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THE

CHRISTIAN LADY'S MAGAZINE.

DECEMBER, 1839.

HELEN FLEETWOOD.

IV.

LET no one suppose we are going to write fiction, or to conjure up phantoms of a heated imagination, to aid the cause which we avowedly embrace. Names may be altered, characters may be grouped, with some latitude of license; but not an incident shall be coined to serve the purpose, however good, so far as relates to the main subject—that is, to the factories of this our free and happy England. Vivid indeed, and fertile in devices must the fancy be that could invent a horror beyond the bare, every-day reality of the thing! Nay, we will set forth nothing but what bas been stated on oath, corroborated on oath, and on oath confirmed beyond the possibility of an evasive question. Neither will we lift the veil that piety and modesty would draw over the hidden atrocities

DECEMBER, 1839.

2

of this diabolical child-market. Blasphemy and indecency may, they do abound, turning every mill into a pandemonium; but it is not needful to sully our pages with either. We will exhibit the tree, we will analyze the soil where it grows, the elements that nourish, the hands that culture it, and the fruit which it ultimately produces; but the secret circulation of its poisonous sap we will not so bare as to contaminate the mind of a youthful reader, or to harrow up the soul of any one. Let the pestilence preserve the cloud of darkness in wbich it walks ; we only desire to shew the withered remains of its poor blighted victims.

The groupe that entered Mrs. Wright's dwelling, and whom their mother's instinctive movement had partially screened from view while she uttered her deprecating remark, quickly drew round the table, and commenced an eager attack on the provisions before them. It consisted of three children, a girl and two boys, at whose ages it was impossible to guess with any hope of accuracy. Little difference appeared in their height as they sat, the tallest not exceeding that of Mary Green; but the stoop of his projecting head, the retiring curve of his chest, and the disproportionate length of his arms, betrayed a deficiency or a perversion of natural growth, which was farther confirmed by the very settled expression of a countenance by no means prepossessing. Next to him, in stature and in place, sat a comparatively stout and straight little fellow, but with an aspect so vacant, so stupified, that he seemed to be under the influence of a powerful narcotic. The third was the spectre of a very pretty girl, whose naked arms resembled ivory wands rather than limbs of natural

flesh and blood, while her hair, black as the raven's wing, thin as the gossamer thread, thrown back from her temples, and falling, or rather floating down to her very narrow shoulders, set off the deadly white of her complexion with such effect that she seemed like one in whose veins the current of life had already ceased to circulate. The eyes, genera downcast, were shaded by deep, silken lashes; but when raised, the broad, unflinching stare of the girl was oppressive. Helen, who, sitting opposite, had fixed a look of interest on her, encountered one of these sudden gazes, and shrank before it, with an undefined sensation of alarm.

Meanwhile Mrs. Wright sustained a voluble part, plying her mother with questions, and interrupting her answers with much irrelevant matter. At length the old lady seized an interval to ask, “Where is Phoebe, your eldest?'

There,' replied her daughter, pointing to the darkbaired girl, that's Phoebe.'

‘I-, I believe I have made a mistake; it was Sarah I meant to inquire for.'

• She is not at home, just now,' said Mrs. Wright, colouring a little, you will see ber by and by ;' then added, “this is Charles, and the little one is John.'

And the other three?' Mrs. Wright shook her head, and lifted the corner of her apron to her eyes ; while Charles, with a shrug, said abruptly, • All gone, grandmother; dead, all five of them; and a happy deliverance it was.'

Heaven is better than earth,' ejaculated the mother, raising her eyes.

A glance that passed between Charles and Phoebe at these words, a suppressed grin on the face of the

former, and a sidelong look of scorn from bis sister, excited the astonishment of their cousins, and increased Helen's uneasiness. The widow did not perceive it: she was painfully recalling some statements in her daughter's letters, now clearly shewn to have been wilfully false. Wright's entrance proved a seasonable interruption, and his cordial greeting a contrast to the heartless scene.

“My good mother,' he said, affectionately saluting her, 'it is many a long year since we met, and bravely you seem to have weathered it. Young people, you are kindly welcome all. Why, so many rosy cheeks are like a flower show in the town of M.' He passed his eye from them to his own children, and compressing his lips, as if to stifle a sigh, sat down.

By this time, Johnny's evident drowsiness had so increased, that his head fell upon his brother's shoulder, who, with a rough push, sent it back against Phoebe: her shrill scolding exclamation half waked the poor boy, and with an uvintelligible mutter he rose to stagger towards a press bed, turned up against the wall. His mother loudly called on him to return; but the father, saying, 'Poor fellow, let him rest awhile,' rose and let down the untidy couch, on which he instantly flung himself.

Is he ill?' asked James, in a half whisper.

Not he,' replied Charles; ''tis seldom he keeps awake so long.' He rose as he spoke, or rather stood; for no perceptible difference was made in his height by the change of position, owing to the curvature of his legs. The deformity was striking, and the irregular shuffle with which he crossed the room painful to witness. The widow averted her eyes, and hastily inquired of Wright whether he knew the cotton mill of the Messrs. Z- “Of course I do, for my children work there, but —

“Never mind his buts, mother,’interrupted the wife, "he is famous for them.'

* I have a letter of recommendation to that firm,'. resumed Mrs. Green; and to-morrow I wished to deliver it, as Mr. Stratton charged me to avoid delay; yet I should like to make a few inquiries beforehand. In fact, the discovery of her other grandchildren being employed in it was the reverse of an inducement to place their cousins there.

* Take my advice,' said Wright, if you have a good word spoken for you to any mill-owner, act upon it. You'll soon learn the value of a friend at the head.'

The widow could not but acquiesce in this; and when the family party broke up, with a prayerless, cold good night, she in their own apartment commended her little flock to the covenanted mercies of God in Christ Jesus, and soon saw the three younger ones in a sound sleep. Helen, however, had never felt more wakeful; anxious thoughts were crowding on her mind. When all was hushed save the brawling voices and rattling wheels that seemed interminably to distract the streets, she gave utterance to her feelings.

“Granny, this place is very different from the quiet home we have left; and the people we saw on our way are very different, too, from our old neighbours. What a comfort it is to know that the best friend of all is with us here as much as in our own home, though we cannot see Him!!

• A comfort indeed, dear child : and we shall need it more and more to uphold us now. I fear we bave' a thorny path before us ?'

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