A GIRLS STORY OF FACTORY LIFE
By MARGARET E. WINSLOW Author of "Miss Malcolm's Ten," "Three Years at Glenwood," etc.
A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Copyright, 1885, By Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society.
To the many boys and girls who are in early years earning an honorable support for themselves, or else assisting their parents by working in factories; to the multitudes of young church members, who may be glad of some practically helpful suggestions in surmounting the difficulties and resisting the temptations incident to their new lives; to mill-owners, who feel their solemn responsibility, as in the sight of God, for the intellectual and spiritual welfare of their operatives; and chiefly to the young Christian manufacturer who has been the model from which the picture of "Mr. James" has been copied,—this story, whose incidents are mostly true ones, is dedicated.
That the Holy Spirit may make use of it to inculcate in young hearts a sense of honorable independence, a conviction of the dignity of faithfully performed work, and, above all, an earnest and irrevocable choice of God's blessed service and an entire committal of their ways to him, is the sincere prayer of
SAUGERTIES, July 1, 1885.
A NEW DEPARTURE.
"But, mother, it isn't as if I were going away from home, like the Lloyd girls; you might have a right to cry if that were the case."
"I know, dear; it's all right, and I ought to be very thankful; but I'm a foolish woman. I can't bear to think of my little girl, whom I have guarded so tenderly, going among all those girls and men, and fighting her way in life."
"I don't think I shall be much of a fighter," laughed Katie, looking at her diminutive hands; "and why is it any worse to go among the boys and girls in the factory than among the boys and girls in school? You never minded that."
"That was different—you weren't doing it for money. O me! what would I have thought when I married your father if any one had told me that his child, his girl child, would ever have to earn her bread!"
"Well, mother, I won't go," said the girl, her bright looks fading away, "if you don't want me to; but I don't know what Mr. Sanderson will think, he tried so hard to get me into the mill, and it was such a favor from Mr. Mountjoy. You said you were very thankful."
"So I was, so I am; but—but you don't understand, and perhaps it's better you should not. I'll try not to grumble."
This was promising more than Mrs. Robertson was able to perform perhaps, for she was a chronic and inveterate grumbler. But she had some excuse in the present circumstances, for Katie was, as she said, her baby, and the "apple of her eye." Married when quite young to the handsome and intelligent young village doctor, she certainly had not expected ever to be placed in a position where her children, her girls at least, would need to earn their own bread. But in a few short years the doctor died of a contagious disease he had taken from one of his patients, and as he had not yet begun to accumulate anything, his young widow was left with her three children to struggle along as best she could. How she had done it God and herself only knew. The little house was her own, the sole patrimony left by her own father. The horse and buggy, the medical library and valuable professional instruments, medicines, etc., were sold at a fair valuation; and the money thus secured, deposited in the bank, had served as a last resource whenever the barrel of meal failed or the cruse of oil ran dry. For the rest, Mrs. Robertson was employed by her neighbors to help turn and put down carpets, cover furniture, etc. etc., light jobs requiring judgment and skill rather than strength, for which her friends, who never placed her in a menial capacity, gladly paid double the sum they would to any one else. She was also a capital nurse, and in this position rendered herself very valuable in many households, and for such services she was even more generously remunerated; so that somehow she managed to keep her head above water while her children were small, and feed, clothe, and send them to school as they grew older.
Her children were, of course, the one source of consolation left to the poor widow, and many a long evening's work was both shortened and lightened by golden dreams of their future prosperity and success.
When her eldest boy Eric was twelve, and when Alfred, the second child, was only ten, a friend made interest with Mr. Sanderson, superintendent of the bookbindery, auxiliary to the Squantown Paper Mills, to give the two boys steady employment, and since that time, four years ago, their earnings, small but certain, had greatly helped in the family expenses. Both were noble, manly fellows, with, as yet, no bad habits. They brought their mother all that they earned, and were quite content to pass their evenings with her and their little sister. Katie, who was now thirteen, had always attended the public school in the village, of course helping her mother with the housework and sewing. She was a delicate little creature, small for her years, but bright and intelligent, a general favorite with the village children as well as with her Sunday-school teacher, Miss Etta Mountjoy, who was not so very many years older than herself.
Katie was a very lady-like looking girl, and did not seem fitted to do very hard work, nor to mix among rough people, but she was an independent little thing who knew very well how poor her mother was and how hard both she and her brothers had to work. She knew that her breakfasts, dinners, and suppers cost something, and that it took money to buy the good shoes and neat, whole dresses in which her mother always kept her dressed, and she resolved in her own wise little head to find some way of contributing to the family stock. It was some time before she saw her way clear to do this, but at last she took counsel of a school-fellow whose sister worked in the folding-room of the Squantown Paper Mills and found that even a young girl might earn considerable in this way. So, without telling any one at home of her plans, she, one evening, presented herself before Mr. Sanderson and requested to be taken into the bindery.
"What can you do, little puss?" said this gentleman, quite surprised. "You look about large enough to play with dolls, like my Nina."
"I'm almost fourteen," said Katie, drawing herself up to her full height and trying to look sedate. "I'm two years older than Nina; I'm as old as your Bertie, Mr. Sanderson, and I must make some money."
"Must you, indeed?" said he, beginning to be more interested. "Don't I know your face? Let me see. Why, it can't be—yes, it is Katie Robertson! How time flies! It seems to me only yesterday that your father died, and you were a baby; but Bertie was one, too, then, that's a fact. How time does fly, to be sure! So you want to get into the bindery where your brothers are, I suppose?" Katie nodded. "Well, now," continued he, "it's most unfortunate, but there isn't a vacancy anywhere; we have five or six applicants now waiting for a chance. Why don't you try the mill?"
"The mill!" said Katie, "the paper-mill? But I don't know any one there; how could I go and ask strangers?"
"I think you're brave enough to ask any one," said Mr. Sanderson. "I suppose you'd find it hard, though, and perhaps no one would believe that you were old enough or strong enough to work. Your looks are against you, little one; and then, Mr. Mountjoy did not know your father as I did; he came here afterward. Let me see. Perhaps I might have some influence. Will you trust your case in my hands?" And, as the girl nodded, he continued: "Come here about this time to-morrow evening, and I will report progress. Perhaps I may have some good news for you, but don't be too sure. It isn't so easy to get into the mill either; there are always a great many applicants. You'll come?"
"Yes, sir," said Katie, and went away in a state of disappointed uncertainty. It was not quite so easy to earn money as she had supposed.
The little girl looked very mysterious all teatime, and threw out several hints that quite mystified her brothers about Mr. Sanderson and the bindery. But no one guessed her secret, and the next afternoon, just as she was beginning to think of putting on her hat and running down to get her answer, who should come into the gate but Mr. Sanderson himself.
Mrs. Robertson was greatly frightened when she saw him. She was one of those persons who always look on the dark side of things, and she feared her boys had got into trouble and would perhaps lose their situations. She trembled so that she could hardly put on the widow's cap, in which she always appeared before strangers (although it was now six years since the doctor had left her and gone home to heaven), and said to her daughter:—
"That's always our luck! Just as soon as things seem to be going straight with us, some terrible misfortune is sure to happen; we're the most unfortunate family in the world."
The poor lady forgot that, with the one exception of her husband's death, her life had been one of unmingled, as well as undeserved, happiness; and even in that loss her three children had been spared to her, friends had been raised up to help her, and there had never been a day when she and her children had not had enough plain food to eat and plain clothes to wear. It is thus that we are all apt to dishonor God by dwelling upon the one thing which in his providence he has seen fit to take away, and forgetting to thank him for all the many other blessings he has given us.
But Katie was full of expectation and suppressed delight. She was the opposite of her mother, and always expected good news, and she felt sure that Mr. Sanderson would not have taken the trouble to come himself, except to tell her that he had secured a place for her. Her eyes danced as she let him in, and she looked inquiringly in his face. But he said nothing, except:—
"Good-evening, Katie. I would like to see your mother a few moments." So she ushered him into the "front room," so seldom used, and went to summon her mother, waiting outside the door till she should herself be called in to the consultation.
When Mr. Sanderson told Mrs. Robertson that he had called to say that he had been successful in his application to Mr. Mountjoy, who had agreed to take Katie into the "rag-room" of the paper-mill, in consideration of his interest in her mother, she was completely taken by surprise and inclined to be offended with both gentlemen for their interference, as she thought it, with her business; but when she heard that the application came from the child herself, while greatly surprised, she could not but feel grateful to them for their trouble, and expressed herself so, while she nevertheless decidedly declined to allow Katie to accept the position, saying she was altogether too young and too delicate, and that she would not have her daughter disgraced by working for her living.
"For the matter of that," said Mr. Sanderson, "I shall be glad to have my Bertie take the place if you don't want it for Katie. I have a large family to bring up, and I want my girls and boys both to be independent. I hadn't thought of it for Bertie quite yet, but your Katie reminded me last night of how old she is; and I see she is none too young to begin."
This put a little different face on the matter, for Mrs. Sanderson and Mrs. Robertson had been intimate friends when girls, in precisely the same rank in life, although one had married a doctor and the other the overseer of the bookbindery. Moreover, Mr. Sanderson was known to be very well off and quite able—had he judged it best—to bring up his girls in idleness, as useless fine ladies. Perhaps it would not be such a disgrace, after all, and they did sorely need the money. Katie was not dressed as her father's child should be, and toil as she might, even with the boys' wages the widow could not make more than sufficed to keep up the little home. Then, too, her child would have to do something for herself when she grew up; she would have no one to look to but herself, and though teaching would be perhaps a more genteel way of support, it was a very laborious one, and would make it necessary to go away from home, as the Lloyd girls were going to do, and to remain away for several years, first at some higher institution of learning and then at the Normal School, and where would the money come from to pay the tuition fees, traveling expenses, and board bills?
All this passed through Mrs. Robertson's mind as Mr. Sanderson reasoned with her and showed her the foolishness of her objections, and finally the impatient Katie was called in, and informed that she might "try it for a while"; and then the visitor was thanked for his trouble, and took his leave.
This all happened a week ago. The intervening time had been spent in putting Katie's simple wardrobe in order and in making home arrangements by which Mrs. Robertson would not miss her daughter more than she could help, in those various little services which she had been wont to render. The last day had now come; to-morrow the new life was to begin, and Katie was clearing up the breakfast things for the last time when the conversation with which our story commences took place.
"I wish it was not in the rag-room," said Mrs. Robertson, by-and-by, when Katie, having finished her dishes and swept up the room, drew her seat to her mother's side and took up her work—the ruffle of the last of the six mob-caps she was to wear at her work.
"Why?" said her daughter, to whom the factory was just now a sort of enchanted palace, any one of whose rooms was delightful to contemplate.
"It's such a low, dirty place, I'm told, and there's so many common women and girls there."
"Well, I needn't talk to them, I suppose. I needn't be common, at any rate, and I can't get dirty in those great long-sleeved aprons and these nice little caps. You don't know how smart I'm going to be, and won't you be proud of your big girl when she brings home her first three-dollar bill, all earned in one week? Eric will see that a girl's worth something, after all, and Alfred sha'n't make fun of me any more."
Mrs. Robertson did not say anything else just now; she did not like to be always checking the exuberance of her child's spirits with the dull forebodings of her own, but she could not see the paper-mill through the same halo that invested it in Katie's eyes. She knew there were snares and temptations, besides disagreeable and hard work to be met and encountered there, and she feared that the child's future disappointment would be proportioned to the brightness of her present hopes. Still, as the matter was determined upon, she knew it was right to make the best of it, and she tried to talk pleasantly and at least seem to sympathize with her daughter's enthusiasm.
So passed the day, and at night when the boys came home they were called upon to listen for the hundredth time to all the rose-colored plans, and were pressed to declare that there could be nothing in the world more delightful than working in a factory.
But the boys could not see it in that light any more than their mother. They were as content to work as are most men and boys who seem to take it for granted that it is in the course of nature for them to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, but they had been at it long enough to have lost the sense of novelty and to understand that it was work and not play which their sister was undertaking.
"Won't you be sick of it!" said Alfred, in answer to one of Katie's outbursts, "and long, when Saturday comes, to go out nutting with the girls, or off on a hay-ride, or something! You'll wish you were free before you've been a slave many months, or I'm no prophet."
"Well, she shall be free if she wants to," said Eric, kindly. "Our only little sister sha'n't work if she don't want to; we can take care of her, Alfred, can't we?"
"But I do want to work," said Katie; "I know I sha'n't get tired, or if I do get tired of the work, I sha'n't of getting the money; for, boys, I mean to be a rich, independent woman, and help take care of mother. You needn't suppose that I'm going to be dependent upon you."
"All right, young lady," said Alfred, "only I think you'll sing a different tune before many months are over."
"The tune you ought to sing just now, children," said Mrs. Robertson, "is 'Good-night.' You all have to go to work very early, and Katie is not used to it. Good-night, darling, and don't forget to ask God to bless you and shield you in your new undertaking."
"I asked him that night to make Mr. Mountjoy listen to Mr. Sanderson and give me the place," said Katie, with a rising color; "don't you think he heard me and answered my prayer? It seems as though he had just made it all straight and plain. I feel just like thanking him to-night; and, mother, don't you worry so much. Don't you think Jesus is strong enough to take care of me anywhere if I ask him to?"
"Yes, indeed," said the mother, almost ashamed of her forebodings, and rebuked, as she had many a time been, by the bright, hopeful faith of her child. Surely when she looked at the bright, happy, healthy faces of her children, she too had ample cause for thankfulness, and for continued trust in the divine love which had carried her safely through so many emergencies and had promised never to leave or forsake her or hers.
"Hallo, Katie, wake up, wake up!" and Eric rattled the knob of his sister's door. But he was compelled to do so many times before he heard a sleepy "What's the matter?"
"Matter? Why, it's high time you were up if you mean to get to the factory this morning."
"It's the middle of the night," said Katie, yawning.
"Indeed, it is not. It's after five o'clock, and work begins at half-past six. You haven't a moment to spare if you want to dress yourself, get your breakfast, and get to the mill in time; it's farther off than the bindery. Come, be a brave girl, and jump up quickly."
Thus adjured, the little girl jumped out of bed—but how cold and dark it was! although Eric had left the lamp in the hall outside. One of Katie's failings—not an uncommon one among girls and boys—was a great dislike to getting up early in the morning, and her mother had always humored her in the matter, getting up herself and giving the boys their breakfast early, and then waking her little girl just in time to eat her own and get to school at nine o'clock. Even then it was sometimes a difficult task.
The young work-woman had not included the necessity of getting up so very early in the morning as one of the many anticipated delights of her new position. This first taste of it seemed, on the contrary, quite a hardship. Still, when she was once out of bed, there was a certain romance in dressing by lamplight, and she knelt down by her bedside to offer her morning prayer, with a strange feeling of mingled awe and thankfulness.
Katie Robertson was a Christian girl, and was really desirous to please the blessed Saviour who had done so much for her. She could not remember the time when she did not love him; but for the last few years, since she had grown older and begun to understand things better, she had felt a longing desire to be like him and to please him in her life and actions. She found time to open her little Bible this morning and read one or two verses by the light of the lamp. They were these:—
"In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths"; "Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God," and "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
And then she prayed earnestly that she might in these "ways" upon which she was entering always "acknowledge" God, be faithful to her work, do it "to the glory of God," and have the strength which the Lord Jesus Christ has promised to give to those who ask him, to resist temptation and stand up for truth and righteousness in the new life which lay before her. She prayed, also, that her heavenly Father would give her some work to do for him among her companions in the mill, and then she went downstairs.
Breakfast was all ready, and it seemed quite funny to eat it by lamplight; but by the time it was over it was pretty light outside, and when, warmly wrapped up, Katie left the house with her brothers there was a rosy flush over the snow which sparkled and glistened, and the young factory-girl set out in high spirits for her first day's work. The boys escorted her as far as the great gates, where a good many other girls and boys were waiting among a crowd of men and women, and then ran back to be in time at the bindery, which was a little nearer home.
It was rather cold waiting outside, and, if the truth must be told, our little girl felt just a trifle homesick among so many strangers, for as yet she had not seen a familiar face, and something seemed to rise in her throat that she found hard to swallow; but just as she felt that she must have a good cry, and at the same time resolved that she wouldn't, the great steam-whistle shrieked, the bell in the tower rang, the gates opened from the inside, the gathered crowd rushed in, and all along the road might be seen flying figures of men, women, boys, and girls, hurrying to be in their places at the commencement of work and thus avoid the fine imposed upon stragglers. There was a pause of a few moments in the paved inside court while the inner doors of the great brick building were opened, and then the incoming crowd entering in various directions, scattered among the different corridors and left the "new girl" standing alone and bewildered at the entrance.
In front of her stretched a long, narrow hall, clean and fresh (Squantown Paper Mills were new and built after the most approved models), with doors opening from it at intervals on both sides. Some of these doors were open and some were shut; into some the work-people were constantly disappearing, as though the doors were mouths that opened suddenly and swallowed them up, and into some of the open ones Katie peeped timidly and turned back disconsolately as she discovered that they only afforded entrance to similar corridors, pierced by similar rows of doors.
At length the last straggler had entered, gone his way, and disappeared, and dead silence reigned. Katie felt as though she were alone in the universe, and almost wondered if she were to be left there forever, when a short, sharp, deafening whistle echoed through the hall, and at the same instant the great building vibrated from top to bottom, the roar of machinery swallowed up the silence, and the day's work began.
Immediately afterward a side door, close to where our little girl was standing, opened, and out of it came the foreman of the mill, who had been up to this moment in the office, receiving his orders for the day.
"Hallo, you!" he said crossly, seeing a girl standing idle in the hall; "why don't you go about your business? Go to work if you belong here; go home if you don't! No idlers or beggars allowed here, so close to the office door, too. Come, run away quickly."
"If you please, Mr. Thornton, I've come to work in the mill, in the rag-room, but I don't know which way to go."
"Oh!" said the foreman, "you're a new hand, eh? Rather a small one. It seems to me Mr. Mountjoy will end by having a nursery rather than a mill, but he knows his own business best, I suppose. New hands are not in my department, however. Mr. James," he called, reopening the office door and putting his head in again, "here's some work for you."
The "new hand" expected now to have an interview with the awful Mr. Mountjoy, Miss Etta's father, of whom she had heard so much, but had never yet seen, and began to tremble a little in anticipation. But, instead, a rosy-faced, light-haired young man appeared, to whom the foreman made a slight bow, and then went away. This was Mr. James Mountjoy, Miss Etta's brother, and the only son of the proprietor of the mill. Katie had heard her brothers, who were in his Sunday-school class, talk about him, but had never seen him before.
"Your name, little girl," he said pleasantly, as he ushered her into the office.
"Katie Robertson, sir. Mr. Sanderson"—
"Oh, I know; Mr. Sanderson recommended you to my father. You look almost too small to work. Can you do anything?"
"I can cook, and wash dishes, and help mother, and sew; I was in the first class at school"—
"That is not any of it precisely the kind of work we do here," said the young gentleman, pleasantly; "but no doubt you are a quick little girl, and if you are used to doing some kinds of work others will not come so hard to you. But you must understand in the beginning that work in a factory is work, not play; work that cannot be laid aside when one is tired of it, or when one wants to go on an excursion or to do something else. It is work, too, for which you are to be paid, and it would be dishonesty not to do it faithfully as in the sight of God. Our rules are no stricter than they must be for the best good of the work and the comfort and protection of all, but we expect them to be obeyed. You will remember that. There must be no playing or whispering in work hours, and you must always be on time. We want all our work-people to be happy, and I am sure that the best kind of happiness comes from fidelity to duty. Can you be a faithful little girl?"
"Yes, sir," said Katie, with a slight blush, though she did not feel at all afraid of him; "I am trying to please God everywhere, and I am sure he will help me to do so here."
"I am glad to hear you say that," said the young man, with a smile. "If every man, woman, and child in this factory were really trusting in God and trying to please him, we wouldn't need so many rules and the work would not be so hard. One thing more: I believe you are to be in the rag-room; that is a dirty place, in spite of all our efforts to keep it clean and well ventilated; you won't find it very pleasant there always, but perhaps you can learn to endure for Christ's and duty's sake; and every one has to begin at the bottom, you know, who means to climb to the top of the ladder."
During the latter part of this talk the gentleman and the child had been ascending flight after flight of broad, open staircases, as well as several narrow, spiral ones, crossing machinery-rooms, where great arms and wheels and screws, in constant motion, made the little girl shudder, and threading narrow passages and outside balconies, where the broad raceway foamed and roared fifty or sixty feet beneath them. Katie had never been inside of the great paper-mill before, though she had always admired its fine proportions and handsome architecture from the outside. She was surprised now to see how really beautiful everything was. The floors were laid in wood of two contrasting colors; the balusters were of solid black walnut; there were rows and rows of clear glass windows in the rooms and corridors, while the machinery was either of shining steel or polished brass. In some of the rooms were girls tending the ruling and cutting and folding machines, and occasionally one would nod to Katie, but no one spoke except where the work rendered it necessary.
At last the room next to the top of the vast building was reached, and there Mr. James opened a door and ushered Katie into a room which extended the whole length of one side of the building. The windows, of which there were fifteen, were wide open, but for all that the air was so thick with dust that at first Katie drew back with a sense of suffocation.
"I told you it would not be pleasant," said Mr. James, "but this is your appointed place. Be a brave girl, and when you are used to it it won't seem so bad."
The sense of suffocation was caused by the particles of dust with which the air was heavily laden, and which flew from the piles of rags which over fifty girls were busily engaged in sorting, putting the dark-colored ones by themselves, the medium-colored by themselves, and the white ones—or those that had been white—into large boxes. As soon as these boxes were filled they were placed on wheelbarrows and emptied into long slides by men who waited for them and returned the boxes. Mr. James explained to his young companion that these slides emptied their contents into great vats in the room below, where after lying some days in a certain purifying solution they were boiled with soda to loosen the dirt, thoroughly washed by machinery, and passed into great copper kettles, where they were boiled to a pulp and ground at the same time, horizontal grindstones reducing them to the finest powder. He also showed her that the dust was rendered much less hurtful than it would otherwise have been by a great fan kept constantly at work on one side of the room, which drove it out of the windows in front of the girls, who were thus not compelled to breathe it unless they turned directly around facing the blast, as Katie had done on entering the room. He then put her under the care of a pleasant-faced woman, whose duty it was to oversee the little girls, saw that she had a comfortable seat, shook hands with her, and went away.
Mr. James was by no means called upon to be so polite to a "new hand"; most employers would have told the child which way to go and then left her to shift for herself, or at best have sent a man or boy to show her the way. Perhaps he would have done so with some girls, but he saw that the child was timid and homesick, and knew that a few kind words would go a great way toward making her feel at home and happy, and would serve as an offset against the disagreeable first impressions of the rag-room, and the weariness of regular work undertaken for the first time.
Why should he care to have one of his factory girls "feel at home and happy"? some one will say; his relations with them are only those of business: so much work for so much money; it was nothing to him what they thought or felt. Mr. James Mountjoy did not feel so. He thought that his father and he were placed in this responsible position and given the care of several hundred human souls expressly that some good work might be done for them. He felt that human beings are more precious than machinery, and that happiness is an important factor in goodness. He looked upon his work-people as those for whom he must give account, and tried to act in all his dealings with them "to the glory of God." Had he been actuated by the purest selfishness and the most approved business principles, he could not have chosen a wiser course; for men and women treated as friends become almost of necessity friendly, and seeing their own interests cared for were all the more likely to care for those of their employer. Katie Robertson certainly never forgot Mr. James's judicious kindness on the morning of her entrance into the mill; he was to her the kindest, sweetest, and most lovable of gentlemen. She felt ready to do anything he should tell her and to keep every rule he might make. Then, too, he was a Christian, and understood all about what she meant when she had said God would help her; surely it must be very easy to be good and resist temptation in a place with such a master, and she felt like thanking God that, in spite of the suffocating dust, "the lines had fallen to her in such very pleasant places."
THE FIRST DAY.
Left to herself Katie looked timidly round. It is always an ordeal to meet so many strangers for the first time, and our little friend was beginning to feel quite forlorn, when Miss Peters, the superintendent of the rag-room, came to her and began to show her about the work to be done; how, besides the rags being sorted, the buttons were to be taken off and the larger pieces cut into small ones by pulling them dexterously along and between two great sharp knives set on end for the purpose. Katie had already covered her clean dress with the long-sleeved blue apron and her hair with the little mob-cap her mother had provided, and at once commenced her work, not at all seeing or noticing the scornful looks that passed between some of the girls whose ragged finery and dirty hair-ribbons full of dust and "flue" presented a lively contrast to her own neat and suitable equipment. We may observe, in passing, that before long this simple method of protection so commended itself to some of the more sensible girls and their parents that many of them adopted it and mob-caps and overalls became quite the fashion in the mill.
Katie was a smart little girl and could work very quickly when she set about it; of course to-day she was anxious to show how much she could do, and her piles and boxes were fuller than those of any girls near her by the time of the warning whistle, which indicated that in half an hour the dinner-bell would sound. Then there was a bustle in the room. The piles were taken away in long and deep barrows which men wheeled into the room, the boxes were carried off, emptied into the vats, and brought back again; some of the girls swept the floor and tables by which they stood; talking was permitted in this half-hour, and such a Babel as the tongues of forty or fifty girls suddenly unloosed can make may be better imagined than described. The "new hand" took advantage of the interval to divest herself of her cap and apron, and putting on her hat, after washing her hands in one of the row of basins provided for the purpose, appeared as neat and nice for her homeward walk as she had done in the morning when she came.
Such was not the case with most of the girls, whose fluffy, disordered appearance as they issued from the rag-room was proverbial.
At precisely twelve o'clock the great bells began to clang and the steam-whistle to shriek, and the long corridors and stairs echoed to the tramp of many feet as the hundreds of men, women, boys, and girls rushed down and out, and scattered in every direction toward the many homes where dinner was awaiting them.
Eric and Alfred met their sister just outside of the door, and the three were soon at home, Katie talking so much and so fast all the way, that her brothers, as they said, "could hardly get in a word edgewise." Many of the mill operatives carried their dinner with them and spent the noon hour in gossip with each other, but Mrs. Robertson was careful both of the bodies and souls of her children. She knew that the former would be much more vigorous if every day they had a warm, comfortable, if frugal, meal at noontide, and thought that the latter would be kept pure and unsullied much longer if not exposed to the kind of talk apt to pass between idle men and women of all grades and associations in society. So ever since they first went into the bindery, the boys had regularly come home to dinner, and were much the better, not only for it, but also for the quick walk in the open fresh air.
Poor Mrs. Robertson had passed a lonely morning. She was used to being alone while her daughter was at school, but that was different; she had conjured up all sorts of dangers and disagreeables that the girl might have to encounter, and she rather expected to see her brought in on a board bruised and maimed from some part of the machinery into which she had fallen or been entangled. But when Katie came rushing in like a whirlwind, in high spirits, with glowing cheeks and a splendid appetite, which yet she could scarcely take time to gratify, so full was she of enthusiastic talk concerning the beauty and grandeur of the mill and the kindness of Mr. James, her mother felt rather ashamed of her forebodings.
Never had a dinner tasted so nicely; never had the little girl, to her remembrance, eaten so much. She was in such a hurry to be off again, so as not to be late, that the boys declared she would not give them any time to eat at all, and again predicted that in a month's time things would not be so rose-colored.
In the afternoon a surprise awaited the little factory-girl. Hardly had work recommenced as the silence of voices and the noise of machinery followed upon the long steam-whistle, than Mr. James again appeared, followed by another "new hand." She was a tall, stout girl; in reality just about Katie's age, but looking several years older, dressed in a light-blue cashmere, considerably soiled and frayed. Her hair, which was "banged" low over her forehead, was braided in a long tail behind, and tied with a bunch of tumbled red ribbons, and around her neck was a chain and locket intended to resemble gold. The girls all looked at her inappropriate costume, most of them with envy and admiration, a few with pity for a girl who knew no better than to come to factory work in so very unsuitable a dress, and Katie looked up in some surprise to find that the new comer, who had been placed next to her, was her old school companion, Bertie Sanderson.
Miss Peters came forward pleasantly, showed the new girl how to do her work just as she had showed Katie in the morning, and glancing at her dress, suggested that another time a similar protection to that of her companion would be advisable, and then left her to herself.
Scarcely was her back turned than Bertie, looking round the room with great disgust, turned to Katie and said:—
"Isn't it hateful? Just think of us made to work among factory-girls. I don't see what my father could have been thinking of!"
Katie made no answer, but pointed to Miss Peters, and then to the rule for silence which was hung up conspicuously on the wall.
"Nonsense!" said Bertie, "that don't mean me. I'm daughter of Mr Sanderson, the overseer of the bindery, don't you know? It's kind of funny that I should be in the rag-room among all the common girls, anyhow; but father said I'd got to begin work, and he guessed what wouldn't hurt you wouldn't hurt me. But for the thought that you were here I wouldn't have come at all, no matter what pa said. Ma don't think it genteel. I don't see what made you come; don't you think it's disgusting?"
"No," said Katie, "I wanted to come, and I think the factory is magnificent; besides, I want the money."
"So do I," said the other, "and pa said I should have all I earn till there's enough to get a silk dress. I do want a silk dress so, don't you?"
"No," said Katie, "I don't care;" but at this moment Miss Peters came toward them, saying,—
"No talking, girls; you are new hands, or I should have to fine you; every time a girl speaks it's a penny off of her day's wages, but I'll let you off this time. Bertie, you haven't done a thing yet."
Katie blushed, for though she had not stopped work a single moment, she had been tempted by her companion into breaking the rules; but Bertie looked up insolently at the superintendent as she slowly took up some of the rags, and muttered in a low tone, which was heard by most of her neighbors:—
"Who's going to mind you? You're only a servant-girl, anyway;" for Miss Peters had, in her early life, "lived out."
Whether Miss Peters heard or not Katie could not be sure, but she thought she saw a heightened color in the young woman's face, and was just going to ask her companion how she could be guilty of such rudeness, when she remembered the rule in time, checked herself, and put her finger significantly on her lips.
As to Bertie, she stared round the room, working a little now and then, and talking aloud to herself as she could get no one to talk to her. Miss Peters was very indignant; but thought it best to take no notice just yet; for, as the girl had said, she was Mr. Sanderson's daughter, and she did not know just how far it would do to enforce rules in her case.
The girls in the rag-room were dismissed at five o'clock, so, as the bindery did not close till six, Katie did not have the company of her brothers on her homeward walk, Bertie taking their place, and talking all the way about the indignity of working in a factory and the hardship of having to work at all. She told about her cousins in the city, who were quite fine ladies, according to Bertie's account, doing nothing but play on the piano and do fancy-work. They were coming with their mother to make a visit in the summer, and how ashamed she should be to appear before them in the character of a paper-mill girl. The girl talked about her father in anything but a respectful manner, but seemed to find comfort in the thought of her silk dress. She had never had one yet, and it had long been the goal of her ambition. What color did Katie think would be becoming to her? How would she have it made? how trimmed?
"I'll tell you what, Katie," she said, "let's take our money when we get it and get silks exactly alike; then we can wear them to Sunday-school together, and the other girls will see that it isn't so mean to be factory-girls after all. Even Miss Mountjoy herself can wear nothing finer than silk, if she does always look so stuck up."
But Katie failed to be infected with a desire for a silk dress. She had never worn anything but the plainest and poorest clothes, though they had always been whole, clean, and neatly made; her temptations did not lie in that line. She had insisted on beginning to work in order to help her mother support the family, and to make it a little easier for them all to get along. She admired pretty things, of course, as all girls do, but she had an intuitive feeling that Sunday-school was not the place in which to show off fine clothes. Bertie's chatter did not please her, and though they were old friends, or rather companions, having been to both school and Sunday-school together for some years, she was glad when they parted at the corner house, which had once been the doctor's, and she could go home to her mother.
For the little girl was tired by this time; she had got up much earlier than usual and had been on her feet all day, and besides the reaction of so much excitement, even though it had been of a pleasurable nature, was calculated to produce depression. Her mother was out when she got home, and there was nobody to welcome her but the gray cat, which did so, however, with the loudest of purrings, and the lounge in the warm room looked so comfortable that the tired little worker took pussy in her arms, lay down there, and began to think. She was not quite satisfied with her "first day." The factory was quite as nice as she had expected, and Mr. James was nicer; but had she remembered "in all her ways to acknowledge God" and "to do all to his glory"? She was afraid not; she had broken the rules once, and had listened to Bertie's chatter, while a desire had arisen in her heart, not for a silk dress, but for plenty of money, for a fine home, for a piano, and all the things that some girls had, and she had been tempted to think it hard that some people should have so much and some so little. Was God quite just to let it be so?
But, as she lay upon the lounge, rested by its soft cushions, warmed by the fire, and soothed by the purring of the cat, she began to be ashamed of such thoughts. How many comforts, how much happiness God had given her! A nice home, a loving mother, plenty to eat and wear, and health and strength to earn enough to make them all so much more comfortable. She knew that all good things come from God, and if he had not put it into the heart of Mr. Sanderson to speak to Mr. Mountjoy for her, she could not have got the situation in the mill. The forty cents she had earned to-day was directly God's gift, and so would be all the money that ever came to her in the future. She ought to be a very thankful little girl, and she was quite ashamed of her questionings. So she dropped down upon her knees by the lounge, and asked God to forgive her for the sake of Jesus, and lying down again soon fell fast asleep.
When she awoke it was dark; the boys had come home; her mother had come in so quietly as not to awaken her daughter, tea was quite ready, and it was a very pleasant scene that her eyes, now entirely rested, opened upon, and a very happy, thankful little girl came to the table to eat the nice supper which awaited her.
After tea she and her brothers played games for some time; then Mrs. Robertson took her mending-basket, which was always very full, and Katie got her thimble and helped, while Eric read aloud from a book of "Stories from History." And so closed the first day of Katie Robertson's "factory life."
Miss Etta Mountjoy was a young lady of the period. She was the youngest of Mr. Mountjoy's children, and the baby and pet of all. Her mother died when she was about five years old, and since then she had always done exactly as she pleased; her father would not control her, and her eldest sister, who took charge of the family in her mother's place, could not. It was well that the girl had no evil tendencies and was, upon the whole, well-principled, warm-hearted, and good-natured, or she might have gone very grievously astray. As it was, she was now at seventeen a bright butterfly, flitting from one to another of the flowers of life, and sipping as much honey as she could from each. She was fond of all sorts of bright, pretty things, handsome clothes and jewelry included. She liked to sing and she liked to dance, to go to parties when there were any, and to attend concerts and theatres when she went to town; in a word, she was fond of "having a good time," as Americans express it, whenever and wherever she could get a chance.
Nor did Miss Etta mind work. She was a girl of energy, who would willingly walk miles to attend a picnic or climb a mountain, and she did not hesitate to work for hours on a trimming for her dress, or even some more useful piece of sewing. She was always having furores for something; at one time it was gardening, when she coaxed her father to have a good-sized piece of ground dug up and laid out for her, and actually raised, not flowers, as one would expect, but quite respectable vegetables, hoeing the beans, corn, and cabbages herself, and weeding out the cucumbers, lettuce, and radishes with persistent fidelity.
At another time she had a poultry-mania, and a chicken-house with the most approved nests, warming-apparatus, etc., was constructed for the little lady, and here she daily set the hens, fed the chickens, and collected the eggs, selling them to her father at exorbitant prices. Again, cooking absorbed her time and gave occupation to her energies; and the family were treated to strange compounds of her concocting, while the old servant who reigned supreme in the kitchen was in the depths of despair at the number of dishes and pans she was called upon to clear up, the waste and breakage that went on, and the general disorganization of her lifelong arrangements.
Happily, or unhappily, these moods never were of long duration. The reading-mania lasted just long enough for a handsome bookcase to be stocked with histories, biographies, etc.; a few volumes of poems were dipped into, several novels read, and a big history attacked, when the mood changed into a passion for skating, and the remainder of the winter was consumed in preparing a fancy costume, getting the most approved club-skates, and learning to keep upright upon them; but by the time so much was accomplished, the ice broke up and Miss Etta was obliged to find some other occupation. Art came next in the list of the girl's absorbing avocations. A studio was fitted up, canvas stretched upon easels, pencils sharpened, and quite a creditable beginning made upon some pictures which showed considerable native taste and ability.
Just now Sunday-school teaching had taken the place of all other things, and Etta Mountjoy devoted the energies of her many-sided nature to her class. There had been more than one person opposed to entrusting so sacred a work to so light-minded and trivial a girl. Her brother James considered it nothing short of sacrilege, and her oldest sister Eunice reasoned with her very gravely, and tried to show her that, in order to teach the truths of God, one should have some personal knowledge of them, and that the only acceptable motive for religious work was a sincere desire to please God and benefit the souls of those whom Christ came to save. But Etta was not accustomed to be guided by her brother and sister; she went to her father, told him she wanted to take a class in Sunday-school, and of course he said "Yes." Then she went to the superintendent and made known her request, saying it was at her father's desire, which, as he was book-keeper at the paper-mill, would, she knew, have great weight.
Mr. Scoville paused, hesitated, and finally resolved to consult the pastor, promising Etta her answer before Sunday came round. He would have given an unqualified refusal had the petitioner been any one else than his employer's daughter.
Mr. Morven, the pastor, however, thought differently. He had known the young girl ever since she was a very little one; he knew there was no positive evil in her, and though he had not heretofore suspected her of any serious thought, he looked upon her request as an indication of good, and said that perhaps the very familiarity with sacred things which teaching a Sunday-school class would necessitate might be as beneficial to the teacher as to the scholars. So Mr. Scoville, though rather against his better judgment, sent a note to Miss Etta granting her request, having in his mind a certain class of little ones just out of the infant class, the teacher of which had announced her intention of leaving the school. When he went to see this teacher, however, he found she had changed her mind, and there was no other class available except one composed of seven "big girls," of whom Katie Robertson was one. Of course, Mr. Scoville could not go back on his word, so Miss Etta Mountjoy was formally installed as teacher of one of the most important classes of the school.
Most of the girls liked her; some were seized with a violent admiration, if not of her, of her beautiful hats, delicate kid gloves, and all the et cetera which go to make up the toilet of a modern young lady. Others liked her fresh, frank manner and sympathy with them and their interests. Indeed, she was so nearly on their own level as to age that there was no room for condescension on this account; while, as to position, where was there ever an American girl of any age who acknowledged to social inferiority? Katie alone felt, though she could hardly explain it, the want of something in her new teacher which had been peculiarly characteristic of the old one, who was a plain, elderly woman, without much education,—namely, personal love and devotion to the Lord Jesus, showing itself in an earnest desire that her scholars might also learn to love and serve him. This good teacher's prayers had been answered, and her efforts blessed, in Katie Robertson's case, and hence the girl knew how to appreciate the difference.
In some ways, however, Etta agreeably disappointed all their expectations. She set herself to study and prepare her lessons with an energy that carried all before it; consulted commentaries, studied dates, compared contemporary history, committed to memory schedules, and looked out illustrations, all of which she imparted to her class till its members far surpassed all the others in the school in their knowledge of scripture geography and history and biography. They could give complete lists of the patriarchs, the judges, the kings of Israel and Judah, and the major and minor prophets; and they never failed with the dates of the deluge, the "call of Abraham," the Exodus, the Captivity, and all the periodic points by which the Bible is marked and mapped off in the voluminous Sunday-school literature of the day. As to distinctively religious teachings, every scholar had the catechism verbatim, ready to recite at a moment's notice, and a failure in the "golden text" was unknown. To be sure, other teachers in her vicinity, whose classes failed to win the unqualified praise accorded to hers, did say that Miss Etta never failed to prompt her scholars if there seemed to be any hesitation; but perhaps that was due to a tinge of jealousy in consequence of all the prizes given at a quarterly examination, including one for the teacher, having been won by this "banner class."
All this was very well in its way. There is certainly no harm in knowing all we can about the Bible; it helps us to understand and appreciate it, and to answer the objections which foolish infidels are constantly bringing against it; but the girls, especially Katie, missed the pointed application; the showing how every wrong thing is sin; how sin must be punished; how Jesus has borne the punishment, and so is ready and willing to forgive the sin; how he loves all men, even though they are sinners, and is ready to give them strength to resist temptation and conquer sin, if they will diligently seek the aid of his Holy Spirit—in Bible words, to make them "whiter than snow." These are the true themes of Sunday-school teaching; the one end to be aimed at is so to bring up the children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord," as that when they come to years of discretion they shall gladly confess him as their Master, and become noble, intelligent, active Christian men and women. Lacking this, all outside things are, as the apostle says, "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal."
The only positive harm which Miss Etta did to her class was to foster in some of the girls a great admiration for dress and an ardent desire to imitate their teacher in this respect. Since the days of Eve a taste for dress has always been an inherent part of a girl's constitution, and is apt to become one of her greatest temptations, especially if she be a poor girl, as were most of these, and must procure cheap imitations of finery; or, if even these are beyond their reach, indulge in discontented repinings, which are really rebellion against God.
Squantown Sunday-school was a very pleasant one. Quite unlike the usual oblong wooden building, which in many country places serves for a secular school during the week and a Sunday-school on Sunday, it was a pretty gothic brick building, handsomely fitted up with folding-seats, a reed organ, and an uncommonly good library. A nice carpet was upon the floor, and pretty illuminated texts painted upon the walls; the windows were narrow and pointed, with little diamond-shaped panes, and when opened gave a near view of the minister's garden full of bright-hued flowers, and a more distant one of softly outlined blue mountains, whose tops, capped in summer with snowy clouds and in winter with veritable snow, formed apt illustrations to thoughtful teachers of the "mountains that stand round about Jerusalem," and symbolized the protecting love and care of the Lord for his people.
The beautiful Sunday-school building was largely due to the efforts of Mr. James, who had his father's well-filled purse to draw from; and he had interested himself in getting the scholars together, as well as in introducing among them all modern improvements. He was greatly interested in his class of big boys, over whom his influence was most beneficial. Nearly all of them had already confessed Christ, and were mostly manly Christians, exercising a good influence upon the other boys in the mill or bindery, to which they, as well as nearly all the members of the school, belonged.
Miss Eunice Mountjoy was also engaged in the Sunday-school, having charge of the Bible-class, which contained all the oldest scholars, some of them quite young men and women. She was a very different sort of person from her youngest sister. Fully twelve years her senior, she looked and seemed much older than she really was, and no one had for years thought of calling her a "girl," although now she was only twenty-nine. When she was quite a girl her mother had died, leaving her with the care of all her sisters and her brother, to whom she had, indeed, done a mother's part. Her chief aim in life had always been to "do all to the glory of God," and to her Bible-class she gave her most earnest efforts and her warmest prayers. Her influence was great at home, in the mill, and throughout the town of Squantown, though, as far as possible, she obeyed the scripture injunction not to let her left hand know what her right hand was doing. She always invited the female members of her class to take tea with her every Wednesday night; the boys and young men being expected to come afterward, remain a little while, and then escort their sisters, cousins, and friends home. These little meetings were very pleasant; sometimes pretty fancy-work—to be sold for the benefit of the class missionary fund—was done; sometimes clothes were cut out and made for some of the poorer factory children, or some fatherless baby, while Miss Eunice read aloud some interesting book; sometimes when the topics suggested by last Sunday's lesson had proved too voluminous for the time of the session, they were taken up and discussed on Wednesday; sometimes difficult points in next week's lesson were anticipated. In this way the teacher became really acquainted with the members of her class, their dispositions, temptations, and interests; she gained their confidence, and was often able to advise and assist them in many ways, and they learned to look upon her as a friend to whom they might apply in time of need. And, as a secondary benefit, the girls learned a great deal in the way of cutting out, basting, and other mysteries of needlework calculated to prove very useful to them in their future capacity of wives and mothers.
Eunice had often wished that the same plan could be pursued in the other elder classes; but their teachers, who were mostly employed in some capacity in the mill, could hardly spare the time, and Etta certainly was not fitted for the work. As an experiment, however, on the first Sunday after Katie entered the mill she came over to her sister's class and invited all the girls, or as many as chose to do so, to join hers on Wednesday afternoon next, saying she had something of interest and importance to talk about. As the invitation was one that seemed to place those to whom it was given in the rank of grown-up girls, it was at once gladly accepted, especially as most of the girls had never been inside of Mr. Mountjoy's house and grounds, and would gladly see the luxury of which they had heard so much.
There was a great deal of talk after the close of the session about the invitation and the proposed meeting, and some curiosity was expressed as to the "important thing" Miss Eunice was to talk about. One or two of the girls said they were sorry they had accepted the invitation; they didn't like "to have religion poked at them"; they guessed they wouldn't go. Before the appointed day, however, curiosity got the better of these fainthearted ones, and not a girl of Etta's class was wanting when the time arrived.
At exactly six o'clock some twenty young girls of various ages assembled at "the great house," as Mr. Mountjoy's grand mansion was called in the village. They could not come earlier, as most of them worked in the mill, which they could not leave till five or half-past five; consequently they all arrived at about the same time. They were received with perfect politeness by the servant, who opened the door and ushered them, as she would have done any other visitors, into the spare-room, prettily furnished in blue and white satin, with white lace hangings and silver ornaments. Here they laid aside their hats, and taking their little work-baskets, descended to the great drawing-room, whose splendors considerably surprised the younger girls; the older ones were used to it. At the door Miss Eunice with Etta, the latter arrayed in a wonderful costume, met and received their guests, and after lingering for a while among the paintings, engravings, nicknacks, etc., led them to an inner room, the windows of which overlooked the garden in summer, and a door from which opened into a greenhouse, now full of blooming flowers.
This was the family sitting-room, generally the abode of Miss Eunice, for Etta was too much of a butterfly to stay anywhere, and Rhoda, the middle sister, now about twenty, was an artist, entirely devoted to painting, spending her days and a great part of her nights in her studio, and caring nothing for any of the interests connected with our story. It was luxuriously furnished, more with a view to comfort than to show, and as the girls sank into the easy sofas or into the deep stuffed chairs, or else made themselves comfortable upon low seats and divans, the contrast with their own bare homes and hardworking life was enough to call forth many a sigh of rest and enjoyment. Work was then produced, the usual inquiries after parents and sisters, invalids and home-keepers asked and answered, with a little other familiar conversation, when Miss Eunice said: "I think, girls, as we have finished the book upon which we have been so long engaged, we will not commence another to-day, but devote our thoughts to a subject about which I have been thinking a great deal, and which your pastor agrees with me in thinking of very great importance to be brought before you. I mean a public confession of Christ as your Saviour and Master."
Some of the girls looked grave, some blushed, some were confused. Katie Robertson glanced up expectantly, for this was an opportunity she had long been on the lookout for, and longed to hear more about it. One of the elder girls said:—
"But, Miss Eunice, nobody ought to join the church who is not converted."
"That is very true, but is it not equally true that all who are converted ought to join the church, as you express it, or, as I prefer to say, confess their Saviour? It is only a mean soul which is willing to accept gifts and favors and never openly acknowledge its gratitude for them. I wouldn't care for the friendship of any one who was ashamed to own me before other people; and I wouldn't think much of a soldier who did not show his colors and put on the uniform of his country."
Katie felt her face flush; for was she not one of these very secret friends—one of the soldiers who had not as yet put on the uniform? Not that she had really been ashamed to do so, but the subject had not been very prominently brought to her notice, and when she had thought of it at all it had seemed such a strange, awful, public step for so young a girl to take. She felt so unworthy; it seemed a thing for old people to do, not for little girls. But Miss Eunice had thrown a new light upon the subject, and it looked differently from what it had ever looked before.
"But if we are not Christians, Miss Eunice, you wouldn't like us to act a lie."
"God forbid, Mary; did you ever think that you ought to be a Christian?—ought to be in that state which will make it possible for you to obey the simple command of Christ to confess him before men?"
"A command, Miss Eunice?"
"Yes, a command accompanied by both a promise and a threat. 'Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven, but whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.'"
"But still," persisted the first speaker, "if one isn't converted."
"And what is to prevent one's being converted. Don't you think God is willing to give you grace sufficient to enable you to do and be all that he commands you? The greatest mistake young people can make is to suppose that they must wait, and not take the first step toward a religious life till something mysterious comes to them and lifts them into it almost against their own will."
"Not against our own wills; I am sure everybody wants to be saved."
"Yes, dear, against their own will, for if any one wills to be a Christian, she can be one at once. I must insist upon it, because it is our Saviour's own teachings. He says: 'Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life'; and so I am sure that if any one does not have life, spiritual life, it is because she will not come unto him."
"I'd like to come," said one girl, timidly, "but I don't see exactly how."
"I dare say most of you would. Mr. Morven and I have been talking it over. He feels that the time for a spiritual harvest among our people, especially among our carefully taught Sunday scholars, has about come, and he thinks that, with a little more definite help and teaching, many of you would be glad to come to Jesus, and be enrolled as his followers now, instead of waiting for that indefinite sometime which may never come. I have a book here which, in words so simple that the youngest girl here can understand, explains how we may come to Christ by repentance and faith in his sacrifice upon the cross, etc. It is pleasantly written and illustrated with anecdotes. I think you will all like it, and I propose to read a little of it aloud every Wednesday afternoon for the next month, and at the close of the reading we will have a little familiar conversation on this, the most important of all topics. As most of the girls in my sister's class are of quite sufficient age to understand what it means to be a Christian and honestly to consider their own duty in this respect, I shall be very happy to see them also, and any others of their friends, either in the Sunday-school or from outside. Girls, this is a very important subject, and I trust you will think of it conscientiously and decide upon your own individual duty as in the sight of God. If you fail to make a right use of this season, another similar opportunity may never be given you. Let us commence by asking God's blessing upon our reading and thinking, and the presence of that Holy Spirit without whose aid we can never come to any decision that will be pleasing to him."
Miss Eunice then knelt down while all the girls knelt around her, and prayed in low tones that the influences of the Holy Spirit might be poured out upon all present; that they might have wisdom to see their duty at this solemn moment and grace to do it; that they might not be self-deceived, but really surrender their hearts into the hands of their Saviour, and, putting their whole trust in him, be willing to confess him before men, that he might confess them before the angels and his Father.
Some serious talk followed, and then tea was announced, after which the conversation became general, and at nine o'clock the girls and their brothers and friends, who had come for them, went home quietly, and for the most part wrapped in serious thought.
Etta Mountjoy had never felt so strangely in her life. She had always known that some people were professing Christians; nay, she had, during her visits to the city, and even at home, seen people, even young girls, come forward and take upon themselves the vows of Christ. Perhaps it may have occurred to her that "sometime" she should do so, but to be deliberately called upon to consider her own immediate duty in the matter had not happened to her before. Once or twice, indeed, when she was much younger, "Sister Eunice" or "Brother James" had attempted to speak to her upon the subject, but she always turned away from it in such a flippant way that both felt she was in no proper frame for the consideration of so solemn a theme, and of late they had foreborne to mention it. It was with a view, perhaps, of interesting her sister quite as much as her sister's scholars that Eunice had invited them upon the present occasion, knowing that the young girl's lively interest in her class would induce her to be present if its members were, and to her great joy and thankfulness she was not disappointed. Etta had never heard her sister pray before, though the Wednesday afternoon meetings were often thus opened, and it seemed to her something almost awful to hear the language which she had always associated with a grave minister and a solemn church service spoken reverently, it is true, but quite familiarly, by her sister.
Then, too, the question with which the reading closed: "Will you now thus confess Christ?" How could she answer it? Was she in a fit state for so solemn an action, she, a butterfly flitting from one avocation to another, with no thought or aim beyond pleasing herself? She knew she was not. She had given up the child-habit of "saying her prayers," and she had never learned really to pray. Until she took that class she had not, for some years, voluntarily opened her Bible, and now she knew that all her energetic study of the technicalities of the Holy Word had in it no grain of desire to please or glorify God. Even her devotion to Sunday-school teaching, usually supposed to be Christian work, had in it no leaven of Christianity, being only self-pleasing from end to end. Etta was sufficiently clear-sighted to see all this. She knew that she never thought of God. His approval or disapproval was all one to her, and while she had never denied or openly scoffed at religion, and had no reason to doubt the truths of its facts and doctrines, she was, so far as anything practical went, not a Christian at all. What had she to "confess"? And yet, how strange it would seem if some of those to whom she stood in the position of teacher, who of necessity looked up to and imitated her, should become Christians and church members, when she had never taken the same stand. Stranger still, and worse, if they should be deterred from what seemed to them a duty by the example of their Sunday-school teacher. Etta had never been placed in such a dilemma before, and she heartily wished either that her sister had not invited her class, or that the class had not accepted the invitation, and that the girls would never come again, and yet she hardly liked to advise them not to do so.
"I don't like that kind of a party at all," said Bertie Sanderson, when the group of younger girls were well out of hearing of the house. "She just got us there under false pretences, calling it fun and turning it into a sort of church. We get prayers enough, in all conscience, on Sundays."
"I'd rather have Miss Etta talk to us about the patriarchs and the stories and all that," said Matilda Eckart, who was a good scholar, or would have been if she had not, by the necessities of her family, been forced to work in the mill. "I like to learn things; still I like Miss Eunice, too. She's real sweet, and maybe we ought to do as she says."
"Nonsense!" said another girl, Helen Felting by name, "Miss Etta isn't a Christian, and she's her own sister and three or four years older than we are. I don't want to be any better than she is. My, ain't her dress lovely, all silk and velvet, and such an exquisite shade! fits so, too, just as if it was her skin!"
"Did you see her ear-rings?" said another. "Real diamonds, all set round with pearls, and such a chain and locket!"
"I don't care," said Bertie; meaning, of course, that she did care very much. "We girls haven't got so much money and we can't have real things. I like my chain and locket just as well (which she didn't, for she was quite keen enough to understand the difference), but I won't go there again till I get my silk dress made;" and she glanced disgustedly at the light-blue cashmere which, as it was her best dress, she chose to wear on all occasions, and which looked already much the worse for its week in the rag-room at the mill.
Katie Robertson did not speak at all, except to answer the questions of Eric, who had come for her, as to whether she had had a pleasant time decidedly in the affirmative. She was thinking very deeply. We have seen that our Katie was a faithful, conscientious little girl, loving God sincerely, trusting in her Saviour, and striving to please him and grow like him. She loved to study the Bible, which she knew was his word, and to pray to him in her own simple language every night and morning; nay, often at other times when she felt the need of his help, or had something she wanted to tell him about. She had not asked herself any hard questions yet about whether she were a Christian or not. She knew she was her mother's Katie because she loved her mother and wanted to please her, and she knew she was God's child because she loved him and wanted to please him. She often did things, and said things, and thought things that she knew were displeasing to both, but she did not want to do so. She was always very sorry, she always asked to be forgiven and believed she was, for did not her mother say so each time, and had not her heavenly Father promised so once for all in the Bible?
But this afternoon the thought had really come to her that she ought publicly to confess herself a Christian; and yet she shrank from it, she hardly knew why. She was afraid she might afterward do something which would disgrace such a holy profession; and yet, if her Saviour commanded it, as he certainly did, that made it a duty, and, of course, she ought to obey, trusting him to help her keep all the promises as he had promised to do. He would like it, too, so much; it would be easier afterward to resist temptation and to "stand up for Jesus" among her companions.
Katie's thoughts were very busy ones, and by the time she came in sight of her home she had decided that, if her mother and the pastor had no objection, she would give in her name among those who were, at the first opportunity, to confess Christ.
The Wednesday afternoon meetings were continued throughout the spring and early summer, and were attended by all the members of Miss Eunice's class, nearly all those of her sister's, and five or six other girls who accepted the kind invitation of the former. There was always the same hospitality, always the same warm welcome, and always the same grave but happy earnestness on the part of the young lady on whom God had laid this great work. As the warm days came on, the meetings were adjourned to the velvety, close-shaven lawn, where chairs and rustic seats were clustered under the shade of a great, wide-spreading tree, and the sweet, holy themes of reading and conversation seemed all the sweeter that they were henceforth associated with blue sky, bright flowers, white clouds, green leaves, and the other things made by the God who was even now calling these young hearts into his service.
Miss Eunice went through with a pretty thorough course of reading upon sin, repentance, faith in Christ, renunciation of all evil, walking obediently in God's holy will and commandments, which is another name for holy living, and as she prayed constantly for God's blessing upon her efforts, she had great cause for thankfulness in the hope that many of these young souls thus brought, for the first time, face to face with their personal responsibility toward God, and his loving provision for their salvation, really chose the "better part," which no man can take away from us,—"passed from death unto life," and in publicly confessing Christ made no false profession.
Meanwhile work in the mill was becoming an old story and, as such, decidedly monotonous. The glamour had passed by, and Squantown Paper Mill had ceased to be an enchanted palace and become a prosaic place of daily toil. Such disenchantments are always more or less painful, and Katie's high spirits declined proportionally. It was well that principles of self-support, independence, and duty to God, underlay her enthusiasm, or it would soon have died away, being choked to death by the dust from the rags.
The little pile of money that was ready to be carried home every Saturday night at first did a great deal toward rekindling the old enthusiasm. The first week it was only two dollars and forty cents, but on the second it had risen to three dollars, fifty cents a day being the regular price paid to the "rag-room girls." By this time the "new hand" was new no longer, and she had learned to work so fast as to accomplish the amount usually done in a day in a much shorter time, and then Miss Peters told her she might go home.
Mr. Mountjoy, or rather "Mr. James," upon whom all arrangements concerning the work-people devolved, was not one of those employers who consider that they have bought all the time of their employees. He had a right to a fair day's work in return for a fair day's wages, but if any one was industrious enough to do more than this, the time thus gained was his own to use as he liked. Many of the elder workers did use it in the mill, receiving extra pay for extra work, when, as sometimes happened, there was extra work to be done. Some of her companions made as much as a dollar a day in this way. But Mrs. Robertson was gifted with good sense, and knew that her child's young strength must not be overtaxed and thus the development of the future woman be stunted. So Katie came home generally about four o'clock, and had plenty of time to rest, to help her mother about the house, to keep up some of her old school studies, and to read the very valuable and interesting books of which the Sunday-school library was composed. Her mother took her money and kept it for her, hoping thus to have enough for the summer outfit she would so soon need. The child would gladly have done extra work in order to make extra money, she knew so well how much it was needed, but her mother was inexorable, and she was forced to submit.
As to Bertie, she never finished her day's work at all. Her time was largely spent in looking out of window, studying the dresses and ribbons of the other girls, making signs to her companions, and whispering to her neighbor whenever Miss Peters's back was turned. She hated her work and would have given it up long ago, at least as soon as the silk dress had been procured, and her mother would have very injudiciously purchased it long before the money had been earned, but that her father was resolute. The mill would have dispensed with her society as soon as her idleness and inefficiency were seen, except that Mr. Sanderson was her father, and it was thought best to show due consideration to him.
"Dear me! how hateful it all is," said Bertie, with a yawn, one day during the half-hour when talking was permitted. "Are you not heartily sick of it, Katie?"
"It's a little monotonous, I own," said the girl addressed, "but then, no work is play, I suppose. Maybe we'll get promoted to the folding-room soon, and it will be much nicer there."
"It isn't a bit nicer. It's work anywhere, and I hate work. I never mean to do a bit of it that I can help. Ma says pa'll have money enough to make us all rich, and I want to be a lady." "Ma" had been a factory-girl herself, which was perhaps one reason why Bertie despised the business. She had married the foreman of the mill, who had now risen to be overseer of the bindery, and yearly laid up a large portion of his salary, while her sister had married a city grocer, who was spending all he made as he made it, and his children were growing up to be useless, fine ladies, and a positive injury to their country cousins.
"But while you do work you might do it faithfully, not spend time for which you are paid in idleness, and crowd in rags with the buttons all on, which will be sure to spoil the machinery when they come to be ground."
"Bah! what difference does it make? I'm paid for my time. Provided I stay here all day, they haven't a right to claim anything more."
"But, Bertie, they have. Don't you remember the text which is painted on the wall at the foot of the corridor?
"'Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.'"
"It seems to me just like stealing to waste time that we're paid for, or not to do work entrusted to us just as well as we possibly can."
"Oh, well, you're one of the saints, you know. If it's saintship to be rude and call other people thieves I'm glad I'm a sinner, that's all. I guess we'll catch the saint in a slip before long, don't you, girls?" said she, appealing to several other idlers who naturally congregated around a bird of the same feather as themselves.
Bertie and Katie did not walk home together any more. The former, never having finished her work, was always obliged to remain in the mill till the closing-bell rang, while the former went home, as we have seen, at four o'clock, and at noon she was generally met by her brothers.
"Eric," she said on the day of the above conversation, "do you think it's right to idle and talk instead of doing your work?"
"We can't in the bindery; the machine won't let us. Everything would go to thunder if we looked off."
"But suppose you could, and nobody knew anything about it?"
"They couldn't fine you if they didn't know," said Alfred, whose ideas of the righteousness of law were modified by the possibility of escaping its penalty.
"What difference would that make?" said Eric. "God would know."
"Yes," said Katie, "I always wish the words 'Thou God seest me,' were written up on the walls of the mill. It helps you not to get tired and want to stop."
"Do you ever want to stop, Katie?" said her brother, tenderly.
"Yes, lots of times, It's just the same thing day after day, no change, no variety, the dust suffocates you, and it's so hard to get up in the morning, and"—
"Sho!" shouted Alfred, "I thought you'd sing a different tune after you'd been in the factory a little while. Don't you remember I told you so?"
"Katie," said Eric, "you remember I told you that you should not work one moment longer than you wanted to. A girl with two strong brothers to support her need not work for her living unless she chooses to. Do you want to stop now?"
"I want to, ever so much," said the girl, "but I don't mean to. Do you think I am a baby to begin a thing and then leave it off again? There's just as much reason as there ever was for my earning money. I'm not going to be dependent upon you, and mother is growing older every day. Do you remember what the Bible says about those who put their hands to the plough and look back? I don't mean to be one of those; and I mean to pray every day," she said more softly, "that I may be more patient and persevering."
Eric understood her, and even Alfred respected his sister the more for what he could not understand.
"I wish I knew some way of making money faster," said Katie to her brothers soon after; "a great deal, I mean. Mother wants any quantity of things—blankets, and kitchen utensils, and table things, and she hasn't a bonnet fit to go to church in. It takes about all we can make to feed us all, and if there is any left she always uses it to buy things for us instead of thinking about herself."
"I wonder how it is mothers never think of themselves," said Alfred. "They are always fussing to make us happy, and we don't do things for them at all."
Katie thought of the words:—
"As one whom his mother comforteth,"
which had been in last Sunday's lesson, but did not say them aloud, only it was a comfort to her to think of the other holy words which say of a mother and her child: "She may forget, yet will not I forget thee." No matter how much a mother may love, God loves us better still.
One day about that time, Bertie Sanderson, following her usual custom of looking around the room instead of at her work, saw something that caused her to start, open her eyes very wide, and then mutter half-aloud:—
"Oho! the saints are not so saintly after all. It's dishonest to look around the room, is it? I wonder what you call that!"
"Bertie Sanderson, talking, as usual," said Miss Peters, marking the fine upon the slate which she always carried with her," and Katie Robertson, too," noting a sudden flush upon the face of the latter. "I am surprised."
"I did not speak," said Katie, respectfully, but with some confusion.
"There's no harm in talking to yourself," said Bertie, in the rude tone which she usually addressed to Miss Peters.
"Were not those girls talking, Gretchen," said the superintendent, appealing to a stout German who worked near the others.
"No, ma'am, I believe not; at least, Katie wasn't. I heard Bertie say something, but Katie did not answer, but"—
"Never mind," said Miss Peters, who had got all she wanted,—a chance to fine Bertie whom she hated,—"attend to your work," and she passed on, never noticing the hand which Katie, having hastily thrust it into her pocket, continued to hold there.
The work proceeded in silence, and, as Katie went home at four o'clock as usual, Bertie did not have an opportunity to speak to her about the strange thing she had noticed. She did, however, say to Gretchen, as they separated: "Did you see that?"
"What?" said the German, innocently.
"Oh! nothing, if you did not see it." Bertie was going to tell her companion what she had seen, but on second thoughts decided to keep her discovery to herself, that she might have more power over the "saint," whom she was beginning to absolutely hate.
But Gretchen had seen exactly what Bertie had, only she did not think it her business, and as it was not, did not choose to speak about it, but, German fashion, went about her own business.
What had the two girls seen? What was it that made Katie Robertson's face such a study as she walked home at a much slower pace than was her wont? What was it that lay in the depth of her pocket, where her hand rested for greater security. What did she put away in the drawer that contained her treasures, going directly to her room for the purpose, instead of rushing first of all to the sitting-room to see if her mother were at home.