The Half-Brothers by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Half-Brothers, by Elizabeth Gaskell

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: The Half-Brothers

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Release Date: May 18, 2005 [eBook #2532]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1896 Smith, Elder and Co. "Lizzie Leigh and Other
Tales" edition by David Price, email Proofed by
Jennifer Lee, Alev Akman and Andy Wallace.

by Elizabeth Gaskell

My mother was twice married. She never spoke of her first husband, and
it is only from other people that I have learnt what little I know about
him. I believe she was scarcely seventeen when she was married to him:
and he was barely one-and-twenty. He rented a small farm up in
Cumberland, somewhere towards the sea-coast; but he was perhaps too young
and inexperienced to have the charge of land and cattle: anyhow, his
affairs did not prosper, and he fell into ill health, and died of
consumption before they had been three years man and wife, leaving my
mother a young widow of twenty, with a little child only just able to
walk, and the farm on her hands for four years more by the lease, with
half the stock on it dead, or sold off one by one to pay the more
pressing debts, and with no money to purchase more, or even to buy the
provisions needed for the small consumption of every day. There was
another child coming, too; and sad and sorry, I believe, she was to think
of it. A dreary winter she must have had in her lonesome dwelling, with
never another near it for miles around; her sister came to bear her
company, and they two planned and plotted how to make every penny they
could raise go as far as possible. I can't tell you how it happened that
my little sister, whom I never saw, came to sicken and die; but, as if my
poor mother's cup was not full enough, only a fortnight before Gregory
was born the little girl took ill of scarlet fever, and in a week she lay
dead. My mother was, I believe, just stunned with this last blow. My
aunt has told me that she did not cry; aunt Fanny would have been
thankful if she had; but she sat holding the poor wee lassie's hand and
looking in her pretty, pale, dead face, without so much as shedding a
tear. And it was all the same, when they had to take her away to be
buried. She just kissed the child, and sat her down in the window-seat
to watch the little black train of people (neighbours--my aunt, and one
far-off cousin, who were all the friends they could muster) go winding
away amongst the snow, which had fallen thinly over the country the night
before. When my aunt came back from the funeral, she found my mother in
the same place, and as dry-eyed as ever. So she continued until after
Gregory was born; and, somehow, his coming seemed to loosen the tears,
and she cried day and night, till my aunt and the other watcher looked at
each other in dismay, and would fain have stopped her if they had but
known how. But she bade them let her alone, and not be over-anxious, for
every drop she shed eased her brain, which had been in a terrible state
before for want of the power to cry. She seemed after that to think of
nothing but her new little baby; she had hardly appeared to remember
either her husband or her little daughter that lay dead in Brigham
churchyard--at least so aunt Fanny said, but she was a great talker, and
my mother was very silent by nature, and I think aunt Fanny may have been
mistaken in believing that my mother never thought of her husband and
child just because she never spoke about them. Aunt Fanny was older than
my mother, and had a way of treating her like a child; but, for all that,
she was a kind, warm-hearted creature, who thought more of her sister's
welfare than she did of her own and it was on her bit of money that they
principally lived, and on what the two could earn by working for the
great Glasgow sewing-merchants. But by-and-by my mother's eye-sight
began to fail. It was not that she was exactly blind, for she could see
well enough to guide herself about the house, and to do a good deal of
domestic work; but she could no longer do fine sewing and earn money. It
must have been with the heavy crying she had had in her day, for she was
but a young creature at this time, and as pretty a young woman, I have
heard people say, as any on the country side. She took it sadly to heart
that she could no longer gain anything towards the keep of herself and
her child. My aunt Fanny would fain have persuaded her that she had
enough to do in managing their cottage and minding Gregory; but my mother
knew that they were pinched, and that aunt Fanny herself had not as much
to eat, even of the commonest kind of food, as she could have done with;
and as for Gregory, he was not a strong lad, and needed, not more
food--for he always had enough, whoever went short--but better
nourishment, and more flesh-meat. One day--it was aunt Fanny who told me
all this about my poor mother, long after her death--as the sisters were
sitting together, aunt Fanny working, and my mother hushing Gregory to
sleep, William Preston, who was afterwards my father, came in. He was
reckoned an old bachelor; I suppose he was long past forty, and he was
one of the wealthiest farmers thereabouts, and had known my grandfather
well, and my mother and my aunt in their more prosperous days. He sat
down, and began to twirl his hat by way of being agreeable; my aunt Fanny
talked, and he listened and looked at my mother. But he said very
little, either on that visit, or on many another that he paid before he
spoke out what had been the real purpose of his calling so often all
along, and from the very first time he came to their house. One Sunday,
however, my aunt Fanny stayed away from church, and took care of the
child, and my mother went alone. When she came back, she ran straight
upstairs, without going into the kitchen to look at Gregory or speak any
word to her sister, and aunt Fanny heard her cry as if her heart was
breaking; so she went up and scolded her right well through the bolted
door, till at last she got her to open it. And then she threw herself on
my aunt's neck, and told her that William Preston had asked her to marry
him, and had promised to take good charge of her boy, and to let him want
for nothing, neither in the way of keep nor of education, and that she
had consented. Aunt Fanny was a good deal shocked at this; for, as I
have said, she had often thought that my mother had forgotten her first
husband very quickly, and now here was proof positive of it, if she could
so soon think of marrying again. Besides as aunt Fanny used to say, she
herself would have been a far more suitable match for a man of William
Preston's age than Helen, who, though she was a widow, had not seen her
four-and-twentieth summer. However, as aunt Fanny said, they had not
asked her advice; and there was much to be said on the other side of the
question. Helen's eyesight would never be good for much again, and as
William Preston's wife she would never need to do anything, if she chose
to sit with her hands before her; and a boy was a great charge to a
widowed mother; and now there would be a decent steady man to see after
him. So, by-and-by, aunt Fanny seemed to take a brighter view of the
marriage than did my mother herself, who hardly ever looked up, and never
smiled after the day when she promised William Preston to be his wife.
But much as she had loved Gregory before, she seemed to love him more
now. She was continually talking to him when they were alone, though he
was far too young to understand her moaning words, or give her any
comfort, except by his caresses.

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