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Authors: Elizabeth Gaskell

Ruth

BOOK: Ruth
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RUTH
* * *
ELIZABETH GASKELL

 
*

Ruth
First published in 1853
ISBN 978-1-775450-05-4
© 2010 The Floating Press

While every effort has been used to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in The Floating Press edition of this book, The Floating Press does not assume liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in this book. The Floating Press does not accept responsibility for loss suffered as a result of reliance upon the accuracy or currency of information contained in this book. Do not use while operating a motor vehicle or heavy equipment. Many suitcases look alike.

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Contents
*

Chapter I - The Dressmaker's Apprentice at Work
Chapter II - Ruth Goes to the Shire-Hall
Chapter III - Sunday at Mrs Mason's
Chapter IV - Treading in Perilous Places
Chapter V - In North Wales
Chapter VI - Troubles Gather About Ruth
Chapter VII - The Crisis—Watching and Waiting
Chapter VIII - Mrs Bellingham "Does the Thing Handsomely"
Chapter IX - The Storm-Spirit Subdued
Chapter X - A Note and the Answer
Chapter XI - Thurstan and Faith Benson
Chapter XII - Losing Sight of the Welsh Mountains
Chapter XIII - The Dissenting Minister's Household
Chapter XIV - Ruth's First Sunday at Eccleston
Chapter XV - Mother and Child
Chapter XVI - Sally Tells of Her Sweethearts, and Discourses on the Duties of Life
Chapter XVII - Leonard's Christening
Chapter XVIII - Ruth Becomes a Governess in Mr Bradshaw's Family
Chapter XIX - After Five Years
Chapter XX - Jemima Refuses to Be Managed
Chapter XXI - Mr Farquhar's Attentions Transferred
Chapter XXII - The Liberal Candidate and His Precursor
Chapter XXIII - Recognition
Chapter XXIV - The Meeting on the Sands
Chapter XXV - Jemima Makes a Discovery
Chapter XXVI - Mr Bradshaw's Virtuous Indignation
Chapter XXVII - Preparing to Stand on the Truth
Chapter XXVIII - An Understanding Between Lovers
Chapter XXIX - Sally Takes Her Money Out of the Bank
Chapter XXX - The Forged Deed
Chapter XXXI - An Accident to the Dover Coach
Chapter XXXII - The Bradshaw Pew Again Occupied
Chapter XXXIII - A Mother to Be Proud Of
Chapter XXXIV - "I Must Go and Nurse Mr Bellingham"
Chapter XXXV - Out of Darkness into Light
Chapter XXXVI - The End

Chapter I - The Dressmaker's Apprentice at Work
*

There is an assize-town in one of the eastern counties which was much
distinguished by the Tudor sovereigns, and, in consequence of their
favour and protection, attained a degree of importance that surprises
the modern traveller.

A hundred years ago its appearance was that of picturesque grandeur.
The old houses, which were the temporary residences of such of the
county-families as contented themselves with the gaieties of a
provincial town, crowded the streets and gave them the irregular but
noble appearance yet to be seen in the cities of Belgium. The sides
of the streets had a quaint richness, from the effect of the gables,
and the stacks of chimneys which cut against the blue sky above;
while, if the eye fell lower down, the attention was arrested by all
kinds of projections in the shape of balcony and oriel; and it was
amusing to see the infinite variety of windows that had been crammed
into the walls long before Mr Pitt's days of taxation. The streets
below suffered from all these projections and advanced stories above;
they were dark, and ill-paved with large, round, jolting pebbles, and
with no side-path protected by kerb-stones; there were no lamp-posts
for long winter nights; and no regard was paid to the wants of the
middle class, who neither drove about in coaches of their own, nor
were carried by their own men in their own sedans into the very
halls of their friends. The professional men and their wives, the
shopkeepers and their spouses, and all such people, walked about at
considerable peril both night and day. The broad unwieldy carriages
hemmed them up against the houses in the narrow streets. The
inhospitable houses projected their flights of steps almost into the
carriage-way, forcing pedestrians again into the danger they had
avoided for twenty or thirty paces. Then, at night, the only light
was derived from the glaring, flaring oil-lamps hung above the doors
of the more aristocratic mansions; just allowing space for the
passers-by to become visible, before they again disappeared into the
darkness, where it was no uncommon thing for robbers to be in waiting
for their prey.

The traditions of those bygone times, even to the smallest social
particular, enable one to understand more clearly the circumstances
which contributed to the formation of character. The daily life
into which people are born, and into which they are absorbed before
they are well aware, forms chains which only one in a hundred has
moral strength enough to despise, and to break when the right time
comes—when an inward necessity for independent individual action
arises, which is superior to all outward conventionalities. Therefore
it is well to know what were the chains of daily domestic habit which
were the natural leading-strings of our forefathers before they
learnt to go alone.

The picturesqueness of those ancient streets has departed now.
The Astleys, the Dunstans, the Waverhams—names of power in that
district—go up duly to London in the season, and have sold their
residences in the county-town fifty years ago, or more. And when the
county-town lost its attraction for the Astleys, the Dunstans, the
Waverhams, how could it be supposed that the Domvilles, the Bextons,
and the Wildes would continue to go and winter there in their
second-rate houses, and with their increased expenditure? So the
grand old houses stood empty awhile; and then speculators ventured
to purchase, and to turn the deserted mansions into many smaller
dwellings, fitted for professional men, or even (bend your ear lower,
lest the shade of Marmaduke, first Baron Waverham, hear) into shops!

Even that was not so very bad, compared with the next innovation on
the old glories. The shopkeepers found out that the once fashionable
street was dark, and that the dingy light did not show off their
goods to advantage; the surgeon could not see to draw his patient's
teeth; the lawyer had to ring for candles an hour earlier than he was
accustomed to do when living in a more plebeian street. In short, by
mutual consent, the whole front of one side of the street was pulled
down, and rebuilt in the flat, mean, unrelieved style of George the
Third. The body of the houses was too solidly grand to submit to
alteration; so people were occasionally surprised, after passing
through a commonplace-looking shop, to find themselves at the foot of
a grand carved oaken staircase, lighted by a window of stained glass,
storied all over with armorial bearings.

Up such a stair—past such a window (through which the moonlight fell
on her with a glory of many colours)—Ruth Hilton passed wearily one
January night, now many years ago. I call it night; but, strictly
speaking, it was morning. Two o'clock in the morning chimed forth
the old bells of St Saviour's. And yet more than a dozen girls still
sat in the room into which Ruth entered, stitching away as if for
very life, not daring to gape, or show any outward manifestation of
sleepiness. They only sighed a little when Ruth told Mrs Mason the
hour of the night, as the result of her errand; for they knew that,
stay up as late as they might, the work-hours of the next day must
begin at eight, and their young limbs were very weary.

Mrs Mason worked away as hard as any of them; but she was older and
tougher; and, besides, the gains were hers. But even she perceived
that some rest was needed. "Young ladies! there will be an interval
allowed of half an hour. Ring the bell, Miss Sutton. Martha shall
bring you up some bread and cheese and beer. You will be so good as
to eat it standing—away from the dresses—and to have your hands
washed ready for work when I return. In half an hour," said she once
more, very distinctly; and then she left the room.

It was curious to watch the young girls as they instantaneously
availed themselves of Mrs Mason's absence. One fat, particularly
heavy-looking damsel laid her head on her folded arms and was asleep
in a moment; refusing to be wakened for her share in the frugal
supper, but springing up with a frightened look at the sound of
Mrs Mason's returning footstep, even while it was still far off on
the echoing stairs. Two or three others huddled over the scanty
fireplace, which, with every possible economy of space, and no
attempt whatever at anything of grace or ornament, was inserted in
the slight, flat-looking wall, that had been run up by the present
owner of the property to portion off this division of the grand old
drawing-room of the mansion. Some employed the time in eating their
bread and cheese, with as measured and incessant a motion of the jaws
(and almost as stupidly placid an expression of countenance), as you
may see in cows ruminating in the first meadow you happen to pass.

Some held up admiringly the beautiful ball-dress in progress, while
others examined the effect, backing from the object to be criticised
in the true artistic manner. Others stretched themselves into all
sorts of postures to relieve the weary muscles; one or two gave vent
to all the yawns, coughs, and sneezes that had been pent up so long
in the presence of Mrs Mason. But Ruth Hilton sprang to the large old
window, and pressed against it as a bird presses against the bars of
its cage. She put back the blind, and gazed into the quiet moonlight
night. It was doubly light—almost as much so as day—for everything
was covered with the deep snow which had been falling silently ever
since the evening before. The window was in a square recess; the old
strange little panes of glass had been replaced by those which gave
more light. A little distance off, the feathery branches of a larch
waved softly to and fro in the scarcely perceptible night-breeze.
Poor old larch! the time had been when it had stood in a pleasant
lawn, with the tender grass creeping caressingly up to its very
trunk; but now the lawn was divided into yards and squalid
back premises, and the larch was pent up and girded about with
flag-stones. The snow lay thick on its boughs, and now and then fell
noiselessly down. The old stables had been added to, and altered into
a dismal street of mean-looking houses, back to back with the ancient
mansions. And over all these changes from grandeur to squalor, bent
down the purple heavens with their unchanging splendour!

Ruth pressed her hot forehead against the cold glass, and strained
her aching eyes in gazing out on the lovely sky of a winter's night.
The impulse was strong upon her to snatch up a shawl, and wrapping it
round her head, to sally forth and enjoy the glory; and time was when
that impulse would have been instantly followed; but now, Ruth's eyes
filled with tears, and she stood quite still, dreaming of the days
that were gone. Some one touched her shoulder while her thoughts were
far away, remembering past January nights, which had resembled this,
and were yet so different.

"Ruth, love," whispered a girl who had unwillingly distinguished
herself by a long hard fit of coughing, "come and have some supper.
You don't know yet how it helps one through the night."

"One run—one blow of the fresh air would do me more good," said
Ruth.

BOOK: Ruth
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