Live Stream: Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Reader's Head of Learning and Quality, Clare Ellis, reads an extract from Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell which can be found in Issue 21 of our Life Lines activity packs. Download Life Lines here.
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‘Mother and Child’ by Elizabeth Gaskell (Chapter 15, Ruth)
"Here is a parcel for you, Ruth!" said Miss Benson on the Tuesday morning.
"For me!" said Ruth, all sorts of rushing thoughts and hopes filling her mind, and turning her dizzy with expectation. If it had been from "him," the new-born resolutions would have had a hard struggle for existence.
"It is directed 'Mrs Denbigh,'" said Miss Benson, before giving it up. "It is in Mrs Bradshaw's handwriting;" and, far more curious than Ruth, she awaited the untying of the close-knotted string. When the paper was opened, it displayed a whole piece of delicate cambric-muslin; and there was a short note from Mrs Bradshaw to Ruth, saying her husband had wished her to send this muslin in aid of any preparations Mrs Denbigh might have to make. Ruth said nothing, but coloured up, and sat down again to her employment.
"Very fine muslin indeed," said Miss Benson, feeling it, and holding it up against the light, with the air of a connoisseur; yet all the time she was glancing at Ruth's grave face. The latter kept silence, and showed no wish to inspect her present further. At last she said, in a low voice,
"I suppose I may send it back again?"
"My dear child! send it back to Mr Bradshaw! You'd offend him for life. You may depend upon it, he means it as a mark of high favour!"
"What right had he to send it me?" asked Ruth, still in her quiet voice.
"What right? Mr Bradshaw thinks— I don't know exactly what you mean by 'right.'"
Ruth was silent for a moment, and then said:
"There are people to whom I love to feel that I owe gratitude—gratitude which I cannot express, and had better not talk about—but I cannot see why a person whom I do not know should lay me under an obligation. Oh! don't say I must take this muslin, please, Miss Benson!"
What Miss Benson might have said if her brother had not just then entered the room, neither he nor any other person could tell; but she felt his presence was most opportune, and called him in as umpire. He had come hastily, for he had much to do; but he no sooner heard the case than he sat down, and tried to draw some more explicit declaration of her feeling from Ruth, who had remained silent during Miss Benson's explanation.
"You would rather send this present back?" said he.
"Yes," she answered, softly. "Is it wrong?"
"Why do you want to return it?"
"Because I feel as if Mr Bradshaw had no right to offer it me."
Mr Benson was silent.
"It's beautifully fine," said Miss Benson, still examining the piece.
"You think that it is a right which must be earned?"
"Yes," said she, after a minute's pause. "Don't you?"
"I understand what you mean. It is a delight to have gifts made to you by those whom you esteem and love, because then such gifts are merely to be considered as fringes to the garment—as inconsiderable additions to the mighty treasure of their affection, adding a grace, but no additional value, to what before was precious, and proceeding as naturally out of that as leaves burgeon out upon the trees; but you feel it to be different when there is no regard for the giver to idealise the gift—when it simply takes its stand among your property as so much money's value. Is this it, Ruth?"
"I think it is. I never reasoned why I felt as I did; I only knew that Mr Bradshaw's giving me a present hurt me, instead of making me glad.’’
"Well, but there is another side of the case we have not looked at yet—we must think of that, too. You know who said, 'Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you'? Mr Bradshaw may not have had that in his mind when he desired his wife to send you this; he may have been self-seeking, and only anxious to gratify his love of patronising—that is the worst motive we can give him; and that would be no excuse for your thinking only of yourself, and returning his present."
"But you would not have me pretend to be obliged?" asked Ruth.
"No, I would not. I have often been similarly situated to you, Ruth; Mr Bradshaw has frequently opposed me on the points on which I feel the warmest—am the most earnestly convinced. He, no doubt, thinks me Quixotic, and often speaks of me, and to me, with great contempt when he is angry. I suppose he has a little fit of penitence afterwards, or perhaps he thinks he can pay for ungracious speeches by a present; so, formerly, he invariably sent me something after these occasions. It was a time, of all others, to feel as you are doing now; but I became convinced it would be right to accept them, giving only the very cool thanks which I felt. This omission of all show of much gratitude had the best effect—the presents have much diminished; but if the gifts have lessened, the unjustifiable speeches have decreased in still greater proportion, and I am sure we respect each other more. Take this muslin, Ruth, for the reason I named; and thank him as your feelings prompt you. Overstrained expressions of gratitude always seem like an endeavour to place the receiver of these expressions in the position of debtor for future favours. But you won't fall into this error."
Ruth listened to Mr Benson; but she had not yet fallen sufficiently into the tone of his mind to understand him fully. She only felt that he comprehended her better than Miss Benson, who once more tried to reconcile her to her present, by calling her attention to the length and breadth thereof.
"I will do what you wish me," she said, after a little pause of thoughtfulness. "May we talk of something else?"