From the Sussex County Magazine 1931
By Maud Garrington
The afternoon sunlight was streaming into the little cottage room and across the bed on which old Martha Patten lay. She had been lying very still for some time, and I had been sitting quietly by her side, gazing, over the pots of geraniums and fuchsias which filled the window-sill, out into the flower-decked little garden beyond. I wondered if the stream of sunlight falling across the bed would disturb her, but I feared to move to draw the curtain across the lattice lest I should awake her from her doze.
Poor old Martha’s days were numbered, and I spent as much of my time as I could by her side. Presently she stirred and opened her eyes. A faint smile crossed her withered face.
"Ah!" she murmured, in her weak voice, "the sun’s shining on John’s weskit! It shows up the colours fine, don’t it?"
I smiled at her. The poor old woman, I thought, was beginning to ramble in her talk.
"Shall I draw the curtain?" I asked her. "The sun is so strong this afternoon."
"Nay, nay," she said, "I like to see it shining on the bits of John’s weskit."
She moved her hand weakly to and fro over the bright patchwork quilt which covered her bed.
"John’s weskit," she murmered again. "My John," she paused, then began slowly, "I’d like – "
"Yes," I said, "tell me what you would like. Is there anything I can get you?"
"I think I’d like," she repeated, "to tell you about my John."
"Tell me then, Martha," I said gently, "I would like to hear."
"Would you?" she asked, and a faint look of eagerness appeared in her eyes. "Well, you’ve been rare kind to me, and I’ve never told no one else, but when I’m gone I’d like you to have John’s weskit."
Poor old soul, she was certainly rambling. But she seemed to want to tell me something and the end was inevitable soon, so I thought it best to humour her. I gently smoothed the toil-worn hands that lay outside the quilt.
"It is very good of you, Martha," I said, "tell me all about it."
"Ah! My John," she murmured, "it must be nigh on sixty years ago, that he came acourting me. Sixty years," she repeated dreamily, "It’s a long while to have waited for anybody."
She was silent for a minute and a far-away look came into her eyes. "Aye," she continued, "I mind the day he first came to ask me if I’d walk out along with him. I was housemaid then up at the Hall, and I was that proud for there wasn’t one of the maids but what would have been rare set up to think he’d taken notice of them. He were a carpenter down at the shop along with his father and doing fine, and a good-looking young feller as you’d wish to see. And to think he chose me of all the young girls he might have had for the asking! Aye, but I’ve been faithful to him; aye, thank God, I’ve been faithful to my John these sixty years!"
She paused again and gave a weary little sigh.
"Well, the Lord saw fit to take him, and I wouldn’t have no other. So I’ve just waited patient to go to him, and all the time his weskit’s been amost the greatest comfort to me. It’s a fine pretty pattern, ain’t it?" she asked; "that’s it, that piece with the pink rosebuds on it," and she feebly indicated a piece of the patchwork quilt.
"It is indeed pretty," I said, "and you never married him?" I asked. "Poor Martha!"
"I was going to make his weskit for his wedding present, for John was fond of a bit of brightness in his dress. I mind one day we had been into the town together on my evening out, and we’d seen this self-same stuff in old Matthews’ window. "That’s a pretty thing, Matty," John says to me; I just said, "Yes, John," and then a sort of flash came across me to get a bit and make up into a weskit for him and keep it as a sort of surprise for him against the wedding day. So I says to him I must just go in and get a packet of needles, and he waited outside for me, and I asked old Matthews to put me aside a bit of the stuff with the pink rosebuds on it, against I could come in and fetch it. And John never knew I’d got it, and I was rare and pleased with my bit of a surprise for him."
A faint flush of excitement had risen to her thin cheeks.
"You must not tire yourself, Martha," I said, and I tried to persuade her to leave the rest of her story till another day. But it was no good. Her mind had gone back over the long sixty years of her waiting time and she lived once again the brief, happy days she had spent with her John.
"We had been asked in church for the first time, me and John, and I’d cut out all the weskit and got it tacked together, when the Lord saw fit to take him. It was rare and hard, but it says, He knows best, though it took a lot of looking at to see that it was best for John to be took. And he such a fine well set up young feller. Aye, it was hard, and to leave me for nigh on sixty years! But, please God, I’ll see him soon, for I’m tired of waiting."
Her voice died away in a sob, and two tears trickled slowly down her cheeks.
"And in them first days I was just about dazed with trouble. All my hope had gone. We had got our bits of things ready for our little home, and I had made my things and got Mrs.Higgins – the dressmaker in the village – to make my wedding dress and all. A pretty fawn merino it was, trimmed with pale blue bows; John had chosen it. I mind I said it ought to be white bows for a wedding, but he was fair set on blue, so I got them as pale as I could and was going to have a booky of white flowers to make up and a white bonnet with a blue bow. Aye, my dear, may the Lord never give you trouble like He gave me when He took my John.
My tears were falling fast and I could not speak.
"There, but you must not cry for me," she murmured. "I’m very near seeing him now, and I’m rare and thankful I’ve been faithful to him."
She closed her eyes wearily. Ah! What a love to shine steadfastly through sixty years of life!
After a while the weak voice once again broke the silence.
"It was nigh three years before I could look at the weskit again. But when I did, it seemed to comfort me somehow. It seemed as though I’d got a bit of something that really belonged to John. And then I felt as if I must always have it by me. But it weren’t for some time as I thought to make it up into a bit of patchwork that I could use constant. And then it came across me that I’d make a quilt, for I’d a rare lot of other bits of stuff by me. It took me a fair long while to make, but I done it at last, and ever since it’s been finished I’ve never for one night slept without John’s weskit acovering my bed. And when I’m gone I’d like you to have it, because you’ve been rare and kind to me, and I think, maybe, you’d set some store by it, seeing as you know its history.
Her hands strayed over the quilt until she found one of the pieces with pink rosebuds; she touched it caressingly, and then giving a tired sigh, she closed her eyes again.
"I think, maybe, I’ll go to sleep for a bit," she murmured.
With the first streaks of dawn Martha went to join her John.