A MANCHESTER TEA-PARTY.
Polly, put the kettle
And let's have tea!
Polly, put the kettle
And we'll all have tea.
"Here we are, wife; didst thou think thou'd lost
us?" quoth hearty
-voiced Wilson, as the two women rose and shook themselves in preparation
for their homeward walk. Mrs. Barton was evidently soothed, if not cheered, by the unburdening of her fears and thoughts to her friend; and her approving look went far to second her husband
that the whole party should adjourn
from Green Heys Fields to tea, at the Bartons' house. The only faint opposition
was raised by Mrs. Wilson, on account
of the lateness of the hour at which they would probably
return, which she feared on her babies' account
"Now, hold your tongue, missis, will you," said her husband
, good-temperedly. "Don't you know them brats never goes to sleep till
long past ten? and haven't you a shawl, under which you can tuck one lad's head, as safe as a bird's under its wing? And as for t'other one, I'll put it in my pocket rather than not stay, now we are this far away from Ancoats."
"Or I can lend
you another shawl," suggested Mrs. Barton.
"Ay, any thing rather than not stay."
being decided, the party proceeded home, through
many half-finished streets, all so like one another that you might
have easily been bewildered
your way. Not a step, however, did our friends lose; down this entry
, cutting off that corner
, until they turned out of one of these innumerable
streets into a little paved court
, having the backs of houses at the end opposite
to the opening, and a gutter running through
the middle to carry
slops, washing suds, &c. The women who lived in the court
were busy taking in strings of caps, frocks, and various
articles of linen
, which hung from side to side, dangling so low, that if our friends had been a few minutes sooner, they would have had to stoop
very much, or else the half-wet clothes would have flapped in their faces; but although the evening seemed yet early when they were in the open fields-among the pent-up houses, night, with its mists, and its darkness, had already begun to fall.
Many greetings were given and exchanged between the Wilsons and these women, for not long ago they had also dwelt in this court
lads, standing at a disorderly
looking house-door, exclaimed, as Mary Barton (the daughter) passed, "Eh, look! Polly Barton's gotten a sweetheart."
Of course this referred to young Wilson, who stole
a look to see how Mary took the idea. He saw her assume
the air of a young fury
, and to his next speech
she answered not a word.
Mrs. Barton produced the key of the door from her pocket; and on entering the house-place it seemed as if they were in total
darkness, except one bright spot, which might
be a cat's eye, or might
be, what it was, a red-hot fire, smouldering under a large piece of coal, which John Barton immediately
applied himself to break up, and the effect
instantly produced was warm and glowing light in every corner
of the room. To add to this (although the coarse
in the ruddy glow
from the fire), Mrs. Barton lighted a dip by sticking it in the fire, and having placed it satisfactorily in a tin candlestick, began to look further about her, on hospitable
. The room was tolerably large, and possessed many conveniences. On the right
of the door, as you entered, was a longish window, with a broad
ledge. On each side of this, hung blue-and-white check curtains, which were now drawn, to shut in the friends met to enjoy
themselves. Two geraniums, unpruned and leafy, which stood on the sill, formed a further defence from out-door pryers. In the corner
between the window and the fire-side was a cupboard, apparently
full of plates and dishes, cups and saucers, and some more nondescript
articles, for which one would have fancied their possessors could find no use-such as triangular pieces of glass to save carving knives and forks from dirtying table
-cloths. However, it was evident
Mrs. Barton was proud
of her crockery
and glass, for she left her cupboard door open, with a glance
round of satisfaction
and pleasure. On the opposite
side to the door and window was the staircase, and two doors; one of which (the nearest to the fire) led into a sort of little back kitchen, where dirty work, such as washing up dishes, might
be done, and whose shelves served as larder
, and pantry
, and storeroom, and all. The other door, which was considerably lower, opened into the coal-hole-the slanting closet under the stairs; from which, to the fire-place, there was a gay-coloured piece of oil-cloth laid. The place seemed almost crammed with furniture (sure sign of good times among the mills). Beneath the window was a dresser with three deep drawers. Opposite the fire-place was a table
, which I should call a Pembroke, only that it was made of deal, and I cannot tell how far such a name may be applied to such humble material
. On it, resting against the wall, was a bright green japanned tea-tray, having a couple
of scarlet lovers embracing in the middle. The fire-light danced merrily on this, and really (setting
all taste but that of a child's aside
) it gave a richness of colouring to that side of the room. It was in some measure
propped up by a crimson
tea-caddy, also of japan ware
. A round table
on one branching leg really for use, stood in the corresponding corner
to the cupboard; and, if you can picture all this with a washy, but clean stencilled pattern
on the walls, you can form some idea of John Barton's home.
The tray was soon hoisted down, and before the merry chatter
of cups and saucers began, the women disburdened themselves of their out-of-door things, and sent Mary up stairs with them. Then came a long whispering, and chinking of money, to which Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were too polite
; knowing, as they did full well, that it all related to the preparations for hospitality
that, in their turn, they should have such pleasure in offering. So they tried to be busily occupied with the children, and not to hear Mrs. Barton's directions to Mary.
"Run, Mary dear, just round the corner
, and get some fresh
eggs at Tipping's (you may get one a-piece, that will be five-pence), and see if he has any nice ham cut, that he would let us have a pound of."
"Say two pounds, missis, and don't be stingy
," chimed in the husband
"Well, a pound and a half, Mary. And get it Cumberland ham, for Wilson comes from there-away, and it will have a sort of relish
of home with it he'll like,-and Mary" (seeing the lassie fain
to be off), "you must get a pennyworth of milk and a loaf of bread-mind you get it fresh
and new-and, and-that's all, Mary."
"No, it's not all," said her husband
. "Thou must get sixpennyworth of rum, to warm the tea; thou'll get it at the 'Grapes.' And thou just go to Alice Wilson; he says she lives just right
round the corner
, under 14, Barber Street" (this was addressed to his wife), "and tell her to come and take her tea with us; she'll like to see her brother, I'll be bound
, let alone Jane and the twins."
"If she comes she must bring a tea-cup and saucer, for we have but half-a-dozen, and here's six of us," said Mrs. Barton.
"Pooh! pooh! Jem and Mary can drink out of one, surely."
But Mary secretly determined
to take care that Alice brought her tea-cup and saucer, if the alternative
was to be her sharing any thing with Jem.
Alice Wilson had but just come in. She had been out all day in the fields, gathering wild herbs for drinks and medicine
, for in addition
to her invaluable
qualities as a sick nurse and her worldly occupation
as a washerwoman, she added a considerable knowledge
and field simples; and on fine days, when no more profitable occupation
offered itself, she used to ramble
off into the lanes and meadows as far as her legs could carry
her. This evening she had returned loaded with nettles, and her first object
was to light a candle and see to hang them up in bunches in every available
place in her cellar
room. It was the perfection
of cleanliness: in one corner
stood the modest-looking bed, with a check curtain at the head, the whitewashed wall filling up the place where the corresponding
one should have been. The floor was bricked, and scrupulously
clean, although so damp
that it seemed as if the last washing would never dry up. As the cellar
window looked into an area
in the street, down which boys might throw
stones, it was protected by an outside shelter
, and was oddly festooned with all manner of hedge
, and field plants, which we are accustomed
to call valueless, but which have a powerful effect
either for good or for evil
, and are consequently
much used among the poor. The room was strewed, hung, and darkened with these bunches, which emitted no very fragrant
odour in their process
of drying. In one corner
was a sort of broad
hanging shelf, made of old planks, where some old hoards of Alice's were kept. Her little bit of crockery ware
was ranged on the mantelpiece
, where also stood her candlestick and box of matches. A small cupboard contained at the bottom coals, and at the top her bread and basin
of oatmeal, her frying pan
, tea-pot, and a small tin saucepan, which served as a kettle
, as well as for cooking the delicate
little messes of broth which Alice sometimes was able
for a sick neighbour.
After her walk she felt chilly
, and was busy trying to light her fire with the damp
coals, and half green sticks, when Mary knocked.
"Come in," said Alice, remembering, however, that she had barred
the door for the night, and hastening to make it possible
for any one to come in.
"Is that you, Mary Barton?" exclaimed she, as the light from her candle streamed on the girl's face. "How you are grown since I used to see you at my brother's! Come in, lass
, come in."
"Please," said Mary, almost breathless, "mother says you're to come to tea, and bring your cup and saucer, for George and Jane Wilson is with us, and the twins, and Jem. And you're to make haste
"I'm sure it's very neighbourly and kind in your mother, and I'll come, with many thanks. Stay, Mary, has your mother got any nettles for spring drink? If she hasn't I'll take her some."
"No, I don't think she has."
Mary ran off like a hare
to fulfil what, to a girl of thirteen, fond
, was the more interesting part of her errand-the money-spending part. And well and ably did she perform
her business, returning home with a little bottle of rum, and the eggs in one hand, while her other was filled with some excellent
red-and-white smoke-flavoured Cumberland ham, wrapped up in paper.
She was at home, and frying ham, before Alice had chosen her nettles, put out her candle, locked her door, and walked in a very foot-sore manner as far as John Barton's. What an aspect
did his houseplace present, after her humble cellar
. She did not think of comparing; but for all that she felt the delicious glow
of the fire, the bright light that revelled in every corner
of the room, the savoury smells, the comfortable
sounds of a boiling kettle
, and the hissing, frizzling ham. With a little old-fashioned
curtsey she shut the door, and replied with a loving heart
to the boisterous
and surprised greeting of her brother.
And now all preparations being made, the party sat down; Mrs. Wilson in the post of honour, the rocking chair on the right
hand side of the fire, nursing her baby, while its father, in an opposite
arm-chair, tried vainly to quieten the other with bread soaked in milk.
Mrs. Barton knew manners too well to do any thing but sit at the tea-table
and make tea, though in her heart
she longed to be able
to superintend the frying of the ham, and cast many an anxious
look at Mary as she broke the eggs and turned the ham, with a very comfortable portion
in her own culinary
powers. Jem stood awkwardly leaning against the dresser, replying rather gruffly to his aunt's speeches, which gave him, he thought
, the air of being a little boy; whereas he considered
himself as a young man, and not so very young neither, as in two months he would be eighteen. Barton vibrated between the fire and the tea-table
, his only drawback
being a fancy
that every now and then his wife's face flushed and contracted as if in pain.
the business actually
began. Knives and forks, cups and saucers made a noise, but human
voices were still, for human
beings were hungry, and had no time to speak. Alice first broke silence
; holding her tea-cup with the manner of one proposing a toast, she said, "Here's to absent
friends. Friends may meet, but mountains never."
It was an unlucky toast or sentiment
, as she instantly felt. Every one thought
of Esther, the absent
Esther; and Mrs. Barton put down her food, and could not hide
the fast dropping tears. Alice could have bitten her tongue out.
It was a wet blanket to the evening; for though all had been said and suggested in the fields that could be said or suggested, every one had a wish to say something in the way of comfort
to poor Mrs. Barton, and a dislike
to talk about any thing else while her tears fell fast and scalding. So George Wilson, his wife and children, set off early home, not before (in spite
of mal-à-propos speeches) they had expressed a wish that such meetings might
often take place, and not before John Barton had given his hearty consent
; and declared that as soon as ever his wife was well again they would have just such another evening.
"I will take care not to come and spoil
poor Alice; and going up to Mrs. Barton she took her hand almost humbly, and said, "You don't know how sorry I am I said it."
To her surprise
, a surprise
that brought tears of joy into her eyes, Mary Barton put her arms round her neck, and kissed the self-reproaching Alice. "You didn't mean
any harm, and it was me as was so foolish
; only this work about Esther, and not knowing where she is, lies so heavy on my heart
. Good night, and never think no more about it. God bless you, Alice."
Many and many a time, as Alice reviewed that evening in her after life, did she bless Mary Barton for these kind and thoughtful
words. But just then all she could say was, "Good night, Mary, and may God bless you."