[from Lowell Offering, 1841]
"Mother, it is all over now," said Susan Miller, as she descended from the chamber where her father had
just died of delirium tremens.
Mrs. Miller had for several hours walked the house, with that
ceaseless step which tells of fearful mental agony ; and when she
had heard from her husband's room some louder shriek or groan,
she had knelt by the chair or bed which was nearest, and prayed
that the troubled spirit might pass away. But a faintness came
over her, when a long interval of stillness told that her prayer
was answered ; and she leaned upon the railing of the stairway
for support, as she looked up to see the first one who should come
to her from the bed of death.
Susan was the first to think of her mother; and when she saw
her sink, pale, breathless and stupified upon a stair, she sat down
in silence, and supported her head upon her own bosom. Then
for the first time was she aroused to the consciousness, that she
was to be looked upon as a stay and support ; and she resolved
to bring from the hidden recesses of her heart, a strength, courage and firmness, which should make her to
mother, and younger brothers and sisters, what he had not been
for many years, who was now a stiffening corpse.
At length she ventured to whisper words of solace and sympathy, and succeeded in infusing into her
mother's mind a feeling
of resignation to the stroke they had received. She persuaded
her to retire to her bed, and seek that slumber which had been
for several days denied them ; and then she endeavored to calm
the terror-stricken little ones, who were screaming because their
father was no more. The neighbors came in and proffered every
assistance ; but when Susan retired that night to her own chamber, she felt that she must look to HIM for
aid, who alone could
sustain through the tasks that awaited her.
Preparations were made for the funeral ; and. though every
one knew that Mr. Miller had left his farm deeply mortgaged, yet
the store-keeper cheerfully trusted them for articles of mourning,
and the dress-maker worked day and night, while she expected
never to receive a remuneration. The minister came to comfort
the widow and her children. He spoke of the former virtues of
him who had been wont to seek the house of God on each returning Sabbath, and who had brought his
eldest children to the font
of baptism, and been then regarded as an example of honesty
and sterling worth; and when he adverted to the one failing
which had brought him to his grave in the very prime of manhood, he also remarked, that he was now in the
hands of a merciful God.
The remains of the husband and father were at length removed
from the home which he had once rendered happy, but upon which
he had afterwards brought poverty and distress, and laid in that
narrow house which he never more might leave, till the last
trumpet should call him forth ; and when the family were left to
that deep silence and gloom which- always succeed a death and
burial, they began to think of the trials which were yet to come.
Mrs. Miller had been for several years aware that ruin was
coming upon them. She had at first warned, reasoned and expostulated ; but she was naturally of a gentle,
and almost timid
disposition; and when she found that she awakened passions
which were daily growing more violent and ungovernable, she
resolved to await in silence a crisis which sooner or later would
change their destiny. Whether she was to follow her degenerate husband to his grave, or accompany him to
some low hovel,
she knew not ; she shrunk from the future, but faithfully discharged all present duties, and endeavored, by a
to retain at least an appearance of comfort in her household.
To Susan, her eldest child, she had confided all her fears and
sorrows ; and they had watched, toiled, and sympathized together. But when the blow came at last, when he
who had caused
all their sorrow and anxiety was taken away by a dreadful and
disgraceful death, the long-enduring wife and mother was almost
paralyzed by the shock.
But Susan was young ; she had health, strength and spirits to
bear her up, and upon her devolved the care of the family, and
the plan for its future support. Her resolution was soon formed ;
and without saying a word to any individual, she went to Deacon
Rand, who was her father's principal creditor.
It was a beautiful afternoon in the month of May, when Susan
left the house in which her life had hitherto been spent determined to know before she returned to it,
whether she might ever
again look upon it as her home. It was nearly a mile to the
Deacon's, and not a single house upon the way. The two lines
of turf in the road; upon which the bright green grass was springing,
showed that it was but seldom travelled; and the birds
warbled in the trees, as though they feared no disturbance. The
fragrance of the lowly flowers, the budding shrubs, and the blossoming fruit-trees, filled the air ; and she
stood for a moment to
listen to the streamlet which she crossed upon a rude bridge of
stones. She remembered how she had loved to look at it in summer, as it murmured along among the low
willows, and alder-bushes ; and how she had watched it in the early spring, when
its swollen waters forced their way through the drifts of snow
which had frozen over it, and wrought for itself an arched roof,
from which the little icicles depended in diamond points, and
rows of beaded pearls. She looked also at the meadow, where
the grass was already so long and green ; and she sighed to think
that she must leave all that was so dear to her, and go where a
ramble among fields, meadows and orchards, would be henceforth a pleasure denied to her.
When she arrived at the spacious farm-house, which was the
residence of the Deacon, she was rejoiced to find him at home and
alone. He laid aside his newspaper, as she entered ; and kindly
taking her hand, inquired after her own health, and that of her
friend's. "And now. Deacon," said she, when she had answered
all his questions; "I wish to know whether you intend, to turn
us all out of doors, as you have a perfect right to do or suffer
us still to remain, with a slight hope that we may sometime pay
you the debt for which our farm is mortgaged." . . .
"You have asked me a very plain question," was the Deacon's
reply, "and one which I can easily answer. You see that I have
here a house, large enough and good enough for the President
himself; and plenty of every thing in it, and around-it ; and
how in the name of common sense, and charity, and religion,
could I turn a widow and her fatherless children out of their
house and home ! Folks have called me mean, and stingy, and
close-fisted ; and though in my dealings with a rich man I take
good care that he shall not over-reach me, yet I never stood
for a cent with a poor man in my life. But you spake about
sometime paying me ; pray, how do you hope to do it?"
" I am going to Lowell," said Susan quietly, " to work in the
Factory, the girls have high wages there now ; and in a year
or two, Lydia and Eliza can come, too ; and if we all have our
health, and mother and James get along well with the farm arid
the little ones, I hope, I do think, that we can pay it all up in the
course of seven or eight years."
"That is a long time for you to go and work so hard, and shut
yourself up so close, at your time of life," said the Deacon,
" and on many other accounts I do not approve of it."
"I know how prejudiced the people here are' against factory.
girls," said Susan, "but I should -like to know what real good
reason you have for disapproving of my resolution. You cannot
think there is any thing really wrong in my determination to
labor, as steadily and as profitably as I can, for myself and
"Why, the way that I look at things, is this," replied the
Deacon : "Whatever is not. right, is certainly wrong ; and I do
not think it right for a young girl like you, to put herself in the
way of all sorts of temptation. You have no idea of the wickedness and corruption which exist in that town
of Lowell. Why
they say that more than half of the girls have been in the House
of Correction, or the County Jail, or some other vile place ; and
that the other half are not much better; and I should not think
you' would wish to go and work, and eat, and sleep, with such a
low, mean, ignorant, wicked, set of creatures."
"I know such things are said of them. Deacon, but I do not
think they are true. I have never seen but one factory girl, and
that was my cousin Esther, who visited us last summer. I do
not believe there is a better girl in the world than she is ; and I
cannot think she would be so contented and cheerful among such
a set of wretches as some folks think factory girls must be. There
may be wicked girls there; but among so many, there must be
some who are good ; and when I go there, I shall try to keep
out of the way of bad company, and I do not doubt that cousin
Esther can introduce me to girls who are as good as any with
whom I have associated. If she cannot, I will have no companion but her, and spend the little leisure I shall
have, in solitude ;
for I am determined to go."
"But supposing, Susan, that all the girls there were as good,
and sensible, and pleasant as yourself yet there are many other
things to be considered. You have not thought how. hard it will
seem to be boxed up fourteen hours in a day, among a parcel of
clattering looms, or whirling spindles, whose constant din is of
itself enough to drive a girl out of her wits ; and then you will
have no fresh air to breathe, and as likely as not come home in a
year or two with a consumption, and wishing you had staid where
you would have had less money, and better health. I have also
heard that the boarding women do not give the girls food which
is fit to eat, nor half enough of the mean stuff they do allow
them ;' and it is contrary to all reason, to suppose that folks can
work, and have their health, without victuals to eat."
" I have thought of all these things, Deacon, but they do not
move me. I know the noise of the Mills must be unpleasant at
first ; but I shall get used to that ; and as to my health, I know
that I have as good a constitution to begin with, as any girl could
wish, and no predisposition to consumption, nor any of those diseases which a factory life might otherwise
bring upon me. I do
not expect all the comforts which are common to country farmers ;
but I am not afraid of starving for cousin Esther said, that she
had an excellent boarding place, and plenty to eat and drink, and
that which was good enough for any body. But if they do not
give us good meat, I will eat vegetables alone ; and when we
have bad butter, I will eat my bread without it."
"Well," said the Deacon, " if your health is preserved you
may lose some of your limbs. I have heard a great many stories,
about girls who had their hands torn off by the machinery, or
mangled so that they could never use them again ; and a hand
is not a thing to be despised, nor easily dispensed with. And
then, how should you like to be ordered about, and scolded at, by
a cross overseer?"
"I know there is danger," replied Susan, " among so much
machinery ; but those who meet with accidents are but, a very
small number, in proportion to the whole ; and if I am careful,
I need not fear any injury. I do not believe the stories we hear
about bad overseers, for such men would not be placed over so
many girls ; and if I have a cross one, I will give him no reason
to find fault ; and if he finds fault without' reason, I will leave
him, and work for some one else. You know that I must do
something, and I have made up my mind what it shall be.
" You are a good child, Susan," and the Deacon looked very
kind when he told her so, " and you are a courageous, noble-minded girl. I am not afraid that you
will learn to steal, and lie,
and swear, and neglect your Bible, and the meeting-house ; but
lest any thing unpleasant should happen, I will make you this
offer: I will let your mother live upon the farm, and pay me
what little she can, till your brother James is old enough to take
it at the halves; and if you will come here, and help my wife
about the house and dairy, I will give you four and six-pence a
week, and you shall be treated as a daughter perhaps you may
one day be one."
The Deacon looked rather sly at her, and Susan blushed ; for
Henry Rand, the Deacon's youngest son, had been her play-mate
in childhood, her friend at school, and her constant attendant at
all the parties, and evening meetings. Her young friends all
spoke of him as her lover, and even the old people had talked of
it as a very fitting match, as Susan, besides good sense, good
humor, and some beauty, had the health, strength and activity,
which are always reckoned among the qualifications for a farmer's wife.
Susan knew of this ; but of late, domestic trouble had kept
her at home, and she knew not what his present feelings were.
Still she felt that they must not influence her plans and resolutions. Delicacy forbade that she should come
and be an inmate
of his father's house, and her very affection for him had prompted the desire that she should be as
independent as possible of all
favors from him, or his father ; and also the earnest desire that
they might one day clear themselves of debt. So she thanked the
Deacon for his offer, but declined accepting it, and arose to
"I shall think a great deal about you, when you are gone,"
said the Deacon, " and will pray for you, too. I never used to
think about the sailors, till my wife's brother visited us, who had
led for many years a sea-faring life ; and now I always pray for
those who are exposed to the dangers of the great deep. And I
will also pray for the poor factory girls, who work so hard, and
suffer so much."
"Pray for me, Deacon," replied Susan in a faltering voice,
"that I may have strength to keep a good resolution."
She left the house with a sad heart ; for the very success of
her hopes and wishes, had brought more vividly to mind the feeling that she was really to go and leave for-
many years her friends
She was almost glad that she had not seen Henry ; and while
she was wondering what he would say and think, when told that
she was going to Lowell, she heard approaching footsteps, and
looking up, saw him coming towards her. The thought -- no, the
idea, for it had not time to form into a definite thought -- flashed
across her mind, that she must now rouse all her firmness, and
not let Henry's persuasions shake her resolution to leave them
all, and go to the factory.
But the very indifference with which he heard of her intention,
was of itself sufficient to arouse her energy. He appeared surprised, but otherwise wholly unconcerned,
though he expressed
a hope that she would be happy and prosperous, and that her
health would not suffer from the change of occupation.
If he had told her that he loved her -- if he had entreated her
not-to leave them, or to go with the promise of returning to be
his future companion through life -- she could have resisted it;
for this she had resolved to do ; and the happiness attending an
act of self-sacrifice would have been her reward.
She had before known sorrow, and she had borne it patiently
and cheerfully ; and she knew that the life which was before her
would have been rendered happier by the thought, that there was
one who was deeply interested for her happiness, and who sympathized in all her trials.
When she parted from Henry it was with a sense of lonliness,
of utter desolation, such as she had never before experienced.
She had never before thought that he was dear to her, and that
she had wished to carry in her far-off place of abode, the reflection that she was dear to him. She felt
disappointed and mortified, but she blamed not him, neither did she blame herself ; she
did not know that any one had been to blame. Her young affections had gone forth as naturally and as
involuntarily as the vapours rise to meet the sun. But the sun which had called them
forth, had now gone down, and they were returning in cold
drops to the heart-springs from which they had arisen; and Susan resolved that they should henceforth form
a secret fount,
whence every other feeling should derive new strength and vigor.
She was now more firmly resolved that her future life should be
wholly devoted to her kindred, and thought not of herself but as
connected with them.
It was with pain that Mrs. Miller heard of Susan's plan ; but
she did not oppose her. She felt that it must be so, --that she
must part with her for her own good, and the benefit of the family ; and Susan hastily made preparations for
She arranged every thing in and about the house for her mother's convenience ; and the evening before she
left, she spent in
instructing Lydia how to take her place, as far as possible ; and
told her to be always cheerful with mother, and patient with the
younger ones, and to write a long letter every two months, (for
she could not afford to hear oftener,) and to be sure and not forget
her for a single day.
Then she went to her own room ; and when she had re-examined her trunk, band-box and basket, to see that
all was right,
and laid her riding dress over the great arm-chair, she sat down
by the window to meditate upon her change of life.
She thought, as she looked upon the spacious, convenient
chamber in which she was sitting, how hard it would be to have
no place to which she could retire and be alone ; and how difficult it would be to keep her things in order in
the fourth part of
a small apartment ; and how possible it was that she might have
unpleasant room-mates ; and how probable that every day would
call into exercise all her kindness and forbearance. And then
she wondered if it would be possible for her to work so long, and
save so much, as to render it possible that she might one day return to that chamber and call it her own.
Sometimes she wished
she had not undertaken it, that she had not let the Deacon know
that she hoped to be able to pay him ; she feared that she had
taken a burden upon herself which she could not bear, and sighed
to think, that her lot should be so different from that of most
She thought of the days when she was a little child ; when she
played with Henry at the brook, or picked berries with him on
-the hill; when her mother was always happy, and her father
always kind ; and she wished that the time could roll back, and
she could again be a careless little girl.
She felt, as we sometimes do, when we shut our eyes, and try
to sleep, and get back into some pleasant dream, from which we
have been too suddenly awakened. But the dream of youth was
over, and before her was the sad, waking reality, of & life of toil,
separation and sorrow.
When she left home the next morning, it was the first time she
had ever parted from her friends. The day was delightful, and
the scenery beautiful,--a stage-ride was of itself a novelty to her,
and her companions pleasant and sociable ; but she felt very sad ;
and when she retired at night to sleep in a hotel, she burst
Those who see the factory girls in Lowell, little think of the
sighs and heart-aches which must attend a young girl's entrance
upon a life of toil and privation, among strangers.
To Susan, the first entrance into a factory boarding-house,
seemed something dreadful. The rooms looked strange and comfortless, and the women cold and heartless ;
and when she sat
down to the supper table, where, among more than twenty girls,
all but one were strangers, she could not eat a mouthful. She
went with Esther to their sleeping apartment, and after arranging her clothes and baggage, she went to bed,
but not to sleep.
The next morning she went into the Mill ; and at first, the sight
of so many bands, and wheels, and springs, in constant motion,
was very frightful. She felt afraid to touch the loom, and she
was almost sure that she could never learn to weave ; the harness
puzzled, and the reed perplexed her ; the shuttle flew out, and
made a new bump upon her head ; and the first time she tried to
spring the lathe, she broke out a quarter of the treads. It seemed as if the girls all stared at her, and the
every motion, and the day appeared as long as a month had been
at home. But at last it was night ; and O, how glad was Susan
to be released ! She felt weary and wretched, and retired to rest
without taking a mouthful of refreshment. There was a dull
pain in her head, and a sharp pain in her ankles ; every bone
was aching, and there was in her ears a strange noise, as of
crickets, frogs, and jews-harps, all mingling together; and she
felt gloomy and sick at heart. " But it won't seem so always,"
said she to herself ; and with this truly philosophical reflection,
she turned her head upon a hard pillow, and went to sleep.
Susan was right ; it did not seem so always. Every suceeding day seemed shorter and pleasanter than the last
; and when
she was accustomed to the work, and had become interested in it,
the hours seemed shorter, and the days, weeks and months flew
more swiftly by, than they had ever done before. She was
healthy, active and ambitious, and was soon able to earn even as
much as her cousin, who had been a weaver several years.
Wages were then much higher than they are now ; and Susan
had the pleasure of devoting the avails of her labor to a noble
and cherished purpose. There was a definite aim before her,
and she never lost sight of the object for which she left her home,
and was happy in the prospect of fulfilling that design. And it
needed all this hope of success, and all her strength of resolution,
to enable her to bear up against the wearing influences of a life
of unvarying toil. Though the days seemed shorter than at first,
yet there was a tiresome monotony about them. Every morning
the bells pealed forth the same clangor, and every night brought
the same feeling of fatigue. But Susan felt, as all factory girls
feel, that she could bear it for a while. There are few who look
upon factory labor as a pursuit for life. It is but a temporary
vocation ; and most of the girls resolve to quit the Mill when
some favorite design is accomplished. Money is their object--
not for itself, but for what it can perform ; and pay-days are the
landmarks which cheer all hearts, by assuring them of their
progress to the wished-for goal.
Susan was always very happy when she enclosed the quarterly
sum to Deacon Rand, although it was hardly won, and earned by
the deprivation of many little comforts, and pretty articles of
dress, which her companions could procure. But the thought of
home, and the future happy days which she might enjoy in it,
was the talisman which ever cheered and strengthened her.
She also formed strong friendships among her factory companions, and became attached to her pastor, and
their place of worship. After the first two years, she had also the pleasure of her
sister's society ; and in a year or two more, another came. She
did not wish them to come while very young. She thought it
better that their bodies should be strengthened, and their minds
educated in their country home ; and she also wished, that in
their early girlhood, they should enjoy the same pleasures which
had once made her own life a very happy one.
And she was happy now ; happy in the success of her noble
exertions, the affection and gratitude of her relatives, the esteem
of her acquaintances, and the approbation of conscience. Only
once was she really disquieted. It was when her sister wrote
that Henry Rand was married to one of their old school-mates.
For a moment, the colour fled from her cheek, and a quick pang
went through her heart. It was but for a moment ; and then she
sat down, and wrote to the newly married couple a letter, which
touched, their hearts by its simple, fervent wishes for their happiness, and assurances of sincere friendship.
Susan had occasionally visited home, and she longed to go,
never to leave it ; but she conquered the desire, and remained
in Lowell more than a year after the last dollar had been forwarded to Deacon Rand. And then, O how happy
was she when
she entered her chamber the first evening after her arrival, and
viewed its newly painted wainscoting, and brightly colored paper-hangings, and the new furniture with
which she had decorated
it ; and she smiled as she thought of the sadness which had filled
her heart the evening before she first went to Lowell.
She now always thinks of Lowell with pleasure ; for Lydia is
married here, and she intends to visit her occasionally, and even
sometimes thinks of returning for a little while to the Mills. Her
brother James has married, and resides in one half of the house,
which he has recently repaired ; and Eliza, though still in the
factory, is engaged to a wealthy young farmer.
Susan is with her mother and younger brothers and sisters.
People begin to think she will be an old maid, and she thinks
herself that it will be so. The old Deacon still calls her a good
child, and prays every night and morning for the factory girls.
F. G. A.
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