“But I only want a little, Mrs. Grubb. A few potatoes and, some salt fish; and just a gill of milk and a cup of flour. The children have had nothing to eat since yesterday. I took home six pairs of trowsers to-day, which came to ninety cents, at fifteen cents a pair. But I had seven pairs, and Mr. Berlaps wont pay me until I bring the whole number. It will take me till twelve o’clock to-night to finish them, and so I can’t get any money before to-morrow. Just let me have two pounds of salt fish, which will be only seven cents, and, three cents’ worth of potatoes; and a little milk and flour to make something for Ella. It won’t be much, Mrs. Grubb, and it will keep the little ones from being hungry all day and till late to-morrow.”

Her voice failed her as she uttered the last sentence. But she restrained herself after the first sob that heaved her overladen bosom, and stood calmly awaiting the answer to her urgent petition.

Mrs. Grubb was a woman, and a mother into the bargain. She had, too, the remains of a woman’s heart, where lingered a few maternal sympathies. These were quick to prompt her to duty. Turning away without a reply, she weighed out two pounds of fish, measured a peck of potatoes, poured out some milk in a cup, and filled a small paper with flour. These she handed to Mrs. Gaston without uttering a word.

“To-morrow you shall be paid for these, and something on the old account,” said the recipient, as she took them and hurried from the shop.

“Why not give up at once, instead of trying to keep soul and body together by working for the slop-shops?” muttered Mrs. Grubb, as her customer withdrew. “She’d a great sight better go with her children to the poor-house than keep them half-starving under people’s noses at this rate, and compelling us who have a little feeling left, to keep them from dying outright with hunger. It’s too bad! There’s that Berlaps, who grinds the poor seamstresses who work for him to death and makes them one-half of their time beggars at our stores for something for their children to eat. He is building two houses in Roxbury at this very moment: and out of what? Out of the money of which he has robbed these poor women. Fifteen cents for a pair of trowsers with pockets in them! Ten cents for shirts and drawers! and every thing at that rate. Is it any wonder that they are starving, and he growing rich? Curse him, and all like him! I could see them hung!”

And the woman set her teeth, and clenched her hand, in momentary but impotent rage.

In the meantime, Mrs. Gaston hurried home with the food she had obtained. She occupied the upper room of a narrow frame house near the river, for which she paid a rent of three dollars a month. It was small and comfortless, but the best her slender means could provide. Two children were playing on the floor when she entered: the one about four, and the other a boy who looked as if he might be nearly ten years of age. On the bed lay Ella, the sick child to whom the mother had alluded, both to the tailor and the shopkeeper. She turned wishfully upon her mother her young bright eyes as she entered, but did not move or utter a word. The children, who had been amusing themselves upon the floor, sprang to their feet, and, catching hold of the basket she had brought in with her, ascertained in a moment its contents.

“Fish and taters! Fish and taters!” cried the youngest, a little girl, clapping her hands, and dancing about the floor.

“Won’t we have some dinner now?” said Henry, the oldest boy, looking up into his mother’s face with eager delight, as he laid his hands upon her arm.

“Yes, my children, you shall have a good dinner, and that right quickly,” returned the mother in a voice half choked with emotion, as she threw off her bonnet, and proceeded to cook the coarse provisions she had obtained at the sacrifice of so much feeling. It did not take long to boil the fish and potatoes, which were eaten with a keen relish by two of the children, Emma and Harry. The gruel prepared for Ella, from the flour obtained at Mrs. Grubb’s, did not much tempt the sickly appetite of the child. She sipped a few spoonfuls, and then turned from the bowl which her mother held for her at the bedside.

“Eat more of it, dear,” said Mrs. Gaston. “It will make you feel better.”

“I’m not very hungry now, mother,” answered Ella.

“Don’t it taste good to you?”

“Not very good.”

The child sighed as she turned her wan face toward the wall, and the unhappy mother sighed responsive.

“I wish you would try to take a little more. It’s so long since you have eaten any thing; and you’ll grow worse if you don’t take nourishment. Just two or three spoonfuls. Come, dear.”

Ella, thus urged, raised herself in bed, and made an effort to eat more of the gruel. At the third spoonful, her stomach heaved as the tasteless fluid touched her lips.

“Indeed, mother, I can’t swallow another mouthful,” she said, again sinking back on her pillow.

Slowly did Mrs. Gaston turn from the bed. She had not yet eaten of the food, which her two well children were devouring with the eagerness of hungry animals. Only a small portion did she now take for herself, and that was eaten hurriedly, as if the time occupied in attending to her own wants were so much wasted.

The meal over, Mrs. Gaston took the unfinished pair of trowsers, and, though feeling weary and disheartened, bent earnestly to the task before her. At this she toiled, unremittingly, until the falling twilight admonished her to stop. The children’s supper was then prepared. She would have applied to Mrs. Grubb for a loaf of bread, but was so certain of meeting a refusal, that she refrained from doing so. For supper, therefore, they had only the salt fish and potatoes.

It was one o’clock that night before exhausted nature refused another draft upon its energies. The garment was not quite finished. But the nerveless hand and the weary head of the poor seamstress obeyed the requirements of her will no longer. The needle had to be laid aside, for the finger had no more strength to grasp, nor skill to direct its motions.



IT was about ten o’clock on the next morning, when Mrs. Gaston appeared at the shop of Berlaps, the tailor.

“Here is the other pair,” she said, as she came up to the counter, behind which stood Michael, the salesman.

That person took the pair of trowsers, glanced at them a moment, and then, tossing them aside, asked Mrs. Gaston if she could make some cloth roundabouts.

“At what price?” was inquired.

“The usual price—thirty cents.”

Вы читаете Lizzy Glenn
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату