Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
The stony street, the bitter north-east wind and darkness--and in the
midst of them a tender woman thrust out from her husband's home in her
thin night-dress, the harsh wind cutting her naked feet, and driving her
long hair away from her half-clad bosom, where the poor heart is crushed
with anguish and despair.
The drowning man, urged by the supreme agony, lives in an instant through
all his happy and unhappy past: when the dark flood has fallen like a
curtain, memory, in a single moment, sees the drama acted over again. And
even in those earlier crises, which are but types of death--when we are
cut off abruptly from the life we have known, when we can no longer
expect tomorrow to resemble yesterday, and find ourselves by some sudden
shock on the confines of the unknown--there is often the same sort of
lightning-flash through the dark and unfrequented chambers of memory.
When Janet sat down shivering on the door-stone, with the door shut upon
her past life, and the future black and unshapen before her as the night,
the scenes of her childhood, her youth and her painful womanhood, rushed
back upon her consciousness, and made one picture with her present
desolation. The petted child taking her newest toy to bed with her--the
young girl, proud in strength and beauty, dreaming that life was an easy
thing, and that it was pitiful weakness to be unhappy--the bride, passing
with trembling joy from the outer court to the inner sanctuary of woman's
life--the wife, beginning her initiation into sorrow, wounded, resenting,
yet still hoping and forgiving--the poor bruised woman, seeking through
weary years the one refuge of despair, oblivion:--Janet seemed to herself
all these in the same moment that she was conscious of being seated on
the cold stone under the shock of a new misery. All her early gladness,
all her bright hopes and illusions, all her gifts of beauty and
affection, served only to darken the riddle of her life; they were the
betraying promises of a cruel destiny which had brought out those sweet
blossoms only that the winds and storms might have a greater work of
desolation, which had nursed her like a pet fawn into tenderness and fond
expectation, only that she might feel a keener terror in the clutch of
the panther. Her mother had sometimes said that troubles were sent to
make us better and draw us nearer to God. What mockery that seemed to
Janet! _Her_ troubles had been sinking her lower from year to year,
pressing upon her like heavy fever-laden vapours, and perverting the very
plenitude of her nature into a deeper source of disease. Her wretchedness
had been a perpetually tightening instrument of torture, which had
gradually absorbed all the other sensibilities of her nature into the
sense of pain and the maddened craving for relief. Oh, if some ray of
hope, of pity, of consolation, would pierce through the horrible gloom,
she might believe _then_ in a Divine love--in a heavenly Father who cared
for His children! But now she had no faith, no trust. There was nothing
she could lean on in the wide world, for her mother was only a
fellow-sufferer in her own lot. The poor patient woman could do little
more than mourn with her daughter: she had humble resignation enough to
sustain her own soul, but she could no more give comfort and fortitude to
Janet, than the withered ivy-covered trunk can bear up its strong,
full-boughed offspring crashing down under an Alpine storm. Janet felt
she was alone: no human soul had measured her anguish, had understood her
self-despair, had entered into her sorrows and her sins with that
deep-sighted sympathy which is wiser than all blame, more potent than all
reproof--such sympathy as had swelled her own heart for many a sufferer.
And if there was any Divine Pity, she could not feel it; it kept aloof
from her, it poured no balm into her wounds, it stretched out no hand to
bear up her weak resolve, to fortify her fainting courage.
Now, in her utmost loneliness, she shed no tear: she sat staring fixedly
into the darkness, while inwardly she gazed at her own past, almost
losing the sense that it was her own, or that she was anything more than
a spectator at a strange and dreadful play.
The loud sound of the church clock, striking one, startled her. She had
not been there more than half an hour, then? And it seemed to her as if
she had been there half the night. She was getting benumbed with cold.
With that strong instinctive dread of pain and death which had made her
recoil from suicide, she started up, and the disagreeable sensation of
resting on her benumbed feet helped to recall her completely to the sense
of the present. The wind was beginning to make rents in the clouds, and
there came every now and then a dim light of stars that frightened her
more than the darkness; it was like a cruel finger pointing her out in
her wretchedness and humiliation; it made her shudder at the thought of
the morning twilight. What could she do? Not go to her mother--not rouse
her in the dead of night to tell her this. Her mother would think she was
a spectre; it would be enough to kill her with horror. And the way there
was so long ... if she should meet some one ... yet she must seek some
shelter, somewhere to hide herself. Five doors off there was Mrs.
Pettifer's; that kind woman would take her in. It was of no use now to be
proud and mind about the world's knowing: she had nothing to wish for,
nothing to care about; only she could not help shuddering at the thought
of braving the morning light, there in the street--she was frightened at
the thought of spending long hours in the cold. Life might mean anguish,
might mean despair; but oh, she must clutch it, though with bleeding
fingers; her feet must cling to the firm earth that the sunlight would
revisit, not slip into the untried abyss, where she might long even for
Janet trod slowly with her naked feet on the rough pavement, trembling at
the fitful gleams of starlight, and supporting herself by the wall, as
the gusts of wind drove right against her. The very wind was cruel: it
tried to push her back from the door where she wanted to go and knock and
ask for pity.
Mrs. Pettifer's house did not look into Orchard Street: it stood a little
way up a wide passage which opened into the street through an archway.
Janet turned up the archway, and saw a faint light coming from Mrs.
Pettifer's bedroom window. The glimmer of a rushlight from a room where a
friend was lying, was like a ray of mercy to Janet, after that long, long
time of darkness and loneliness; it would not be so dreadful to awake
Mrs. Pettifer as she had thought. Yet she lingered some minutes at the
door before she gathered courage to knock; she felt as if the sound must
betray her to others besides Mrs. Pettifer, though there was no other
dwelling that opened into the passage--only warehouses and outbuildings.
There was no gravel for her to throw up at the window, nothing but heavy
pavement; there was no door-bell; she must knock. Her first rap was very
timid--one feeble fall of the knocker; and then she stood still again for
many minutes; but presently she rallied her courage and knocked several
times together, not loudly, but rapidly, so that Mrs. Pettifer, if she
only heard the sound, could not mistake it. And she _had_ heard it, for
by and by the casement of her window was opened, and Janet perceived that
she was bending out to try and discern who it was at the door.
'It is I, Mrs. Pettifer; it is Janet Dempster. Take me in, for pity's
'Merciful God! what has happened?'
'Robert has turned me out. I have been in the cold a long while.'
Mrs. Pettifer said no more, but hurried away from the window, and was
soon at the door with a light in her hand.
'Come in, my poor dear, come in,' said the good woman in a tremulous
voice, drawing Janet within the door. 'Come into my warm bed, and may God
in heaven save and comfort you.'
The pitying eyes, the tender voice, the warm touch, caused a rush of new
feeling in Janet. Her heart swelled, and she burst out suddenly, like a
child, into loud passionate sobs. Mrs. Pettifer could not help crying
with her, but she said, 'Come upstairs, my dear, come. Don't linger in
She drew the poor sobbing thing gently up-stairs, and persuaded her to
get into the warm bed. But it was long before Janet could lie down. She
sat leaning her head on her knees, convulsed by sobs, while the motherly
woman covered her with clothes and held her arms round her to comfort her
with warmth. At last the hysterical passion had exhausted itself, and she
fell back on the pillow; but her throat was still agitated by piteous
after-sobs, such as shake a little child even when it has found a refuge
from its alarms on its mother's lap.
Now Janet was getting quieter, Mrs. Pettifer determined to go down and
make a cup of tea, the first thing a kind old woman thinks of as a solace
and restorative under all calamities. Happily there was no danger of
awaking her servant, a heavy girl of sixteen, who was snoring blissfully
in the attic, and might be kept ignorant of the way in which Mrs.
Dempster had come in. So Mrs. Pettifer busied herself with rousing the
kitchen fire, which was kept in under a huge 'raker'--a possibility by
which the coal of the midland counties atones for all its slowness and
When she carried up the tea, Janet was lying quite still; the spasmodic
agitation had ceased, and she seemed lost in thought; her eyes were fixed
vacantly on the rushlight shade, and all the lines of sorrow were
deepened in her face.
'Now, my dear,' said Mrs. Pettifer, 'let me persuade you to drink a cup
of tea; you'll find it warm you and soothe you very much. Why, dear
heart, your feet are like ice still. Now, do drink this tea, and I'll
wrap 'em up in flannel, and then they'll get warm.'
Janet turned her dark eyes on her old friend and stretched out her arms.
She was too much oppressed to say anything; her suffering lay like a
heavy weight on her power of speech; but she wanted to kiss the good kind
woman. Mrs. Pettifer, setting down the cup, bent towards the sad
beautiful face, and Janet kissed her with earnest sacramental
kisses--such kisses as seal a new and closer bond between the helper
and the helped.
She drank the tea obediently. 'It _does_ warm me,' she said. 'But now you
will get into bed. I shall lie still now.'
Mrs. Pettifer felt it was the best thing she could do to lie down quietly
and say no more. She hoped Janet might go to sleep. As for herself, with
that tendency to wakefulness common to advanced years, she found it
impossible to compose herself to sleep again after this agitating
surprise. She lay listening to the clock, wondering what had led to this
new outrage of Dempster's, praying for the poor thing at her side, and
pitying the mother who would have to hear it all tomorrow.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.