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THE WIDOW's HOME.
at the head of the bed, and in a few minutes both of them were in a sound sleep.
The widow rose up, and, supporting herself by the wall, went to the corner of the room and brought a tin cup of gruel (oatmeal and water); and seating herself again on the bed, roused up her children to eat their simple meal. She had to shake them several times before they got up; and then she fed them with an iron spoon, giving to each a spoonful at a time.
When the gruel was gone, the still hungry children asked for more. “No, dears," said the mother, “you must go to sleep now; you can't have any more to-night.” “It's my turn to-night, Tony, to have the cup," said the little girl; the boy gave it to her, and crawled over to the back side of the bed to his night's sleep. The girl licked the spoon, and then plunged her little hand into the cup to gather the last particle of the gruel left. When she handed the cup to her mother, she turned up her eyes with a mournful expression, asking for “one spoonful more;" which the poor mother refused.
"Have you no more in the house ?" I inquired.
“Yes, sir," she answered, “but only enough for us till Saturday, when the children's wages come due; and I have laid the rest aside; for it's better to have a little every day, than to have enough once or twice, and then have nothing."
“My good woman," I replied, “I have money, and it is yours." We roused up the boy once more,
and sent him to the bake-shop to get something to eat; and while he was gone the widow told me her pitiful story, which I will give you in her own language as nearly as possible.
“For a good many years my husband worked in a machine-shop; and until my children were ten or twelve years old, we did not send them to the mills ; we wished to keep them at home as long as we could, for we knew they would grow sickly and feeble as soon as they began the hard life of the factory. His wages supported us all pretty comfortably; and I stayed at home and took in what sewing I could get (for not one half of the factory people know anything about such work), and the oldest children went to the mills. Although they had to work hard and a great many hours, yet when we all came together at night we were very happy, and saw a great many good days. But about a twelvemonth ago my husband died; and that was a dark day for us all. He seemed to care only for us while he was sick; and when he came to die, after calling us all to him, and holding the children in his arms and kissing them, he said, “The only thing that troubles me, Mary, is, that I leave you and the children poor.'
“I almost gave up in despair ; for I could see nothing before me but the workhouse, where I pray God I may never go, if what they say of them is true. I saw nothing for my children but apprenticeship or starvation, and I could hardly choose between
THE WIDOW'S STORY.
them. The little comforts we had in the house I was obliged to sell to get us bread; and the expenses of the funeral and the taxes soon swept away nearly all our furniture and my husband's clothes, and at last I was obliged to sell my own.
“Six hungry children were staring me in the face, asking for bread; and I saw that in a little while I should have none to give them. It was as painful to ine as to have laid them in the
but I was obliged to apprentice my four oldest children, and they see hard times. My health had been poor for a good many years, for my constitution was broken down by working in the mills while I was a girl. My husband found me when I was at work in the mill; and we loved each other; and he provided me a home, where we were very happy ; and if he had not died"
Here the widow was overcome with exhaustion and grief, and fell back upon her bed. When she had partly recovered she continued :
“But I thought I would not give up; I knew I must not. I took in what little work I could get, and sent Tony to the mill. But I could get only a little work, and Tony got only two shillings a week, and we saw ourselves growing poorer and poorer every day. I knew I could not stand it long, but I went to the factory myself, and left little Meggy with a neighbour. I did not last long there; the work was too hard for me. When I
gave it up, I was obliged to send Meggy; and it has been a sad work, sir, to
see how pale and thin she grows; to break her sound sleep in the morning and send her off to the mill
l; and then to have her come home at night so tired and hungry, and only half a meal to eat, and so worn out that she falls to sleep before she eats that! It's pretty hard, sir, then, to see an officer come into our cellar, and take the last penny we had on earth for taxes. Oh! sir, I wish we were all in our graves, and then we should be at rest."
Yes, blessed be God, there the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest! To escape all the sorrows and struggles of earth, the stings of adversity, and the pains of hunger; to lie down peacefully in the tomb-oh! there is a rich consolation in the thought!
The little boy returned from his errand with brightened features; but the smile which played over his pallid countenance seemed like a faint light falling upon a grave: so little did the joy on his face conceal the deep-seated gloom that had been traced there by want and sorrow.
One thing was still wanting-a light. The boy lit up a small tin lamp, which stood on a shelf over the fireplace.“ We don't use a lamp," said the widow, “ only when we are sick in the night; but I keep one against a time of need."
And now little Meggy was wakened again, and the family gathered around the deal stand to eat, for the first time in many weeks, food enough to satisfy hunger. It was affecting to me to see the joy of the
children, and the gratitude of the mother. In my heart I praised the widow's God for guiding my feet to her damp and cheerless home.
I talked for an hour with the widow about the religion of the Bible, the love of the Saviour, and the hope of Heaven. Her ideas on these subjects were extremely vague.
Said she, “ I used to go to church when I had clothes to wear, but I heard what I could never believe. When I heard the priest speak of a merciful God, who loves all his creatures so well that he does not let a sparrow fall to the ground without his .notice, I could not forget that I, for no crime, had to toil on in poverty and wretchedness, and see the bread taken from the mouths of my hungry children to support the rich minister who never camé near my cellar. If this is religion, I do not want it; and if God approves of this, I cannot love him.”
“ But, my good woman," I replied, “ your Bible tells you of the abounding mercy of God.”
“ That may be, sir," she answered ; “ but I have no Bible to read, although I believe I could read one some if I had it.”
I took from my pocket a small Bible, and read the story of the Saviour's love ; his life, his works of mercy, his kindness to the poor, his ministry, his death and resurrection. I tried to have her distinguish between the corrupt abuses of the Established Religion and the Christianity of the Bible; between the unjust and cruel legislation of man and the just