Copyright
Holme Lee.

This work-a-day world (Volume 2) online

. (page 4 of 13)
Online LibraryHolme LeeThis work-a-day world (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the notion of Winny in love, and speaking
upon it, she said : * If my friend has made a
capture of you, I am sorry — she is very dear
and sweet, but not over susceptible — which is
lucky, if you tried your fascinations upon her.
I should have interfered had I imagined any
risk — but I know her invulnerable little heart.'
In making this assertion Mildred rather
overdid her part. It was sufficient to provoke
Durant to exert his fascinations further — until
he had ascertained, beyond denial, how unfair
and false it was. He did experience a
momentary pique, but he talked no more of
Miss Hesketh — he had talked enough for his
purpose. He did not want assuring that she
had a kindness for him (he was able to judge



DREAR NOVEMBER DAYS. 73

of that for himself), but he wanted her to be
assured that he had a mighty tenderness for
her, a love strong and manifest enough to be
all the excuse she needed if her own pride
arraigned her for giving him a place in her
maiden meditations. He expected that the
nature of feminine friendship would demand a
full, free, and early communication of every
word that he had uttered, and every sentiment
he had implied, and in this he was not deceived.
When Mildred betook herself to reflection on
what he had confessed, her heart warmed with
sympathy — she laughed, indeed ; but sympathy
is not always inconsistent with a perception of
the ludicrous. Mildred was accustomed to
view Durant as almost getting into years (she
supposed he was forty), and Winny, on the
other hand, seemed to her very young, im-
mature, and childlike, and though lovable,
a trifle ridiculous, clothed with the grave
responsibility of her state of life.

She did not contemplate the business as
serious. It was an interesting speculation how
far Winny might have responded to Durant's



74 THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

affection, and Mildred would have liked to
know. The first issue of her curiosity was
that long letter, written when the world was
asleep, which brought such magical cure to the
misery of her friend, that almost Winny forgave
herself her own betrayal. But the betrayal
went no further. What Durant knew, he knew.
What Mildred conjectured might remain uncer-
tain. She would tell her nothing, and keep her
counsel by silence and absence. This was not
an adequate return for the effusive comfort that
had been given her, and Winny felt that it was
not. But if ever stratagem be excusable, it is
in the concealment of a passion that must be
nipped in the bud. Winny's heart sang for joy
when she read how Durant loved her (' He is
as fond of you almost as I am,' Mildred wrote),
because that took the sting out of her foolish-
ness, and restored her right to self-respect,
without diminishing the love that was so foolish.
She did not consider whether he was suffering
— the idea did not enter her mind ; there is no
shame to a man for loving unwisely.

She did not answer Mildred's letter for a



DREAR NOVEMBER DAYS. 75

week. In the use of her pen she had an
advantage. She had been made fun of at
Foston for praising Mr Durant's kindness,
which some people thought mere pleasing of
himself, and she chose to praise it now — ' Mr
Durant is very kind ; he pays me a fine com-
pliment ' — not a word more.

Mildred cried out: * Oh, she is quite safe!
He need not flatter himself — she is no more in
love with him than I am.'

Winny was safe, no doubt; but Mildred's
conclusion was not absolutely just for all that.

She took the first opportunity of inform-
ing Mr Durant that Miss Hesketh was in
excellent spirits again — she had written to
inquire. ' And I told her the fine compliment
you paid her — she says you are ve^y kindl —
she added with a dryness that was rather
disconcerting.

In fact, Mildred had arrived at an opinion
that Durant was presumptuous in his visions
of her friend, and ought to be humbled. If he
had been free she was far from sure that his
suit would have had her approval.



76 THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

Nevertheless, as his conceited aspirations
were most unlikely to be fulfilled, she could
afford to pity him ; and she did pity him — a
little ; but she laughed at him a little too. And
thus, if he had erred through idleness and
vanity, Winny was, in part, avenged, only she
did not know it, and his brief discomfiture was
soon forgotten.

The children at Hall Green had no Christ-
mas holidays, but the dancing-class broke up for
a month, and the journeys to Cotham were inter-
rupted. Winny Hesketh had given Miss Den-
ham notice of this, and Georgie had answered
that she also was going to spend Christmas
away from home. They were to have had a
last meeting at the Two Trees on a certain
noonday in December, but though Winny was
there (for it must be bad weather, indeed, to
keep the children indoors), Georgie did not
come. It had been raining and sleeting all the
morning, and though it cleared at twelve, it was
too late then for her to set out. That was her



DREAR NOVEMBER DAYS. 77

excuse. But she wrote to Winny a letter by
the next post, with an impertinent little
apologue of ' A Moth and a Candle,' to bid her
take care of herself, play at ball, and walk out
every day. Winny blushed with vexation over
the impertinent little apologue. It was Georgie's
way of apprising her that she had heard of her
meeting with Mr Durant. Georgie, on her own
behalf, announced that she was going to pay a
visit to London, and hoped to proceed after-
wards to Paris, with a view to her studies. If
she were successful according to her expecta-
tions, the time of her return to Gotham was
uncertain.

Winny was very sorry to lose Georgie for
this indefinite term. She saw a vista of un-
relieved days before her stretching far, far. At
twenty philosophy is no match for disappointed
dreams of love. Winny had the wit to know
that her mood was a terminable mood, and
signified a loss of sweet hopes to ruminate
upon, but her heart refused submission to the
reasonable loo^ic of her head. She had not



"]?> THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

learned to work the rules in proportion which a
variety of troubles teaches us all in time, and
she averted her mind from the inevitable
brightening that must ensue, to indulge in
gentle melancholy.



CHAPTER VII.

OTHER people's TROUBLES.

WiNXY Hesketh did not know when she was
well off. She was ungrateful, and she got
punished for it.

She made a o^ood fio:ht to be herself throuo:h
her trial, and almost she succeeded. Almost,
but not quite. For when the boys came home
from school and from college, she found the
irregularities they introduced into the school-
room too much for her nerves, and often forsook
it altogether for her shivery eyrie in the tower,
where she was understood, on Clemmy's report,
to be busy writing, in crimson spun-silk mittens
bought at the Quaker's shop in Cotham. Mr
and Mrs Broome were not sure that they
approved of so much writing. Then she had
become a silent character, and Sis did not like



8o THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

to ask her to tell them tales after tea of when
she was a little girl, because, pouted Sis, laying
a soft cheek up against Winny's, and clasping
her uncomfortably round the neck : ' 'Ou look
like a dog that has lost its master' — which
Winny blushed at as too shrewd a speculation,
and Clemmy rebuked as extremely rude.

The rule and regimen of lessons was relaxed
during Christmas week, and on a suggestion of
Mr Broome that the governess might be spared
for a little while, the mother of the children
proposed to her a three days' visit home.
Winny thankfully accepted the short furlough,
and Mrs Broome conveyed her Into Cotham —
they two alone In the carriage. On the road
Miss Hesketh had to smile and offer
congratulations on family Intelligence. Dear
Mab, her mother said, had won the affections
of a cousin during their last summer's visit to
Scotland, and there was a hopeful prospect of
her marriage In the spring. When this had
been duly discussed, Mrs Broome mentioned
further that dear Clemmy was so ambitious of a
high education that her papa had all but con-



OTHER PEOPLE S TROUBLES. 8 1

sented to let her go to London as a student at
Queen's College.

' And in that event, Miss Hesketh, we shall
have to make a change at Hall Green. Dear
little Bee and Sis must do with a less expensive
governess ' (Winny had forty guineas of salary
this year), *and Mr Broome and myself have
decided that your engagement had, therefore,
better terminate at Easter. That will give you
three months to seek another. We shall regret
parting with you.'

Winny did not hear any more distinctly — the
blood had rushed to her head, was buzzing in
her ears. No later than last night she had mused
of herself pathetically as a sad, lonely mortal, in-
deed ; but here was a blow — most unexpected,
most severe ; and, withal, so inevitable in her
vocation, that she secretly acknowledged her
folly in fancying she had seen already the worst
of her life. Oh, life must have yet many shapes
and degrees of trial in store for her before she
would have done with it ! Mrs Broome talked
on amiably, and was in excellent spirits, because
of dear Mab. Miss Hesketh was glad to

VOL. IL F



82 THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

escape from her when the carnage drove up to
the Talbot; glad, also, to walk the remainder
of the way to Castle Green, that she might
bring her face and feelings under control before
meeting her mother.

It was Christmas Eve, and nearly five o'clock
— dark In the streets, therefore, except for the
lamps and the seasonably decorated shop-win-
dows. Winny lingered along them in melan-
choly mood, and when she came into the
comparative gloom of Castle Green, she lingered
yet more reluctantly. Once she stood still, and
gazed at the lights reflected tremulously in the
pale, full-flowing river. She wished that she
had better news, or none, to carry home to her
mother. It had dejected herself, and was too
recent to be thrown off. As she stood thus
pensively pondering, a sturdy young woman
enveloped in a cloak and hood passed her,
glanced round, halted with a keen, inquisitive
air, and came back. It was Delphine
Mercier.

* I thought it was your figure, Winny Hes-
keth, and yet I did not believe it could be you!'



OTHER people's TROUBLES. S^

cried she, laying a hand on her comrade's arm.
' Why so tragical ? What are you dreaming
of ? What are you doing here by the water-
side ? '

* I am on my way from the Talbot to my
mothers house. I have three days' holiday/
answered Winny, and was herself again.

' I was just going there to beg a cup of tea.
I have promised to play a game of chess with
Mrs Mason to-night. You have heard how ill
she is ? No ? Ah, but she is — cancer. Dread-
ful ! I contrive to go in of an evening two or
three times a week to play chess, the only
thing that amuses her. And your mother
gives me a cup of tea first.'

* Walk slowly, Delphine. I have something
to tell you.' And Winny poured out her
trouble of to-day.

' I should not let that vex me ! You must
have sixty guineas where you go next,' was
Delphine's cool, common-sensical reply.

' I don't care for the money. I love the
children, and I don't love strangers. I am
sorry I have to leave Hall Green. I wish my



84 THIS WORK- A- DAY WORLD.

mother would let me live at home, and go
out as you do. But I am afraid she never
will.'

* I am sure she never will — she has too much
pride to see you scudding about the town, rain
or fair weather. And it is nonsense to say
you don't care for the money — you ought to
care. The more you cost, the more will you
be valued.'

' I think I shall not tell my mother, at present.
She would only fret herself with anxiety where
I shall drift next.'

* I never tell mine any of my worries about
pupils — but I advise you to mention your
intended change as soon as you can do so
without showing that It bothers yourself And
let Mrs Brunton know. She is in the way of
finding situations.'

Winny felt her spirits mending even as
Delphine spoke. They were now at the
widow Hesketh's door. Susan opened it,
and her loud, pleased exclamation of surprise
brought her mistress from the front-parlour,
where she was resting In the firelight, and



OTHER people's TROUBLES. 85

musing of many things when the door-bell
rang. She began to say : ' Dear Winny, is it
you ? I was just thinking that you might as
well be here on Christmas Day as not ! And
Delphine Mercier ? Come in, children, you
are cold. Tea is on the table — and Susan,
bring the cake.' The mothers eyes had a
trick of shining with tears now at every
emotion — it was like the weakness of old aore.
But they cleared quickly, and she untied
Winny 's bonnet, and kissed her, and remarked
that she was looking nicely, and the frost had
pinched her cheeks. Winny was obliged to
the frost for making her rosy.

There was a cheerful noise at tea with the
two young people, but Delphine Mercier had
to go soon. She found, however, a private
moment to make a communication to Winny
in answer to her query : ' About your wedding,
Delphine, when is it to be ? '

* It is put off, Winny — I don't quite know
when it will be. You see, I have my trouble
too. Dr Archer read me a lecture the other
day on my duty to mamma — that I ought to



86 THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

live single to maintain her, because she wishes
it. I plead that we will maintain her, Joe and
I. If we are both teaching we shall need a
housekeeper, and who so fit as mamma ? But
she objects to relinquish her own home. Even
more decidedly do I object to give up Joe.
We will await a turn in events, but we
mean to exercise a judicious selfishness in the
end.'

Her mother told Winny afterwards that Mrs
Mercier's opposition to her daughter's marriage
had other grounds than her simple objection
to give up her home in Cotham. She con-
sidered the prospect of comfort in it very
limited, and that everything would depend
upon Delphine's exertions. * If Delphine's
case were yours, Winny, I should certainly
refuse my consent,' said the widow with
decision. * I have no notion of an indolent
man marrying a girl in the expectation of being
supported by her. It ought to be the other
way. I feel with Mrs Mercier that Delphine
is more hasty than wise.'

Winny said nothing. She sat in the old



OTHER people's TROUBLES. 87

rocking-chair, leaning down towards the fire,
and gazing abstractedly into the scarlet hollows
where she used to see pictures when she was a
child. To judge from her countenance the
pictures she saw to-night were rather dismal,
though her eyes were bright and her lips softly
folded. Two lines, two incipient wrinkles, dis-
turbed the calm of her brow with a premature
though tfulness. Her mother gave her news of
their friends. Mr Knox was ill, Mrs Fleetwood
was very asthmatic. Miss Baxter was suffer-
ing much from rheumatism this winter, and
Miss Maria, being overdone with care and
anxiety, was more snappish than ever. Aunt
Agnes wrote from London that Dick had
changed his lodgings (Dick had left his uncle's
house and office over a year ago), and was too far
off now to dine Avith them on Sundays. His
uncle did not know how he was going on — but
he was afraid not too steadily or prosperously.

' There is a letter from him — you can read it,
Winny,' and the widow produced her son's
letter from the basket where her knitting lived
— the knitting that was still for Dick.



SS THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

Dick's letter was a begging-letter for
money. WInny read It with confusion of
face. They knew very little at home of
Dick's doings — only they knew he was not
to boast of

* I have nothing to spare — nothing to send
him/ said his mother quietly and coldly.
WInny reddened, and thought she would send
him five pounds. The widow proceeded :
* Mr Nicholls cannot afford to pay the guinea
a week for his rooms now, and rather than let
him leave, I have lowered his rent to fifteen
shillings. And I do not know how long he
may be able to continue that. There is no
chance of his resuming duty anywhere. He is
in a lingering decline. Dr Archer comes every
day to see him as a friend.'

WInny pulled herself together with an Instant
revival of energy and courage. It was
necessary to show a brave face to such a
battalion of woes. * I have twenty-one pounds
that Mr Broome paid me this morning,
mother. Dick shall have five of It, and the
rest Is at your service to do what you like with,'



OTHER people's TROUBLES. 89

said she, producing her russia-leather purse with
business-like alacrity.

' I should not dream of touching your money,
thank you, Winny,' replied her mother gravely.

* I am sure you would not unless in case of
necessity. But I need nothing myself, at
present, so you can take the fifteen pounds, and
put it in the bank. It will be there if you want
it. Don't let Mr Nicholls leave because of the
rent'

' No — you are very good, Winny. You
must do as you please about Dick, but your
Uncle Hayland does not advise me to begin
sending him little helps. He advises leaving
him to find out what caprice and idleness bring
a man to, in the hope that, as he loves his
comforts, he may come to see that it is
pleasanter to work for them than to go with-
out.'

' This once — It Is Christmas,' said Winny.
And then turned the subject by asking if there
was a pair of scales In the house ; she wanted
a parcel weighed for the post.

Susan was rung for to bring the small copper



90 THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

scales from the kitchen, and Winny Introduced
her parcel, ready sealed, and addressed to that
famous writer (conductor now of a popular
magazine), upon whose works sjie had sat when
she was a little girl, to secure her right to the
first reading when she had spoken before Dick.
Her mother put on her spectacles, and dehbe-
rately enunciated the direction aloud. Then
she weighed the parcel, reckoned up the post-
age at six shillings and fourpence, and rather
sarcastically remarked that it was very wasteful,
and Winny was very venturesome.

*Well, mother, nothing venture, nothing
have,' retorted Winny.

' I prefer to see you a good governess. I
have no wish to see you an authoress,' rejoined
her mother. ' An authoress, indeed ! '

' A good governess — to be shuffled about the
world for forty or fifty years, and cast aside
when I am good for nothing! — No, I'll make a
dash for a better fate than old Mam'zell's !— I
am to leave Hall Green at Easter — Mab is
going to be married ; Clemmy is going to
schopl. — There, you see, mother, what certainty



OTHER PEOPLE S TROUBLES. 9 1

has a governess ? I have been happy at Hall
Green — perhaps, my next home will be just the
reverse/

Winny announced her news with a defiant
vivacity that disguised its character. The
widow said she was sorry to hear it, but she
caught the infection of Winny's spirit, and
added that she must hope for the best. — Then
they were silent. Winny wrote a rapid letter
to Dick, enclosed him a bank-note, asked for an
acknowledgment by return, and called for
Susan to go and get it registered, and to post
that other momentous parcel before the office
closed. Her promptitude kept her mother
quiet. She did not even offer a remonstrance
when Winny, lifting the window-blind, men-
tioned that it was a fine frosty, moonlight night,
and she would run to the post herself with
Susan.

Winny was relieved to have got the telling
of her news so well over. It was a load off her
mind. She and Susan made a quick despatch
of their errand to the post-office, and then
returned towards home more leisurely. Many



92 THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

people were in the streets admiring the gay
shops — a cheap show for the poor. Winny
Hesketh had never seen it before, or them
either, in the same light. * I wish I were rich
enough to make them all happy ! ' she said with
a prodigious longing.

' Try one, Miss Winny,' suggested Susan.
* A shilling will do it, for a plum-loaf.'

Winny welcomed the idea, and they went on
scrutinising the groups and single figures until
they came to a party of five little children, the
eldest being of the age of ten, or thereabouts.
They were contemplating with serious, wonder-
ing delight the grand Christmas-tree, hung with
gilded and coloured crackers, in the plate-glass
window of a crowded grocer's shop. Susan
entered the shop, and amazed them with
the gift of an orange apiece ; then asked if they
all belonged to one family, and if their mother
was a widow. Of course, she was, and they
were all brothers and sisters — so Winny, at a
baker's close by, bought a big plum-loaf, and
endowed the children with that, who stared, as



OTHER PEOPLE S TROUBLES. 93

well they might, at such surprising, bounteous
luck.

* Poor bairns, how clean they are, Miss
Winny — did you notice ? ' Susan asked her
young mistress as they proceeded on their
way. 'They reminded me of ourselves — we
were six little 'uns when my father died, and
Lottie was the baby ; six at home, for we were
seven altogether, but my eldest sister was with
my aunt at Manchester. Mother says I can't
remember, but I can ; I can recollect getting
ready to go, and it was dark. And we all
cried so — mother too. But she said It had to
be.'

' To go where, Susan ? ' Winny Interrupted.

* For one-and-twenty days, to be sworn to
our parish — to the Union, Miss Winny. I
don't like to speak the word, but so it was.
Father had worked since before he was married
with Squire Melmoth of Rossall, and mother
would have it we belonged to Rossall parish,
but they hadn't many poor there, and they said
we belonged to Bollan. And we had to go



94 THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

to the Union till it was settled. I remember
having clogs and a blue striped frock put on,
and I was so 'shamed of walking to church in
them ; I kept my head down for fear of seeing
anybody as knew us. For while father was
alive we were quite respectable, and had a nice
house and a garden — it seems to me it was a
large garden ; and a pig — but Squire Melmoth
wouldn't let no widows stay in his cottages,
and it was a very poor place we got at Bollan
— they made it out we belonged to Bollan ; but
mother always says we belonged by rights to
Rossall, and we went to Rossall school. Miss
Melmoths paid the pence, and I often won-
dered why they could not pay to Bollan instead
of having us to walk all that long way in winter.
It was over two miles, and we took our dinners
with us — bread and treacle it was ; and mother
strove hard. Her dinner was bread and treacle
too, many a day, and a sup of cold tea in a
bottle ; she worked in the gardens at Rossall for
all we lived at Bollan. She tried washing, but
the doctor said her health wouldn't stand it.'
* But about the Union, Susan — was it a very



OTHER PEOPLE S TROUBLES. 95

dreadful place?' Winny Hesketh Inquired.
* Were you very miserable there ? '

' The worst was that we never saw mother
unless we could get near her in the hall where
we had our meals — men, women and children
together. She could not keep us all when
father was dead without the parish allowance —
that was why we had to go in ; but she told us
it would not be very long, for they'd be glad to
be shut of such a lot as we were. And she
could work, and did work when we came out.
They kept us the one-and-twenty days, and
then we were let go — my eldest brother who
was getting on for twelve, managed to run
away before to a farmer that he'd tented for.
How did they use us ? Not badly — I don't
mind that anybody ever hit me. But I was
sad and hungry — I was but a little 'un, only five
when father died, and Tom and Lottie younger.
For breakfast and tea we had milk and water
lithed with flour — skilly ; I don't suppose you've
heard the name, Miss Winny — scalding hot,
and ten minutes to get it ; and if we hadn't done
when the man rapped with his spoon, we had



g6 THIS WORK-A-DAY WORLD.

to leave off. And we hadn't to speak. One
dinner was broth and dumpling — I couldn't eat
the dumpling, and if I could spy mother, I used
to creep up, and twitch her sleeve, and ask :
" Is \\, pi7iing-d.2.y y mother, to-day?" She's told
me often since, how I used to twitch her, and
whisper : '' Is it pming-^2.y , mother, to-day ? "
I'm always sorry for bairns if they're
hungered. Hunger's a sharp thorn. Miss
Winny.'

Winny believed her, and was touched by
her reminiscences. Susan continued to open*
her heart and her memory.

' When we lived at home after, and
grumbled, as children will, at what mother


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryHolme LeeThis work-a-day world (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 13)