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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

She Was Good For Nothing

THE mayor stood at the open window. He looked smart, for
his shirt-frill, in which he had stuck a breast-pin, and his
ruffles, were very fine. He had shaved his chin uncommonly
smooth, although he had cut himself slightly, and had stuck a
piece of newspaper over the place. 'Hark 'ee, youngster!'
cried he.

The boy to whom he spoke was no other than the son of a
poor washer-woman, who was just going past the house. He
stopped, and respectfully took off his cap. The peak of this
cap was broken in the middle, so that he could easily roll it
up and put it in his pocket. He stood before the mayor in his
poor but clean and well-mended clothes, with heavy wooden
shoes on his feet, looking as humble as if it had been the
king himself.

'You are a good and civil boy,' said the mayor. 'I suppose
your mother is busy washing the clothes down by the river, and
you are going to carry that thing to her that you have in your
pocket. It is very bad for your mother. How much have you got
in it?'

'Only half a quartern,' stammered the boy in a frightened
voice.

'And she has had just as much this morning already?'

'No, it was yesterday,' replied the boy.

'Two halves make a whole,' said the mayor. 'She's good for
nothing. What a sad thing it is with these people. Tell your
mother she ought to be ashamed of herself. Don't you become a
drunkard, but I expect you will though. Poor child! there, go
now.'

The boy went on his way with his cap in his hand, while
the wind fluttered his golden hair till the locks stood up
straight. He turned round the corner of the street into the
little lane that led to the river, where his mother stood in
the water by her washing bench, beating the linen with a heavy
wooden bar. The floodgates at the mill had been drawn up, and
as the water rolled rapidly on, the sheets were dragged along
by the stream, and nearly overturned the bench, so that the
washer-woman was obliged to lean against it to keep it steady.
'I have been very nearly carried away,' she said; 'it is a
good thing that you are come, for I want something to
strengthen me. It is cold in the water, and I have stood here
six hours. Have you brought anything for me?'

The boy drew the bottle from his pocket, and the mother
put it to her lips, and drank a little.

'Ah, how much good that does, and how it warms me,' she
said; 'it is as good as a hot meal, and not so dear. Drink a
little, my boy; you look quite pale; you are shivering in your
thin clothes, and autumn has really come. Oh, how cold the
water is! I hope I shall not be ill. But no, I must not be
afraid of that. Give me a little more, and you may have a sip
too, but only a sip; you must not get used to it, my poor,
dear child.' She stepped up to the bridge on which the boy
stood as she spoke, and came on shore. The water dripped from
the straw mat which she had bound round her body, and from her
gown. 'I work hard and suffer pain with my poor hands,' said
she, 'but I do it willingly, that I may be able to bring you
up honestly and truthfully, my dear boy.'

At the same moment, a woman, rather older than herself,
came towards them. She was a miserable-looking object, lame of
one leg, and with a large false curl hanging down over one of
her eyes, which was blind. This curl was intended to conceal
the blind eye, but it made the defect only more visible. She
was a friend of the laundress, and was called, among the
neighbors, 'Lame Martha, with the curl.' 'Oh, you poor thing;
how you do work, standing there in the water!' she exclaimed.
'You really do need something to give you a little warmth, and
yet spiteful people cry out about the few drops you take.' And
then Martha repeated to the laundress, in a very few minutes,
all that the mayor had said to her boy, which she had
overheard; and she felt very angry that any man could speak,
as he had done, of a mother to her own child, about the few
drops she had taken; and she was still more angry because, on
that very day, the mayor was going to have a dinner-party, at
which there would be wine, strong, rich wine, drunk by the
bottle. 'Many will take more than they ought, but they don't
call that drinking! They are all right, you are good for
nothing indeed!' cried Martha indignantly.

'And so he spoke to you in that way, did he, my child?'
said the washer-woman, and her lips trembled as she spoke. 'He
says you have a mother who is good for nothing. Well, perhaps
he is right, but he should not have said it to my child. How
much has happened to me from that house!'

'Yes,' said Martha; 'I remember you were in service there,
and lived in the house when the mayor's parents were alive;
how many years ago that is. Bushels of salt have been eaten
since then, and people may well be thirsty,' and Martha
smiled. 'The mayor's great dinner-party to-day ought to have
been put off, but the news came too late. The footman told me
the dinner was already cooked, when a letter came to say that
the mayor's younger brother in Copenhagen is dead.'

'Dead!' cried the laundress, turning pale as death.

'Yes, certainly,' replied Martha; 'but why do you take it
so much to heart? I suppose you knew him years ago, when you
were in service there?'

'Is he dead?' she exclaimed. 'Oh, he was such a kind,
good-hearted man, there are not many like him,' and the tears
rolled down her cheeks as she spoke. Then she cried, 'Oh, dear
me; I feel quite ill: everything is going round me, I cannot
bear it. Is the bottle empty?' and she leaned against the
plank.

'Dear me, you are ill indeed,' said the other woman.
'Come, cheer up; perhaps it will pass off. No, indeed, I see
you are really ill; the best thing for me to do is to lead you
home.'

'But my washing yonder?'

'I will take care of that. Come, give me your arm. The boy
can stay here and take care of the linen, and I'll come back
and finish the washing; it is but a trifle.'

The limbs of the laundress shook under her, and she said,
'I have stood too long in the cold water, and I have had
nothing to eat the whole day since the morning. O kind Heaven,
help me to get home; I am in a burning fever. Oh, my poor
child,' and she burst into tears. And he, poor boy, wept also,
as he sat alone by the river, near to and watching the damp
linen.

The two women walked very slowly. The laundress slipped
and tottered through the lane, and round the corner, into the
street where the mayor lived; and just as she reached the
front of his house, she sank down upon the pavement. Many
persons came round her, and Lame Martha ran into the house for
help. The mayor and his guests came to the window.

'Oh, it is the laundress,' said he; 'she has had a little
drop too much. She is good for nothing. It is a sad thing for
her pretty little son. I like the boy very well; but the
mother is good for nothing.'

After a while the laundress recovered herself, and they
led her to her poor dwelling, and put her to bed. Kind Martha
warmed a mug of beer for her, with butter and sugar- she
considered this the best medicine- and then hastened to the
river, washed and rinsed, badly enough, to be sure, but she
did her best. Then she drew the linen ashore, wet as it was,
and laid it in a basket. Before evening, she was sitting in
the poor little room with the laundress. The mayor's cook had
given her some roasted potatoes and a beautiful piece of fat
for the sick woman. Martha and the boy enjoyed these good
things very much; but the sick woman could only say that the
smell was very nourishing, she thought. By-and-by the boy was
put to bed, in the same bed as the one in which his mother
lay; but he slept at her feet, covered with an old quilt made
of blue and white patchwork. The laundress felt a little
better by this time. The warm beer had strengthened her, and
the smell of the good food had been pleasant to her.

'Many thanks, you good soul,' she said to Martha. 'Now the
boy is asleep, I will tell you all. He is soon asleep. How
gentle and sweet he looks as he lies there with his eyes
closed! He does not know how his mother has suffered; and
Heaven grant he never may know it. I was in service at the
counsellor's, the father of the mayor, and it happened that
the youngest of his sons, the student, came home. I was a
young wild girl then, but honest; that I can declare in the
sight of Heaven. The student was merry and gay, brave and
affectionate; every drop of blood in him was good and
honorable; a better man never lived on earth. He was the son
of the house, and I was only a maid; but he loved me truly and
honorably, and he told his mother of it. She was to him as an
angel upon earth; she was so wise and loving. He went to
travel, and before he started he placed a gold ring on my
finger; and as soon as he was out of the house, my mistress
sent for me. Gently and earnestly she drew me to her, and
spake as if an angel were speaking. She showed me clearly, in
spirit and in truth, the difference there was between him and
me. 'He is pleased now,' she said, 'with your pretty face; but
good looks do not last long. You have not been educated like
he has. You are not equals in mind and rank, and therein lies
the misfortune. I esteem the poor,' she added. 'In the sight
of God, they may occupy a higher place than many of the rich;
but here upon earth we must beware of entering upon a false
track, lest we are overturned in our plans, like a carriage
that travels by a dangerous road. I know a worthy man, an
artisan, who wishes to marry you. I mean Eric, the glovemaker.
He is a widower, without children, and in a good position.
Will you think it over?' Every word she said pierced my heart
like a knife; but I knew she was right, and the thought
pressed heavily upon me. I kissed her hand, and wept bitter
tears, and I wept still more when I went to my room, and threw
myself on the bed. I passed through a dreadful night; God
knows what I suffered, and how I struggled. The following
Sunday I went to the house of God to pray for light to direct
my path. It seemed like a providence that as I stepped out of
church Eric came towards me; and then there remained not a
doubt in my mind. We were suited to each other in rank and
circumstances. He was, even then, a man of good means. I went
up to him, and took his hand, and said, 'Do you still feel the
same for me?' 'Yes; ever and always,' said he. 'Will you,
then, marry a maiden who honors and esteems you, although she
cannot offer you her love? but that may come.' 'Yes, it will
come,' said he; and we joined our hands together, and I went
home to my mistress. The gold ring which her son had given me
I wore next to my heart. I could not place it on my finger
during the daytime, but only in the evening, when I went to
bed. I kissed the ring till my lips almost bled, and then I
gave it to my mistress, and told her that the banns were to be
put up for me and the glovemaker the following week. Then my
mistress threw her arms round me, and kissed me. She did not
say that I was 'good for nothing;' very likely I was better
then than I am now; but the misfortunes of this world, were
unknown to me then. At Michaelmas we were married, and for the
first year everything went well with us. We had a journeyman
and an apprentice, and you were our servant, Martha.'

'Ah, yes, and you were a dear, good mistress,' said
Martha, 'I shall never forget how kind you and your husband
were to me.'

'Yes, those were happy years when you were with us,
although we had no children at first. The student I never met
again. Yet I saw him once, although he did not see me. He came
to his mother's funeral. I saw him, looking pale as death, and
deeply troubled, standing at her grave; for she was his
mother. Sometime after, when his father died, he was in
foreign lands, and did not come home. I know that he never
married, I believe he became a lawyer. He had forgotten me,
and even had we met he would not have known me, for I have
lost all my good looks, and perhaps that is all for the best.'
And then she spoke of the dark days of trial, when misfortune
had fallen upon them.

'We had five hundred dollars,' she said, 'and there was a
house in the street to be sold for two hundred, so we thought
it would be worth our while to pull it down and build a new
one in its place; so it was bought. The builder and carpenter
made an estimate that the new house would cost ten hundred and
twenty dollars to build. Eric had credit, so he borrowed the
money in the chief town. But the captain, who was bringing it
to him, was shipwrecked, and the money lost. Just about this
time, my dear sweet boy, who lies sleeping there, was born,
and my husband was attacked with a severe lingering illness.
For three quarters of a year I was obliged to dress and
undress him. We were backward in our payments, we borrowed
more money, and all that we had was lost and sold, and then my
husband died. Since then I have worked, toiled, and striven
for the sake of the child. I have scrubbed and washed both
coarse and fine linen, but I have not been able to make myself
better off; and it was God's will. In His own time He will
take me to Himself, but I know He will never forsake my boy.'
Then she fell asleep. In the morning she felt much refreshed,
and strong enough, as she thought, to go on with her work. But
as soon as she stepped into the cold water, a sudden faintness
seized her; she clutched at the air convulsively with her
hand, took one step forward, and fell. Her head rested on dry
land, but her feet were in the water; her wooden shoes, which
were only tied on by a wisp of straw, were carried away by the
stream, and thus she was found by Martha when she came to
bring her some coffee.

In the meantime a messenger had been sent to her house by
the mayor, to say that she must come to him immediately, as he
had something to tell her. It was too late; a surgeon had been
sent for to open a vein in her arm, but the poor woman was
dead.

'She has drunk herself to death,' said the cruel mayor. In
the letter, containing the news of his brother's death, it was
stated that he had left in his will a legacy of six hundred
dollars to the glovemaker's widow, who had been his mother's
maid, to be paid with discretion, in large or small sums to
the widow or her child.

'There was something between my brother and her, I
remember,' said the mayor; 'it is a good thing that she is out
of the way, for now the boy will have the whole. I will place
him with honest people to bring him up, that he may become a
respectable working man.' And the blessing of God rested upon
these words. The mayor sent for the boy to come to him, and
promised to take care of him, but most cruelly added that it
was a good thing that his mother was dead, for 'she was good
for nothing.' They carried her to the churchyard, the
churchyard in which the poor were buried. Martha strewed sand
on the grave and planted a rose-tree upon it, and the boy
stood by her side.

'Oh, my poor mother!' he cried, while the tears rolled
down his cheeks. 'Is it true what they say, that she was good
for nothing?'

'No, indeed, it is not true,' replied the old servant,
raising her eyes to heaven; 'she was worth a great deal; I
knew it years ago, and since the last night of her life I am
more certain of it than ever. I say she was a good and worthy
woman, and God, who is in heaven, knows I am speaking the
truth, though the world may say, even now she was good for
nothing.'




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