he does so look for you. You'd be quite sorry for him, he's so put out about not seeing you. Besides, you go when your father's at home, without letting on* to him, and what harm would there be in going now?"
*Letting on; informing. In Anglo-Saxon one meaning of "laetan" was "to admit," and we say "to let out the secret."
"Well, Sally, you know my answer, I won't; and I won't."
"I'll tell him to come and see you himself some evening, instead o' sending me; he'd maybe find you not so hard to deal with."
Mary flashed up.
"If he dares to come here while father's away, I'll call the neighbours in to turn him out, so don't be putting him up to that."
"Mercy on us! one would think you were the first girl that ever had a lover; have you never heard what other girls do and think no shame of?"
"Hush, Sally! that's Margaret Jennings at the door."
And in an instant Margaret was in the room. Mary had begged Job Legh to let her come and sleep with her. In the uncertain firelight you could not help noticing that she had the groping walk of a blind person.
"Well, I must go, Mary," said Sally. "And that's your last word?"
"Yes, yes; good-night." She shut the door gladly on her unwelcome visitor--unwelcome at that time at least.
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