Lotta Schmidt, by Anthony Trollope

The Widow’s Mite.

“BUT I’m not a widow, and I haven’t got two mites.”

“My dear, you are a widow, and you have got two mites.”

“I’ll tell both of you something that will astonish you. I’ve made a calculation, and I find that if everybody in England would give up their Christmas dinner that is, in Scotland, and Ireland too——”

“They never have any in Ireland, Bob.”

“Hold your tongue till I’ve done, Charley. They do have Christmas dinners in Ireland. It’s pretty nearly the only day that they do, and I don’t count much upon them either. But if everybody gave up his special Christmas dinner, and dined as he does on other days the saving would amount to two millions and a half.”

Charley whistled.

“Two millions and a half is a large sum of money,” said Mrs. Granger, the elder lady of the party.

“Those calculations never do any good,” said the younger lady, who had declared herself not to be a widow.

“Those calculations do a great deal of good,” continued Bob, carrying on his argument with continued warmth. “They show us what a great national effort would do.”

“A little national effort, I should call that,” said Mrs. Granger, “but I should doubt the two millions and a half.”

“Half-a-crown a-head on thirty million people would do it You are to include all the beer, wine, and whisky. But suppose you take off one-fifth for the babies and young girls, who don’t drink.”

“Thank you, Bob,” said the younger lady Nora Field by name.

“And two more fifths for the poor, who haven’t got the half-crown a-head,” said the elder lady.

“And you’d ruin the grocer and butcher,” said Charley.

“And never get your half-crown, after all,” said Nora.

It need hardly be said that the subject under discussion was the best mode of abstracting from the pockets of the non-suffering British public a sufficiency of money to sustain the suffering portion during the period of the cotton famine.

Mr. Granger was the rector of Plumstock, a parish in Cheshire, sufficiently near to the manufacturing districts to give to every incident of life at that time a colouring taken from the distress of the neighbourhood; which had not, however, itself ever depended on cotton, for Plumstock boasted that it was purely agricultural. Mr. Granger was the chairman of a branch relief committee, which had its centre in Liverpool; and the subject of the destitution, with the different modes by which it might be, should be, or should not be relieved, were constantly under discussion in the rectory. Mr. Granger himself was a practical man, somewhat hard in his manners, but by no means hard in his heart, who had in these times taken upon himself the business of alms-begging on a large scale. He declined to look at the matter in a political, statistical, or economical point of view, and answered all questions as to rates, rates in aid, loans, and the Consolidated Fund, with a touch of sarcasm, which showed the bent of his own mind.

“I’ve no doubt you’ll have settled all that in the wisest possible way by the time that the war is over, and the river full of cotton again.”

“Father,” Bob replied, pointing across the Cheshire flats to the Mersey, “that river will never again be full of American cotton.”

“It will be all the same for the present purpose, if it comes from India,” said the rector, declining all present argument on the great American question.

To collect alms was his immediate work, and he would do nothing else. Five-pound notes, sovereigns, half-crowns, shillings, and pence! In search of these he was urgent, we may almost say day and night, begging with a pertinacity which was disagreeable, but irresistible. The man who gave him five sovereigns instantly became the mark for another petition.

“When you have got your dinner, you have not done with the butcher for ever,” he would say in answer to reproaches. “Of course, we must go on as long as this thing lasts.”

Then his friends and neighbours buttoned up their pockets; but Mr. Granger would extract coin from them even when buttoned.

The two young men who had taken part in the above argument were his sons. The elder, Charles, was at Oxford, but now in these Christmas days for Christmas was close at hand had come home. Bob, the second son, was in a merchant’s house in Liverpool, intending to become, in the fulness of time, a British merchant prince.

It had been hinted to him, however, more than once, that if he would talk a little less and work a little harder, the path to his princedom would be quicker found than if his present habits were maintained. Nora Field was Mrs. Granger’s niece. She was Miss Field, and certainly not a widow in the literal sense of the word; but she was about to become a bride a few weeks after Christmas.

“It is spoil from the Amalekites,” Mr. Granger had said, when she had paid in some contribution from her slender private stores to his treasury: “spoil from the Amalekites, and therefore the more precious.” He had called Nora Field’s two sovereigns spoil from the Amalekites, because she was about to marry an American.

Frederic Frew, or Frederic F. Frew, as he delighted to hear himself called, for he had been christened Franklin as well as Frederic, and to an American it is always a point of honour that, at any rate, the initial of his second Christian name should be remembered by all men, was a Pennsylvanian from Philadelphia; a strong Democrat, according to the politics of his own country, hating the Republicans, as the Tories used to hate the Whigs among us before political feeling had become extinct; speaking against Lincoln the president, and Seward his minister, and the Fremonts, and Sumners, and Philipses, and Beechers of the Republican party, fine hard racy words of powerful condemnation, such as used to be spoken against Earl Grey and his followers, but nevertheless as steady for the war as Lincoln, or Seward, or any Republican of them all; as steady for the war, and as keen in his bitterness against England.

His father had been a partner in a house of business, of which the chief station had been in Liverpool. That house had now closed its transactions, and young Frew was living and intended to live an easy idle life on the moderate fortune which had been left to him; but the circumstances of his family affairs had made it necessary for him to pass many months in Liverpool, and during that sojourn he had become engaged to Nora Field. He had travelled much, going everywhere with his eyes open, as Americans do. He knew many things, had read many books, and was decided in his opinion on most subjects. He was good-looking too, and well-mannered; was kindly-hearted, and capable of much generosity. But he was hard, keen in his intelligence, but not broad in genius, thin and meagre in his aspirations, not looking to or even desirous of anything great, but indulging a profound Contempt for all that is very small. He was a well-instructed, but by no means learned man, who greatly despised those who were ignorant. I fear that he hated England in his heart; but he did not hate Nora Field, and was about to make her his wife in three or four weeks from the present time.

When Nora declared to her aunt that she was not a widow, and that she possessed no two mites, and when her aunt flatly contradicted her, stating that she was a widow, and did possess two mites, they had not intended to be understood by each other literally. It was an old dispute between them.

“What the widow gave,” said Nora, “she gave off her own poor back, and therefore was very cold. She gave it out of her own poor mouth, and was very hungry afterwards in consequence. I have given my two pounds, but I shall not be cold or hungry. I wish I was a widow with two mites! only, the question is whether I should not keep them for my own back after all, and thus gain nothing by the move.”

“As to that,” replied her aunt, “I cannot speak. But the widowhood and the two mites are there for us all, if we choose to make use of them.”

“In these days,” said Bob, “the widows with two mites should not be troubled at all. We can do it all without them, if we go to work properly.”

“If you had read your Bible properly, Sir,” said Mrs. Granger, “you would understand that the widows would not thank you for the exemption.”

“I don’t want the widows to thank me. I only want to live, and allow others to live according to the existing circumstances of the world.” It was manifest from Bob’s tone that he regarded his mother as little better than an old fogey.

In January, Nora was to become Mrs. Frederic F. Frew, and be at once taken away to new worlds, new politics, and new loves and hatreds. Like a true, honest-hearted girl as she was, she had already become half an American in spirit. She was an old Union American, and as such was strong against the South; and in return for her fervour in that matter, her future husband consented to abstain from any present loud abuse of things English, and generously allowed her to defend her own country when it was abused. This was much as coming from an American. Let us hope that the same privilege may be accorded to her in her future home in Philadelphia. But in the meantime, during these last weeks of her girlhood, these cold, cruel weeks of desperate want, she strove vigorously to do what little might be in her power for the poor of the country she was leaving. All this want had been occasioned by the wretched rebels of the South.

This was her theory. And she was right in much of this. Whether the Americans of the South are wretched or are rebels we will not say here; but of this there can be no doubt, that they created all the misery which we then endured.

“But I have no way of making myself a widow,” she said again. “Uncle Robert would not let me give away the cloak he gave me the other clay.”

“He would have to give you another,” said Mrs. Granger.

“Exactly. It is not so easy, after all, to be a widow with two mites!”

Nora Field had no fortune of her own, nor was her uncle in a position to give her any. He was not a poor man; but like many men who are not poor, he had hardly a pound of his own in the shape of ready money.

To Nora and to her cousins, and to certain other first cousins of the same family, had been left, some eighteen months since, by a grand-aunt, a hundred pounds a-piece, and with this hundred pounds Nora was providing for herself her wedding trousseau.

A hundred pounds do not go far in such provision, as some young married women who may read this will perhaps acknowledge; but Mr. Frederic F. Frew had been told all about it, and he was contented. Miss Field was fond of nice clothes, and had been tempted more than once to wish that her great-aunt had left them all two hundred pounds a-piece instead of one.

“If I were to cast in my wedding veil?” said Nora.

“That will be your husband’s property,” said her aunt.

“Ah, but before I’m married.”

“Then why have it at all?”

“It is ordered, you know.”

“Couldn’t you bedizen yourself with one made of false lace?” said her uncle. “Frew would never find it out, and that would be a most satisfactory spoiling of the Amalekite.”

“He isn’t an Amalekite, uncle Robert. Or if he is, I’m another.”

“Just so; and therefore false lace will be quite good enough for you. Molly,” Mrs. Granger’s name was Molly, “ I’ve promised to let them have the use of the great boiler in the back kitchen once a-week, and you are to furnish them with fuel.”

“Oh, dear!” said Mrs. Granger, upon whose active charity this loan of her own kitchen boiler made a strain that was almost too severe. But she recovered herself in half a minute. “Very well, my dear; but you won’t expect any dinner on that day.”

“No; I shall expect no dinner; only some food in the rough. You may boil that in the copper too if you like it.”

“You know, my dear, you don’t like anything boiled.”

“As for that, Molly, I don’t suppose any of them like it. They’d all prefer roast mutton.”

“The copper will be your two mites,” whispered the niece.

“Only I have not thrown them in of my own accord,” said Mrs. Granger.

Mr. Frew, who was living in Liverpool, always came over to Plumstock on Friday evening, and spent Saturday and Sunday with the rector and his family. For him those Saturdays were happy days, for Frederick F. Frew was a good lover. He liked to be with Nora, to walk with her, and to talk with her; he liked to show her that he loved her, and to make himself gracious and pleasant. I am not so sure that his coming was equally agreeable to Mr. Granger. Mr. Frew would talk about American politics, praising the feeling and spirit of his countrymen in the North; whereas Mr. Granger, when driven into the subject, was constrained to make a battle for the South. All his prejudices, and what he would have called his judgment, went with the South, and he was not ashamed of his opinion; but he disliked arguing with Frederic F. Frew. I fear it must be confessed that Frederic F. Frew was too strong for him in such arguments. Why it should be so I cannot say; but an American argues more closely on politics than does an Englishman. His convictions are not the truer on that account; very often the less true, as are the conclusions of a logician, because he trusts to syllogisms which are often false, instead of to the experience of his life and daily workings of his mind. But though not more true in his political convictions than an Englishman, he is more unanswerable, and therefore Mr. Granger did not care to discuss the subject of the American war with Frederic F. Frew.

“It riles me,” Frew said, as he sat after dinner in the Plumstock drawing-room on the Friday evening before Christmas Day, “to hear your folks talking of our elections. They think the war will come to an end, and the rebels of the South have their own way, because the Democrats have carried their ticket.”

“It will have that tendency,” said the parson.

“Not an inch; any more than your carrying the Reform Bill or repealing the Corn Laws had a tendency to put down the throne. It’s the same sort of argument. Your two parties were at daggers drawn about the Reform Bill; but that did not cause you to split on all other matters.”

“But the throne wasn’t in question,” said the parson.

“Nor is the war in question; not in that way. The most popular Democrat in the States at this moment is M’Clellan.”

“And they say no one is so anxious to see the war ended.”

“Whoever says so slanders him. If you don’t trust his deeds, look at his words.”

“I believe in neither.” said the parson.

“Then put him aside as a nobody. But you can’t do that, for he is the man whom the largest party in the Northern States trusts most implicitly. The fact is, Sir,” and Frederic F. Frew gave the proper twang to the last letter of the last word, “you, none of you here, understand our politics. You can’t realise the blessing of a——”

“Molly, give me some tea,” said the rector in a loud voice. When matters went as far as this he did not care by what means he stopped the voice of his future relative.

“All I say is this,” continued Frew, “you will find out your mistake if you trust to the Democratic elections to put an end to the war, and bring cotton back to Liverpool.”

“And what is to put an end to the war?“asked Nora.

“Victory and union,” said Frederic F. Frew.

“Exhaustion,” said Charley, from Oxford.

“Compromise,” said Bobby, from Liverpool.

“The Lord Almighty, when He shall have done His Work,” said the parson. “And, in the meantime, Molly, do you keep plenty of fire under the kitchen boiler.”

That was clearly the business of the present hour, for all in Mr. Granger’s part of the country; we may say, indeed, for all on Mr. Granger’s side of the water. It mattered little, then, in Lancashire, whether New York might have a Democratic or a Republican governor. The old cotton had been burned; the present crop could not be garnered; the future crop the crop which never would be future, could not get itself sown.

Mr. Granger might be a slow politician, but he was a practical man, understanding the things immediately around him; and they all were aware, Frederic F. Frew with the rest of them, that he was right when he bade his wife keep the fire well hot beneath the kitchen boiler.

“Isn’t it almost wicked to be married in such a time as this?” It was much later in the evening when Nora, still troubled in her mind about her widow’s mite, whispered these words into her lover’s ears. If she were to give up her lover for twelve months, would not that be a throwing in of something to the treasury from off her own back and out of her own mouth? But then this matter of her marriage had been so fully settled that she feared to think of disturbing it. He would never consent to such a postponement And then the offering, to be of avail for her, must be taken from her own back, not from his; and Nora had an idea that in the making of such an offering as that suggested, Mr. Frederic F. Frew would conceive that he had contributed by far the greater part. Her uncle called him an Amalekite, and she doubted whether it would be just to spoil an Amalekite after such a fashion as that. Nevertheless, into his ears she whispered her little proposition.

“Wicked to get married;” said Frederic, “not according to my idea of the Christian religion.”

“Oh! but you know what I mean,” and she gave his arm a slight caressing pinch.

At this time her uncle had gone to his own room; her cousins had gone to their studies, by which I believe they intended to signify the proper smoking of a pipe of tobacco in the rectory kitchen; and Mrs. Granger, seated in her easy chair, had gone to her slumbers, dreaming of the amount of fuel with which that kitchen boiler must be supplied.

“I shall bring a breach of promise against you,” said Frederic, “if you don’t appear in church with bridal array on Monday, the 12th of January, and pay the penalty into the war-treasury. That would be a spoiling of the Amalekite.”

Then he got hold of the fingers which had pinched him.

“Of course I sha’n’t put it off, unless you agree.”

“Of course you won’t.”

“But, dear Fred, don’t you think we ought?”

“No; certainly not. If I thought you were in earnest I would scold you.”

“I am in earnest, quite. You need not look in that way, for you know very well how truly I love you. You know I want to be your wife above all things.”

“Do you?”

And then he began to insinuate his arm round her waist; but she got up and moved away, not as in anger at his caress, but as showing that the present moment was unfit for it.

“I do,” she said, “above all things. I love you so well that I could hardly bear to see you go away again without taking me with you. I could hardly bear it but I could bear it.”

“Could you? Then I couldn’t. I’m a weaker vessel than you, and your strength must give way to my weakness.”

“I know I’ve no right to tax you, if you really care about it.”

Frederic F. Frew made no answer to this in words, but pursued her in her retreat from the sofa on which they had sat.

“Don’t, Fred. I am so much in earnest! I wish I knew what I ought to do to throw in my two mites.”

“Not throw me over, certainly, and break all the promises you have made for the last twelve months. You can’t be in earnest. It’s out of the question, you know.”

“Oh! I am in earnest.”

“I never heard of such a thing in my life. What good would it do? It wouldn’t bring the cotton in. It wouldn’t feed the poor. It wouldn’t keep your aunt’s boiler hot.”

“No; that it wouldn’t,” said Mrs. Granger, starting up; “and coals are such a terrible price.”

Then she went to sleep again and ordered in large supplies in her dreams.

“But I should have done as much as the widow did. Indeed I should, Fred. Oh, dear! to have to give you up! But I only meant for a year.”

“As you are so very fond of me——”

“Of course I’m fond of you. Should I let you do like that if I was not?”

At the moment of her speaking he had again got his arm round her waist.

“Then I’m too charitable to allow you to postpone your happiness for a day. We’ll look at it in that way.”

“You won’t understand me, or rather you do understand me, and pretend that you don’t, which is very wrong.”

“I always was very wicked.”

“Then why don’t you make yourself better? Do not you too wish to be a widow? You ought to wish it.”

“I should like to have an opportunity of trying married life first.”

“I won’t stay any longer with you, Sir, because you are scoffing. Aunt, I’m going to bed.” Then she returned again across the room, and whispered to her lover, “I’ll tell you what, Sir, I’ll marry you on Monday, the 12th of January, if you’ll take me just as I am now; with a bonnet on, and a shawl over my dress, exactly as I walked out with you before dinner. When I made the promise, I never said anything about fine clothes.”

“You may come in an old red cloak, if you like it.”

“Very well; now mind I’ve got your consent. Good-night, Sir. After all it will only be half a mite.”

She had turned towards the door, and had her hand upon the lock, but she came back into the room, close up to him.

“It will not be a quarter of a mite,” she said. “How can it be anything if I get you!“Then she kissed him, and hurried away out of the room, before he could again speak to her.

“What, what, what!” said Mrs. Granger, waking up. “So Nora has gone, has she?”

“Gone; yes, just this minute,” said Frew, who had turned his face to the fire, so that the tear in his eyes might not be seen. As he took himself off to his bed, he swore to himself that Nora Field was a trump, and that he had done well in securing for himself such a wife; but it never occurred to him that she was in any way in earnest about her wedding dress. She was a trump because she was so expressive in her love to himself, and because her eyes shone so brightly when she spoke eagerly on any matter; but as to her appearing at the altar in a red cloak, or, as was more probable, in her own customary thick woollen shawl, he never thought about it. Of course she would be married as other girls are married.

Nor had Nora thought of it till that moment in which she made the proposition to her lover. As she had said before, her veil was ordered, and so was her white silk dress. Her bonnet also had been ordered, with its bridal wreath, and the other things assorting therewith. A vast hole was to be made in her grand-aunt’s legacy for the payment of all this finery; but, as Mrs. Granger had said to her, in so spending it, she would best please her future husband. He had enough of his own, and would not care that she should provide herself with articles which he could afterwards give her, at the expense of that little smartness at his wedding which an American likes, at any rate, as well as an Englishman. Nora, with an honesty which some ladies may not admire, had asked her lover the question in the plainest language.

“You will have to buy my things so much the sooner,” she had said.

“I’d buy them all tomorrow, only you’ll not let me.”

“I should rather think not, Master Fred.” Then she had gone off with her aunt, and ordered her wedding-clothes. But now as she prepared for bed, after the conversation which has just been recorded, she began to think in earnest whether it would not be well to dispense with white silk and orange-wreaths while so many were dispensing with were forced to dispense with bread and fuel. Could she bedizen herself with finery from Liverpool, while her uncle was, as she well knew, refusing himself a set of new shirts which he wanted sorely, in order that he might send to the fund at Liverpool the money which they would cost him. He was throwing in his two mites daily, as was her aunt, who toiled unceasingly at woollen shawls and woollen stockings, so that she went on knitting even in her sleep. But she, Nora, since the earnestness of these bad days began, had done little or nothing. Her needle, indeed, had been very busy, but it had been busy in preparation for Mr. Frederic F. Frew’s nuptials. Even Bob and Charley worked for the Relief Committee; but she had done nothing nothing but given her two pounds. She had offered four, but her uncle, with a self-restraint never before or afterwards practised by him, had chucked her back two, saying that he would not be too hard even upon an Amalekite. As she thought of the word, she asked herself whether it was not more incumbent on her, than on any one else, to do something in the way of self-sacrifice. She was now a Briton, but would shortly be an American. Should it be said of her that the distress of her own countrywomen the countrywomen whom she was leaving did not wring her heart? It was not without a pang that she prepared to give up that nationality, which all its owners rank as the first in the world, and most of those who do not own it, rank, if not as the first, then as the second. Now it seemed to her as though she were deserting her own family in its distress, deserting her own ship in the time of its storm, and she was going over to those from whom this distress and this storm had come! Was it not needful that she should do something that she should satisfy herself that she had been willing to suffer in the cause?

She would throw in her two mites if she did but know where to find them.

“I could only do it, in truth,” she said to herself, as she rose from her prayers, “by throwing in him. I have got one very great treasure, but I have not got anything else that I care about. After all, it isn’t so easy to be a widow with two mites.”

Then she sat down and thought about it. As to postponing her marriage, that she knew to be in truth quite out of the question. Even if she could bring herself to do it, everybody about her would say that she was mad, and Mr. Frederic F. Frew might not impossibly destroy himself with one of those pretty revolvers which he sometimes brought out from Liverpool for her to play with. But was it not practicable for her to give up her wedding-clothes? There would be considerable difficulty even in this. As to their having been ordered, that might be overcome by the sacrifice of some portion of the price. But then her aunt, and even her uncle, would oppose her; her cousins would cover her with ridicule; in the latter she might, however, achieve something of her widowhood; and, after all, the loss would fall more upon F. F. Frew than upon herself. She really did not Care for herself, in what clothes she was married, so that she was made his wife. But as regarded him, might it not be disagreeable to him to stand before the altar with a dowdy creature in an old gown? And then there was one other consideration. “Would it not seem that she was throwing in her two mites publicly, before the eyes of all men, as a Pharisee might do it? Would there not be an ostentation in her widowhood? But as she continued to reflect, she cast this last thought behind her. It might be so said of her, but if such saying were untrue, if the offering were made in a widow’s spirit, and not in the spirit of a Pharisee, would it not be cowardly to regard what men might say? Such false accusation would make some part of the two mites.

“I’ll go into Liverpool about it on Monday,” she said to herself as she finally tucked the clothes around her.

Early in the following morning she was up and out of her room, with a view of seeing her aunt before she came down to breakfast; but the first person she met was her uncle. He accosted her in one of the passages.

“What, Nora, this is early for you! Are you going to have a morning lovers’ walk with Frederic Franklin?”

“Frederic Franklin, as you choose to call him, uncle,” said Nora, “never comes out of his room much before breakfast time. And it’s raining hard.”

“Such a lover as he is ought not to mind rain.”

“But I should mind it, very much. But, uncle, I want to speak to you, very seriously. I have been making up my mind about something.”

“There’s nothing wrong; is there, my dear?”

“No; there’s nothing very wrong. It is not exactly about anything being wrong. I hardly know how to tell you what it is.”

And then she paused, and he could see by the light of the candle in his hand that she blushed.

“Hadn’t you better speak to your aunt?” said Mr. Granger.

“That’s what I meant to do when I got up,” said Nora; “but as I have met you, if you don’t mind——”

He assured her that he did not mind, and putting his hand upon her shoulder caressingly, promised her any assistance in his power.

“I’m not afraid that you will ask anything I ought not to do for you.”

Then she revealed to him her scheme, turning her face away from him as she spoke. “It will be so horrid,” she said, “to have a great box of finery coming home when you are all giving up everything for the poor people. And if you don’t think it would be wrong——”

“It can’t be wrong,” said her uncle. “It may be a question whether it would be wise.”

“I mean wrong to him. If it was to be any other clergyman, I should be ashamed of it. But as you are to marry us——”

“I don’t think you need mind about the clergyman.”

“And of course I should tell the Foster girls.”

“The Foster girls?”

“Yes; they are to be my bridesmaids, and I am nearly sure they have not bought anything new yet. Of course they would think it all very dowdy, but I don’t care a bit about that. I should just tell them that we had all made up our minds that we couldn’t afford wedding-clothes. That would be true; wouldn’t it?”

“But the question is about that wild American?”

“He isn’t a wild American.”

“Well, then, about that tamed American. What will he say?”

“He said I might come in an old cloak.” ..

“You have told him, then?”

“But I am afraid he thought I was only joking. But uncle, if you’ll help me, I think I can bring him round.”

“I dare say you can to anything, just at present.”

“I didn’t at all mean that. Indeed, I’m sure I couldn’t bring him round to putting off the marriage.”

“No, no, no; not to that; to anything else.”

“I know you are laughing at me, but I don’t much mind being laughed at. I should save very nearly fifteen pounds, if not quite. Think of that!”

“And you’d give it all to the soup kitchen?”

“I’d give it all to you for the distress.”

Then her uncle spoke to her somewhat gravely.

“You’re a good girl, Nora, a dear good girl. I think I understand your thoughts on this matter, and I love you for them. But I doubt whether there be any necessity for you to make this sacrifice. A marriage should be a gala festival according to the means of the people married, and the bridegroom has a right to expect that his bride shall come to him fairly arrayed, and bright with wedding trappings. I think we can do, my pet, without robbing you of your little braveries.”

“Oh, as for that, of course you can do without me.”

There was a little soreness in her tone; not because she was feeling herself to be misunderstood, but because she knew that she could not explain herself further. She could not tell her uncle that the poor among the Jews might have been relieved without the contribution of those two mites, but that the widow would have lost all had she not so contributed. She had hardly arranged her thoughts as to the double blessing of charity, and certainly could not express them with reference to her own case; but she felt the need of giving in this time of trouble something that she herself valued. She was right when she had said that it was hard to be a widow. How many among us, when we give, give from off our own backs, and from out of our own mouths? Who can say that he has sacrificed a want of his own; that he has abandoned a comfort; that he has worn a threadbare coat, when coats with their gloss on have been his customary wear; that he has fared roughly on cold scraps, whereas a well-spread board has been his usual daily practice? He who has done so has thrown in his two mites, and for him will charity produce her double blessing.

Nora thought that it was not well in her uncle to tell her that he could do without her wedding clothes. Of course he could do without them. But she soon threw those words behind her, and went back upon the words which had preceded them. “The bridegroom has a right to expect that the bride shall come to him fairly arrayed.” After all, that must depend upon circumstances. Suppose the bride had no means of arraying herself fairly without getting into debt; what would the bridegroom expect in that case?

“If he’ll consent, you will?” she said, as she prepared to leave her uncle.

“You’ll drive him to offer to pay for the thing himself.”

“I dare say he will, and then he’ll drive me to refuse. You may be quite sure of this, uncle, that whatever Clothes I do wear, he will never see the bill of them;——” and then that conference was ended.

“I’ve made that calculation again,” said Bob at breakfast, and I feel convinced that if an act of parliament could be passed restricting the consumption of food in Christmas week, the entire week, mind, to that of ordinary weeks, we should get two millions of money, and that those two millions would tide us over till the Indian cotton comes in. Of course I mean by food, butchers’ meat, groceries, spirits, and wines. Only think, that by one measure, which would not entail any real disappointment on any one, the whole thing would be done.”

“But the act of parliament wouldn’t give us the money,” said his father.

“Of course I don’t really mean an act of parliament; that would be absurd. But the people might give up their Christmas dinners.”

“A great many will, no doubt. Many of those most in earnest are pretty nearly giving up their daily dinners. Those who are indifferent will go on feasting the same as ever. You can’t make a sacrifice obligatory.”

“It would be no sacrifice if you did,” said Nora, still thinking of her wedding clothes.

“I doubt whether sacrifices ever do any real good,” said Frederick F. Frew.

“Oh, Fred!” said Nora.

“We have rather high authority as to the benefit of self-denial,” said the parson.

“A man who can’t sacrifice himself must be selfish,” said Bobby; “and we are all agreed to hate selfish people.”

“And what about the widow’s mite?” said Mrs. Granger.

“That’s all very well, and you may knock me down with the Bible if you like, as you might do also if I talked about pre-Adamite formations. I believe every word of the Bible, but I do not believe that I understand it all thoroughly.”

“You might understand it better if you studied it more,” said the parson.

“Very likely. I won’t be so uncourteous as to say the same thing of my elders. But now about these sacrifices. You wouldn’t wish to keep people in distress that you might benefit yourself by releasing them?”

“But the people in distress are there,” said Nora.

“They oughtn’t to be there; and as your self-sacrifices, after all, are very insufficient to prevent distress, there certainly seems to be a question open whether some other mode should not be tried. Give me the country in which the humanitarian principle is so exercised that no one shall be degraded by the receipt of charity. It seems to me that you like poor people here in England that you may gratify yourselves by giving them, not as much to eat as they want, but just enough to keep their skins from falling off their bones. Charity may have its double blessing, but it may also have its double curse.”

“Not charity, Mr. Frew,” said Mrs. Granger.

“Look at your Lady Bountifuls.”

“Of course it depends on the heart,” continued the lady;” but charity, if it be charity —”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Frederic F. Frew interrupting her. “In Philadelphia, which in some matters is the best organised city I know —”

“I’m going down to the village,” said the parson jumping up. “Who is to come with me?” and he escaped out of the room before Frew had had an opportunity of saying a word further about Philadelphia.

“That’s the way with your uncle always,” said he, turning to Nora, almost in anger. “It certainly is the most conclusive argument I know that of running away.”

“Mr. Granger meant it to be conclusive,” said the elder lady.

“But the pity is that it never convinces.”

“Mr. Granger probably had no desire of convincing.”

“Ah! Well, it does not signify,” said Frew. “When a man has a pulpit of his own, why should he trouble himself to argue in any place where counter arguments must be met and sustained?”

Nora was almost angry with her lover, whom she regarded as stronger and more clever than any of her uncle’s family, but tyrannical and sometimes overbearing in the use of his strength. One by one her aunt and cousin left the room, and she was left alone with him. He had taken up a newspaper as a refuge in his wrath, for in truth he did not like the manner in which his allusions to his own country were generally treated at the parsonage. There are Englishmen who think that every man differing with them is bound to bet with them on any point in dispute. “Then you decline to back your opinion,” such men say when the bet is refused. The feeling of an American is the same as to those who are unwilling to argue with him. He considers that every intelligent being is bound to argue whenever matter of argument is offered to him; nor can he understand that any subject may be too sacred for argument. Frederic F. Frew, on the present occasion, was as a dog from whose very mouth a bone had been taken. He had given one or two loud, open growls, and now sat with his newspaper, showing his teeth as far as the spirit of the thing went. And it was in this humour that Nora found herself called upon to attack him on the question of her own proposed charity. She knew well that he could bark, even at her, if things went wrong with him. “But then he never bites,” she said to herself. He had told her that she might come to her wedding in an old cloak if she pleased, but she had understood that there was nothing serious in this permission. Now, at this very moment, it was incumbent on her to open his eyes to the reality of her intention.

“Fred,” she said, “are you reading that newspaper because you are angry with me?”

“I am reading the newspaper because I want to know what there is in it.”

“You know all that now, just as well as it you had written it. Put it down, Sir!” And she put her hand on to the top of the sheet. “If we are to be married in three weeks’ time, I expect that you will be a little attentive to me now. You’ll read as many papers as you like after that, no doubt.”

“Upon my word, Nora, I think your uncle is the most unfair man I ever met in my life.”

“Perhaps he thinks the same of you, and that will make it equal.”

“He can’t think the same of me. I defy him to think that I’m unfair. There’s nothing so unfair as hitting a blow, and then running away when the time comes for receiving a counterblow. It’s what your Lord Chatham did, and he never ought to have been listened to in parliament again.”

“That’s a long time ago,” said Nora, who probably felt that her lover should not talk to her about Lord Chatham just three weeks before their marriage.

“I don’t know that the time makes any difference.”

“Ah! but I have got something else that I want to speak about. And, Fred, you mustn’t turn up your nose at what we are all doing here, as to giving away things I mean.”

“I don’t turn up my nose at it. Haven’t I been begging of every American in Liverpool till I’m ashamed of myself?”

“I know you have been very good, and now you must be more good still, good to me specially, I mean. That isn’t being good. That’s only being foolish.” What little ceremony had led to this last assertion I need not perhaps explain. “Fred, I’m an Englishwoman today, but in a month’s time I shall be an American.”

“I hope so, Nora, heart and soul.”

“Yes; that is what I mean. Whatever is my husband’s country must be mine. And you know how well I love your country; do you not? I never run away when you talk to me about Philadelphia, do I? And you know how I admire all your institutions, my institutions, as they will be.”

“Now I know you’re going to ask some very great favour.”

“Yes, I am; and I don’t mean to be refused, Master Fred. I’m to be an American almost tomorrow, but as yet I am an Englishwoman, and I am bound to do what little I can before I leave my country. Don’t you think so?”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“Well, it’s about my wedding-clothes. It does seem stupid talking about them, I know. But I want you to let me do without them altogether. Now you’ve got the plain truth. I want to give Uncle Robert the money for his soup-kitchen, and to be married just as I am now. I do not care one straw what any other creature in the world may say about it, so long as I do not displease you.”

“I think it’s nonsense, Nora.”

“Oh, Fred, don’t say so. I have set my heart upon it. I’ll do anything for you afterwards. Indeed, for the matter of that, I’d do anything on earth for you, whether you agree or whether you do not. You know that.”

“But, Nora, you wouldn’t wish to make yourself appear foolish? How much money will you save?”

“Very nearly twenty pounds altogether.”

“Let me give you twenty pounds, so that you may leave it with your uncle by way of your two mites, as you call it.”

“No, no, certainly not I might just as well send you the milliner’s bill, might I not?”

“I don’t see why you shouldn’t do that.”

“Ah, but I do. You wouldn’t wish me to be guilty of the pretence of giving a thing away, and then doing it out of your pocket. I have no doubt that what you were saying about the evil of promiscuous charity is quite true.” And then, as she flattered him with this wicked flattery, she looked up with her bright eyes into his face. “But now, as the things are, we must be charitable, or the people will die. I feel almost like a rat leaving a falling house, in going away at this time; and if you would postpone it—”


“Then I must be like a rat, but I won’t be a rat in a white silk gown. Come now, say that you agree. I never asked you for anything before.”

“Everybody will think that you’re mad, and that I’m mad, and that we are all mad together.”

“Because I go to church in a merino dress? Well; if that makes madness, let us be mad. Oh, Fred, do not refuse me the first thing I’ve asked you! What difference will it make? Nobody will know it over in Philadelphia!”

“Then you are ashamed of it?”

“No, not ashamed. Why should I be ashamed? But one does not wish to have that sort of thing talked about by everybody.”

“And you are so strong-minded, Nora, that you do not care about finery yourself?”

“Fred, that’s ill-natured. You know very well what my feelings are. You are sharp enough to understand them without any further explanation. I do like finery, quite well enough, as you’ll find out to your cost some day. And if ever you scold me for extravagance, I shall tell you about this.”

“It’s downright Quixotism.”

“Quixotism leads to nothing, but this will lead to twenty pounds’ worth of soup, and to something else too.”

When he pressed her to explain what that something else was, she declined to speak further on the subject. She could not tell him that the satisfaction she desired was that of giving up something, of having made a sacrifice, of having thrown into the treasury her two mites, two mites off her own back, as she had said to her aunt, and out of her own mouth. He had taxed her with indifference to a woman’s usual delight in gay plumage, and had taxed her most unjustly. “He ought to know,” she said to herself, “that I should not take all this trouble about it, unless I did care for it.” But, in truth, he did understand her motive thoroughly, and half approved them. He approved the spirit of self-abandonment, but disapproved the false political economy by which, according to his light, that spirit was accompanied. “After all,” said he, “the widow would have done better to have invested her small capital in some useful trade.”

“Oh, Fred; but never mind now. I have your consent, and now I’ve only got to talk over my aunt.”

So saying, she left her lover to turn over in his mind the first principles of that large question of charity.

“The giving of pence and halfpence, of scraps of bread and sups of soup, is, after all, but the charity of a barbarous, half-civilised race. A dog would let another dog starve before he gave him a bone, and would see his starved fellow-dog die without a pang. We have just got beyond that, only beyond that, as long as we dole out sups of soup. But charity, when it shall have made itself perfect, will have destroyed this little trade of giving, which makes the giver vain and the receiver humble. The charity of the large-hearted is that which opens to every man the profit of his own industry; to every man and to every woman.” Then having gratified himself with the enunciation of this fine theory, he allowed his mind to run away to a smaller subject, and began to think of his own wedding garments. If Nora insisted on carrying out this project of hers, in what guise must he appear on the occasion? He also had ordered new clothes. “It’s just the sort of thing that they’ll make a story of in Chestnut Street.” Chestnut Street, as we all know, is the West End of Philadelphia.

When the morning came of the twelfth of January, the morning that was to make Nora Field a married woman, she had carried her point; but she was not allowed to feel that she had carried it triumphantly.

Her uncle had not forbidden her scheme, but had never encouraged it. Her lover had hardly spoken to her on the subject since the day on which she had explained to him her intention.

“After all, it’s a mere bagatelle,” he had said; “I am not going to marry your clothes.”

One of her cousins, Bob, had approved; but he had coupled his approval with an intimation that something should be done to prevent any other woman from wearing bridal wreaths for the next three months. Charley had condemned her altogether, pointing out that it was bad policy to feed the cotton-spinners at the expense of the milliners. But the strongest opposition had come from her aunt and the Miss Fosters. Mrs. Granger, though her heart was in the battle which her husband was righting, could not endure to think that all the time-honoured ceremonies of her life should be abandoned. In spite of all that was going on around her, she had insisted on having mince-pies on the table on Christmas Day. True, there were not many of them, and they were small and flavourless. But the mince-pies were there, with whisky to burn with them instead of brandy, if any of the party chose to go through the ceremony. And to her the idea of a wedding without wedding-clothes was very grievous. It was she who had told Nora that she was a widow with two mites, or might make herself one, if she chose to encounter self-sacrifice. But in so saying she had by no means anticipated such a widowhood as this.

“I really think, Nora, you might have one of those thinner silks, and you might do without a wreath; but you should have a veil; indeed you should.”

But Nora was obstinate. Having overcome her future lord, and quieted her uncle, she was not at all prepared to yield to the mild remonstrances of her aunt. The two Miss Fosters were very much shocked, and for three days there was a disagreeable coolness between them and the Plumstock family. A friend’s bridal is always an occasion for a new dress, and the Miss Fosters naturally felt that they were being robbed of their rights.

“Sensible girl,” said old Foster, when he heard of it. “When you’re married, if ever you are, I hope you’ll do the same.”

“Indeed we won’t, papa,” said the two Miss Fosters. But the coolness gradually subsided, and the two Miss Fosters consented to attend in their ordinary Sunday bonnets.

It had been decided that they should be married early, at eight o’clock; that they should then go to the parsonage for breakfast, and that the married couple should start for London immediately afterwards. They were to remain there for a week, and then return to Liverpool for one other remaining week before their final departure for America.

“I should only have had them on for about an hour if I’d got them, and then it would have been almost dark,” she said to her aunt.

“Perhaps it won’t signify very much,” her aunt replied. Then when the morning came, it seemed that the sacrifice had dwindled down to a very little thing. The two Miss Fosters had come to the parsonage over night, and as they sat up with the bride over a bed-room fire, had been good-natured enough to declare that they thought it would be very good fun.

“You won’t have to get up in the cold to dress me,” said Nora, “because I can do it all myself; that will be one comfort.”

“Oh, we shouldn’t have minded that; and as it is, of course, we’ll turn you out nice. You’ll wear one of your other new dresses; won’t you?”

“Oh, I don’t know; just what I’m to travel in. It isn’t very old. Do you know, after all, I’m not sure that it isn’t a great deal better.”

“I suppose it will be the same thing in the end,” said the younger Miss Foster.

“Of course it will,” said the elder.

“And there won’t be all that bother of changing my dress,” said Nora.

Frederic F. Frew came out to Plumstock by an early train from Liverpool, bringing with him a countryman of his own as his friend on the occasion. It had been explained to the friend that he was to come in his usual habiliments.

“Oh, nonsense!” said the friend, “I guess I’ll see you turned off in a new waistcoat.” But Frederic F. Frew had made it understood that an old waistcoat was imperative.

“It’s something about the cotton, you know. They’re all beside themselves here, as though there was never going to be a bit more in the country to eat. That’s England all over. Never mind; do you come just as if you were going into your counting-house. Brown cotton gloves, with a hole in the thumbs, will be the thing, I should say.”

There were candles on the table when they were all assembled in the parsonage drawing-room previous to the marriage. The two gentlemen were there first. Then came Mrs. Granger, who rather frightened Mr. Frew by kissing him, and telling him that she should always regard him as a son-in-law.

“Nora has always been like one of ourselves, you know,” she said, apologisingly.

“And let me tell you, Master Frew,’ said the parson, “that you’re a very lucky fellow to get her.”

“I say, isn’t it cold?“said Bob, coming in—“where are the girls?”

“Here are the girls,” said Miss Foster, heading the procession of three which now entered the room, Nora, of course, being the last. Then Nora was kissed by everybody, including the strange American gentleman, who seemed to have made some mistake as to his privilege in the matter. But it all passed off very well, and I doubt if Nora knew who kissed her. It was very cold, and they were all wrapped close in their brown shawls and greatcoats, and the women looked very snug and comfortable in their ordinary winter bonnets.

“Come,” said the parson, “we mustn’t wait for Charley; he’ll follow us to church.” So the uncle took his niece on his arm, and the two Americans took the two bridesmaids, and Bob took his mother, and went along the beaten path over the snow to the church, and, as they got to the door, Charley rushed after them quite out of breath.

“I haven’t even got a pair of gloves at all,” he whispered to his mother.

“It doesn’t matter; nobody’s to know,” said Mrs. Granger.

Nora by this time had forgotten the subject of her dress altogether, and it may be doubted if even the Misses Foster were as keenly alive to it as they thought they would have been. For myself, I think they all looked more comfortable on that cold winter morning without the finery which would have been customary than they could have done with it. It had seemed to them all beforehand that a marriage without veils and wreaths, without white gloves and new gay dresses, would be but a triste affair; but the idea passed away altogether when the occasion came. Mr. Granger and his wife and the two lads clustered around Nora as they made themselves ready for the ceremony, uttering words of warm love, and it seemed as though even the clerk and the servants took nothing amiss. Frederic F. Frew had met with a rebuff in the hall of the parsonage, in being forbidden to take his own bride under his own arm; but when the time for action came, he bore no malice, but went through his work manfully. On the whole, it was a pleasant wedding, homely, affectionate, full of much loving greeting; but not without many sobs on the part of the bride and of Mrs. Granger, and some slight suspicion of an eagerly-removed tear in the parson’s eye; but this, at any rate, was certain, that the wedding-clothes were not missed. When they all sat down to their breakfast in the parsonage dining-room, that little matter had come to be clean forgotten. No one knew, not even the Misses Foster, that there was anything extraordinary in their garb. Indeed, as to all gay apparel, we may say that we only miss it by comparison. It is very sad to be the wearer of the only frock-coat in company, to carry the one solitary black silk handkerchief at a dinner-party. But I do not know but that a dozen men so arrayed do not seem to be as well dressed as though they had obeyed the latest rules of fashion as to their garments. One thing, however, had been made secure. That sum of twenty pounds, saved from the milliners, had been duly paid over into Mr. Granger’s hands. “It has been all very nice,” said Mrs. Granger, still sobbing, when Nora went up stairs to tie on her bonnet before she started. “Only you are going?”

“Yes, I’m going now, aunt. Dear aunt! But aunt, I have failed in one thing absolutely failed.”

“Failed in what, my darling?”

“There has been no widow’s mite, It is not easy to be a widow with two mites.”

“What you have given will be blessed to you, and blessed to those who will receive it.”

“I hope it may; but I almost feel that I have been wrong in thinking of it so much. It has cost me nothing. I tell you, aunt, that it is not easy to be a widow with two mites.”

When Mrs. Granger was alone with her husband after this, the two Miss Fosters having returned to Liverpool under the discreet protection of the two young Grangers, for they had positively refused to travel with no other companion than the strange American, she told him all that Nora had said.

“And who can tell us,” he replied, “that it was not the same with the widow herself? She threw in all that she had, but who can say that she suffered aught in consequence? It is my belief that all that is given in a right spirit comes back instantly, in this world, with interest.”

“I wish my coals would come back,” said Mrs. Granger.

“Perhaps you have not given them in a right spirit, my dear.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01