« ForrigeFortsæt »
have been expected to sink. Smail would occasionally work a little, but he invariably spent his earnings on the indulgence of his own base tastes. Nelly made many ingenious attempts to wile a little of his money from him, but seldom with any considerable success. She had instructed one of her children, who was a favourite with him, to watch his movements on the payday, and try to save a little from the general wreck. This child would follow him to all his haunts, and use every kind of expedient that could be devised for bringing him home with a pocket not altogether exhausted. The little shivering creature was heard one night saying to him-and it was the pure language of nature-" Oh, father, get fou as fast as you can, and come away, for mammy will be wearying for ye! Nothing, however, could melt the hardened heart of this man. His selfish and uncontrollable desire for exciting liquors had deadened every good feeling within him, if any such ever existed. He could, without the slightest sympathy, see his wife work sixteen hours a-day within a week of her confinement. If a shilling of his own gaining could have spared her the necessity of such exertion, it would not have been given to the tavern it must go. She, en one occasion of exigency, was obliged to employ him on an errand for some medicine, which was necessary for herself; and instead of hastening back with what was wanted, as it is to be hoped the most of husbands would have done, he spent the money on the gratification of his own base appetite, and did not reappear till next day. Under every humiliation, and though living the life of a very dog, or worse, he would still talk loftily of his house, his wife, and his children; and still he kept up his visionary title of the laird." He would take his seat as majestically at a meal as if he had provided it himself; and if anything of an irritating nature was said by his wife, he would, with one sweep of his arm, drive every article that stood upon the table into the fire. This he esteemed a grand discovery for the exaction of civility, and no consideration of the deplorable poverty of his household could prevent him on any occasion from putting it in practice.
One of the very few things which the unfortunate woman had saved from the last wreck of her household was a hen, which she designated Peggy Walker, out of respect for the person who had given it to her. Peggy was a remarkably decent, orderly, motherly-looking hen, of uncommon size, and so very good a layer, that for whole seasons she would produce one egg a-day, and on some occasions two. Even in the straightened purlieus of a low suburb, Peggy found it possible to pick up a livelihood : the neighbours indeed had a kind of respect for the creature. They knew of what service she was to Mrs Smail, in enabling her to support her family, and not only would abstain from hurting or persecuting her, but would throw many crumbs in her way, which they could not well spare. It was seldom that Peggy Walker did not contribute a shilling in the fortnight to the poor family who owned her; and the value of a fortnightly shilling, in such a case, who can estimate! Many a time did Nelly acknowledge that, if it were not for “that dumb creature," she did not know what would come of her family; for it was almost the only source of income upon which she could depend.
The laird was one day on the ramble, as he called it, with some of those low abandoned acquaintances in whom he took so much delight. The party had exhausted all their pecuniary resources, but not their appetite for that base fluid upon which they fed their own destruction. Already they were à sixpence short of the reckoning, and till that was settled, the landlord told them peremptorily they could get no more. What was to be done?
"I say, laird," quoth one of the wretches, “ haven't you a fine chucky at hame? What's to hinder you to thraw its neck and sell’t in the market there? Ye'll get at least eighteenpence fort. That wad answer finely."
“What! Peggy Walker?” said Smail, not relishing the idea much at first. Man, the gudewife wad never stand that it wad break her very heart."
“Gae wa',” said the other; “ aren't ye master? isn't the hen yours?"
“Oh yes, everything's mine,” cried the tipsy fool. “Nelly must not get everything her own way. Od, I'll do it.” And away he went, seized the meritorious Peggy as she was stalking in her usual quiet respectable manner up the close, and in half an hour rejoined his companions, having sacrificed, for another hour of infamous enjoyment, what would have helped, for years to come, to put bread into the mouths of his children.
The loss of Peggy Walker was a severe blow to Nelly, but it was nothing to another tragedy which soon after took place. During one of Smail's rambles, and after he had been absent for rather more than a week, his favourite child, the youngest but one, was seized with a severe illness, under which he quickly sunk, notwithstanding all the exertions of the mother. This fair-haired child was the first that Nelly had ever lost, and notwithstanding the distressing number of her family, she could not see him stretched out in the miserable bed where he had died, without the usual bitterness of a bereaved mother's grief. It was not her least distress, however, that her husband was absent, and would neither see his darling before the interment, nor render the assistance in that ceremony which was so nearly indispensable. A poor sick joiner, who lived next door, rose out of his bed to make a coffin, which he gave her upon credit for he was poor. The gravedigger required his fee, but she contrived to obtain it. A sum would have also been necessary to hire a man to carry the infant to the grave; but this she could not furnish. She was therefore obliged, after dressing herself in something like mournings, to take the coffin in her apron, and,
with fainting steps, proceed with it through the crowded streets of the city towards the place of sepulture. Many an eye turned with wonder to follow her, as she pursued her melancholy walk
-for in Scotland women are never seen in funereal matters—but the bustle of a large city teaches the eye to treat every extraordinary thing with only a transient curiosity. No one interfered to help her, or to procure her help. She passed on with the coffin in her lap and the tear in her eye, and laid her child in a grave where none was present besides herself and the sexton, to do honour to the common form of humanity, as it was consigned to kindred dust. When the mournful duty was done, she was seen returning through the same crowded streets, bearing, amongst the figures of the gay and unreflecting, as sad a heart as ever beat in mortal bosom.
Three days after the burial Smail came home-quite sober, for a wonder--and had no sooner sat down, than he called as usual for his darling son. “Where is the dear boy? Bring my sweet Harry!" such were his exclamations; and the rest of the children stood aghast at what they saw and heard. “ Dinna tak the name o' the deid, Johnie,” said his wife at length; “ your Harry is lying in the kirkyard, puir lammie, these three days past." Smail, who at the same time saw confirmation of the words in the black ribbon she wore in her cap, and in the tear which was beginning to glisten in her eye, was struck speechless by the intelligence. He covered his face with his hands and wept bitterly, while his wife, in as gentle terms as possible, related the circumstances of the child's death. From that day he was an altered man. He sat pining by the fireside, apparently without an aim in life, or a power of action, only now and then asking his eldest daughter to read a “chapter" to him-it is needless to say out of what book. He survived his child little more than a month, and truly was his death described by a neighbour as “a light dispensation.”
When relieved from the oppression of her husband, Nelly became comparatively prosperous. By dint of incredible exertions, she gathered enough to buy a mangle, and furnish a room as a lodging for a single man; in both of which concerns she was successful to admiration. Her children also, as they grew up, got into employment, and contributed to their own and her support. Nothing, however, can compensate the twenty prime years of her life spent in utter misery, or repair the damage which sorrow and poverty have wrought upon her frame. She is evidently one of those beings—alas, how numberless are they ! -who seem born only to the worst that life can give, who spend the whole of their days in bearing ills through and for others, and are unusually blest if they can only find a little quiet space at last, to enable them to prepare for another, and, it is to be hoped, a happier state of existence.
A TALE OF THE EARLY AMERICAN SETTLEMENTS.*
“What shall we have for dinner, Mr Guttridge?” said the wife of Jerry Guttridge in a sad, desponding tone, as her husband came into the log hovel from a neighbouring grog-shop about twelve o'clock on a hot July day.
“Oh, pick up something," said Jerry; " and I wish you would be spry and get it ready, for I'm hungry now, and I want to go back to the shop; for Sam Willard and Seth Harmon are coming over by an' by to swap horses, and they'll want me to ride 'em. Come, stir round : I can't wait.”
“ We haven't got anything at all in the house to eat," said Mrs Guttridge. What shall I get?”
« Well, cook something,” said Jerry ; " no matter what it is."
“ But, Mr Guttridge, we haven't got the least thing in the house to cook."
“Well, well, pick up something,” said Jerry rather snappishly, - for I'm in a hurry."
"I can't make victuals out of nothing," said the wife: “ if you'll only bring anything in the world into the house to cook, I'll cook it. But I tell you we haven't got a mouthful of meat, in the house, nor a mouthful of bread, nor a speck of meal; and the last potatoes we had in the house we ate for breakfast; and you know we didn't have more than half enough for breakfast neither."
« Well, what have you been doing all this forenoon," said Jerry, “ that you haven't picked up something? Why didn't you go over to Mr Whitman's and borrow some meal ?"
“ Because," said Mrs Guttridge, “ we've borrowed meal there three times that isn't returned yet; and I was ashamed to go again till that was paid. And besides, the baby's cried so, I've had to 'tend him the whole forenoon, and couldn't go out."
6. Then you a’n't a-goin' to give us any dinner, are you?" said Jerry with a reproachful tone and look. “I pity the man that has a helpless, shiftless wife; he has a hard row to hoe. What's become of that fish I brought in yesterday?"
“ Why, Mr Guttridge,” said his wife with tears in her eyes, - you and the children ate that fish for your supper last night. I never tasted a morsel of it, and haven't tasted anything but potatoes these two days; and I'm so faint now, I can hardly stand."
* This half-serious half-comic tale appeared in the Knickerbocker, an American monthly magazine, for May 1839. Slightly abridged, we have thought that it will form an appropriate conclusion to the subject of the present sheet-sufferings from imprudent marriages.
“ Always a-grumblin',” said Jerry; " I can't never come into the house but what I must hear a fuss about something or other. What's this boy snivelling about ?” he continued, turning to little Bobby, his oldest boy—a little ragged, dirty-faced, sicklylooking thing, about six years old at the same time giving the child a box on the ear, which laid him at his length on the floor. “Now get up!” said Jerry, “or I'll learn you to be crying about all day for nothing."
The tears rolled afresh down the cheeks of Mrs Guttridge; she sighed heavily as she raised the child from the floor, and seated him on a bench on the opposite side of the room.
“What is Bob crying about?” said Jerry fretfully. " Why, Mr Guttridge," said his wife, sinking upon the bench beside her little boy, and wiping his tears with her apron, “ the poor child has been crying for a piece of bread these two hours. He's ate nothin' to-day but one potato, and I s'pose the poor thing is half-starved.”
At this moment their neighbour, Mr Nat. Frier, a substantial farmer, and a worthy man, made his appearance at the door, and as it was wide open, he walked in and took a seat. He knew the destitute condition of Guttridge's family, and had often relieved their distresses. His visit at the present time was partly an errand of charity; for, being in want of some extra labour in his haying-field that afternoon, and knowing that Jerry was doing nothing, while his family was starving, he thought he would endeavour to get him to work for him, and pay him in provi
Jerry seated himself rather sullenly on a broken-backed chair, the only sound one in the house being occupied by Mr Frier, towards whom he cast sundry gruff looks and surly glances. The truth was, Jerry had not received the visits of his neighbours of late years with a very gracious welcome. He regarded them rather as spies, who came to search out the nakedness of the land, than as neighbourly visitors calling to exchange friendly salutations. He said not a word; and the first address of Mr Frier was to little Bobby
“What's the matter with little Bobby ?” said he in a gentle tone; " come, my little fellow, come here and tell me what's the matter."
“Go, run, Bobby; go and see Mr Frier," said the mother, slightly pushing him forward with her hand.
The boy, with one finger in his mouth, and the tears still rolling over his dirty face, edged along sideways up to Mr Frier, who took him in his lap, and asked him again what was
" I want a piece of bread!” said Bobby. “And wont your mother give you some?” said Mr Frier