“Provide Things Honest”; or, Those Two Young Hills, Part 2
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: “Provide Things Honest” was written for a female young adult audience. This tale, written in three installments, challenges the roles of women in their society as our two young heroines try to justify selling their needlework for profit—a labor that their Victorian society sees as beneath their status.
This entry was published as the second of three parts:
TO THE LAST MOMENT
While the owner of the wool-work and fancy shop in Beeton-street, Islington, sat glowering in solitude over her plateful of cold Irish stew and seventeen-year-old Margaret Hill walked home, feeling overwhelmed with shy shame and miserable disappointment, a girl about a year younger than herself lay on a luxurious sofa in a small bright room, replete with every comfort.
Everything in the room was pleasing to the eyes, with the exception of her own young face. Weary discontent and ill-humour were so plainly written on the pretty features that, as she listlessly turned her head and caught sight of her reflection in the looking-glass on the opposite wall, she muttered, with a grim sort of out-of-humour satisfaction, and half aloud—
“Dear me! how ugly I am!”
A peal of musical laughter from a lady busily writing at a Davenport greeted this declaration, and dropping her pen, she said, with an amused smile—
“My dear child, I congratulate you on your humility. Have you been studying Burns lately—‘Oh wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursls as others see us’?” 1From Robert Burns “To a Louse.”
“No mamma,” was the answer, with just a ghost of an echo of her mother’s laugh; “I’ve only been studying the looking-glass. And it has not taken much study either to learn that fact of my ugliness.”
A disconsolate sigh followed this little speech, and Mrs. Deacon rose and came up to the sofa on which her young daughter lay. As she stood for some moments silently smoothing back some little stray tendrils of wavy, glistening hair, she exhibited small token of sharing her child’s modest estimate of her appearance, but when at length she spoke again there was nothing in her words or voice to feed vanity; on the contrary, the girl looked still more abashed when her mother said, in a low, grave tone—
“Whatever our faces may be like, wrongdoing is always ugly. If you had been employing yourself during the past hour and a half, my dear, instead of lounging on the sofa, you would have seen a much pleasanter sight in the looking-glass than you do now.”
For a few moments there was no reply, but the nerves of the young damsel were in too irritable a state to take reproof quite patiently. The slight pause was followed by a hasty remonstrance.
“Mamma,” she exclaimed, springing up and raising her eyes, filled with indignant tears, “how can you speak like that, when you know I am not able to employ myself? It is cruel of you!”
“It certainly would be,” said Mrs. Deacon, “if you really were reduced to such a sad condition. But how even badly cut fingers and a bandaged hand can prevent your doing anything more profitable than spend the best hours of the afternoon lying on a sofa, I confess I do not understand. You began to read the “History of France” last week, but I much doubt if you have got beyond the first fifty pages; and I have seen very little preparation for Signora Crevelli since your last lesson. Are you ready for her to-morrow?”
“Not quite,” came the low answer, with the long eyelashes once more lowered. “But you know, mamma—”
“Well, Ida dear, tell me what is it that I know?”
“Why, mamma,” a little more bravely, “you know you don’t make enough allowance for one sometimes. You are scolding me for being idle just at the very time when I am feeling so horribly disappointed at having to be idle in one way. It is dreadfully difficult to keep my mind on books while I am so vexed at not being able to do the work for the fancy fair.2A fancy fair is another term for a charity bazaar, referring to the handmade “fancy” work commonly sold there. I meant to be so tremendously busy all this week.”
“I know you did, dear,” answered Mrs. Deacon, more tenderly. “And you must not think that I am not sorry both for your hurt fingers and your vexation. But the matter cannot be helped now, and to it only remains to make the best of it. After all, I daresay your offering will be as large as most. Run and fetch your things, and let me see them.”
A burning blush overspread Miss Ida’s cheeks and mounted into her forehead as she muttered, “I haven’t any things; I haven’t done any of them yet.”
A second time there was a long pause. Ida’s white eyelids quivered, but she did not raise them. Her red lips quivered, too, but no more words came from between them until Mrs. Deacon asked—
“Do you really mean, Ida, that with all your outspoken zeal on the subject, and all your promises to Miss Broad, you have let six months go by without attempting to fulfil them—that you have left all to the uncertainties of this last week?”
“But I meant to work very hard all this week,” came the scarcely audible answer; and then, before any more could be said, a servant entered with a letter for Miss Deacon, which the young lady was only too glad to carry off to her own room, to escape further discussion of a very painful topic.
MISS BROAD’S LETTER.
For some time after her young daughter left her Mrs. Deacon sat grieving over the girl’s indolence of disposition, and praying that she might learn to see her fault and have strength given her to cure it; then she went back to her desk, finished her letters, and in her turn went upstairs. Stopping at her child’s room on the way to her own, she tapped lightly and entered.
Mrs. Deacon thought at first that she had come to an empty nest, and she was about to leave it again when a sound of sobbing from someone hidden behind the bed-curtains fell upon her ears, and in another minute she stood with her arms folded around poor Ida, who was weeping as if her heart would break.
“What is the matter, my darling? Is there some fresh trouble grieving you now?” asked the mother, anxiously.
But the young girl shook her head disconsolately. “No mamma,” she sobbed. “No there is no other trouble. One of this sort is enough, I’m sure, but it’s this one got ever so much bigger. Re—read—that.”
And putting the letter she had received an hour ago into her mother’s hands she broke down afresh and cried as bitterly as she had done before, whilst Mrs. Deacon read the note from Miss Broad, begging her friend to send the contributions of needlework, paintings, etc., she had promised at once, that she might know what she had to depend upon for filling her stall. The note went on:—
“If I did not feel sure, dearest Ida, that the fulfilment of your generous promises is certain to be so amply satisfactory I should be reduced at the present moment to the greatest state of despair. Next to your own dear little self, Miss de Mattos was my most active helper. Such a heap of things she had made for me; I saw them in her room last Wednesday. I only wish that I had taken them away with me then, as she offered to let me do!
“Late last night her maid came round to say her mistress had fallen ill with scarlet fever—a light form, the doctor says—but of course none of the things can be brought away for the fancy fair, for fear of spreading infection, and I had so counted on them.
“Now all my hope is in what you may have prepared for me, and the trust that, under the circumstances, you will spend all this next week likewise in working like a Trojan for the benefit of my stall.
“Hoping to see you this afternoon, or to hear from you this evening,
“I remain yours,
“Overwhelmed with business,
As Mrs. Deacon folded up the letter she sighed, and Ida, lifting her tear-stained face, sobbed, “You too think it a bad business, mamma?”
“I think it a very bad business indeed,” replied Mrs. Deacon, very gravely, “that all people should learn to distrust my child, should have reason to put no faith in her promises. And all because she persists in indulging her indolent love of putting off everything she has to do, or undertakes to do, to the last moment.”
“I thought that you did not care much about fancy fairs,” muttered Ida, turning restive again under reproof; but the tears streamed as heavily as before when her mother answered, in the same sad and serious tones—
“I care very much for kept promises, very much for the healthful, bright activity of spirit that does its best to keep them. Ah! Ida, when do you mean to pray, not with lips only, but with your heart, against your besetting sin? Is that also to be put off till a last moment, which may come as a thief in the night when you are least aware.3Reference to Matthew 24:36. From the moment you rise in the morning, which is always so late that you have scarcely time to say your prayers much less to pray them, till you jump into bed hurriedly at night in the same prayerless state, your days are all passed in putting everything off till the last moment. I confess that I feel ashamed, as most mothers would do, that our friends should all have to learn your laziness, but I am much more grieved when I think of the doom pronounced against the unprofitable servant who was too idle to make use of his lord’s gift. Remember we are not told that he did anything whatever that we call “bad,” he was only indolent, lazy, idle. And for him the awful words were said, “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness.”4Story from Matthew 25:14-30.
As Mrs. Deacon uttered that last solemn word she moved away from Ida’s side, and left the room. It had indeed been a painful shock to her to find that not even a matter about which Ida had professed a great amount of girlish enthusiasm had induced her to make any effort to overcome the indolence to which day by day she showed an increasing disposition to yield. If Ida felt miserable, her mother was at least equally sad.
But to return to Maggie Hill, whom we left plodding her weary way home to her sister, with her bag as heavy as when she started, and her purse as empty.
(To be concluded.)
This story is continued in “Provide Things Honest”; or, Those Two Young Hills, Part 3.
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26 September 2020
31 March 2023
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