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SHE WAS GOOD FOR NOTHING

 

THE mayor stood at the open widowHe was in his shirt-sleeveswith a breast-pin stuck in his frilland was uncommonly smooth shaven-all his own workcertainly he had given him self a slight cutbut he had stuck a bit of newspaper on the place

Hark yeyoungster!”he cried

The youngster in question was no other than the son of the poor washerwomanwho was just going past the houseand he pulled off his cap respectfullyThe peak of the said cap was broken in the middlefor the cap was arranged so that it could be rolled up and crammed into his pocketIn his poorbut clean and well-mended attirewith heavy wooden shoes on his feetthe boy stood thereas humble as if he stood before the King himself

You're a good boy said MrMayor.“You’ re a civil boyI suppose your mother is rinsing clothes down in the riverI suppose you are to carry that thing to your mother that you have in your pocketIt's a bad affair with your motherHow much have you got there

Half a quarter,”stammered the boyin a frightened voice

And this morning she had just as much,”the mayor continued

No,”replied the boy,“it was yesterday.”

Two halves make a wholeShe's good for nothingIt's a sad thing with that class of peopleTell your mother that she ought to be ashamed of herselfand mind you don't become a drunkard-but you will become onethoughPoor child-therego!”

And the boy wentHe kept his cap in his handand the wind played with his yellow hairso that great locks of it stood up straightHe turned down by the street comerinto the little lane that led to the riverwhere his mother stood by the washing benchbeating the heavy linen with the malletThe water rolled quickly alongfor the flood-gates at the mill had been drawn upand the sheets were caught by the streamand threatened to overturn the benchThe washerwoman was obliged to lean against the bench to support it

I was very near sailing away,”she said.“It is a good thing that you are comefor I need to recruit my strength a littleIt is cold out here in the waterand I have been standing here for six hoursHave you brought anything for me?”

The boy produced the bottleand the mother put it to her mouthand took a little Ahhow that revives one!”said she;“how it warmsIt is as good as a hot mealand not so dearAnd youmy boyyou look quite paleYou are shivering in your thin clothes-to be sure it is autumnUghhow cold the water isI hope I shall not be illBut noI shall not be thatGive me a little moreand you may have a sip toobut only a little sipfor you must not accustom your self to itmy poor dear child!”

And she stepped up to the bridge on which the boy stoodand came ashoreThe water dripped from the straw matting she had wound round herand from her gown

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I work and toil as much as ever I can,”she said,“but I do it willinglyif I can only manage to bring you up honestly and wellmy boy.”

As she spokea somewhat older woman came towards themShe was poor enough to beholdlame of one legand with a large false curl hanging down over one of her eyeswhich was a blind oneThe curl was intended to cover the eyebut it only made the defect more strikingThis was a friend of the laundressShe was called among the neighbours,“Lame Martha with the curl.”

Oh you poor thingHow you workstanding there in the water!”cried the visitor.“You really require some-thing to Warm youand yet malicious folks cry out about the few drops you take

And in a few minutes’ time the mayor's late speech was reported to the laundressfor Martha had heard it alland she had been angry that a man could speak as he had done to a woman's own childabout the few drops the mother tookand she was the more angrybecause the mayor on that very day was giving a great feastat which wine was drunk by the bottle-good winestrong wine

A good many will take more than they need-but that's not called drinkingThey are goodbut you are good for nothing!”cried Marthaindignantly

Ahso he spoke to youmy child?”said the washerwomanand her lips trembled as she spoke.“So he says you have a mother who is good for nothingWellperhaps he's rightbut he should not have said it to my childStillI have had much misfortune from that house.”

You were in service there when the mayor's parents were aliveand lived in that houseThat is many years agomany bushels of salt have been eaten since then and we may well be thirstyand Martha smiled.“The mayor has a great dinner-party todayThe guests were to have been put offbut it was too lateand the dinner was al-ready cookedThe footman told me about itA letter came a little while agoto say that the younger brother had died in Copenhagen.”

Died?”repeated the laundress-and she became pale as death

Yescertainlysaid Martha.“Do you take that so much to heartWellyou must have known him years agowhen you were in service in the house.”

Is he deadHe was such a good worthy manThere are not many like him.”And the tears rolled down her cheeksGood graciouseverything is whirling around me-it was too much for meI feel quite ill.”And she leaned against the phank

Good graciousyou are ill indeedexclaimed the other woman.“Comecomeit will pass over presentlyBut noyou really look seriously illThe best thing will be for me to lead you home.”

But my linen yonder-

I will see to thatComegive me your armThe boy can stay here and take care of itand I'll come back and finish the washingit's only a trifle

The laundress's limbs shook under her.“I have stood too long in the cold water,”she said faintly,“and I have eaten and drunk nothing since this morningThe fever is in my bonesO kind Heavenhelp me to get homeMy poor child!”And she burst into tears

The boy wept tooand soon he was sitting alone by the riverbeside the damp linenThe two women could make only slow progressThe laundress dragged her weary limbs alongand tottered through the lane and round the corner into the street where stood the house of the mayorand just in front of his mansion she sank down on the pavementMany people assembled round herand lame Martha ran into the house to get helpThe mayor and his guests came to the window

That's the washerwoman!”he said.“She has taken a glass too muchShe is good for nothingIt's a pity for the pretty son she hasI redlly like the child very wellbut the mother is good for nothing.”

Presently the laundress came to herselfand they led her into her poor dwellingand put her to bedKind Martha heated a mug of beer for herwith butter and sugarwhich she considered the best medicineand then she hastened to the riverand rinsed the linen-badly enoughthough her will was goodStrictly speakingshe drew it ashorewet as it wasand laid it in a basket

Towards evening she was sitting in the poor little room with the laundressThe mayor's cook had given her some roasted potatoes and a fine fat piece of ham for the sick womanand Martha and the boy discussed these viands while the patient enjoyed the smellwhich she pronoum ced very nourishing

And presently the boy was put to bedthe same bed in which his mother laybut he slept at her feetcovered with an old quilt made up of blue and white patches

Soon the patient felt a little betterThe warm beer had strengthened herand the fragrance of the provisions also did her good

Thanksyou kind soul,” she said to Martha.“I will tell you all when the boy is asleepI think he has dropped off alreadyHow gentle and good he looksas he lies there with his eyes closedHe does not know what his mother has sufferedand Heaven grant he may never know itI was in service at the councillor'sthe father of the mayorIt happened that the youngest of the sonsthe studentcame homeI was young thena wild girlbut honestthat I may declare in the face of HeavenThe student was merry and kindgood and braveEvery drop of blood in him was good and honestI have not seen a better man on this earthHe was the son of the houseand I was only a maidbut we formed an attachment to each otherhonestly and honourablyAnd he told his mother of itfor she was in his eyes as a deity on earthand she was wise and gentleHe went away on a journeybut before he started he put his gold ring on my fingerand directly he was gone my mistress called meWith a firm yet gentle seriousness she spoke to meand it seemed as if Wisdom itself were speakingShe showed me clearlyin spirit and in truththe difference there was between him and me

“‘ Now he is charmed with your pretty appearance she said,‘but your good looks will leave youYou have not heen educated as he hasYou are not equals in mindand there is the misfortuneI respect the poor,’she continued:‘in the sight of God they may cupy a higher place than many a rich man can fillbut here on earth we must beware of entering a false track as we go onward or our carriage is upsetand we are thrown into the roadI know that a worthy man wishes to marry you-an artisan-I mean Erich the glove-makerHe is a widower without childrenand is well-to-doThink it over

Every word she spoke cut into my heart like a knifebut I knew that that my mistress was rightand that knowledge weighed heavily upon meI kissed her handand wept bitter tearsand I wept still more when I went into my room and threw myself on my bedIt was a heavy night that I had to pass throughHeaven knows what I suffered and how I wrestledThe next Sunday I went to the Lord's houseto pray for strength and guidanceIt seemed like a providencethat as I stepped out of church Erich came towards meAnd now there was no longer a doubt in my mindWe were suited to each other in rank and in meansand he was even then a thriving manTherefore I went up to himtook his handand said,‘Are you still of the same mind towards meYesever and always’he replied.‘Will you marry a girl who honours and respectsbut who does not love yon-though that may come later’I asked him.‘Yesit will come’he answeredAnd upon this we joined handsI went home to my mistressI wore the gold ring that her son had given me at heartI could not put it on my finger in the daytimebut only in the evening when I went to bedI kissed the ring again and againtill my lips almost bledand then I gave it to my mistressand told her the banns were to be put up next week for me and the glove-makerThen my mistress put her arms round me and kissed meShe did not say that I was good for nothingbut perhaps I was better then than I am now for the misfortunes of life had not yet found me outOn Candlemas we were marriedand for the first year the world went well with uswe had a joumeyman and an apprenticeand youMarthalived with us as our servant

Ohyou were a deargood mistress,”cried Martha.“Never shall I forget how kind you and your husband were!”

Yesthose were our good yearswhen you were with usWe had not any children yetThe student I never saw again.—AhyesI saw himbut he did not see meHe was here at his mother's funeralI saw him stand by the graveHe was pale as deathand very downcastbut that was for his motherafterwardswhen his father diedhe was away in a foreign landand did not come back hereI know that he never marriedI believe he became a lawyerHe had forgotten meand even if he had seen me againhe would not have known meI look so uglyAnd that is very fortunate

And then she spoke of her days of trialand told how misfortune had come as it were swooping down upon them

We had five hundred dollars,”she said;“and as there was a house in the street to be bought for two hundredand it would pay to pull it down and build a new oneit was boughtThe builder and carpenter calculated the expenseand the new house was to cost a thousand and twentyErich had creditand borrowed the money in the chief townbut the captain who was to bring it was ship-wreckedand the money was lost with him.”

Just at that time my dear sweet boy who is sleeping yonder was bornMy husband was struck down by a long heavy illnessfor three-quarters of a year I was compelled to dress and undress himWe went back more and moreand fell into debtAll that we had was soldand my husband diedI have workedand toiledand striven for the sake of the childscrubbing staircaseswashing linenfine and coarse alikebut I was not to be better offsuch was God's good willBut He will take me to Himself in His own good timeand will not forsake my boy.”

And she fell asleep

Towards morning she felt much refresedand strong enoughas she thoughtto go back to her workShe had just stepped again into the cold waterwhen a trembling and faintness seized hershe clutched at the air with her handtook a step forwardand fell downHer head rested on the bankand her feet were still in the waterher wooden shoeswith a wisp of straw in eachwhich she had wornfloated down the streamand thus Martha found her on coming to bring her some coffee

In the meantime a messenger from the mayor's house had been dispatched to her poor lodging to tell her to come to the mayor immediatelyfor he had something to tell her.”It was too lateA barber-surgeon was brought to open a vein in her armbut the poor woman was dead

She has drunk herself to death!”said the mayor

In the letter that brought the news of his brother's deaththe contents of the will had been mentionedand it was a legacy of six hundred to the glove-maker's widowwho had once been his mother maidThe money was to be paidaccording to the mayor's discretionin larger or smaller sumsto her or to her child

There was some fuss between my brother and her,”said the mayor.“It's a good thing that she is deadfor now the boy will have the wholeand I will get him into a house among respectable peopleHe may turn out a reputable working man

And Heaven gave its blessing  to these wods

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So the mayor sent for the boypromised to take care of himand added that it was good thing the lad's mother was deadinasmuch as she had been good for nothing

They bore her to the churchyardto the cemetery of the poor and Martha planted a tree upon the graveand the boy stood beside her

My dear mother!”he criedas the tears fell fast.“Is it true what they saidthat she was good for nothing?”

Noshe was good for much!”replied the old servantand she looked up indignantly.“I knew it many a year agoand more than all since last nightI tell you she was worth muchand the Lord in heaven knows it is truelet the world sayas much as it chooses,‘She was good for nothing.’”

 


 

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