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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 58, 7 February 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
JUDGE NOT, In the ante-room of Meredith & Son’s great cotton factory Philadelphia, a group of girls were engaged in an animated discussion. They were all young, some pretty, all dressed neatly, though many wore ill-chosen and unbecoming finery. One of these, who had a mock gold chain and bracelets, and a profusion of jet trimmings upon a heavy silk dress, spoke very emphatically —“ It is the stingiest proceeding I ever heard of ! ” “ What are you all so excited about 1 ” asked a pretty little blonde, coming in from the loom-room. “ Ellen Churchill 1 ” “ Dear mo ! What has she been doing now? You are always discussing some dreadful deed of Ellen’s. I like her myself. ” “ Yes we all know that,” said the first speaker ; ‘ ‘ you will defend anything Ellen does.” “ But what has she done ? ” “ Refused to sign the subscription list for the tankard to be presented to Mr. Rodman.” “And Mr. Rodman has been such a good friend to her ! ” said a third voice. The Hltle blonde, Susy Whiting by by name, looked rather staggered by tno new accusation against her friend. Mr. Rodman, manager for Meredith & Son for nearly fifty years, was about to retire on account of the infirmities of age, and the persons engaged in the great factory were collecting money to buy a silver tankard to present to him. He was a kindly old man, and always ready to lend a helping hand to the small army of work-people under his control ; so that the presentation was really a gift of love. Ellen Churchill had come to the factory two years previous to the date of the indignation meeting in the ante-room, and had risen to the position of forewoman in one of the loom-rooms. She was a handsome girl of about twenty when she applied for work, and by every action and word betrayed the fact that she had stepped from a life of refinement to the hard drudgery of a factory hand. Her low, even tone betrayed the lady in its well-cbosen words; and her slim, white hands bore no trace of toil upon their smooth skin. She was couricons to all who came into intercourse with her, but intimate with none. She had nursed Susy Whiting through a long period of contagious fever, winning the devotion of that little maiden, and the manager soon put her in positions of trust till she became forewoman. Here her education enabled her to keep tho books required in the room, thus doubling her salary. And here was the great ground of complaint by her companions. It was well known that the salary of Ellen Churchill was sufficient to warrant a good style of living and dressing. In the great boarding house, where seventy of the girls linxl rooms, she could well afford to pay for the best, to contribute to the amusements of the house, and dress well. Instead of all this, she lived in the attic, poorly furnished, with a tiny stove, where she cooked the cheapest of food. Her dress was of the coarsest description, made by her own hands, and no ornament broke its severe simplicity. Sire never spent money in pleasure-seeking, nor joined in any of the quiet merriment in the house. But the crowning enormity was the refusal to contribute to the silver tankard. The excited group in the ante-room dispersed for the day, walking home in the twilight of the September evening, and still they talked of the young forewoman. “ The question is,” said Mary Leigh, who had been foremost in the ante-room discussion, “what does she do with her money ? She never puts any in the factory savings bank ; she certainly spends nothing on her dress. Whore is it all then ? ” “ Perhaps she supports her parents ? ” “ Both dead. I’ve heard her say so.” “ Well, I dare say Mr. Rodman won’t think her such a paragon as ho has done, when he misses her name from the subscription list. ” “And Walter Rodman will probablyresent the insult to his father. ” There was an exultation in the last remark, but ill concealed. Walter Rodman, the only child of the old manager, was in counting-house of the factory, with every prospect of soon becoming a partner. A man past 30, he had risen in the employment of Meredith & Son, from a lad of 14, and had saved money from a handsome salary, with the avowed intention of purchasing a place in the firm upon tho anticipated retirement of old Mr. Meredith, who was known to favor the intention. Among all the clerks and workmen in the great factory, there was no one so handsome as Walter Rodman, none so quietly refined in manner, none so great a favorite with all. But ho had gone through 36 years of factory life, fancy free, until Ellen Churchill came to the factory. There was something in the noble, refined face of the young girl that attracted Walter Rodman from the first. That there was some heavy trouble brooding in the sadness of her great dark ey r cs he nover doubted ; but if ever purity and goodness were pictured in the human countenance, they wore in Ellen’s. From his father ho learnt much of the now comer, of the adaptability she showed for work evidently 7 new to her, of the almost masculine brain that fitted her so soon to take control of the loom room, where over a hundred girls were at work. Of her antecedents ho knew only 7 that she brought a letter from the clergyman of her parish, in a small town in New York State. That she was a woman of culture and refinement they 7 could see for themselves. But Walter Rodman, by nature frank and true, as his heart more and more acknowledged Ellen for its queen, grieved over the evident mystery of her life. While in her conversation, she advanced noble and generous views, her whole style of living was penurious to an extent rarely seen In women of her age, when living upon a mucli smaller salary 7 than she commanded. It was not merely economy but saving pushed to extremity. There was a struggle constantly in the mind of the young clerk—-a struggle between liis love and his fear of repentance, if he urged his suit. It was revolting to him to think of his wife conducting his house upon such parsimonious principles, refusing to bestow of his abundance in charity, dressing meanly, and perhaps influence Mm to the same miserly habits. And yet, one hour with Ellen drove away 7 all such thoughts. The low sad voice always tinged by her habitual sadness, conveyed such a mirror of a pure tender heart, a cultivated mind, a noble soul, that Walter forgot the coarse, mean dress, the many stories rife in the factory of Ellen’s stinginess, and lie knew he loved her as he had never loved any •woman. But when the silver tankard was presented to Mr. Rodman, and Ellen’s name was not upon the list of contributors to the gift, Walter experienced a sharp pang of disappointment. He knew that his father’s recommendation had gained Ellen her first place in the factory, that she had found a firm friend in him, and owed her rapid advancement to his influence and interest. And yet she had refused her mite to the gift that testified the good feeling of her fellow-workers in tho factory ! Fatlier and son had long been confidential friends; and on the evening following the presentation the latter opened his heart and told all his doubts and fears. Mr. Rodman listened quietly. “ Yet you love Ellen,” ho said. “I love her,” replied Walter, “'but!
could nover be happy with a miserly wife. 1 ’ “Poor Ellen, how little she deserves that reproach ! ” said Mr. Rodman. “I shall violate a confidence repose 1 in me, Walter, when I toll yon how you misjudge her, but I think I can trust you.’’ “ Has she told you her secret ? ” “No. I heard the story from the clergyman of Lenwood, her native village, who wrote to me before she came here. He is an old friend of mine and knew ho could confide in me. I will tell you what he wrote to nio. Six years ago Ellon’s mother died, leaving in her care a sickly step-brother, then eleven years old. Her own father had left Ellen a pretty cottage, and she had a small income from the fruit and poultry on the place, while she made a sufficient living by teaching music and playing the organ in the church. When her mother died, leaving Stephen Grady, her step-brother an orphan and penniless (for her step-father before his death had squandered all her mother’s little fortune), Ellen promised to care for the boy. Pome nib or she was but sixteen herself, though early care had matured her far beyond her actual years. The boy grew like his father, reckless of expenditure, loose in principle," yet tender to his sister-mother, and one of those loving scapegraces who always win some wood woman’s devotion. Ho won Ellon s. She thought herself bound by her promise to her mother to make every sacrifice for Stephen, and she faitblully tried to lead him away from the companions and evil influences that were ruining his life. Three years ago, a friend of Mrs. Grady’s took Stephen into hi; counting-house. Here he was to learn book-keeping, and for a time he worked steadily. Then the bad company that bad ruined bis boyhood, again exerted its evil influence, and he learned to gamble. Remember, Walter he was but fourteen, and Ellen but five years older. One of bis accomplishments was the power of imitating handwriting, and by the persuasion of some older heads, he forged a cheque for two thousand dollars on tha firm he was with The cheque passed the bank undetected, for the cashier was in the habit of paying over large sums to Grady. But when it was returned to the firm, the forgery was discovered and traced to Stephen. Then the truth came out that he had gambled away the entire amount, and the two men who had urged the crime and pocketed the money, had fled, leaving the lad to bear the consequences. He was arrested, and repentance came when he saw the full conscouence of his acts. It was then that Ellen proved herself the noble woman I believe her to bo. She was suffering already for her brother’s crime, having lost her place as organist, and most of her music pupils having left her. Despite :|ll tins she went to the firm and pleaded for the lad. Hor elo quonce gained him something. They agreed not to prosecute, but to allow the boy to leave the town, and go to an uncle who was willing to give him another trial, in a western city, if—mark that if, Walter —Ellen would pay the two thousand dol--1 lars with interest within two years.” : She undertook the task. Stephen was released and sent to his father’s brother, 1 where ho is doing well, and Ellen left ; home and came here hoping for higher waves than she could earn in her own 1 town. I, knowing all, advanced her interest in every way. Month after month, ■ denying herself everything but the barest necessities of life, she has sent her earnings to wipe off her brother’s debt. With the rent of the house and what she saves here she has paid it all, the last instal--1 ment being acknowledged in a letter I ■ handed to her yesterday. Yon can understand why she could not take even the , few dollars to subscribe for a present to 1 me when I tell you the two years expired ’ on the very day the last hundred d Mars ■ was received. Now, Walter, you know ; Ellen’s secret. Judge for yourself if she - is a miser.” “ She is as noble and self-sacrificing as my heart always told me she was, in spite of appearances!” said Walter, warmly, t “ To-morrow I will see if she can ever re- > turn my love.” “ Not tomorrow,” said Mr. Rodman, smiling. “Ellen went home this after- " noon her task finished. Out of the sum I paid her for the last week hor toil here, • she begged my acceptance of the copy of Longfellow upon the table beside yon, asking me to believe she was grateiul for all my kindness to her. Let her rest a Hi tie from her long strain of self-sacrifice and toil, Waiter ; and then if you can win hor love, I will gladly give her a daughter s place in my heart. Winter had come and gone, Spring sunshine was making all nature glad, when, one cheery morning, the train througn Lenwood loft a single passenger at the village station. He was a tail, handsome man dressed well without foppishness, and he enquired of a man at tue station for the residence of Miss Churchill. “The first white cottage as you turn the second street from here,’ was the reply. It was soon found, and at the gate the traveller halted. The windows, shaded by a white verandah, were open, and he could see the tasteful parlor. Near the window stood a handsome woman, trailing a vine ever a net work of string. Her face was partly averted ; but the stranger could see that all the pallor and sadness of the past was gone. Upon the graceful figure was a dress of fleecy muslin, tastefully made, and trimmed with soft lace ruffles at throat and wrist, and a few well-chosen ornaments. Suddenly some inner sense told Ellen she was watched. She turned and saw Walter Rodman, looking and wistfully at her. A quick flush crept; across her check, and her eyes lighted gladly as she came forward to meet linn. “ May I come in ? ” he asked, opening the little gate. “I am very glad to welcome you,” she answered and then extended her hand as he sprang lightly up the steps. It is not fair to repeat lovers’ talk. Suffice it that before Walter had left the little cottage to take the return train, ho had won the dearest wish of his heart ; and when summer bad bloomed, Ellen became the bride of the junior partner of Meredith & Co the new firm of the factory where she had worked so faithfully.
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 58, 7 February 1880
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