The Wide, Wide World
The Wide, Wide World
The Wide, Wide World
Enjoy the spring of love and youth,
To some good angel leave the rest,
For time will teach thee soon the truth,
"There are no birds in last year's nest."
"Mamma, what was that I heard papa saying to you this morning about his lawsuit?"
"I cannot tell you just now. Ellen, pick up that shawl and spread it over me."
"Mamma! – are you cold in this warm room?"
"A little, – there, that will do. Now, my daughter, let me be quiet awhile – don't disturb me."
There was no one else in the room. Driven thus to her own resources, Ellen betook herself to the window and sought amusement there. The prospect without gave little promise of it. Rain was falling, and made the street and everything in it look dull and gloomy. The foot-passengers plashed through the water, and the horses and carriages plashed through the mud; gaiety had forsaken the side-walks, and equipages were few, and the people that were out were plainly there only because they could not help it. But yet Ellen, having seriously set herself to study everything that passed, presently became engaged in her occupation; and her thoughts travelling dreamily from one thing to another, she sat for a long time with her little face pressed against the window-frame, perfectly regardless of all but the moving world without.
Daylight gradually faded away, and the street wore a more and more gloomy aspect. The rain poured, and now only an occasional carriage or footstep disturbed the sound of its steady pattering. Yet still Ellen sat with her face glued to the window as if spell-bound, gazing out at every dusky form that passed, as though it had some strange interest for her. At length, in the distance, light after light began to appear; presently Ellen could see the dim figure of the lamplighter crossing the street, from side to side, with his ladder; – then he drew near enough for her to watch him as he hooked his ladder on the lamp-irons, ran up and lit the lamp, then shouldered the ladder and marched off quick, the light glancing on his wet oil-skin hat, rough greatcoat and lantern, and on the pavement and iron railings. The veriest moth could not have followed the light with more perseverance than did Ellen's eyes – till the lamplighter gradually disappeared from view, and the last lamp she could see was lit; and not till then did it occur to her that there was such a place as indoors. She took her face from the window. The room was dark and cheerless; and Ellen felt stiff and chilly. However, she made her way to the fire, and having found the poker, she applied it gently to the Liverpool coal with such good effect that a bright ruddy blaze sprang up and lighted the whole room. Ellen smiled at the result of her experiment. "That is something like," said she to herself; "who says I can't poke the fire? Now, let us see if I can't do something else. Do but see how those chairs are standing – one would think we had had a sewing circle here – there, go back to your places, – that looks a little better; now these curtains must come down, and I may as well shut the shutters too – and now this tablecloth must be content to hang straight, and mamma's box and the books must lie in their places and not all helter-skelter. Now, I wish mamma would wake up; I should think she might. I don't believe she is asleep, she don't look as if she was."
Ellen was right in this; her mother's face did not wear the look of sleep, nor indeed of repose at all; the lips were compressed, and the brow not calm. To try, however, whether she was asleep or no, and with the half-acknowledged intent to rouse her at all events, Ellen knelt down by her side and laid her face close to her mother's on the pillow. But this failed to draw either word or sign. After a minute or two Ellen tried stroking her mother's cheek very gently; – and this succeeded, for Mrs. Montgomery arrested the little hand as it passed her lips, and kissed it fondly two or three times.
"I haven't disturbed you, mamma, have I?" said Ellen.
Without replying, Mrs. Montgomery raised herself to a sitting posture, and, lifting both hands to her face, pushed back the hair from her forehead and temples, with a gesture which Ellen knew meant that she was making up her mind to some disagreeable or painful effort. Then taking both Ellen's hands, as she still knelt before her, she gazed in her face with a look even more fond than usual, Ellen thought, but much sadder too; though Mrs. Montgomery's cheerfulness had always been of a serious kind.
"What question was that you were asking me awhile ago, my daughter?"
"I thought, mamma, I heard papa telling you this morning, or yesterday, that he had lost that lawsuit."
"You heard right, Ellen – he has lost it," said Mrs. Montgomery sadly.
"Are you sorry, mamma? – does it trouble you?"
"You know, my dear, that I am not apt to concern myself overmuch about the gain or the loss of money. I believe my Heavenly Father will give me what is good for me."
"Then, mamma, why are you troubled?"
"Because, my child, I cannot carry out this principle in other matters, and leave quietly my all in His hands."
"What is the matter, dear mother? What makes you look so?"
"This lawsuit, Ellen, has brought upon us more trouble than ever I thought a lawsuit could – the loss of it, I mean."
"It has caused an entire change of all our plans. Your father says he is too poor now to stay here any longer; and he has agreed to go soon on some government or military business to Europe."
"Well, mamma, that is bad; but he has been away a great deal before, and I am sure we were always very happy?"
"But, Ellen, he thinks now, and the doctor thinks too, that it is very important for my health that I should go with him."
"Does he, mamma? And do you mean to go?"
"I am afraid I must, my dear child."
"Not, and leave me, mother?"
The imploring look of mingled astonishment, terror, and sorrow with which Ellen uttered these words took from her mother all power of replying. It was not necessary, her little daughter understood only too well the silent answer of her eye. With a wild cry she flung her arms round her mother, and hiding her face in her lap gave way to a violent burst of grief that seemed for a few moments as if it would rend soul and body in twain. For her passions were by nature very strong, and by education very imperfectly controlled; and time, "that rider that breaks youth," had not as yet tried his hand upon her. And Mrs. Montgomery, in spite of the fortitude and calmness to which she had steeled herself, bent down over her, and folding her arms about her, yielded to sorrow deeper still, and for a little while scarcely less violent in its expression than Ellen's own.
Alas! she had too good reason. She knew that the chance of her ever returning to shield the little creature who was nearest her heart from the future evils and snares of life was very, very small. She had at first absolutely refused to leave Ellen when her husband proposed it, declaring that she would rather stay with her and die than take the chance of recovery at such a cost. But her physician assured her she could not live long without a change of climate; Captain Montgomery urged that it was better to submit to a temporary separation than to cling obstinately to her child for a few months and then leave her for ever; said he must himself go speedily to France, and that now was her best opportunity; assuring her, however, that his circumstances would not permit him to take Ellen along, but that she would be secure of a happy home with his sister during her mother's absence; and to the pressure of argument Captain Montgomery added the weight of authority – insisting on her compliance. Conscience also asked Mrs. Montgomery whether she had a right to neglect any chance of life that was offered her; and at last she yielded to the combined influence of motives no one of which would have had power sufficient to move her, and though with a secret consciousness it would be in vain, she consented to do as her friends wished. And it was for Ellen's sake she did it after all.
Nothing but necessity had given her the courage to open the matter to her little daughter. She had foreseen and endeavoured to prepare herself for Ellen's anguish; but nature was too strong for her, and they clasped each other in a convulsive embrace while tears fell like rain.
It was some minutes before Mrs. Montgomery recollected herself, and then though she struggled hard she could not immediately regain her composure. But Ellen's deep sobs at length fairly alarmed her; she saw the necessity, for both their sakes, of putting a stop to this state of violent excitement; self-command was restored at once.
"Ellen! Ellen! listen to me," she said; "my child, this is not right. Remember, my darling, who it is that brings this sorrow upon us – though we must sorrow, we must not rebel."
Ellen sobbed more gently; but that and the mute pressure of her arms was her only answer.
"You will hurt both yourself and me, my daughter, if you cannot command yourself. Remember, dear Ellen, God sends no trouble upon His children but in love; and though we cannot see how, He will no doubt make all this work for our good."
"I know it, dear mother," sobbed Ellen; "but it's just as hard!"
Mrs. Montgomery's own heart answered so readily to the truth of Ellen's words that for the moment she could not speak.
"Try, my daughter," she said after a pause; "try to compose yourself. I am afraid you will make me worse, Ellen, if you cannot – I am indeed."
Ellen had plenty of faults, but amidst them all love to her mother was the strongest feeling her heart knew. It had power enough now to move her as nothing else could have done; and exerting all her self-command, of which she had sometimes a good deal, she did calm herself, ceased sobbing, wiped her eyes, arose from her crouching posture, and seating herself on the sofa by her mother and laying her head on her bosom, she listened quietly to all the soothing words and cheering considerations with which Mrs. Montgomery endeavoured to lead her to take a more hopeful view of the subject. All she could urge, however, had but very partial success, though the conversation was prolonged far into the evening. Ellen said little, and did not weep any more; but in secret her heart refused consolation.
Long before this the servant had brought in the tea-things. Nobody regarded it at the time, but the little kettle hissing away on the fire now by chance attracted Ellen's attention, and she suddenly recollected her mother had had no tea. To make her mother's tea was Ellen's regular business. She treated it as a very grave affair, and loved it as one of the pleasantest in the course of the day. She used in the first place to make sure that the kettle had really boiled; then she carefully poured some water into the teapot and rinsed it, both to make it clean and to make it hot; then she knew exactly how much tea to put into the tiny little teapot, which was just big enough to hold two cups of tea, and having poured a very little boiling water to it, she used to set it by the side of the fire while she made half a slice of toast. How careful Ellen was about that toast! The bread must not be cut too thick nor too thin; the fire must, if possible, burn clear and bright, and she herself held the bread on a fork, just at the right distance from the coals to get nicely browned without burning. When this was done to her satisfaction (and if the first piece failed she would take another), she filled up the little teapot from the boiling kettle, and proceeded to make a cup of tea. She knew, and was very careful to put in, just the quantity of milk and sugar that her mother liked; and then she used to carry the tea and toast on a little tray to her mother's side, and very often held it there for her while she ate. All this Ellen did with the zeal that love gives, and though the same thing was to be gone over every night of the year, she was never wearied. It was a real pleasure; she had the greatest satisfaction in seeing that the little her mother could eat was prepared for her in the nicest possible manner; she knew her hands made it taste better; her mother often said so.
But this evening other thoughts had driven this important business quite out of poor Ellen's mind. Now, however, when her eyes fell upon the little kettle, she recollected her mother had not had her tea, and must want it very much; and silently slipping off the sofa she set about getting it as usual. There was no doubt this time whether the kettle boiled or no; it had been hissing for an hour and more, calling as loud as it could to somebody to come and make the tea. So Ellen made it, and then began the toast. But she began to think too, as she watched it, how few more times she would be able to do so – how soon her pleasant tea-makings would be over – and the desolate feeling of separation began to come upon her before the time. These thoughts were too much for poor Ellen; the thick tears gathered so fast she could not see what she was doing; and she had no more than just turned the slice of bread on the fork when the sickness of heart quite overcame her; she could not go on. Toast and fork and all dropped from her hand into the ashes; and rushing to her mother's side, who was now lying down again, and throwing herself upon her, she burst into another fit of sorrow; not so violent as the former, but with a touch of hopelessness in it which went yet more to her mother's heart. Passion in the first said, "I cannot;" despair now seemed to say, "I must."
But Mrs. Montgomery was too exhausted to either share or soothe Ellen's agitation. She lay in suffering silence; till after some time she said faintly, "Ellen, my love, I cannot bear this much longer."
Ellen was immediately brought to herself by these words. She arose, sorry and ashamed that she should have given occasion for them; and tenderly kissing her mother, assured her most sincerely and resolutely that she would not do so again. In a few minutes she was calm enough to finish making the tea, and having toasted another piece of bread, she brought it to her mother. Mrs. Montgomery swallowed a cup of tea, but no toast could be eaten that night.
Both remained silent and quiet awhile after this, till the clock struck ten. "You had better go to bed, my daughter," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"I will, mamma."