My Washerwoman

Sponsor:

I would like to share a beautiful story I read this morning from the works of T.S. Arthur about some of the small things we neglect without full awareness of its effect upon our neighbors:

MY WASHERWOMAN.

SOME people have a singular reluctance to part with money. If waited
on for a bill, they say, almost involuntarily, “Call to-morrow,”
even though their pockets are far from being empty.

I once fell into this bad habit myself; but a little incident, which
I will relate, cured me. Not many years after I had attained my
majority, a poor widow, named Blake, did my washing and ironing. She
was the mother of two or three little children, whose sole
dependence for food and raiment was on the labour of her hands.

Punctually, every Thursday morning, Mrs. Blake appeared with my
clothes, “white as the driven snow;” but not always, as punctually,
did I pay the pittance she had earned by hard labour.

“Mrs. Blake is down stairs,” said a servant, tapping at my room-door
one morning, while I was in the act of dressing myself.

“Oh, very well,” I replied. “Tell her to leave my clothes. I will
get them when I come down.”

The thought of paying the seventy-five cents, her due, crossed my
mind. But I said to myself,–”It’s but a small matter, and will do
as well when she comes again.”

There was in this a certain reluctance to part with money. My funds
were low, and I might need what change I had during the day. And so
it proved. As I went to the office in which I was engaged, some
small article of ornament caught my eye in a shop window.

“Beautiful!” said I, as I stood looking at it. Admiration quickly
changed into the desire for possession; and so I stepped in to ask
the price. It was just two dollars.

“Cheap enough,” thought I. And this very cheapness was a further
temptation.

So I turned out the contents of my pockets, counted them over, and
found the amount to be two dollars and a quarter.

“I guess I’ll take it,” said I, laying the money on the shopkeeper’s
counter.

“I’d better have paid Mrs. Blake.” This thought crossed my mind, an
hour afterwards, by which time the little ornament had lost its
power of pleasing. “So much would at least have been saved.”

I was leaving the table, after tea, on the evening that followed,
when the waiter said to me,

“Mrs. Blake is at the door, and wishes to see you.”

I felt a little worried at hearing this; for I had no change in my
pockets, and the poor washerwoman had, of course, come for her
money.

“She’s in a great hurry,” I muttered to myself, as I descended to
the door.

“You’ll have to wait until you bring home my clothes next week, Mrs.
Blake. I haven’t any change, this evening.”

The expression of the poor woman’s face, as she turned slowly away,
without speaking, rather softened my feelings.

“I’m sorry,” said I, “but it can’t be helped now. I wish you had
said, this morning, that you wanted money. I could have paid you
then.”

She paused, and turned partly towards me, as I said this. Then she
moved off, with something so sad in her manner, that I was touched
sensibly.

“I ought to have paid her this morning, when I had the change about
me. And I wish I had done so. Why didn’t she ask for her money, if
she wanted it so badly?”

I felt, of course, rather ill at ease. A little while afterwards I
met the lady with whom I was boarding.

“Do you know anything about this Mrs. Blake, who washes for me?” I
inquired.

“Not much; except that she is very poor, and has three children to
feed and clothe. And what is worst of all, she is in bad health. I
think she told me, this morning, that one of her little ones was
very sick.”

I was smitten with a feeling of self-condemnation, and soon after
left the room. It was too late to remedy the evil, for I had only a
sixpence in my pocket; and, moreover, did not know where to find
Mrs. Blake.

Having purposed to make a call upon some young ladies that evening,
I now went up into my room to dress. Upon my bed lay the spotless
linen brought home by Mrs. Blake in the morning. The sight of it
rebuked me; and I had to conquer, with some force, an instinctive
reluctance, before I could compel myself to put on a clean shirt,
and snow-white vest, too recently from the hand of my unpaid
washerwoman.

One of the young ladies upon whom I called was more to me than a
mere pleasant acquaintance. My heart had, in fact, been warming
towards her for some time; and I was particularly anxious to find
favour in her eyes. On this evening she was lovelier and more
attractive than ever, and new bonds of affection entwined themselves
around my heart.

Judge, then, of the effect produced upon me by the entrance of her
mother–at the very moment when my heart was all a-glow with love,
who said, as she came in–

“Oh, dear! This is a strange world!”

“What new feature have you discovered now, mother?” asked one of her
daughters, smiling.

“No new one, child; but an old one that looks more repulsive than
ever,” was replied. “Poor Mrs. Blake came to see me just now, in
great trouble.”

“What about, mother?” All the young ladies at once manifested
unusual interest.

Tell-tale blushes came instantly to my countenance, upon which the
eyes of the mother turned themselves, as I felt, with a severe
scrutiny.

“The old story, in cases like hers,” was answered. “Can’t get her
money when earned, although for daily bread she is dependent on her
daily labour. With no food in the house, or money to buy medicine
for her sick child, she was compelled to seek me to-night, and to
humble her spirit, which is an independent one, so low as to ask
bread for her little ones, and the loan of a pittance with which to
get what the doctor has ordered her feeble sufferer at home.”

“Oh, what a shame!” fell from the lips of Ellen, the one in whom my
heart felt more than a passing interest; and she looked at me
earnestly as she spoke.

“She fully expected,” said the mother, “to get a trifle that was due
her from a young man who boards with Mrs. Corwin; and she went to
see him this evening. But he put her off with some excuse. How
strange that any one should be so thoughtless as to withhold from
the poor their hard-earned pittance! It is but a small sum at best,
that the toiling seamstress or washerwoman can gain by her wearying
labour. That, at least, should be promptly paid. To withhold it an
hour is to do, in many cases, a great wrong.”

For some minutes after this was said, there ensued a dead silence. I
felt that the thoughts of all were turned upon me as the one who had
withheld from poor Mrs. Blake the trifling sum due her for washing.
What my feelings were, it is impossible for me to describe; and
difficult for any one, never himself placed in so unpleasant a
position, to imagine.

My relief was great when the conversation flowed on again, and in
another channel; for I then perceived that suspicion did not rest
upon me. You may be sure that Mrs. Blake had her money before ten
o’clock on the next day, and that I never again fell into the error
of neglecting, for a single week, my poor washerwoman.

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