MARIAN AT THE SEMPSTRESS HOUSE

seamstress

EX17124 The Song of the Shirt; by Holl, Frank (1845-88); Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, Devon, UK; English, out of copyright

…. through the days and through the nights
She sewed and sewed and sewed. She dropped sometimes,
And wondered, while along the tawny light
She struck the new thread into her needle’s eye,
How people without mothers on the hills
Could choose the town to live in! […]

…      ‘Twas a year from thence
That Lucy Gresham, the sick sempstress girl,
Who sewed by Marian’s chair so still and quick
And leant her head upon its back to cough
More freely, when, the mistress turning round,
The others took occasion to laugh out,
Gave up at last. Among the workers, spoke
A bold girl with black eyebrows and red lips;
‘You know the news? Who’s dying, do you think?
Our Lucy Gresham. I expected it
As little as Nell Hart’s wedding. Blush not, Nell,
Thy curls be red enough without thy cheeks,
And, some day, there’ll be found a man to dote
On red curls. – Lucy Gresham swooned last night,
Dropped sudden in the street while going home;
And now the baker says, who took her up
And laid her by her grandmother in bed,
He’ll give her a week to die in. Pass the silk.
Let’s hope he gave her a loaf too, within reach,
For otherwise they’ll starve before they die,
That funny pair of bedfellows! Miss Bell,
I’ll thank you for the scissors. The old crone
Is paralytic – that’s the reason why
Our Lucy’s thread went faster than her breath,
Which went too quick, we all know. Marian Erle!
Why, Marian Erle, you’re not the fool to cry?
Your tears spoil Lady Waldemar’s new dress,
You piece of pity!’

…    Marian rose up straight,
And, breaking through the talk and through the work,
Went outward, in the face of their surprise,
To Lucy’s home, to nurse her back to life
Or down to death.

(Aurora Leigh, Book Three, ll.1235-1243; Book Four, ll.1-32)

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