Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Where is the other?
Where Is the Other?—A Reverie.
Relics seen in lat. 69º 09′ N., long. 99º 24′ W:
Not brought away, 30th May, 1859,*****a small worsted-work slipper (lined with calf-skin, bound with red ribbon).***
“Jane, Jane! George is coming down to spend three weeks here—it will be so jolly! And he’s going to bring his brother too. You must make us some sailors out of dolls for our yacht; mother will give us the blue cloth, and Susan said I might have some of the pieces out of the rag-bag for the trousers. You’ll make them, won’t you, Jane? George won’t mind; he’ll be here three weeks, so you’ll see enough of him.”
Jane promised to turn tailor, and kept her promise; and when George and his brother arrived, they found the yacht ready, and the men at their posts in their best trim.
“Here, William, you go with Tom to the pond; I’ll come another time.”
The boys went, and Jane was alone with George.
“There’s something the matter, George, I can see it in your face.”
“Yes, Jenny, there is; I’m going a long voyage. You know, Jenny, I was to have gone to Calcutta, but when your father said what he did—you remember?—I made up my mind to get on faster. I’m going with Franklin—three years, perhaps—but it will be the making of all of us who come back, so you mustn’t mind, Jenny; time will soon go by, and I shall be able when I come back to find a nest for you—little wren.”
He spoke hurriedly as though to prevent her speaking.
She sobbed out, “Three years, George? Not see you for three years! It’s very cruel—it’s very hard.”
“No, Jenny, not ‘cruel,’ not ‘hard.’ It’s sure to make my fortune, and I might work in the ordinary way ten years before I satisfied your father.”
“But surely, George, you could do something on shore, if not at sea, to prevent this terrible separation. Can’t you be a clerk, or something? You draw nicely—much better than old Mr. Sumner at Miss Hilditch’s. Can’t you give lessons, or do anything? I’m sure you could, so clever as you are, do something.”
“My dear Jenny, you don’t understand these things. When a man has once chosen his profession or trade, he had better stick to it; he’ll have so much to learn in his new calling; so many competitors, that it’s a hundred to one if he succeeds. I chose to go to sea like a fool—I’ve learnt my business like a man—and I mean to keep to it like a wise man. There now, Jenny, only three years and it’s all done—money and fame in three years! Cheer up! don’t make it worse for me, for I feel it not a little.”
She saw he did feel it by the gathering moisture of his eye.
“After all, it’s for the best, Jenny, dear.”
So said Jane’s father; so said her mother: and she?—she was silent.
The three weeks soon passed—too soon. Poor Jenny tried hard to be cheerful, but now and then would look at the fine handsome face of her lover and feel it so hard that he must go away for so long—
And dearer still he grew, and dearer,
E’en as the parting hour grew nearer.
The last day came, and her mother contrived to leave them alone together more than was customary; “his last day,” she said, and called to mind her own experience of some five-and-twenty years ago. Jenny bore her burden bravely. Not a tear was seen except by George—he was quieter than usual.
“You wont sail on a Friday, George? I think it’s such a bad day; so many ships are lost that sail on Fridays.”
“I don’t know, I’m sure; but I don’t really think it makes much difference, Friday or any other day.”
“But it is unlucky, and I dreamt this morning of a wedding, and all the people were in white. It’s dreadfully unlucky, that it is.”
“Why, what a little goose it is; why is that unlucky?”
“I don’t know, but they say it is.”
“Who says so?”
“Old Mrs. Crace; and her husband was a sailor——”
And here Jenny looked as if she would like to say something more.
“Well! say on, Jenny.”
“I’ve got something for you—it will keep you from being drowned;” and her little hand was inserted in her pocket, and brought out as its captive a small bag of silk, with cord enough to go round the neck, attached.
“What is it, dearest?”
“I can’t tell you; but, indeed, she said it would prevent your being drowned. Do wear it. Her husband always wore one, and he died in her arms, as I should like you to die in mine, if you must die first. Do wear it?” “O yes, I’ll wear it; but you can tell me what it is, aye? What is it?” And he looked into her face. “Come, tell me.”
“It was old Mrs. Crace gave it me; she’s been attending Charlotte Golding, who was married this time last year; she said, she was sure it was a good thing, and made me promise to give it you, so I made the bag, and here it is. Do wear it.”
“Certainly I will, as I’d wear anything you’d like me to; but still I should like to know what this charm is.”
“Old Mrs. Crace said that the doctor laughed at her when she told him about her husband having one.”
“Old Mrs. Crace!—the doctor! Why, what does it mean! O, I see! how stupid I am. Mrs. Golding has a baby, hasn’t she? Ah, yes! I understand. I’ll wear it.”
“Thanks, dear George. She says, she’s sure her husband would have been drowned if it hadn’t been for that.”
“Now, George, my boy, the chaise is here; come along.”
He came out of the room, she clinging to him, and shook hands with them all and went down stairs.
“Don’t look back—don’t look back;” and one after another the shoes of the sisters are thrown after him for luck.
“Look out, George!” said his brother William from the top of the stairs, “here’s Jane’s coming!” and he seized the slipper from her foot and flung it.
George heard him, and turned.
“There, Jane, he’s caught the slipper, and kissed it, and taken it with him.”
“Oh! William! William! you’ve killed me! He looked back, and you made him. Oh! my God! my God! he’s gone—quite gone, now! I shall never see him again!—never!—never!” and Jenny sank into their arms fainting.
“What made you promise Arabella that beautiful orange-blossom wreath? you’ll want it when he comes home.”
“No, Charlotte, I shall never want it; he’ll never come back. Old Mrs. Crace said one day, before he left, it was a sure sign of bad luck if the shoe did not strike the person on the back; but that if he looked back it was worst of all. I didn’t throw mine, for fear, and then for William to do it! O dear! it makes me so sad.”
“Nonsense, child! he’ll come back soon enough. You’ll just be two-and-twenty, that’s a year younger than I was when I married Mr. Golding.”
“No, Charlotte! he’ll never come back!—never! Oh! William! William!”
“Don’t be silly; what has that to do with it? I’ve no patience with you giving away all your nice things.”
Time passed; three years went by, and Jane was paler. The winter of ’48 had come; Jane had learned to hate snow—had grown irritable—unsociable; slapped the children; scolded the servants; read many tracts on the vanity of life, and talked of joining the chapel, to her father’s great indignation. One of her sisters had been married; Jane had said spiteful things about her; Jane was not a family favourite; Jane was unhappy; the more she read the worse she became.
Just then a wealthy suitor of the old school tried to arrange a match with her, through her father, who was willing enough, but she snubbed him most unmercifully; she knew George would not come home to claim her, and yet she would be constant.
’49 came; Jane was worse. “Try a London doctor.” She came to London—saw the doctor, a queer, abrupt man. When she went in, he looked at her a long while without speaking.
“Well, what’s the matter with you?”
“She’s no appetite, and—” began the mother.
“Let her speak. Let her speak herself. What’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t know, sir,” and the tears stood in her eyes.
“No. I don’t suppose you do. I do, though. I like your face and head—ring that bell, will you?”
“John, tell your mistress I wish to see her.”
“This young lady is coming to tea with you this evening; send the brougham to fetch her, will you?”
“Certainly, I will. What time, dear?”
“Settle that yourselves, only let me know. You’ll spare her, I’m sure, madam; and this day week call here again with her. She’ll be better then. Good morning.”
“No fee, too,” said Mrs. Vaughan, as they walked homewards.
Jane went to tea, and found the physician’s wife all that she looked for and longed for, a friend and comforter. She was stout, as English matrons only can be, without a trace of vulgarity; her manner and voice, gentle and winning in the extreme; and from her dark eyes there shone a light that made Jane feel, “Oh, if she had been my mother, I could tell her all;” and in a little while the poor child felt those arms round her, and her tears wiped away as she told her piteous tale of poor George. She felt almost happy again, for the first time for nearly four years, as this loving, tender woman soothed her.
“Your malady is mental,” she said to Jane, “I know, for my husband” (it went to Jane’s heart to hear the love and pride expressed in those words; she sighed as she thought that she might have said them herself, if he had come home), “my husband sometimes treats his patients as he has you; not very often though, dear. I don’t wonder at his liking you. What did he say?”
“He said he liked my face and head. I never heard anybody say they liked my head before. He—”
“Well, what about him?” said Dr. Burnett, who had just entered. “What does the J stand for? Julia? You don’t look like a Julia.”
“Ah! nice name. You’re in love. I can’t do you any good unless I know how to advise you. If you like to tell Mrs. Burnett and myself about it, perhaps we can do you some good then. It’s no use giving you drugs.”
Poor Jane! She could feel he was in earnest, and kind, too, with all his abrupt way, and she told them her tale again with many tears.
“Poor child!” he said, stroking her hair. “Poor child! your troubles come upon you very young, too. How do you amuse yourself?”
“I’m so wretched, I never care to.”
“What do you read? Chiefly religious books, and then feel miserable because you don’t attain to the condition of mind described in some of them? Sad blunder. Now listen to me. Your nature is not the kind to find happiness in contemplation alone; you must be active, and forget your sorrow in labour of some kind. All natures are not alike, and if you were to read and pray all day long, you’d be miserable still. You’re not formed for it; some are. You’re superstitious and silly; that slipper story shows no wisdom on your part. You must get over this; read George Combe’s book—there’s a cheap edition, and be active; do good, not outside, but at-home; there’s plenty for a willing mind to do in any family such as yours. You must find your happiness in making others happy. Get to some good mental exercise for about two or three hours a day. Try and learn German; play chess; and, above all, burn that diary you write in every night. You did not tell me about it, but I know it. Bad plan—very—too much looking inside does no good—burn it—don’t keep another. Don’t allow your mind to dwell upon your great trouble—he may come back. You shake that head of yours as though it were impossible. All nonsense about the slipper; and when he does, you’ll be better fitted to take care of him, if you do these things, than if you moan and fret yourself into the grave. Another thing. Try cold baths and the skipping-rope, backwards and forwards. There ought to be a skipping society, with prizes, to encourage that most healthy exercise, as there’s a society for everything now. Don’t misunderstand me. I want you to take plenty of exercise. You may read religious books, if you like; but don’t neglect these other matters, as you have done in time past. Now I must go. You can stay here with my wife as long as you agree. Good night, my child.”Poor Jane was heard to say that she was happier that evening than she had been before or since, except the night that she walked home with George from——and Jane said no more then. “What’s come to Jane, I wonder? She’s not slapped me for a month—not even when I upset the ink all over her letter to Mrs. Burnett.”
“I don’t know, Miss Ellen,” said Susan, “but she’s just as good-tempered and kind as she used to be before Mr. George went away, only she seems to be different like,—like as though she didn’t care for anything.”
Alas! poor Jane! She would not think of her absent one; from morning till night she was always employed. Her father noticed the change, and, with the dulness peculiar to some men, supposed she had forgotten George, and with the rest of the world thought him dead. He spoke to the rejected suitor, who again pressed his claims, and murmured something about “comfortable home,” “father’s consent,” “not a young man but healthy,” “great respect,” “admiration,” “love for her,” “if Miss Jane would take him he’d be very happy.” She heard him this time patiently, and he began to feel that his eloquence was irresistible, the more so that he saw the handkerchief to her eyes.
“Mr. Smithson, I am really very sorry, but I can’t do what you ask. I am very much obliged to you for your kind feeling, but I can’t be your wife. Though I’m sure I shall never see George again, I love him, and I would not marry any man unless I loved him alone. Don’t ask me again. You have known me since I was a little girl that you used to take on your knee—don’t, for my sake, ask me again—I must refuse. Let us be friends,” and she held out her hand. He took it.
“My dear Miss Vaughan—my dear Jane, I’m very sorry; I didn’t know this—I respect you very much—I—I—if you can’t be my wife you must be my daughter. I bought this for my wife, as I thought, I’ll give it to my daughter. There, don’t say a word more, there’s a good girl. I’ll see your father.”
“And mother, please,” said Jane.
“Oh, yes, and your mother too.”
He left, and Jane found on the table a handsome gold watch and chain, and Jane wore it, and walked with Mr. Smithson to church next Sunday, and when he came of an evening made his favourite mixture for him; and he, in return, got for her all the information relative to the expedition. Never heard the name of Franklin mentioned in the papers, but he worried the Admiralty till they sent him the latest particulars in an envelope with a very large seal.
So passed the time. One by one her younger sisters grew up and found in Jane a friend and confidante. One by one they told her woman’s great secret—they were loved and they loved. She saw them happy brides and mothers, and not a word of envy did they hear. She nursed their children, worked for their husbands, advised on all matters—when asked—and became a sun to the circle that was about her, so that “Aunt Jane’s coming!” was a cry that brought joy to many little hearts, as well as a sense of peace and repose to olderBut there was one group among them that was pre-eminently her care. His brother William married, and his children afterwards knew that to Aunt Jane he was indebted for almost everything. She made him the man he was; encouraged, helped him, as only a sensible woman can help a young man; and in William’s house Aunt Jane was a household god.
She had strange ways, too, had Aunt Jane; he hated snow: nothing would induce her to see it. She would sit in her own room all the time it was on the ground, with candles instead of daylight; and once, when little George brought her a snowball he had made, she burst into tears and sent him away, and was not herself again for a long time. Strange, too, her fancy for the sea; she would in the spring time go to the sea-side, to an unfrequented fishing village, and stay in the sea-worn cavities in the rocks for hours. Once, some one heard her murmur, “He can’t be drowned—he can’t be drowned!” and reported that she was mad. She smiled when she heard of it, and asked her little George whether he thought so. He wished everybody was, if she was, she was so kind—there was a man with such nice little boats on the beach: might he have one?
He had his boat—and she was mad, they said.
Poor Aunt Jane, one winter, was not well, and the children missed her much: no fingers like Aunt Jane’s to dress dolls, make kites, or mend clothes. No dance-music was like hers: everybody else got tired so soon; she would play for an hour at a time; she never danced except with children. And now here was Christmas and no Aunt Jane—it was not like Christmas at all.
She lay down, never to rise again: they were horror-stricken to find how thin she was. One evening—it was Christmas Eve—she said to them, “Is there any snow?”
“Yes; it’s nearly a foot deep.”
“Open the window-curtains, and let me see it.”
“You’d better not,” they urged; “it will make you so ill.”
“No; it will do me good, now. I shall not see it again.”
The sun was just on the horizon, and his deep red light, as the winter’s fog hung about him, shone on the snow till it was snow no longer. It was a soft covering of warm red—it was the summer of winter-all was warm with his light.
“Lift me up to see it: that will do. I wonder how it looks where he is. I’ve heard that it’s very beautiful. William, take care of this,” and she gave him from under her pillow a parcel in white paper. “You know what it is; and take this letter to Dr. Burnett, and see him, will you? Now bid me good-bye, all of you.”
They would not leave her.
“Do, I ask it as a favour. Do, I shall not ask many more. Come, kiss me now, and leave me. I should like to die alone, as perhaps he did—as perhaps he did. Do go.”
At last they went, one by one, slowly, William last.
“I forgive you now. Only listen to what Dr. Burnett says, will you? Kiss me once more: now go. * * * He would die of cold—perhaps alone. I will join him by the same road—of cold, and alone.”
She rose with great effort, and moved to the window; the sun was nearly lost, the warm hues of red had gone, a dull heavy purple had their place. She opened the window wide, and let the cold blast blow upon her, murmuring, “Of cold, and alone! of cold, and alone! God, forgive me! It’s but a few hours less, and life is so weary.—Of cold, and alone!”
They came in soon, and found her dead. She had gone his road—cold, and alone!—with a sweet smile upon her pale thin face.
“You’re the person to whom this letter refers, sir, I presume?”
“I am, sir.”
“Well, sir, you’re a man now, and, to judge by your looks, a sensible one, and can therefore take a little advice from an older man. Jane was quite right, sir: you killed her.”
“Oh! Dr. Burnett!”
“You did, sir. Mind, I don’t blame you for her death; it was a boy’s trick, and the only blame attaching to you is for that trick; but look at its results. But for that, she would have been alive now; not happy, but hopeful. You destroyed her hope, and killed her. I know you’ll say that it had nothing to do with his fate, and so on; but remember that we are different, sir, one from another. That turning back of his, as he went away, had no effect on your mind, nor would it have on mine, but she was so constituted that anything of the kind would exercise a powerful influence. Superstitious to a fault, still there was the fact, and it was like a death-blow to her when that happened. There’s much to be learned yet, sir, of even our physical differences: one man is poisoned by what another man takes with impunity. So in our mental differences, there’s much more to be learned—very much more; and until this knowledge is ours, we must deal with facts, faults or no faults. The superstition is silly—puerile; still it existed, and should at that time have been respected. She died through it, sir, I firmly believe. Come and see me any time you like: I shall always be glad to see a friend of hers.”
He offered his hand, and as William felt its grasp, he knew how small was his share of blame in the doctor’s eyes.
William is, at this time, regarded as one of the most considerate of men.
One is in the midst of eternal snows and ice,—perhaps looked upon for the last time. The other! Has William it still? If not—Where is the other?
A. Stewart Harrison.