TALES OF FACTORY LIFE, No. 1
[from Lowell Offering, 1841]
Sarah T. was scarcely twelve years old when her parents removed to New England. Her education had been neglected, not on account of her inability to learn, but because her parents had been unfortunate, and had not means to educate their large family. Her mother had given her the first rudiments of learning, and many valuable lessons of domestic economy. Her father's health had far declined, and his days were soon numbered, leaving a widow and seven orphan children. Mrs. T's grief was nearly overwhelming. The reflection that she was left among strangers, without the means of returning to her friends, to her was truly gloomy. After a short period, she fount it was necessary to adopt some plan for the support of her children. She solicited advice from some of the few who had interested themselves in her behalf, and it was soon decided that Sarah and a brother still younger should "live out:" Accordingly, a place was provided for Sarah with a Mrs. J., who kept what is termed a genteel boarding house in the city, about five miles distant.
Mrs. J. was much pleased with Sarah's activity and readiness to obey, and used every means (except the right ones) to retain her services. She was often treated with much severity, and sometimes cruelty. She had a proud spirit, and could not well endure the mortification of hearing the daughter of Mrs. J. inquire why she was so meanly clad, and did not attend school to study French and Music. She determined to leave the service of Mrs. J., and find employment where she could procure the means of educating and clothing herself.
She had been in the service of Mrs. J. about two years, when the daughter of Mrs. J. commenced an attack upon Sarah about her being so ignorant; and Sarah very frankly told her , that she possessed the means of educating herself, and would employ them very soon to that end. Mrs. J. overheard the conversation, and was highly displeased with the resolution Sarah had formed, and gave her many harsh words, calling her a poor little beggar, &c. The proud spirit of Sarah could endure such treatment no longer. She determined to leave, and that night made preparation to depart.
Early next morning, Sarah took leave, without stopping to bid the family "good bye." When the sun arose, she was about three miles from the affectionate Mrs. J. She arrived at home in season to breakfast with her mother and other friends. After breakfast, her mother made inquiries about her unexpected appearance. She very frankly replied, "I have run away from Mrs. J., and I will tell you all" -- which she did. Mrs. J. soon made her appearance, and wished Sarah to return with her. Sarah wept bitterly, and told her mother she would not stay with her, she was so unkind, and made her work so hard, and would not sent her to school, nor give her clothes suitable for attending church.
As they were returning, Mrs. J. inquired, "What would have become of you, if I had not had the kindness to take you home with me?" Sarah replied, with great simplicity, "I had determined to go to Lowell, and work in the factory." "Well, if you are mean enough in your own opinion, to be a factory girl, I may as well despair of thinking to make any thing of you, first as last -- for it will be of no use to try." "But, [sic] said Sarah, "I know of more than one girl who has worked in the factory, who is much better than I ever expect to be, if I stay with you as long as I live -- if I should judge by the past."
The first business of Mrs. J. after their return, was to employ the usual remedies for the removal of the "Lowell fever" as she termed it, with which Sarah had been attacked. The preventives were cheap, and at hand; for every one possessed them who had read the news of the day. She did not tire in the application, and often gave them effect by a box on the ear. Notwithstanding all her caution, the fever raged within, and fears were entertained that it would take her off; and their fears were not groundless.
One morning, Mrs. J. arose at her usual time, thinking all was well; and the fire was not kindled, nor any one to be seen about the kitchen. She was in a great rage, and opened the door at the back stairs, and, with her usual emphasis on such occasions, exclaimed, "Sarah, come down here this minute. I thought the coffee was boiling before this time; but instead of this, not even a fire is kindled. I would not give a fig for such help; it is just no help at all" -- (closing the door with a vengeance, and talking to herself). "There is no dependence to be put in any one. I
thought if I took her when she was so young, I could prevent her being crazy to get into the factory; but there is no such thing now-a-days. I wish from my heart there was not a factory this side of France. I'll see if you won't come down." She entered the chamber at full speed, and behold! Sarah was among the missing. We will leave the old lady to make hew own coffee, and enquire after Sarah's sudden disappearance.
She prepared her bundle the night previously, and at dawn of day commenced a journey of thirty miles, on foot, without a cent in her purse. She walked with rapid haste the first three miles, and began to feel somewhat weary. As she was ascending a hill, she discovered a stage-coach behind her, and wept that she had not money to procure her passage. Well, she knew that she could not walk so great a distance in one day; and she could not imagine where she might be obliged to stay through the night -- for, thought she, "no one would keep such a looking child as I am."
The stage-man, with a kindness peculiar to those of like calling, interrogated Sarah, with "Good morning, my little friend: how far are you walking?" She looked up with the big tears fast falling, and replied, "As far as Lowell, sir." "To Lowell! walk to Lowell! it is nearly thirty miles. It will take you a week. You may ride with me if you will." "But I have no money," said Sarah. "I want none," replied her kind friend; "I will carry you without pay; for I contend, with the old maxim, that 'we should not kill those that try to live,' and surely you are making a strong effort."
He stepped down to open the stage door, and Sarah told him she was afraid the passengers would object to riding with her, on account of her singular appearance. She was not a lady, with the usual paraphrenalia [sic] of travelling; but only a bare-footed girl, with a small bundle.
The passengers were interested in her behalf, and took the trouble to enquire the cause of her unusual appearance. She gave them a full and satisfactory history of herself and family, and the woman whose service she ad left. They made a collection for her benefit, and one of the passengers, a factory girl, took the trouble to purchase a pair of shoes, hose and other necessary articles, at their first stopping-place. When she arrived at Lowell, they enquired where she would stop. She told them,
at any good boarding-house -- as she had no acquaintance. Her friend, the factory girl, invited her to stay with her; which invitation she unhesitatingly accepted.
The next day, she went into the mill with her friend, who procured a place for her, much to her satisfaction. She commenced work the day following, and felt a new motive to action; for, thought she, "I shall be paid for what I do now."
Nothing worthy of notice occurred during the firs six months. She worked every day, and spent her evenings in reading and writing. She wrote to her mother to send her younger sister; and they are still seen going to and from work together.
Sarah has studied and faithfully learned the lessons of usefulness and practical benevolence. In my last interview with her, she expressed a sort of pride in saying, that although she had been a runaway beggar, she had been more fortunate than many within the circle of her acquaintance; and though there may be difficulties, yet a little perseverance will overcome them. I went, by her invitation, to the Savings Bank, and learned that she had deposited four hundred dollars, since the commencement of 1838.
S. G. B.