Guess Who It Is!
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1852
"It will be great deal better for us, Lizzy. America is a country where all things are in full and plenty; but here we are ground down to the earth and half-starved by the rich and great, in order that they may become richer and greater. Isn't it so there, Lizzy. Don't you remember what John McClure wrote home, six months after he crossed the ocean?"
"Yes, I remember all that, Thomas; but John McClure was never a very truthful person at home, and I've always thought that if we knew everything, we would find that he wrote with his magnifying glasses on. John, you know, was very apt to see things through magnifying glasses."
"But the testimony doesn't come alone from John. We hear it every day and from every quarter, that America is a perfect paradise for the poor, compared to England."
"I don't know how that can be, Thomas. They say that it is full of wild beast, poisonous serpents, and savage Indians, and that the people are in constant fear of their lives. I'm sure England is a better place than that, even if we do have to work hard and get but little for it."
"All that used to be, Lizzy," replied Thomas. "But they've killed the wild beasts and serpents, and tamed the savage Indians. And there are great cities there, the same as in England."
But Lizzy could not be convinced. From her earliest childhood, she had never had but one idea of America, and that was as a great wilderness filled with Indians and wild beasts. Of the former, she had heard tales that made her blood curdle in her veins. It was in vain, therefore, for Thomas Ward to argue with his wife about going to America. She was not to be convinced that a waste howling wilderness, was at all comparable with happy old England, even if the poor were "ground down."
As a dozen previous discussions on the subject had ended, so ended this. Thomas was of the same mind as before — and so was his wife. The one wished to go — and the other to stay.
Thomas had only been married a short time, but the period, short as it was, proved long enough to bring a sad disappointment of his worldly hopes. He had been employed as a gentleman's gardener for many years, and had been able, by strict economy, to lay up a little money. But soon after his marriage, through some slight misunderstanding, he lost his place, and had not since been able to obtain anything more than transient employment, the return from which had, so far, proved inadequate to the maintenance of himself and wife, requiring him to draw steadily upon the not very large fund that was deposited in the Savings Bank.
About once every couple of weeks, Thomas would become completely discouraged, and then he invariably introduced his favorite project of going to America; but Lizzy always met him when in this mood, with a decided negative, as far as she was concerned and sometimes went so far as to say, when he grew rather warm on the subject — "It's no use to talk about it, Thomas; I shall never go to America, that's decided!"
This, instead of being a settler, as Lizzy supposed it would be, only proved a silencer. Thomas would instantly waive all present reference to the subject. But the less he talked — the more he thought about the land of plenty beyond the ocean; and the oftener Lizzy said she would never go to America — the more earnest became his desire to go, and the more fully formed his resolution to emigrate while possessed the ability to do so. He did not like Lizzy's mode of silencing him when he talked about his favorite theme. He had certain primitive notions about a wife's submission of herself to her husband, and it not only fretted him, but made him a little resolute on the subject of going to America, when Lizzy declared herself determined not to go.
One day Thomas came home with brows knit more closely than usual, and a firmer and more decided expression upon his tightly-closed lips.
"What's the matter now, Thomas?" asked his wife.
The "now" indicated that Thomas had something to trouble him, more or less, nearly all the time.
"The matter is, that I'm going to America!" returned Thomas, in an angry tone of voice. "If you won't wish to go, you will only have to stay where you are. But I've made up my mind to sail in the next ship."
Thomas had never spoken to his young wife in such harsh, angry, rebuking tone of voice since they were married. But the import of what he said, was worse than his manner of saying it. Going to America — and going whether she chose to go with him or remain behind! What was this less than desertion? But Lizzy had pride and firmness, as well as acute sensibilities. The latter she controlled by means of the former, and, with unexpected coolness, replied — "Well, Thomas, if you wish to leave me, I have nothing to say. As to that savage country, I say now only what I have said before — I cannot go!"
"Very well; I am not going to stay here and starve."
"We haven't starved yet, Thomas," spoke up Lizzy.
"No, thanks to my prudence in saving every dollar I could spare while a bachelor! But we're in a fair way for poverty now. Every week we are going behindhand, and if we stay here much longer — we shall neither have the means of living nor getting away. I've finished my job, and cannot get anything else to do."
"Something will turn up, Thomas; don't be impatient."
"Impatient!" ejaculated Thomas.
"Yes, impatient, Thomas," coolly said his wife. "You are in a very strange way. Only wait a little while, and all will come right."
"Lizzy," said Thomas, suddenly growing calm, and speaking slowly and with marked emphasis — "I've decided upon going to America! If you will go with me, as a loving and obedient wife should, I shall be glad of your company; but if you prefer to remain here, I shall lay no commands upon you. Will you or will you not go? What do you say?"
Lizzy had a spice of independence about her, as well as a good share of pride. The word "obedience," as applied to a wife, had never accorded much with her taste, and the use of it made on the present occasion by her husband was particularly offensive to her. So she replied, without pausing to reflect — "I have already told you that I am not going to America!"
"Very well, Lizzy," replied Thomas, in a voice that was considerably softened, "I leave you to your own choice, notwithstanding the vow you made on that happy morning. My promise was to love you and to provide for you in sickness and in health, but though I may love you as well in old England as in a far-off country, I cannot perform that other promise so well. So I must leave you with my heart's best blessing, and a pledge that you shall lack for no earthly comfort while I have a hand to work."
And saying this, Thomas left the presence of his wife, and started forth to walk and to think. On his return, he found Lizzy sitting by the window with her hands covering her face, and the tears making their way through her fingers. He said nothing, but he had a hope that she would change her mind and go with him when the time came. In a little while Lizzy was able to control herself, and move silently about her domestic duties; but her husband looked into her face for some sign of a relenting purpose, and looked in vain.
On the next day, Thomas said to his wife — "I've engaged my passage in the Shamrock — that sails from Liverpool for New York in a week."
Lizzy startled, and a slight shiver ran through her body; but a cold "Very well" was the only reply she made.
"I will leave twenty pounds in the Savings Bank for you to draw out as you need. Before that is gone, I hope to be able to send you more money."
Lizzy made no answer to this, nor did she display any feeling, although, as she afterwards owned, she felt as if she would have sunk through the floor, and sorely repented having said that she would not go with her husband to America.
The week that intervened between that time and the sailing of the Shamrock passed swiftly away. Lizzy wished a hundred times that her husband would refer to his intended voyage across the sea, and ask her again if she would not go with him. But Thomas had no more to say upon the subject. At least three times, had his wife refused to accompany him to a land where there was plenty of work and good wages, and he was firm in his resolution not to ask her again.
As the time approached nearer and nearer, Lizzy's heart sank lower and lower; still she cherished all possible justifying reasons for her conduct, and sometimes had bitter thoughts against her husband. She called him, in her mind, arbitrary and tyrannical, and charged him with wishing to make her the mere slave of his will. As for Thomas, he also indulged in mental recriminations, and tried his best to believe that Lizzy had no true affection for him, that she was selfish, self-willed, and he knew not what.
Thus stood affairs when the day came upon which the Shamrock was to sail, and Thomas must leave in the early train of cars for Liverpool, to be on board at the hour of starting. Lizzy had done little but cry all night, and Thomas had lain awake thinking of the unnatural separation, and listening to his wife's but half-stifled sobs that ever and anon broke the deep silence of their chamber. At last daylight came, and Thomas left his sleepless pillow to make hurried preparations for his departure. His wife arose also, and got ready his breakfast. The hour of separation at length came.
"Lizzy," said the unhappy but firm-hearted man, "we must now part. Whether we shall ever meet again, Heaven only knows. I do not wish to blame you in this trying moment, in this hour of grief to both, but I must say that . . . No, no!" suddenly checking himself, "I will say nothing that may seem unkind. Farewell! If ever your love for your husband should become strong enough to make you willing to share his lot in a far-off and stranger land, his arms and heart will be open to receive you."
Thomas was holding the hand of his wife and looking into her face, over which tears, in spite of all her efforts to control herself, were falling. The impulse in Lizzy's heart was to throw herself into her husband's arms; but, as that would have been equivalent to giving up, and saying, "I must go with you — go where you will," she braved it out up to the last moment, and stood the final separation without trusting her voice in the utterance of a single word.
"God bless you, Lizzy!" were the parting words of the unhappy emigrant, as he wrung the passive hand of his wife, and then forced himself away.
The voyage to New York was performed in five weeks. On his arrival in that city, Thomas sought among his countrymen for such information as would be useful to him in obtaining employment. By some of these, the propriety of advertising was suggested. Thomas followed the suggestion, and by so doing happily obtained, within a week after his arrival, the offer of a good situation as overseer and gardener upon a large farm fifty miles from the city. The wages were far better than any he had received in England.
"Are you a single man?" asked the sturdy old farmer, after Thomas had been a day or two at his new home.
"No, sir; I have a wife in the old country," he replied, with a slight appearance of confusion.
"Have you? Well, Thomas, why didn't you bring her along?"
"She was not willing to come to this country," returned Thomas.
"Then why did you come?"
"Because it was better to do so, than to starve where I was."
"It doesn't matter about your wife, I suppose?"
"Why not?" Thomas spoke quickly, and knit his brows.
"If you couldn't live in England, what is your wife to do?"
"I shall send her half of my wages."
"Ah, that's the calculation, is it? But it seems to me that it would have been a saving in money as well as comfort, if she had come with you. Does she know anything about dairy work?"
"Yes, sir; she was raised on a dairy farm."
"Then she's a regular-bred English dairy maid?"
"She is, and none better in the world."
"Just the person I want. You must write home for her, Thomas, and tell her she must come over immediately."
But Thomas shook his head.
"Won't she come?"
"I cannot tell. But she refused to come with me, although I repeatedly urged her. She must now take her own course. I felt, it to be my duty to her as well as to myself, to leave England for a better land; and if she thinks it her duty to stay behind, I must bear the separation the best way I can."
"I hope you had no quarrel, Thomas?" said the farmer, in his blunt way.
"No, sir," said Thomas, a little indignantly. "We never had the slightest difference, except in this matter."
"Then write home by the next steamer, and ask her to join you, and she will be here by the earliest boat, and glad to come."
But Thomas shook his head — for he had his share of stubborn pride.
"As you will," said the farmer. "But I can tell you what, if she'd been my wife, I'd have taken her under my arm and brought her along in spite of all objections. It's too silly, this giving up to and being fretted about a woman's whims and prejudices. I'll be bound, if you'd told her she must come, and packed her trunk for her to show that you were in earnest, she'd never have dreamed of staying behind."
That evening Thomas wrote home to his wife all about the excellent place he had obtained, and was particular to say that he had agreed to remain for a year, and would send her half of his wages every month. Not one word, however, did he mention of the conversation that had passed between him and the farmer; nor did he hint, even remotely, to her joining him in the United States.
All the next day Thomas thought about what the farmer had said, and thought how happy both he and Lizzy might be, if she would only come over and take charge of the dairy. The longer this idea remained present in his mind, the more deeply did it fix itself there. On the second night he dreamed that Lizzy was with him, that she had come over in the very next boat, and that they were as happy as they could be. He felt very bad when he awoke and found that it was only a dream.
At last, after a week had passed, Thomas fully forgave his wife everything, and sat himself down to write her a long letter, filled with all kinds of arguments, reasons, and entreaties favorable to a voyage across the Atlantic. Thus he wrote, in part —
......."As to wild Indians, Lizzy, of which you have such fear, there are none within a thousand miles, and they are tame enough. The fierce animals are all killed, and I have not seen a single serpent, except a garter snake, that is as harmless as a butterfly. Come then, Lizzy, come! I have not known a happy moment since I left you, and I am sure you cannot be happy. This is a land of peace and plenty — a land where . . ."
Thomas did not know that a stranger had entered the room, and was now looking over his shoulder, and reading what he had written. Just as his pen was on the sentence left unfinished above, a pair of soft hands were suddenly drawn across his eyes, and a strangely familiar voice said, tremblingly, "Guess who it is!"
Before he had time to think or to guess, the hands passed from his eyes to his neck, and a warm wet cheek was laid tightly against his own. He could not see the face that lay so close to his, but he knew that Lizzy's arms were around him, that her tears were upon his face, and that her heart was beating against him.
"Bless you!" ejaculated the old farmer, who had followed after the young woman who had asked at the door with such an eager interest for Thomas.
By this time, Thomas had gained a full view of his wife's tearful but happy face. Then he hugged her to his bosom over and over again, much to the surprise and delight of the farmer's little urchins, who happened to be in the room.
"Here she is, sir; here she is!" he cried to the farmer, as soon as he could see anything else but Lizzy's face — and when first became aware of the old gentleman's presence; "here is your English dairy maid!"
"Then it's your wife, Thomas, sure enough."
"Oh, yes, sir; I thought she would be along after a while, but didn't expect this happiness so soon."
"How is this, my young lady?" asked the farmer, good-humouredly — "how is this? I thought you weren't going to come to this country. But I suppose the very next boat after your husband left, saw you on board. All I blame him for, is not taking you under his arm, as I would have done, and bringing you along as so much baggage. But no doubt you found it much pleasanter coming over alone, than it would have been in company with your husband — no doubt at all of it."
The kind-hearted farmer then took his children out of the room, and, closing the door, left the reunited husband and wife alone. Lizzy was too happy to say anything about how wrong she had been in not consenting to go with her husband; but she owned that he had not been gone five minutes, before she would have given the world, if she had possessed it, to have been with him. Ten days afterwards, another boat sailed for the United States, and she had taken passage in it. On arriving in New York, she was fortunate enough to fall in with a passenger who had come over in the Shamrock, and from him learned where she could find her husband, who acknowledged that she had given him the most agreeable surprise he had ever known in his life.
Lizzy has never yet had cause to repent of her voyage to America. The money she received for managing the dairy of the old farmer, added to what her husband could save from his salary, after accumulating for some years — was at length applied to the purchase of a farm, the produce of which, sold yearly in New York, leaves them a handsome annual surplus over and above their expenses. Thomas is in a fair way of becoming a substantial and wealthy farmer.