Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 37

From Mrs. Wesley to her son John.

Epworth, July 12th, 1731.

My brother Wesley had designed to have surprised us, and had travelled under a feigned name from London to Gainsborough; but there, sending his man for guide out to the Isle the next day, the man told one that keeps our market his master's name, and that he was going to see his brother, which was the minister at Epworth. The man he informed met with Molly in the market about an hour before my brother got thither. She, full of news, hastened home and told us her uncle Wesley was coming to see us; but we could hardly believe her. 'Twas odd to observe how all the town took the alarm and were upon the gaze, as if some great prince had been about to make his entry. He rode directly to John Dawson's [this refers to a local inn]: but we had soon notice of his arrival, and sent John Brown with an invitation to our house. He expressed some displeasure at his servant for letting us know of his coming: for he intended to have sent for Mr. Wesley to dine with him at Dawson's and then come to visit us in the afternoon. However, he soon followed John home, where we were all ready to receive him with great satisfaction.

His behaviour among us was perfectly civil and obliging. He spake little to the children the first day, being employed (as he afterwards told them) in observing their carriage and seeing how he liked them: afterwards he was very free, and expressed great kindness to them all.

He was strangely scandalised at the poverty of our furniture, and much more at the meanness of the children's habit. He always talked more freely with your sisters of our circumstances than with me; and told them he wondered what his brother had done with his income, for 'twas visible he had not spent it in furnishing his house, or clothing his family.

We had a little talk together sometimes, but it was not often we could hold a private conference, and he was very shy of speaking anything relating to the children before your father, or indeed of any other matter. I informed him, as far as I handsomely could, of our losses, etc., for I was afraid that he should think I was about to beg of him; but the girls, I believe, told him everything they could think on.

He was particularly pleased with Patty; and one morning, before Mr. Wesley came down, he asked me if I was willing to let Patty go and stay a year or two with him at London? "Sister," says he, "I have endeavoured already to make one of your children easy while she lives, and if you please to trust Patty with me, I will endeavour to make her so too." Whatever others may think, I thought this a generous offer, and the more so, because he had done so much for Sukey and Hetty. I expressed my gratitude as well as I could, and would have had him speak with your father, but he would not himself--he left that to me; nor did he ever mention it to Mr. Wesley till the evening before he left us.

He always behaved himself very decently at family prayers, and in your father's absence said grace for us before and after meat. Nor did he ever interrupt our privacy, but went into his own chamber when we went into ours.

He staid from Thursday to the Wednesday after, then he left us to go to Scarborough, from whence he returned the Saturday se'nnight, intending to stay with us a few days; but finding your sisters gone the day before to Lincoln, he would leave us on Sunday morning, for he said he might see the girls before they--he and Patty--set forward for London. He overtook them at Lincoln, and had Mrs. Taylor, Emily, Kezzy, with the rest, to supper with him at the Angel. On Monday they breakfasted with him; then they parted, expecting to see him no more till they came to London, but on Wednesday he sent his man to invite them to supper at night. On Thursday he invited them to dinner, at night to supper, and on Friday morning to breakfast, when he took his leave of them and rode for London. They got into town on Saturday about noon, and that evening Patty writ me an account of her journey.

Dear Jackey, I can't stay now to talk about Hetty, but this-I hope better of her than some others do. I pray God to bless you. Adieu. S. W.

Hetty had been warned that her uncle and Patty would arrive on the Saturday. She did not expect them before evening; nevertheless, in the forenoon she sallied out, and stopping in the market on her way to buy a large bunch of roses, walked to Johnson's Court, where the door was opened to her by her own cook-maid--a fearless, middle-aged Scotswoman who did not mind inhabiting an empty house, and whom she had sent to Uncle Matthew on the eve of his departure, as well to get her out of the way as to relieve him of his search for a carekeeper.

Janet noted that her mistress's face was pale and her eyes unnaturally bright with want of sleep, but held her tongue, being ever a woman of few words. Together the two dressed the table and set out the cold viands in case the travellers should arrive in time for dinner. The rest of the meal would be sent in at a few minutes' notice from the tavern at the entrance of the court.

Having seen to these preparations and paid a visit of inspection to the bedrooms, she set out on her way back to Frith Street just as St. Dunstan's clock was striking eleven. She left, promising Janet to return before nightfall.

Night was dusking down upon the narrow court as she entered it again out of the rattle of Fleet Street. She had lost her springy gait, and dragged her legs heavily under the burden of the unborn child and a strain which during the past four or five days had become a physical torture. She came out of her own thoughts with an effort, to wonder if the travellers had arrived.

Her eyes went up to the windows of Uncle Matthew's parlour: and, while they rested there, the room within of a sudden grew bright. Janet had entered it with a lamp, and, having set it down, came forward to draw the curtains and close the shutters. At the same moment in the other window an arm went up to the curtain and the slim figure of Patty stood dark against the lamplight. She stood for a moment gazing out upon the court; gazing, as it seemed to Hetty, straight down upon her. Hetty came to a halt, crouching in the dusk against the wall. Now that she knew of their arrival she had no wish to greet either her sister or her uncle: nay, as her own dark shadow overtook her--the thought of the drunkard at home in the lonely house--she knew that she could not climb to that lighted room and kiss and welcome them.

As her sister's hand drew the curtain, she turned and sped back down the court. She broke into a run. The pedestrians in the dim streets were as ghosts to her. She ought not to have left him. Heaven alone knew how long this fit would last; but while it lasted her place was beside him. Twice, thrice she came to a dead stop, and panted with one hand at her breast, the other laid flat against a house-wall or the closed shutters of a shop, and so supporting her. Men peered into her face, passed on, but turned their heads to stare back at her, not doubting her a loose woman the worse for drink, but pierced with wonder, if not with pity, at her extraordinary beauty. She heeded them not, but always, as soon as she caught her breath again, ran on.

She turned the corner of Frith Street. Heaven knows what she expected to see--the house in a blaze, perhaps: but the dingy thoroughfare lay quiet before her, with a shop here and there casting a feeble light across the paving-stones. The murmur of the streets, and with it all sense of human help within call, fell away and were lost. She must face the horror alone.

The house was dark--all but one window, behind the yellow blind of which a light shone. She drew out her latchkey and at first fumbled at the opening with a shaking hand. Then she recalled her courage, found the latch at once, slipped in the key and pushed the door open.

No sound: the stairs stretched up before her into pitchy darkness. She held her breath; tried to listen. Still no sound but one in her ears--the thump-thump of her own overstrained heart. She closed the door as softly as she could, and mounted the first flight.

Hark! the sound of a step above, followed by a faint glimmer of light. At the turn of the stairs she looked up and faced him. He stood on the landing outside their bedroom door, with a candle held aloft. His eyes were blazing.

He must be met quietly, and quietly she went up. "See how quick I have been!" she said gaily, and her voice did not shake. She passed in by the open door. He followed her stupidly and set the candle down.

"They have arrived," she said, drawing off her mittens. Her eyes travelled round the room to assure her that no weapon lay handy, though for her own sake she had no wish to live.

"Come here," he commanded thickly.

"Yes, dear: what is it?"

"Where have you been?"

"Why, to Johnson's Court, as you know."

"Conspiring against me, eh?" He pushed his face close to hers: his reeking breath sickened her: but she smiled on, expecting him to strike.

"Come here!"--though she was close already. "Stand up. I'll teach you to gossip about me. You and your gentry, my fine madam. I'll teach you--I'll teach you!"

He struck now, blow after blow. She turned her quivering shoulders to it, shielding the unborn child.

He beat her to her knees. Still she curved her back, holding her arms stiffly before her, leaving her head and neck exposed. Would the next blow kill her? She waited.

The table went over with a crash, the light with it. He must have fallen across it: for, an instant later, she heard the thud of his head against the floor.

It seemed to her that she crouched there for an endless while, waiting for him to stir. He lay close beside her foot.

Her heel touched him as she rose. She groped for the tinder-box, found the candle, lit it, held it over him.

A trickle of blood ran from his right temple, where it had struck against the bed-post. His eyes were closed. She loosened his collar, put forth all her strength--her old maiden strength for a moment restored to her--and lifted him on to the bed.

By and by his lips parted in a sigh. He began to breathe heavily--to sleep, as she thought. Still the blood trickled slowly from his temple and on to the pillow. She stepped to the water-jug, dipped her handkerchief in it, and drawing a chair to the bedside, seated herself and began to bathe the wound.

When the bleeding stopped, as the touch of cold water appeared to soothe him, she fetched a towel and pressed it gently about his neck and behind his ears. He was sleeping now: for he smiled and muttered something. Almost she thought it was her own name.

Still she sat beside him, her body aching, her heart cold; and watched him, hour after hour.

Arthur Quiller-Couch