Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

had sought the abode of poverty, too often associated with vice, fearlessly to rescue infancy from ignorance. She knew the intimate connection between ignorance and guilt; and the necessity which exists in society for strenuous exertions to make the poor see, that intemperance and improvidence are the causes of their sufferings. But now she hesitated. 66 Should she consult Henry? But the family are starving. There can be no danger in making such a visit by day-light.” She determined, that, immediately after dinner, it being a very fine, though cold day, she would walk to Mott-street.

Mr. Spiffard was at Albany. Emma told her cousin where she was going, and took the further precaution of leaving a written direction to the place, to be given to Henry Johnson in case he called before she returned. Thus prepared, and properly equipped for a walk, she proceeded through Chathamstreet, and up Mott-street, passing, on level ground, over the spot where Bunker-hill (a conical eminence which once overlooked the city and bay, so called after the 17th June, 1775), formerly reared its head; and at length she saw No. 356, marked upon the door of an isolated building, in figures of chalk. The house was of wood, and small ; such as of late have disappeared from even the extremities of the city. Nothing indicated the crowded dwelling of squalid misery that she had anticipated. On knocking at the door a female voice desired her to come in. Entering, she found herself in a bedchamber, into which the street-door immediately opened. A woman was seated on the bed. She did not rise. The room was imperfectly lighted by a window, looking toward the street, but partly closed ; and from a few chips blazing on the hearth, which was otherwise devoid of the means of comfort. A chair, a three-legged stool, and an empty cradle, constituted, with the bed, the visible furniture of the apartment. “ Bless ye, my

dear young lady, for your condesinshin to a poor body like me! but it's yourself that's always doing the kind act. Would

ye be plased to take a sate by the fire, for sure it's cold to day, it is.”

As she said this the woman arose with apparent difficulty, curtsied, and then sank again on the edge of the bed. Emma took a seat and listened to a detail of misfortunes, mingled with apologies, and what was meant as flattery, in the style of the above sample. She felt no sympathy with the speaker. Her features were coarse, her face bloated, the expression of her little white eyes sinister, and the tone of her whining voice disgusting.

" But where are your children ?”

• Sure I wouldn't have them here when you came, so I axt a neighbour of my own to kape them quiet up stairs for the time."

Emma had come to this place with a reluctance not usual with her when a deed of charity invited. She wished to shorten her visit, and asked such questions, rapidly, as-Why one of the children could not have carried a written application to the alderman of the ward ? If she had no friends or acquaintance who would make the application for her ? All her answers were evasive, mingled with whinings and tears, except that she said she had sent that day to the alderman.

Emma told her, that if she would give her ink and paper she would write down the name of the alderman, with a state of her case, which should be conveyed to him.

“Where are your materials for writing ?" " Sure, I have none in—" She hesitated, looked at the street door anxiously, and added,

“ None below stairs—and my lameness—"

The thought that she had been decoyed hither, and that the woman had been an instrument in the hands of the

person who had already evinced a daring pertinacity in his pursuit, struck her so forcibly, that she started from her seat, saying, “ Tell me where to apply in your behalf: give me the name of the alderman"

At this moment a tap was heard at the door. “ Come in."

A gentleman entered, who immediately saluted Mrs. Jenkins by name, telling her, that one of her neighbours had signified her suspicions that illness had prevented her from attending at his office for customary relief.”

He bowed to Emma, whose quick apprehension discerned the discrepancy existing between these words and the tale of Mrs. Jenkins. With many professions of thankfulness, that his honour should trouble himself to come to her, she said that

* jist then spaking of his horair to the dear young lady whose character for charity had made her bold enough to write to her, begging her assistance--and sure its a providince that your

honour's come, for she was jist saying she would apply to your honour in my behalf.”

The gentleman bowed again to Emma, and begged her to be seated. The light of the fire, now the strongest light in the room, flashed on his handsome face, as he courteously turned to

she was

[ocr errors]

her; and the voice, commanding stature, insinuating demeanour, and an indistinct recognition of the countenance, all confirmed her previous suspicion. She was strong and bold in innocence ; but previous circumstances caused alarm.

“ You are the alderman of the ward, as I understand, and as you now know how much this person wants assistance, I have no further business here."

As she spoke of the woman she looked for her; but in vain. Her lameness had not prevented her exodus, and that adroitly, that the quick eye of Emma had not observed it. She had passed through a back door ; but whether she had gone up stairs or out of the house could only be conjectured. Emma was alone with one she feared.

The stranger, with some degree of trepidation, said, “s pra y madam, be seated, Mrs. Jenkins has gone up stairs.” The voice was now more decidedly the same that she had twice before heard. As the voice was identified, the figure was fully recognised. For though, even at their last meeting, he was cloaked, and concealed by the darkness of Theatre-alley, there was an impression made that fully corresponded with the person now before her, who stood without the incumbrance or disguise of a wrapper, and rather ostentatiously displaying a fine and commanding form.

For a moment she trembled. She looked around her for the means of escape. She was convinced that she had been betrayed by the vile woman, and of course could expect no succour from

any one within the walls. He spoke again, and the sound of his voice recalled her courage, for it inspired indignation.

Indignant at the persevering persecution of this unprincipled wretch, (who evidently could not plead the mutiny of flaming youth” in his excuse,) her firmness returned. The courage which nature had given her, which education had confirmed, and conscious rectitude maintained, now supported her. She neither heard nor replied to his words, but addressed herself to depart. He, bowing, placed himself between her and the door. With a lofty step, and energetic motion of the hand, she put him aside and passed on.

The door was locked and the key removed. She afterwards recollected, that when she came to the house the key was on the outside of the door.

" I now see," she said, firmly, and looking proudly in the face of her persecutor, “ I see the whole of this vile plot, and know you, for the person who twice before has insulted me.

If I could suppose that any conduct of mine had encouraged you, it would be the most humiliating thought of my life. I am not intimidated by the success of your plan in bringing me hither, or by my apparently defenceless situation. I have too just a sense of my own powers, and of the protection my country affords me, to fear any violence from you or your vile

agent."

66 Violence! Who could think of offering violence to such beauty?-To such angelic loveliness? I have offers to make that you

must listen to. Let my love plead-2" 66 You mistake the person you address. Such language only adds to the contempt your actions have inspired. Order your agent to open the door before I alarm the neighbourhood and expose you to shame and punishment. “ First hear me.

I offer you “ I will not be insulted by any offers from one so des. picable as your conduct has proved you.”

“ Hear me, lovely girl! I have seen-I have followed—”

“ Hear me, sir! Your clandestine followings mark your own consciousness of base intentions. What have you seen in me that could induce you to persecute me with your

detestable doggings and followings ?"

Nothing could encourage me to hope that I might devote my life and fortune to your happiness--nothing certainly in your appearance or conduct-but-"

Speak on, sir.” “ Your visits to the private door of the theatre-your situation-" He hesitated.

“You inquired and heard that I was an orphan and poor!"

" I saw you with—and apparently dependent upon people whose profession-and as the world says-but I will not offend—come come ! lovely creature! this is all prudery. I can and will place you above dependence even upon my passion."

• You are probably a traveller, and forget that you are not in Paris. You have heard and known that some operadancers, and even others connected with the stage, have fallen from virtue; and therefore think all base. You forget the many that never entered a theatre, or only as auditors, who sink to the level of the most criminal: and you forget the many models of private worth who have ministered to public taste and instruction from the stage. Order the door to be opened, sir, or produce the key."

- Hear me-you mistake me-I am above the prejudices

[ocr errors]

N

which would censure that independence of conduct in a ladythat high-mindedness which throws off the fetters hypocrisy would place upon your sex. I am a man of the world; and we all know that those who break through a certain line of distinction, which public opinion has placed between those who expose their persons on the stage and bow their thanks for vulgar plaudits, and the more reserved portion of society, are above that false delicacy—

“ Wretched man !-But I am wrong to waste words with one to whom years have not brought wisdom. Open the door!”

“ Not until you have listened to my love."

This interchange of words had lasted so long, that, by degrees, Emma was convinced that she had seen this man under other circumstances than those I have witnessed. The imperfect recognition shocked her, but it added to the indignation she felt, a sensation approaching to horror. She interrupted him in a tone he little expected from one so young and delicate.

Despicable man! You saw me the companion of my natural guardians, the only relations providence has left me; but I now feel assured that you saw me elsewhere. I now recognise you.” - I never was in your company."

Yes—I fully recognise you, though your name and situation in life are unknown to me--and may remain so. You saw me, a servant in the temple of the most high God-a teacher of the poor and ignorant—a worshipper at that altar, where I must now conclude at

you

bowed in mockery, or as the agent of that power in whose service

you

would enlist me. I have heard and read of such base depravity, but you have, for the first time, presented to me the perfect image of the most loathsome profligacy covered by the mask of hypocrisy!''

• You have mistaken me for another."

6 No. I am certain : but I have no wish to expose you. Let me go—and when you can repent."

“ You must at least promise" “ I hear no more, sir !”

She sprung towards the window, which she had observed, on entering the house, to be near the unpaved street. He threw his arms around her and prevented her seizing the window-sash: at the same time he drew her from the place she had hoped to escape from, and placed himself next the street. He encircled her for a moment in his arms; but, with a force which youth and exercise had given, and with an effort which

« ZurückWeiter »