"Then said she, "I am very dreary,
He will not come," she said.
She wept.—"I am aweary, aweary,
Oh God, that I were dead!"
INVENTION need not be taxed for incidents fitted to touch the heart, nor need they be heightened with the dyes of romance. The daily life of our own cities abounds in events over which, if there be tears in heaven, surely the angels weep. It is not to draw tears, which flow too easily from susceptible young readers, that the following circumstances are related, but to set forth dangers to which many are exposed, and vices which steep the life God has given as a blessing, in dishonour, misery, and remorse.
A few years since, there lived on the east side of our city, where cheap and wretched residences abound, one Sara Hyat. Sara was a widow, not young, nor pretty, nor delicate, with none of the elements of romantic interest; but old, tall, angular, and coarse, with a face roughened by hardship, sharpened by time, and channeled by sorrow. Her voice was harsh, and her manner ungracious. There was one, and but one sign, and that a faint one, that she might once have partaken the weaknesses of her sex. She wore that hideous supplement to the hair which women call "a foretop," and not being very exact in the adjustment of her cap, the juxtaposition of the foxy auburn exotic and the indigenous silver hairs set off this little lingering of vanity rather strikingly.
But as all is not gold that glitters, and beauty is but skin deep, and under a rough shell is often found excellent meat; so under Mrs. Hyat's rough exterior, there were strong common sense, a spirit of rectitude, a good conscience, and affections that the rough usage of the world had not abated. These had attached her with devotion and self-sacrifice to one object after another, as the relations of life had changed, first binding her in loving duty to her parents and sisters, then to her husband and children, and finally, when, one after another, they had dropped into the grave, settling on the only one in whose veins a drop of her blood ran, a little orphan grandniece.
"A sweeter thing they could not light upon." Go with us up a crazy staircase, at the extremity of Houston Street. If you chance to look in at the door of the rooms you pass, you will see,—it being Sunday,—an entire Irish family, father, mother, half-a-dozen children, more or less, with a due allowance of cousins, all plump, rosy, and thriving (in the teeth of the physical laws) on plenty of heterogeneous food, and superfluity of dirt. On entering Mrs. Hyat's rooms, you are in another country; the tenants are obviously Americans: it is so orderly, quiet, and cleanly, and rather anti-social. There are only an old woman and a little girl; the bud of springtime, and the seared leaf of autumn. The only dirt in the room (you almost wonder the old woman tolerates it there) is in two flower-pots in the window, whence a white jessamine, and a tea-rose diffuse their sweet odours.
A table is decently spread for the mongrel meal that our people call supper, which blends the substantial food of dinner, with the aromatic tea, and its sweet accompaniments of pastry, cake, or preserves. The tea-kettle is hissing on the stove, and a pie is warming there. The old woman sits in her rocking-chair, weaving backwards and forwards, reading a time-discoloured letter, while a little girl (the only thing in harmony with the rose and jessamine in the window), laying aside a tract she is reading, says, "Aunt Sara, don't you know every word in that letter by heart? I do."
"Why, do you Fanny? Say it then."
"MY DEAR AUNT,
"I am clean discouraged. It seems as if Providence crowded on me. There is black disappointment, turn which way I will. I have had an offer to go to Orleans, and part pay beforehand, which same I send you herewith.
"Selina's time draws near, and it is the only way I have to provide; so dear Aunt Sara, I think it my duty to go. I can't summon courage to bid you good-bye. I can't speak a word to her. I should not be a man again in a month if I tried. You have been a mother to me, Aunt Sara, and if God spares my life, I'll be a dutiful son to you in the place of them that's gone. If any thing happens to my poor wife, you will see to my child, I know,
"Your dutiful nephew, "JAMES McDERMOT. "New-York, 25 September, 1827."
"I declare Fanny, you have said it right, date and all, and what a date it was to me, that 25th of September:—that day your father sailed—that very day you were born—and that very day, when the tide went out, your mother died;—life coming—life going—and the dear life of my last boy launched on the wide sea. My boy I always called your father; he was like my own sons to me. He lived just one week after he got to Orleans, and the news came Evacuation Day. We have always been, that is, the Rankin side, a dreadful family for dying young—all but me. I've lived to follow all my folks to the grave. My three boys I have seen laid in the ground; full grown, six feet men, and here I am, my strength failing, my eyes dim, working, shivering, trembling on."
Poor little Fanny shivered too, and putting some more wood into the stove, she asked her aunt if it were not time for supper; but Mrs. Hyat, without hearing her, went on, rather talking to herself, than the child. "There has always been something notable about times and seasons, with our folks. I was born the day the revolutionary war was declared—my oldest was born the day Washington died; my youngest sister, your grandmother, Fanny, died the day of the Total Eclipse; my husband died the day that last pesky little war was declared; your father saw your mother the first time 'lumination night, and as I said, it was Evacuation Day, we got the news of his death; poor Jemmy! what a dutiful boy he was to me! half my life went with his! How that letter is printed on your memory, Fanny! But you have better learning than ever I had, and that makes the difference! Learning is not all though, Fanny; you must have prudence. Did I not hear you talking on the stairs yesterday with some of them Irish cattle?"
"Yes, aunt, I was thanking Mrs. O'Roorke for bringing up my pail of water for me."
"That was not it, 'twas a racket with the children I heard." Fanny made no reply. "I won't have it, Fanny; you're no company for Irish, and never shall be; the Lord made 'em to be sure, that is all you can say for 'em—you can scarce call them human creturs."
"They are very kind, Aunt Sara."
"So are dogs kind, Fanny. I have moved, and moved, and moved to get into a house free of them, but they are varmint, and there is no getting away from them. It's the Lord's will that they should overrun us like frogs and locusts, and must be; but I'll have no right-hand of fellowship with them. There I have set down my foot. Now, child, tell me what was all that hurry skurry about."
Mrs. Hyat gave Fanny small encouragement to communicate a scene in which the banned Irish were the principal actors. But after a little struggle, her sense of justice to them overcame her dread of the old woman's prejudices, and she told the true story.
"The overseer at the new buildings gave me leave to bring my basket again for kindlings. Pat and Ellen O'Roorke were there before me, and they picked out all the best bits and put them into my basket, and it was pretty heavy, and Pat would bring it home for me; he was so kind, how could I huff him, Aunt Sara? but I was afraid you would see him, that was the truth, and I wanted to take the basket before we got to the house; so I ran across the street after him, and there was a young gentleman driving a beautiful carriage, with a servant beside him, and another behind, and one of the horses just brushed against me and knocked me over. Pat and Ellen were frightened, and mad too, and Pat swore, and Ellen screamed, and the gentleman stopped, and the man behind jumped off and came to us, and Pat kicked him, and he struck Pat, and the gentleman got out and stopped the fight, and said he was very sorry, and offered Pat money, and Pat would not touch it. The Irish have some high feelings, aunt, for all; and I am sure they are kind as kind can be."
"Well, well, go on; did the gentleman say any thing to you?"
"Yes, aunt; he saw there was a little blood on my cheek, and he took off my bonnet and turned off my hair; it was but a little bruised—and—and—"
" And, and, and what, child?"
"Nothing, aunt, only he wiped off the place with his pocket handkerchief, and—kissed it."
"It's the last time you shall stir outside the door, Fanny, without me."
"Aunt Sara! I am sure he meant no harm, he was a beautiful gentleman."
"Beautiful, indeed! Did he say any thing more to you?"
"He said something about my hair being—looking—pretty, and he cut off a lock with my scissors that you hung at my side yesterday, and he—he put it in his bosom." As Fanny finished, there was a tap at the door, and on opening it, she recognized the liveried footman of her admirer. In one hand he held a highly ornamented bird-cage containing a canary, and in the other a paper parcel.
"The gentleman as had the misfortune to knock you down yesterday, sends you these," he said, smiling at Fanny; and setting them down on the table, he withdrew.
Fanny was enchanted. "The very thing I always wanted," she exclaimed. The little singing bird began at once to cheer her solitude, to break with its sweet notes the heavy monotony of her day, to chime in harmony with the happy voice of her childhood. While Fanny, forgetting her supper and the paper parcel, was trying to quiet the frightened fluttering of the timid little stranger, Mrs. Hyat, lost in a reverie of perplexity and anxiety, was revolving Fanny's adventure and its consequences; a world of dangers that must beset the poor girl, when, as in the course of nature it soon must be, her protection was withdrawn, were all at once revealed to her.
Fanny was just thirteen, and the extreme beauty that had marked her childhood, instead of passing away with it, was every day developing and ripening. Her features were symmetrical, and of that order which is called aristocratic, and so they were, of nature's aristocracy; if that be so which is reserved for her rarest productions. Her completion was fair and soft as the rose-leaf, and the colour, ever varying on her cheek, ever mounting and subsiding, with the flow and ebb of feeling; her hair was singularly beautiful, rich and curling, and though quite dark, reflecting, when the light fell on it, a ruddy glow.
"If she looked like other children," thought Sara Hyat, as her eye rested on Fanny, "she might have been thrown down and had both her legs broken, and that young spark would never have troubled himself about her. If it had but pleased God to give her her grandfather's bottled nose, or her father's little gray twinkling eyes; or if she had favoured any of the Floods, or looked like any of the Rankins—except her poor mother. But what a picture of a face to throw a poor girl with, alone, among the wolves and foxes of this wicked city. Oh, that men were men, and not beasts of prey!
"Fanny—Fanny—child"—the old woman's voice trembled, but there was an earnestness in it that impressed each word as she uttered it, "mark my words, and one of these days, when I am dead, and gone, you will remember them; God gives beauty, Fanny, for a trial to some, and a temptation to others. That's all the use I could ever see in it; to be sure, its a pretty thing to look upon, but its just like a rose; by the time it is blowed out it begins to fade. Now do leave that bird-cage one minute and listen to me. This is what I want you to remember," proceeded the old woman, with more earnestness and stronger emphasis, "when men follow you, and flatter you, turn a deaf ear, Fanny; pay no kind of attention to them, and if they persevere, fly away from them as you would from rats."
"Aunt Sara! I don't know what you mean?"
"The time will come when I can make my meaning plainer; for the present it is enough for you to know, that you must not listen to fine dressde [dressed] men; that you must not take presents from them; that you must go straight to school and come straight home from it, and say nothing to nobody. If ever I get the money that good-for-nothing Martin owes me for work done four years ago, I'll buy you a bird, Fanny; but if you can get a chance, you must send this back where it came from."
"Oh, Aunt Sara! must I?"
"Yes. What is in that paper? Untie it."
Fanny untied it. It enveloped a quantity of bird seed, and a dainty basket filled with French bonbons. Fanny involuntarily smiled, and then looked towards her aunt, as if to ask her if she might smile. The cloud on the old lady's brow lowered more and more heavily, and Fanny said timidly—
"Must I send these back too, aunt, or may I give them to Pat and Ellen? I won't eat any myself."
"You are a good child, Fanny, and docile. Yes, you may go down and hand them in, and don't stay talking with them; and mind again, if ever an opportunity comes, the bird goes back."
Fanny could not, for her life, see the harm of keeping the bird; it seemed to her that the gentleman was very kind, but the possibility of disobedience to her aunt, or of contending with her, did not occur to her. She knew, and that was enough to know, that her aunt indulged her whenever she thought indulgence right, and that she strained every nerve for her. Her wishes were not as easily subdued as her will, and each day as she grew more in love with her canary, they became stronger and stronger, that the opportunity might never come to send them away.
But come it did. The following Thursday was Christmas day, a holiday of course to Fanny, but none to Mrs. Hyat, who, having been strictly bred a Presbyterian, held in sectarian disdain even this dearest and most legitimate of holidays.
She was doing the daily task by which she earned her bread, making coarse garments for a neighbouring slop-shop. Fanny had done up the house-work, and put the room into that holiday order which is to the poor what fine furniture and fancy decorations are to the rich. She had fed her canary bird, and talked to it, and read through the last tract left at the door, and she was sitting gazing out of the window, thinking how happy the people must be who rode by in their carriages, and wondering, as she saw dolls, baby-houses and hobby-horses, carried by, where all the children could live who got these fine presents. "There is nobody to send me one," she thought. As if in answer to her thought, there was a tap at the door, and the well-known liveried footman appeared with a huge paper parcel.
Fanny's rose-coloured cheek deepened to crimson. Mrs. Hyat surveyed the lad from head to foot, and nodding to Fanny, asked, "Is it he?"
"It's something for you, miss," said the footman, advancing, and about to deposit a parcel on the table before Mrs. Hyat; "it's Christmas day, old lady," he added pertly; "a nice day for young people as has red cheeks and bright eyes."
"Hum! you need not take the trouble to set that thing down here."
"We'll ma'am, here will do just as well," he said, placing it on the bureau.
"Nor there, either, young man;" but he, without heeding her, had already untied the parcel, and displayed to Fanny's enraptured eyes a rosewood work-box, with brilliant lining of crimson velvet, and fittings of steel and silver utensils. It was but a single glance that Fanny gave them, for she remembered the goods were contraband, and she averted her eyes and cast them down.
"Tie the thing up, and take it where it came from," said Mrs. Hyat. "What is your master's name?"
"The gentleman as employs me is Mr. Nugent Stafford, Esquire."
"Where does he live?"
"At the Astor House."
"Give him the bird, Fanny."
Poor little Fanny obeyed, but with a trembling hand and tearful eye. The little bird had been a bright spirit in her dead daily life. "Take them all back," continued Mrs. Hyat, "and tell Mr. What's-his-name? that such fine things are for fine people: that we are poor and honest, and plain-spoken, and if he is a real friend to us, he'll leave us to eat the bread of our own earning, without disturbing our minds with things that's no way suited to us."
The footman and Fanny stood a little behind Mrs. Hyat, and he taking advantage of her deafness, shrugged his shoulders, saying, "Crusty, crusty"—and adding, with a diabolical prescience fitting the school in which his master bred him, "if ever you hear a whistle under your window, three times repeated, come down."
"What are you waiting for? you've got your message, man."
"I was waiting for your second thoughts, old lady."
"I've given you my first thoughts, and I'm not one that thinks my thoughts twice over, so you may go to Mr. What-do-you-call-him? as quick as you please." The man departed, bowing and kissing his hand to Fanny, as he shut the door. "What said the fellow to you?" asked her aunt, who had heard, as deaf people generally hear, what is meant not to reach their ears.
"Oh, aunt," replied Fanny, "he said something about your being crusty."
Most unfortunately, and for the first time in her life, she dealt unfairly by her aunt. Sincerity is the compass of life; there is no safe sailing without it. The poor child was perplexed. Stafford's gifts had charmed her. She did not see clearly why they were rejected. She was already filled with vain longings for some variation of her dull existence; and she was but thirteen years old! Seldom have thirteen years of human life passed with a more stainless record. To do her duty, to be quiet, industrious, and true, from being Fanny's instinct, had become her habit. The fountain of her affections had never yet been unsealed. Was that well-spring of everlasting life to be poisoned? She had committed her first deceit, poor child!
We have gone too much into detail, we must limit ourselves to the most striking particulars of our story.
A year passed. Christmas came again, and the day wore drearily away. "Mr. Stafford has forgotten me," sighed Fanny in her inmost heart, as she remembered her last Christmas gift.
"That flushy fellow, with his yellow cape and cuffs, won't trouble us again, I'm thinking," said Mrs. Hyat. The day deepened into twilight;—Fanny heard a whistle—she started—it was repeated, and again repeated. She drew near to her aunt as if for defence, and sat down by her, her heart throbbing. After a few minutes, there were again three whistles, still she sat resolutely still.
Mrs. Hyat laid down her slop-sewing, wiped her spectacles, and heaving a deep sigh, said, "I grow blinder and blinder, but I won't murmur as long as it pleases God that I may earn honest bread for you and me, Fanny." Fanny looked up, and her aunt saw there were tears in her eyes. "Poor child," she continued, "it is not a merry Christmas you are having." The whistle was again repeated. "Go to the baker's, Fanny, and buy us a mince-pie—it won't break us; I can pay for it, if I work till twelve to-night, and it will seem more like Christmas to you."
Again Fanny heard the whistle; the opportunity was too tempting to be resisted, and Fanny threw a shawl over her head and ran down stairs. A man wrapped in a cloak had just passed the door; he turned back at the sound of her footsteps, threw his arms around her, and kissed her cheek. She sprung up the door-step, but he gently detained her, and she, looking up in his face, saw that it was Stafford himself, and not, as she supposed, his servant.
"Why do you run away from me?" he said, in a low, sweet voice; "how have I frightened you? Am I not your friend? None can feel a greater interest in you. I will prove it in any way that I can."
Fanny's instincts directed her aright, and fixing her beautiful eyes on him, she said, "Come up, then, and say to my aunt what you say to me."
She did not understand the smile that lurked on Stafford's lips as he replied, "No, your aunt, for some reason, I am sure I cannot tell what, has taken a dislike to me; you know she has, for she will not permit you to receive the slightest gift from me. Come, you were going out, walk along, and let me walk by you." He slid his arm around her waist; she shrunk from him, and he withdrew it. "How old are you, Fanny McDermot? You perceive I know your name; and I know much more concerning you, that you would not suspect."
"Oh! Mr. Stafford, how should you know about me? I am fourteen, and a little more."
"Only fourteen? Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen will soon come, and each year, each month, you are growing more and more beautiful. Fanny, I dream of you every night of my life; and when I wake, my first thought of you is, 'I cannot see her—I cannot speak to her.'"
"It is true, Fanny, true as that the beautiful moon is shining on us. Why should it not be true? It is unnecessary, it is cruel, that you should be shut up in that forlorn old house with that old house with that old woman,"—the 'old woman' grated on Fanny's ear, but she did not interrupt Stafford, and he continued, "Do you like riding, or sailing?"
"I never rode but once, and that was to Uncle Ben's funeral, and I was never in a boat in my life."
"Come then on Monday, Fanny, at twelve o'clock, to the corner of Grand and Essex streets. I will be there, in a hackney coach, and I will take you a ride just as long, or as short as you please; and when spring comes, you shall go out with me in my boat by moonlight. I often pass an evening in rowing about the harbor, and I should take such pleasure in pleasing you."
"But, Mr. Stafford, Aunt Sara would never give me leave—never in the world."
"Do not ask her: how is she to know?"
"Why, I must tell her. I tell her every thing, and I never leave her but to go to school."
"And how is she to know that you are not at school?"
"Mr. Stafford, do you think I would deceive my Aunt Sara? No, never,—never."
They had arrived at the baker's shop. Fanny turned to enter it, and faltered out a "good night, sir."
"Stop and listen to me one moment," he said, detaining her. That one moment he prolonged till he had repeated, again and again, his professions of admiration and interest, and his entreaties that she would meet him. She remained true to herself, and to her aunt. She offered to tell her aunt of his kindness, and to ask her leave to take the ride. This he declined, saying "it would be useless," and finally, he was obliged to leave her, with only a promise from her, that she would not always disregard the whistle.
He kissed her hand, and thrust into it a purse. She would have followed him, and returned it, but at that moment two persons crossed the street, and interposed themselves between her and Stafford; and fearing observation, she reluctantly retained it. On examination, she found in it several gold pieces, and a small locket, with a very beautiful miniature of Stafford on one side, and a lock of his hair on the other. She had the resolution, after examining the features again and again, to 'tie it up with the purse of untouched money; certainly not without many a pang, as she slowly and hesitatingly did it, and directing the parcel to "Nugent Stafford, Esquire," she secretly gave it to her devoted thrall, Pat O'Roorke, a clever and honest boy, to convey it to that gentleman, at the Astor House.—Pat returned with the information, that there was no such gentleman there, and Fanny, without having any suspicion of foul play, concluded he was out of town. She hid the parcel from her aunt's eye, thinking it would uselessly disturb her, and still resolving to return it at the first opportunity.
She had thus far obeyed her conscience, and it "sat lightly on its throne."
Two years glided away. Fanny's beauty, instead of passing with her childhood, had become so brilliant that it could not be unobserved. She shunned the street, where the vultures, that are abroad for prey, seeing she was young, and ascertaining that she was unprotected, had more than once beset her. A mine had long been working under her feet. The dreary companionship of the petulant old woman became every day more wearisome to her; still, she was gentle and patient, and for many a heavy month, endured resolutely a life that grew sadder and sadder, as she contrasted it with the world of beauty, indulgence and love, that had been painted to her excited imagination. For the last six months, her aunt had been paralytic, moving from her bed to the chair with difficulty, supported by Fanny, whose slight figure tottered under the superincumbent weight of the massive old woman. Her faculties had decayed one after another; still the paramount affection of her being remained; the last lingering of daylight on the darkening night. She fancied herself still capable of earning their daily sustenance, and hour after hour, she would move the only arm she could move, as if she were sewing, and at evening take the same garment, on which she had thus cheated herself for months, to Fanny, and falter out, "take it to Ray's, dear, and bring the pay." Fanny favoured the illusion, took the garment, and always brought the pay.
The O'Roorke's were still tenants of a room below, and since the old woman's illness, Fanny had often accepted the kind offers of their services. Ellen went on her errands, and Pat brought up her wood and water; and whenever she had occasion to go out (and such occasions recently came often, and lasted long), Mrs. O'Roorke would bring her baby, to tend in the "ould lady's room." Though Fanny, without any visible means of subsistence, was supplied with every comfort she could desire for her aunt or herself, Mrs. O'Roorke, from stupidity or humanity, or a marvellous want of curiosity, asked no questions.
On some points, she certainly was not blind. One day, Mrs. Hyat, after an ill turn, had fallen asleep, Mrs. O'Roorke was sitting by her, and Fanny appeared deeply engaged in reading. Ellen O'Roorke looked at the volume, and exclaimed, "Why, your book, Fanny, is bottom side up." Fanny burst into tears, and flung it from her.
"God help the child!" said Mrs. O'Roorke; "take the baby down stairs," she added to Ellen, "and stay by it till I come. Now Fanny, darlint, spake out—what frets you. The mother that bore you, is not more tinder to you than Biddy O'Roorke; and have I not seen your eyes this three months always unquiet-like, and red too, and your cheek getting paler and paler?" Fanny buried her face in the bed-clothes. "Ah, honey dear, don't fret so; it's not to vex you, I'm speaking; the words have been burning on my tongue this six weeks gone, but the old lady jealoused us; and though I am old enough to be your mother, or grandmother for that, you looked so sweet and innocent-like I was afeard to spake my thought."
"I have no word to speak," said Fanny, in a changed and faltering voice, and the bed trembled with the ague that shook her.
At this moment Mrs. Hyat threw her arm out of bed, opened her eyes, and for the first time in many days, looked about her intelligently, and spoke distinctly, "Fanny."
Fanny sprang to her side, and Mrs. O'Roorke instinctively moved round to the head of the bed, where she could not be seen.
"Fanny," continued the old woman, slowly, but with perfect distinctness, "I am going—you will follow soon—you will, dear. Be patient, be good." The blood coloured again her faded and withered cheek as she spoke, and mounting to her brain, gave her a momentary vigour. "Trust in God, Fanny, trust in God, and not in man. I go—but I do not leave you alone, Fanny,—not alone,—no—no—not alone." The utterance grew fainter and fainter, a slight convulsion passed over her whole frame, and her features were still and rigid. Fanny gazed in silent fear and horror. Her eye turned from her aunt to Mrs. O'Roorke, with that question she could not utter. The kind woman said nothing, but gently closed the staring, vacant eyes.
"Oh! she is dead!" cried Fanny, throwing herself on the bed in a paroxysm of grief. "My last friend; oh! I am alone—alone. God has left me—I have left him. I deceived her. Oh dear—oh dear!"
In vain Mrs. O'Roorke tried to calm and comfort her, she wept till she fell asleep from utter exhaustion. Nature did the kind work it does so well to elastic youth, and she awoke in the morning calm, strengthened, and refreshed. She seemed, as Mrs. O'Roorke said, changed from a helpless girl to a woman. She sent for her aunt's clergyman, and by his intervention, and the aid of an undertaker, she made provision for burying her beside her husband and children; and attended by the clergyman, she followed her last and faithful old relative to the grave; and returned to her desolate apartment, a dreary world behind her, and fearful clouds hovering around her horizon—poor young creature!
She paid the charges of the funeral; those charges that always come, a sordid and vexing element, with the bereavements of the poor; and late the following evening, Mrs. O'Roorke, hearing, as she fancied, a footstep descending the stair, and soon after a carriage rolling away, mounted to verify or dismiss her suspicions. There was no answer to her knock; the door was not locked, she opened it; a lamp was burning on the table, and a letter, the wafer yet wet, lying by it.
"Ellen," she called. Ellen came. "Who is this letter for, Ellen?"
"Why! for you, mother, and Fanny's writing!"
"Read it, Ellen; she knows I cannot read, and if there's e'er a secret in it, keep it as if it were your own."
Ellen read—"Mrs. O'Roorke,—You have been a kind friend to me, and I thank you; and give you, in token of my gratitude, all that I have in this room. My clothes please give to Ellen, and the purse with the two dollars, in the corner of the drawer, to Pat. With many thanks from me,
"Ever your grateful friend, "FANNY MCDERMOT."
"The dear darlint; but faith, Ellen, that's not the whole of it; see if there's never a little something of a sacret shoved in betwixt the other words?"
"Ne'er a syllable, mother."
"Ne'er a what, child? t'was a sacret I asked for."
"You've got the whole, mother, every word."
"Sure it's not of myself I'm thinking; but the time may come, when she'll wish for as rough a friend as I am. God help her and guide her, poor child! in this rough, stony world—darlint child!"
It was some time before Ellen clearly comprehended that Fanny was gone from them, probably for ever; and it was some time longer, before these generous creatures could bear to consider themselves in any way gainers by her departure. They turned the key of Fanny's door, and went to their own room—Ellen to brood over what seemed to her an insolvable mystery, and her mother to 'guess and fear.'
Fifteen months had now passed away since Fanny had looked out from her joyless home in Houston street, to an existence bright with promised love and pleasure. She had seen
"The distant gates of Eden gleam,
And did not dream, it was a dream."
Our readers must now follow her to an isolated house in the upper part of the city. There she had two apartments, furnished with more finery than elegance, or even neatness. The rose-coloured curtains were faded, the gilded furniture tarnished, and from the vases of faded artificial flowers Fanny's sickening thoughts now often turned to the white jessamine and rose, types of her lost purity, that blossomed in her Aunt Sara's window.
Fanny was not the first tenant of these apartments, which, with others in the same house, were kept, furnished and supplied, by a certain Mrs. Tilden, who herself occupied the basement rooms. Fanny, now by courtesy called Mrs. Stafford, was but little more than seventeen, just on the threshold of life! That fountain of love which has power to make the wilderness blossom, to fill the desert places of life with flowers and fruits, had been poisoned, and there was no more health in it. The eye, which should have been just opening to the loveliest visions of youth, was dull and heavily cast down, while tear after tear dropped from it on a sleeping infant, some few months on its pilgrimage "between the cradle and the grave." The beautiful form of Fanny's features remained, but the life of beauty was gone; her once brilliant cheek was pale, and her whole figure shrunken. Health, self-respect, cheerfulness, even hope, the angel of life, were driven away for ever—and memory, so sparkling and sweet to youth, bore but a bitter chalice to poor Fanny's lips. She sat statue-like, till she started at a footstep approaching the door. A slovenly servant girl entered, in a pert and noisy manner, that expressed the absence of all deference, and took from a handkerchief, in which it was wrapped, a letter addressed to Nugent Stafford, saying, "I've been to the Astor House, and the American, and the City Hotel, and all them boarding-houses down town, and there's no such person there, and nowhere else, I expect."
"What do you mean, Caroline?"
"Oh, nothing, only them as hangs out false colours must expect others to do the same by them. I suppose there's no more a Mr. Stafford than a Mrs. Stafford."
"Hush, my baby," said Fanny to the infant, stirred by her tremor.
"I want to have my wages paid to-day," continued Caroline, "as I am expecting to leave."
Fanny took out her purse, and paid the girl's demand. Caroline eyed it narrowly; there were but a few shillings left in it, and she changed the assault she had meditated, from the purse to a richer spoil.
"It's always rulable," she said, "when a girl lives in such a house as this, and serves the like of you, that she shall have extra pay, for risking character and so forth. I see your purse is rather consumptive, and I am willing to take up with your silk gown, spotted with pink and trimmed with gimp."
"Oh hush, my baby!" cried Fanny to the child, who, opening her eyes on the distressed countenance of her mother, was crying as even such young children will, from the instinct of sympathy. "The gown hangs in the closet," she replied steadily, "take it and go."
Caroline took it, and while she was deliberately folding it, she said, half consolingly, half impertinently, "It an't worth while grieving for nothing in this world, for it's a kind of confused place. Why it always comes to this sooner or later. Your fine gentleman likes variety! You'll be as handsome as ever again if you'll leave off sighing and crying, and you may get as much of a husband as Stafford, and as good."
"Leave me, pray leave me," cried Fanny; and when Caroline shut the door, she threw herself on the bed with her baby, saying, amidst tears and shiverings. "Oh, has it come to this? deserted; lost! Am I such a thing that I cannot answer that cruel, bad girl? Oh God, have mercy! He will not hear me, for I only come to him when I have none other to go to. Hush, my baby. I wish we were in the grave together. Come, now—hush—do." She wiped away her tears, and catching up the child, rushed, half distracted, up and down the room, attempting to smile and play to it; and the poor little thing cried and smiled alternately.
The following are some extracts from the hapless letter which Caroline had brought back to her:
"Oh, Nugent Stafford, am I never, never to see you again! It is two months since you were here; two months! it seems two years; and yet when you were last here, and spoke those icy, cruel, insulting words, I thought it would be better never to see you again than to see you so. But come once more, and tell me if I deserved them from you.
"Remember, I was thirteen years old, an innocent, loving child—loving, but with little to love—when you first stole my heart. Did you then mean this ruin? God knows—you know—I don't. Did you plot it then? to steal away my innocence, when I should be no longer a child? You say you never promised to marry me, and you say that I knew what was before me. No, you never said one word of marrying me; but did you not swear to love, and cherish me so long as you lived? And did you not tell me, over and over again, that that was all that marriage was in God's sight? Did you not say that I did not love you half as well as you loved me, and again and again reproach me with it? Were you not angry, so angry as to frighten me, because I would not desert my dear, good, old, faithful aunt, to go with you? And how have I loved you? I have given up my innocence for you, my good name, and the favour of God. I have loved only you, never have had a thought beyond you. I wore only the fine things to please you; and truly now I hate to look on them, for they were, in your eyes, the price of what I never sold, but gave.
"But for my poor baby, I would not send to you again; for her I will do any thing, but sin. Mrs. Tilden has twice told me I must leave this house. Six months' rent is due. I have ten dollars in my purse. Tell me where I am to go? What am I to do? I would not stay here if I could—the house has become hateful to me. I cannot bear the looks of Mrs. Tilden and Caroline. I cannot endure to have them touch my baby, for it seems to me as if their touch to my little innocent child were like a foul thing on an opening rosebud. The very sound of their voices disgusts and frightens me. Oh! it was not human to put me among such creatures. If you have deserted me for ever, I will earn food if I can to keep my baby alive. If I cannot earn, I will beg; but I will live no longer among these bad people. I had rather perish with my baby in the street. Oh! Mr. Stafford, how could you have the heart to put me here? and will you not now give me a decent home—for the baby's sake—for a little while—till I am stronger, and can work for her?"
There was much more in the letter than we have cited; but it was all of the same tenor, and all showed plainly, that though betrayed and deserted, poor Fanny was not corrupted. Bold, and hardened indeed, must have been that human creature who could have cast the first stone at her.
For some months after Stafford took her under his protection (the protection the wolf affords the lamb!) he was passionately devoted to her. He made her world, and made it bright with such excess of light, that she was dazzled, and her moral sense overpowered. There was no true colouring or proportion to her perception; she was like one, who, having imprudently gazed at the sun, sees every object for a time in false and brilliant colouring. But these illusions fade by degrees to blackness; and so, as Fanny recovered from the bewilderment of passion, the light became shadow—ever deepening, immovable shadow. She lost her gayety, and no twilight of cheerfulness succeeded to it. The birth of her child recalled her to herself—the innocent creature was God's minister to her soul—her pure love for it made impure love hateful to her. She became serious, then sad, and very wearisome to Stafford. He was accustomed to calling forth the blandishments of art. Fanny had no art. Her beauty was an accident, independent of herself. The unappreciable treasure of her immeasurable love she gave him, and for this there is no exchange but faithful, pure love; so her drafts were on an empty treasury. Passion consumes, sensuality rusts out the divine quality of love. Fanny's character was simple and true—elemental. She had little versatility, and nothing of the charm of variety which comes from cultivation, and from observation of the world. What could she know of the world, whose brief time in it had been passed between her school and Dame Hyat's room in Houston street!
Stafford was extremely well read in certain departments of romantic literature. He had a standing order with a Paris publisher for such books as "George Sand," "Paul de Kock," and all their tribe produce. But this was a terra incognita to Fanny. Her reading was confined to the Bible and the tracts left at her aunt's door. He delighted in those muses who have come down from the holy mount of inspiration and sacrificed to impure gods. Poetry, beyond that of her aunt's hymn-book, was unknown to Fanny; and when Stafford brought her Beppa, and Don Juan, she understood but little of them, and what she understood she loathed. Stafford loved music. It was to him the natural language and fittest excitement of passion, and poor Fanny had no skill in this divine art beyond a song for her baby. He gave her lascivious engravings; she burst into tears at the sight of them, and would not be moved by his diabolical laugh and derision to look a second time at them. The natural dissimilarity and opposition between them came soon to be felt by both. He was ready to cast her—no matter where—as a burden from him; and she had already turned back, to walk through the fires her sin had kindled, to the bosom of infinite love and compassion.
Stafford's vices were expensive, and like most idle, dissipated young men of fortune, he soon found his expenditures exceeding his income. He had no thought of sacrificing his vices to his wants, but only the objects of them. He had of late felt his mode of life to be so burdensome, that he resolved on reforming it, or rather, on reducing his pleasures, by marrying a young woman whose large fortunes would be a relief to him, whose beauty and elegance would adorn his establishment, and whose character would fill up certain awkward blanks in his own.
A person so gifted, and attainable, as he flattered himself, he had discovered in Augusta Emly. Miss Emly's mother was a leading woman of fashion in the city, and she had received his first demonstrations with unequivocal indications of favour.
He deliberately determined to leave Fanny as he had done others, to shift for herself, quieting his conscience—it was easily pacified—with the reflection that he left her rather better off than he found her! As if simplicity, contentment, and a good name, were marketable articles, to be trafficked away for a few jewels, laces and silks, and a few months of luxurious life.
FANNY MCDERMOT might have lain down and died in the extremity of her despair at finding herself finally deserted, or in her self-condemnation she might have done violence to her life; but her child was God's argument to reason, patience, calmness, and exertion.
She sat herself to consider what could be done. In all this great city, Mrs. O'Roorke was her only acquaintance, and though poor and ignorant, she was too her friend, and Fanny was in a strait to know the worth of that word friend.
"She can, perhaps, tell me where to find employment," thought Fanny, "and certainly she will be kind to me." And to her she determined to go. She laid aside all her fine clothes, which were now unfit for her, and had become disgusting to her, and putting on a gingham dressing-gown, and over it a black and white plaid cloak, which, with a neat straw bonnet (her aunt's last gifts), seemed, as she looked at herself in them, in some degree to restore her self-respect, "Dear, honest old friends," she exclaimed, "would that I had never laid you aside!" It was with a different feeling that she took up and laid down, one after another, the pretty frocks she had delicately made and daintily trimmed for her baby. "She looks so pretty in them," she thought; "and I am sure there is no sin in her looking pretty!" But after a little shrinking, she dressed the baby in a cotton night-gown, and took off her coral necklace, bracelets, and bells. She then wrapped her warmly in shawls, and left the house, and after walking two squares, she reached a railroad car. There were several persons in the car when she entered, and as usual, they turned their eyes on the new comer, but not, as usual, turned them away again. Those exquisite features arrested the dullest eye, and there was something in the depth of expression on that young face, to awaken interest in the dullest soul. One man touched his neighbour, who was absorbed in his newspaper, and directed his eyes to Fanny. Two young women interchanged expressions of wonder and curiosity with their eyes fixed on her. A good little boy, feeling an instinctive sympathy with something, he knew not what, expressed it by offering her some pea-nuts, and when she looked up to thank him, she became for the first time conscious of the general gaze; and thankful she was, when, at the intersection of Houston-street, the car stopped to let her out. "Have a care," said a Quaker woman at her side, as she rose, "thee art young, child, to be trusted with a baby." Fanny, overcome with emotion and fatigue—for it was long since she walked out—was ready to sink, when, after having walked nearly a mile down Houston-street, she came to her former home. The O'Roorke's were not there. "They had moved many months since," her informer said, "down into Broome-street, near the North River." "Was it far?" Fanny asked. "Faith! it was!" "Might she come in and rest herself?"
"Indeed isn't she welcome; and a shame it is for any lady to send such a delicate cratur out with a baby in her arms."
When Fanny entered and saw the stairs she had so often, in her childhood, trodden, the tears started to her eyes; and, when her baby waked, and would not be quieted without food from her breast, she perceived the women exchanging significant nods and looks, and overcome by weakness and a gush of emotion, she burst into hysterical sobbings. "Poor young cratur! poor young cratur! God help you!" exclaimed the woman, with a true Irish gush of feeling: "and what is't you're wanting? Here's a drink of milk; take it, honey dear; it will strengthen you better than whiskey. We've done with that, thank God and Father Matthew."
Fanny made a violent effort, calmed herself, drank the milk, and asked if a cab could not be got for her. There was one passing, and at the next instant she was in it, and driving to Broome-street. She found the house, but the O'Roorkes had flitted, and in another and distant quarter of the city, she found the second dwelling to which she was directed. Again they had moved, and whither, no one could tell; and feeling as if the last plank had gone from under her feet, she returned to her home. Home! alas, that sacred word had now no meaning to poor Fanny. She had scarcely entered her room and thrown herself on the sofa with her baby, when Mrs. Tilden, her remarkably red-faced landlady, threw open the door and said—
"Are you back? I did not expect you alone."
"Not expect me alone? What do you mean?"
"Why it's customary for some kind of folks, you know, when they lose one husband, to take another."
Fanny looked up; a sickening feeling came over her; the words she would have answered died away on her lips.
"I suppose you are sensible," continued Mrs. Tilden, "that honest folks must be paid just debts, and as there's no finding that Mr. Stafford of yours, I have 'strained upon your wearing apparel, that being answerable for rent as well as furniture; and all the furniture belonging to me already, except the sofa and the Psyche, and the vases and the dressing case,—them things will help out, but the whole quarter's rent, and eight days over, is due."
Fanny said nothing.
"I am never ungenerous to nobody. So I have taken out enough baby linen to serve you, and a change for yourself—the rest is under my lock and key, and I shall keep it, may be, a month or more before I sell it; and if Mr. Stafford pays me in that time—and I don't misdoubt he will, sooner or later—but them kind of fine gentlemen are slow coaches in paying, you know, but I don't question his honor; he has always been highly honourable to me; and I have been highly honourable to him; he is a real gentleman, there's no mistake—as I was saying, as soon as he pays me, you shall have your things—or——the worth of them again; you shall have it all, bating some little reward for my trouble—the Psyche, or dressing-case—or so."
"Well," said Fanny, perceiving Mrs. Tilden had paused for an answer.
"Well," that's all—only if you and I can agree, you can stay down stairs, as a boarder——till"
"No—not a moment—only let me remain in the room to-night, and to-morrow I will try to find a service place."
"A service place! My service to you!" said Mrs. Tilden, with a sort of ogress grin.
"Oh, don't look so at me! Mrs. Tilden, do you think, that, after all, I have any pride?"
"Pride, pride! Why, you foolish child, don't you know that ' after all, ' as you call it, there is but one kind of service left for you? Ladies won't take the like of us into their houses."
"The like of us," thought Fanny, and shuddered.
"They are dreadful partic'lar about any little false step of their own sex. If you but dampen the soles of your feet, it is as bad as if you are up to your neck in the mire; but men may plunge in over their head and ears, and they are just as welcome to their houses, and as good husbands for their daughters, as your Josephs—"
"Is it so? Can it be? I do not know what will become of me! Oh, baby, baby! But may I stay here to-night?"
"Why, yes; but you must be off pretty early, for there's a lady coming to look at the rooms at ten."
Poor Fanny, left alone, sank on her knees, with one arm round her sleeping baby, and sent out from her penitent and humble heart, a cry for forgiveness and pity, that we doubt not was heard by Him whose compassions fail not. She then threw herself on the bed and fell asleep. Thank God, no degree of misery can drive sleep away from a wearied young creature.
The next morning she laid her plans, and strengthening her good resolutions by prayer, she went forth feeling a new strength; and having paid the fee with two of the only four shillings left to her, to the master of an intelligence office, who stared curiously at her, she received references to three ladies—"the very first-rate of places, all," as the man assured her. She first went to a lady who wanted a wet nurse as a supplement to her own scanty supplies. She met a young lady in the hall, whom she heard say to her mother, "Oh, mamma! such a pretty young creature has come for wet nurse to sis—do take her." Fanny was called in, and having given satisfactory answers as to her supplies, she was asked for references. She immediately did what she had before purposed, and confessing she had no references to give, told truly so much of her sad story as explained her present position. The lady heard her through, possibly not believing a word she said, but the fact of her transgression; and when she had finished, she said to her, "Did you really expect that such a person as you could get a place in a respectable family?" She rung the bell, and added coolly, "Thomas, show this person out. This is the last time I go to an intelligence office."
Poor Fanny sighed as she left the door, but pressing her baby to her bosom, she said softly, "We'll not be discouraged with one failure, will we, baby?" The child smiled on her, and she went on with a lighter step. Her next application was to a milliner, whom the master of the intelligence office had told her "was a very strict religious lady, who says she is very particular about the reputation of her girls." It is close by, thought Fanny. "I have but little hope, but I must save my steps, and I will go to her." Again, bravely and simply she told the truth. The milliner heard her with raised brows. "I am sorry for you, if you tell the truth, young woman," she said. "I know this city is a dreadful place for unprincipled girls, and I make it a rule never to take any such into my establishment. I hope you do mean to reform, but I can do nothing for you; I advise you to apply to the Magdalen Society."
Again Fanny went on. She had now to go from William-street to the upper part of the city; and precious as her sixpences had become, she felt it was utterly impossible for her to walk. She, therefore, on reaching Broadway, got into an omnibus, and was soon at the door of Mrs. Emly's fine house in Waverley Place, and was shown into a room where that lady was sitting in her peignior [peignoir], looking over with her sister some dresses that were to be trimmed for a party the following evening. A very elegant young woman was sitting at a table drawing.
"A sempstress, ma'am, from the intelligence office," said the servant, announcing Fanny.
"A sempstress, with a child!" exclaimed Mrs. Emly.
The young lady looked up at Fanny as she entered; she was struck by her beauty, with her excessive delicacy, and with the gushing of the blood to her pale cheek at Mrs. Emly's exclamation. She rose, handed Fanny a chair, and saying most kindly, "What a very pretty child, mamma;" she offered to take it. The little creature stretched out its hands in obedience to the magnetic influence of beauty, youth, and a countenance most expressive of cheerful kindness. If, as is sometimes said, a voice may be "full of tears," this lovely young creature's was "full of smiles." Fanny looked up most gratefully, as the young lady took her infant, saying to her, "You must be very tired—is it not very tiresome to carry a baby?"
"The baby does not seem to tire me; but I am not very strong," replied Fanny, wiping away the tears that were gathering at the gentleness addressed to her.
"You do not look strong, nor well," said the young lady, and she poured out a glass of wine and water, and insisted on Fanny taking that, and some more solid refreshment, from the waiter on which a servant had just served lunch. It was well for poor Fanny that she accepted the hospitality, for she needed to be fortified for what followed. Fanny had been so thoroughly drilled in sewing by her aunt, who, it may be remembered, was a tailoress, that she answered very confidently, as to her abilities as a sempstress. She should be content, she said, with any wages, or no wages, for the present, if Mrs. Emly would put up with the inconvenience of her child."
"Oh, the child will not be in my way, said Mrs. Emly;" you'll be up in the attic, and I shan't hear it; so, if you will give me a satisfactory reference, I will try you."
"I have never lived out," answered Fanny. Discouraged by the rebuffs she had already received, she shrunk from a direct communication of her position.
"Well, where do your parents live? If I find you have decent parents, that will be enough."
"My parents died—long ago—I lived with my aunt—and she is dead—and I am——friendless."
"Aha!" said Mrs. Emly," with an emphatic nod of her head to her sister, who screwed up her mouth, and nodded back again. The young lady walked up to her mother, and said to her in a low voice, and with an imploring look—
"Mamma, for Heaven's sake don't say any more to her; I am sure she is good."
"Ridiculous, Augusta; you know nothing about it," replied Mrs. Emly aloud. And turning to Fanny, she said, "How comes it that you are friendless and alone in the world? Have you not a husband?"
"No," answered Fanny, some little spirit mounting with her mounting colour. "I never had a husband, I have been betrayed and forsaken—I am no farther guilty,—no more innocent."
"Quite enough! quite enough! I can't of course take any such person into my house."
"Then my baby and I must die, for nobody will take us in," said Fanny, bursting into tears, and gathering her cloak about her.
"Oh, mamma," said Augusta Emly, "for pity's sake let her stay. I will answer for her."
"Pshaw! Augusta, how very absurd you are! No respectable lady would take a person of that kind into her house."
"Then what is their respectability worth, mamma, if it cannot give help to a weak fellow-creature?"
"Miss Augusta," said a servant, opening the door, "Mr. Sydney is below."
"Tell Mr. Sydney I am engaged, Daniel."
"Augusta," said her mother, "you are not going to send away Russel Sydney in that nonchalant manner. What do you mean? Give the child to its mother, and go down. "It's a lucky moment for her," she said, in a whisper to her sister. "She has such a beautiful glow on her cheek."
It was a beautiful glow—the glow of indignant humanity.
"I cannot go down, mother. Daniel, say I am engaged."
In another instant, Daniel returned with a request from Mr. Sydney, that Miss Emly would ride with him the following day; 'he had purchased a charming lady's horse, and begged she would try it.'
"Oh, what shall I say, mamma? I cannot go."
Mrs. Emly, without replying to Augusta, opened the door, and brushing by Fanny, who had risen to depart, she called from the head of the stairs, "Mr. Sydney, excuse me; I am in my dressing-gown and cannot come down. Will you come to the staircase? We are so up to our eyes arranging with the dressmaker for Mrs. Davies', that you must excuse Augusta this morning. She is a little timid, since her accident about riding. Are you sure of your horse?"
"Perfectly. Lord bless me! would I ask Miss Emly, if I were not?"
At the sound of the responding voice, Fanny sprang forward, and then staggering back again, leaned against the door.
"Oh! very well, then," said the compliant mamma, "she will be ready for you at twelve. Good morning!"
"Good morning!" was answered, and Mrs. Emly turned towards her apartment, elated with having settled the matter according to her own wishes. Fanny grasped her arm,—"For God's sake, tell me," she said, in a voice scarcely audible, "where does Mr. Sydney live? he it is that has deserted me. Where can I find him?"
Mrs. Emly's spirit quailed before Fanny's earnestness—her unmistakable truth; but after a single moment's hesitation, she discreetly said—"I don't know; he lives somewhere at lodgings. You have probably mistaken the person."
"Mistaken,—oh Heaven!" exclaimed Fanny, and glided down stairs as if there were wings to her feet; but before she could reach the pavement, Sydney had mounted into his very handsome new phaeton, and was driving proudly up the street, gallantly bowing to some ladies at their balcony windows, and poor Fanny crept on she knew not why nor whither.
"What did that poor girl say to you, mamma? Did she mention Sydney's name?" asked Augusta Emly.
"Sydney's name? Why should she mention it? I did not hear her. She might, perhaps—she muttered something. She is a little beside herself, I think."
"Do you, mamma?"
There could not be a stranger contrast, than Miss Emly's earnest tone and her mother's flippant one.
"Poor—poor girl—how very beautiful she is! She reminded me of Ophelia. I think she has her senses now, but with that deep dejectedness, I should not wonder if she soon lost them. May God be more merciful to her than we have been. But, mamma, how could you say to Russel Sydney, that I would ride with him?"
"Why, are you going to stay at home and sigh over this lost damsel? You will ride with Sydney, unless you prefer to hurt my feelings, and displease me seriously."
"That I should be very sorry to do; but I cannot ride with Mr. Sydney."
"Cannot! and why?"
"How can you ask, mamma? How can you wish me to associate intimately with the sort of man he is?"
"What windmills are you fighting now, Augusta? For a sensible girl, you are the silliest I ever met with. What do you mean?"
"You surely know what I mean, mamma! You know that Russel Sydney has been one of the most dissipated men in the city."
"So have forty other men been who are very good husbands now, or whose wives are too prudent to make a fuss about it if they are not. Really, Augusta, I do not think it very creditable to a young lady, to be seeking information of this sort about young men."
"I have not sought it. I never dreamed," Augusta looked steadfastly in her mother's face, "that my mother would introduce a man to me who, as we both have heard, on good authority, has kept a mistress since he was eighteen, and changed her as often as suited his caprice; but having heard this, I surely will not disregard it."
"You are absurdly scrupulous and very unjust, my dear. Sydney has entirely given up all this sort of thing—he assured me he had."
"And you relyingly took his assurance, mamma, and would not listen, for one moment, to that poor penitent girl's assurance."
"Oh that's quite a different thing;"
"I see no difference, excepting that the one is the strong party, the other the weak,—the one the betrayer, the other the betrayed. The fact of the girl seeking honest employment is prima facie evidence in favour of her truth."
"You talk so absurdly, Augusta! And, to speak plainly, I do not think it over delicate," continued Mrs. Emly, with a pharisaical curl of her lip, "for an unmarried lady of nineteen to be discussing subjects of this nature—though it may be quite often your Aunt Emily's fashion to do so."
"It is very much my Aunt Emily's fashion to strip off the husk, and look for the kernel—to throw away the world's current counterfeit, and keep the real gold. Probably she would think it far more indelicate to receive a notoriously licentious man into her society, than to express her opinion of his vices: and I know she thinks it not only indelicate, but irrational and unchristian, to tolerate certain vices in men, for which women are proscribed and hunted down."
"Mercy on us, what an oration for nothing! Truly, you and your Aunt Emily, with your country-evening morals, are very competent judges of town society. It seems to my poor common-sense perceptions, that you are rather a partial distributor of your charities. You are quite willing to receive this equivocal young woman, with her confessedly illegitimate child, and you would doubly bar and bolt the door against a very charming young man, who has sown his wild oats."
"Oh, surely mamma, this is not the true state of the case. The one party is a man of fashion, received and current, the other a poor young outcast, who seems more sinned against than sinning—probably the victim of some such 'charming' young man as Sydney. As women, as professed followers of Christ, my dear mother, ought we not to help her out of the pit into which she has fallen? May we not guard her from future danger and misery?"
Mrs. Emly stood for a moment silent and rebuked before the gentle earnestness of her daughter; but after a moment, she rallied and said with a forced laugh,—"You had best join the Magdalen Society at once, Augusta; they will give you plenty of this fancy-missionary work to do; I confess it is not quite to my taste."
Augusta made no reply; she was too much pained by her mother's levity, and she took refuge in writing the incidents of the morning to that "Aunt Emily," in whose pure atmosphere she had been reared.
Sickening with fatigue and disappointment, Fanny, helped on her way by an omnibus, returned to the intelligence office where she had left her bundle. The official gentleman there, on hearing the story of her failure, said, "Well, it's no fault of mine—you can't expect a good place without a good reference."
"Oh, I expect nothing," replied Fanny, "I hope for nothing, but that my baby and I may lay down together and die—very soon, if it please God!"
"I am sorry for you, I declare I am," said the man, who, though his sensibility was pretty much worn away by daily attrition, could not look, without pity, upon the pale, beautiful young creature, humble and gentle, and trembling in every fibre with exhaustion and despair. "You are tired out," he said, "and your baby wants taking care of. There's a decent lodging-house in the next street. No. 35, where you may get a night's lodging for a shilling. To-morrow morning you'll feel better,—the world will look brighter after a night's sleep. Come back to me in the morning, and I will give you some more chances. I won't go according to rule with you."
Fanny thanked him, kissed her baby, and again, with trembling, wavering steps, went forth. She had but just turned the corner, when, overcome by faintness, she sat down on a door-step. As she did so, a woman coming from the pump turned to go down into the area of a basement-room. She rested her pail on the step, and cast her eye inquisitively on Fanny.
"God save us!" she cried, "Fanny McDermot, darlint! I've found you at last—just as I expected! God punish them that's wronged you! Can't you spake to me, darlint? Don't you know Biddy O'Roorke?"
"Oh yes," replied Fanny, faintly, "my only friend in this world! Indeed I do know you."
"And indeed, and indeed, you cannot come amiss to me—you are welcome as if you were my own, to every thing I have in the world. Rise up, darlint, give me the babby. God's pity on it, poor bird;" and taking the infant in one arm, and supporting and nearly carrying the mother with the other, she conducted Fanny down the steps and laid her on her bed. With discreet and delicate kindness, she abstained, for the present, from inquiries, and contented herself with nursing the baby, and now and then an irrepressible overflow of her heart in expression of pity and love to Fanny, and indignation and wrath against "bad craters, that had neither soul, nor heart, nor feelings, nor any such thing in them!"
In the course of the day Fanny so far recovered as to tell her friend her short, sad story, and to learn that affairs had mended with the O'Roorkes; that the drunken husband was dead, Pat and Ellen were out at service, and that the good mother, with a little help from them, and by selling apples and nuts, and now and then a windfall, got bread for herself and three little noisy, thriving children. The scantiness of her larder was only betrayed by her repeated assurances to Fanny that "she had plenty—plenty, and to spare, oceans—oceans," and when Fanny the next morning manifested her intention of going out again to seek a place, she said, "Na, na, my darlint, it's not that ye shall be after. Is not the bit place big enough for us all? It's but little ye're wanting to ate. Wait, any way, till ye's stronger, and the babby is old enough to wane, and then ye can lave it here to play with Anny and Peggy."
Fanny looked round upon the "bit place," and it must be confessed that she sickened at the thought of living in it, even with the sunny kindness of its inmates, or of leaving her little snowdrop of a baby there. The windows were dim with dirt, the floor was unwashen—a heap of kindlings were in one corner, potatoes in another, and coals under a bed, none of the tidiest. Broken victuals on broken earthen plates stood on the table, and all contrasted too strongly with the glossy neatness of her aunt's apartment. Surely Fanny was not fastidious.
"Oh, no, Mrs. O'Roorke," she said, "I can never, never leave my baby. I am better; and you are so kind to me, that I'll wait till to-morrow." And she did wait another day, but no persuasion of Mrs. O'Roorke could induce her to leave the infant. She insisted that she did not feel its weight,—and that "looking on it was all that gave her courage to go among strangers,"—and "that now she felt easier, and more in heart, knowing she had such a kind friend to come to at night."
Finding Fanny solved, Mrs. O'Roorke said,—"Now don't be after telling them your misfortunes; just send them to me for your charackter. It's ten to one they'll not take the trouble to come; and if they do, I'll satisfy them complately."
"And how?" asked Fanny, with a faint smile.
"Why, won't I be after telling them just the truth—how the good old lady brought you up like a nun, out of sunshine and harm's way; how you were always working with your needle, and quiet-like and dove-like—and how the ould lady doted on you, and that you were the best and beautifullest that ever crossed a door-sill."
"But oh, dear Mrs. O'Roorke, how will you ever come to the dreadful truth?"
"And I'll not be after just that. If they bother with questions, can't I answer them civilly, Fanny McDermot? How will it harm a body in all the world just to be tould that ye's married your man, what died with consumption or the like of that?"
Fanny shook her head.
"Now what's the use, Fanny McDermot," continued Mrs. O'Roorke, "of a tongue, if we can't serve a friend with it? Lave it all to me, darlint. You know I would not tell a lie to wrong one of God's craters. Would I be after giving you a charackter if you did not desarve it?"
"I know how kind and good you are to me, Mrs. O'Roorke," said Fanny; "but I pray you say nothing for me but the truth. I have asked God's forgiveness and blessing on me and my baby, and we must try to earn it. Promise me, will you?"
"Oh, be aisy, darlint, be aisy, and I'll be after doing what you wish." She wrapped the baby in its blanket, carried it up the steps, and put it in the mother's arms. "There, God guide you, Fanny McDermot. The truth!" continued Mrs. O'Roorke, as her streaming eyes followed Fanny; "and what's truth good for but to serve the like of her that's been wronged by a false-hearted villain, bad luck to him!"
It would take a very nice casuist to analyze the national moral sense of good Mrs. O'Roorke. The unscrupulous flexibility of the Irish tongue is in curious contrast with the truth of the Irish heart—a heart overflowing with enthusiasm, and generosity, and often instinctively grasping the best truth of life.
"I am thinking," said the master of the intelligence office, as he was doling out two or three references to Fanny, to families residing in different and distant parts of the city, "I am thinking you don't know much of the world, young woman?"
"I do not," replied Fanny, mournfully.
"Well then, I do, and I'll give you a hint or two. It's a world, child, that's looking out pretty sharp for number one; where each shows their fairest side, and looks all round their fellow creturs —where them that have the upper hand—you understand—them what employs others—thinks they have a right to require that they shall be honest and true and faithful, and so on to the end of the chapter of what they call good character; and not only that they be so, but that they have been so all their lives. The man that holds the purse may snap his fingers, and be and do what he likes. Now, there can't be friendship in this trade, so what are the weak party to do but to make fight the best way they can? But I see you don't altogether take my idees," he continued, perceiving Fanny was but half attentive, and replacing his spectacles, which he had taken off in beginning his lecture on the social system; "you'll see my meaning in the application. Now, 'I've asked no questions, and you've told no lies,' as the saying is, but I know pretty much what's come and gone—you see I understand all sorts of advertisements—by your beauty, by your cast-down eyes, with the tears standing on the eaves—by the lips that, though too pretty for any thing but smiles, look as if they would never smile again; by the—"
"Oh, please, sir, give me the papers and let me go."
"Wait—I have not come to it yet—to the pith. I feel like a father to you, child—I do. Now, my advice is, hold up your head; you've as much right, and more, I can tell you, than many a mistress of a fine house. Look straight forward, speak cheery, and say you're a widow."
Fanny looked up, with a glance of conscious integrity; and he added, with a slight stammer—
"Why should you not say so? You are left, and that is the main part of being a widow—left to provide for yourself and your young one, and that's the distressing part of being one. Every body pities the widow and orphan. And I should like to have any body tell me which is most complete a widow, a woman whose husband is dead, or you?—which the completest orphan, a child whose father lies under ground, or yours?"
Fanny stretched out her hand for the references, and took them in silence; but when she reached the door, she turned, and said, with a voice so sweet and penetrating that it was oil to the wounded vanity of the man, "I thank you, sir, for wishing to help us; but baby," she added, mentally, straining her little burden to her bosom, "we will be true—we will keep our vow to God—won't we? He is merciful; Jesus was merciful, even to that poor woman that was brought before him by cruel men; and if nobody will take us in on earth, God may take us to Himself—and I think He will soon."
She walked on slowly and perseveringly, turning many streets, till she reached the first address to which she had been referred. There, she was received and dismissed as she had been on the previous day, and she went to look for the next; but she soon began to feel sensations she had never felt before, a pain and giddiness in the head, and a general tremulousness. She dragged on a little way, and then sat down. Gradually her mind became confused, and she determined to turn back at once, and make the best of her way to Mrs. O'Roorke, but to her dismay, she could not remember the name of the street where she lived nor that of the intelligence-office. "Oh, I am going mad," she thought, "and they will take my baby from me!" and making an effort to compose herself, she sat down on a door-step, and, to test her mind, she counted the panes in the windows opposite. "All is right yet," she thought, as she went steadily on and finished her task; "but why cannot I remember the name of that street? Do you know," she asked timidly of a man who was passing, and who looked like one of those persons who know every thing of the sort,—"do you know any street beginning with Van?"
"Bless me, yes, fifty. There's Vandam, and Vandewater, and"—
"Oh, stop there—it's one of those. Are they near together?"
"As near as east and west—one is one side of the city, and one the other." And he passed briskly on.
Poor Fanny sat down, and repeated to herself the names till she was more at a loss than ever. The passers-by looked curiously at her, and two or three addressing insolent words to her, she could endure it no longer, and she went slowly, falteringly on. Her head throbbed violently, and she felt that her lips were parched, and her pulse beating quick and hard. Her baby began to cry for food, and seeing some upright boards resting against a house, she crept under them to be sheltered from observation while she supplied her child's wants. There were two little girls there before her, eating merrily and voraciously from an alms-basket.
"Oh, my baby!" said Fanny aloud, "I am afraid this is the last time you will find any milk in your mother's breast."
The little beggar-girls looked at her pitifully, and offered her bread and meat.
"Oh, thank you," she said, "but I cannot eat. If you would only get me a drink of cold water."
"Oh, that we can as easy as not," said one of them; and fishing up a broken teacup from the bottom of her basket, she ran to a pump and filled it, and again and again filled it, as Fanny drank it, or poured it on her burning, throbbing head.
"It's beginning to rain," said one of the girls, "and I guess we had all better go home. You look sick—we'll carry your baby for you, if your home is our way."
" My home! No, thank you; my home is not your way."
The children went off slowly, looking back and talking in a low tone, and feeling as they had never quite felt before.
It was early in February, and the days of course were short. The weather had been soft and bright, but as the evening approached, the sky became clouded and a chilling rain began. Fanny crept out of her place of shelter, after most anxiously wrapping up her baby, and at first, stimulated by the fever, walked rapidly on. Now and then she sat down, where an arched doorway offered a shelter, and remained half oblivious, till urged on again by her baby's cries.
It was eleven o'clock, when she was passing before a brilliantly lighted house. There was music within, and a line of carriages without. A gentleman was at this moment alighting from his carriage. Fanny shrunk back, and leaned against the area-railing till he should pass. He sprung quickly up the step to avoid the dropping eaves, and when in the doorway, turned to say, "Be punctual, at one o'clock." Fanny looked up: the light from the bright gas lamps beside the door shone in the speaker's face. "Oh, mercy, it is he!" she exclaimed, and darting forward, mounted the step. It was he! Sydney! He left the door ajar as he entered, and Fanny followed in; and as she entered, she saw Sydney turn the landing of the staircase. Above, was the mingled din of voices and music. Fanny instinctively shrunk from proceeding. Through an open door she saw the ruddy glow of the fire in the ladies' cloak-room. It was vacant. "I might warm my poor baby there," she thought, "and it's possible,—it is possible I may speak with him when he comes down,"—and she obeyed the impulse to enter. Her reason was now too weak to aid her, or she would not have placed herself in a position so exposed to observation and suspicion. When she had entered, she saw, to her great relief, a screen that divided a small portion of the room from the rest. She crept behind it, and seated herself on a cushion that had been placed there for the convenience of the ladies changing their shoes.
"How very fast you are sleeping, my baby," she said, "and yet," she added, shivering herself, "how very cold you are!" And wrapping around it a velvet mantle that had fallen over the screen, she leaned her head against the wall, and partly stupefied by the change from the chilling street to the warm apartment, and partly from exhaustion, she fell asleep. What a contrast was she, in her silent, lonely desolation, with fever in her veins, and enveloped in cold, drenched, dripping garments, to the gay young creatures above,—thoughtless of any evil in life more serious than not having a partner for the next waltz! She, a homeless, friendless wanderer; they, passing from room to room amidst the rustling of satins, and soft pressure of velvets, and floating of gossamer draperies, with the luxury of delicious music, and an atmosphere sweet with the breath of the costliest exotics, and crowding to tables where Epicurus might have banqueted.
And such contrasts, and more frightful, are there nightly in our city, separated, perhaps, by a wall, a street, or a square; and knowing this, we sleep quietly in our beds, and spend our days in securing more comforts for ourselves, and perhaps complaining of our lot!
More than an hour had passed away, when Fanny was awaked to imperfect consciousness by the murmuring of two female voices outside the screen. Two ladies stood there in their cloaks, waiting.
"How in the world," asked one, "did you contrive to make her waltz with him?"
"By getting her into a dilemma. She could not refuse without rudeness to her hostess."
"And so you made her ride with him yesterday? And so you hope to decoy her into an engagement with him?"
"No, no. I merely mean to decoy her—if you choose that word—into an intimacy, and then I will leave them to make out the rest between them. He is really irresistible! Stamford Smith's wife was over head and ears in love with him; and you know poor Ellen Livermore made no secret of her attachment to him."
"Why did she not marry him?"
"Lord knows," replied the lady, shrugging her shoulders. "She did not play her cards well; and I believe, the truth is, he has been a sad fellow."
"Do you believe there was any truth in that girl's story yesterday?"
"Very likely; pretty girls in her station are apt to go astray, you know. But here is Augusta. Come in, Mr. Sydney, there is no one here but us. Are you going so early?"
"Yes. After I shall have seen you to your carriage, I have no desire to stay." There was a slight movement behind the screen, but apparently not noticed by the parties outside. "Oh, Miss Emly, allow me," he said, dropping on his knee before Augusta, who, the dressing-maid not being at her post, was attempting to button her overshoe,—"allow me?"
"No, thank you; I always do these things for myself."
"But I insist."
"And I protest!" And Augusta Emly sprang behind the screen.
Sydney, with a sort of playful gallantry, followed her. Between them both the screen fell, and they all stood silent and aghast, as if the earth had opened before them. There still sat Fanny, beautiful as the most beautiful of Murillo's peasant-mothers. The fever had left her cheek—it was as colorless as marble; her lips were red, her eyes beaming with a supernatural light, and her dark hair hung in matted masses of ringlets to her waist. She cast one bewildered glance around her, and then fixing her eyes on Sydney, she sprang to him and laid her hand on his arm, exclaiming, "Stafford! Stafford!" in a voice that vibrated on the ears of all those who heard her, long after it was silent for ever!
Mrs. Emly locked the door. Truly the children of this world are wise in their generation! Sydney disengaged his arm, and said, in a scarcely audible voice, for his false words choked him as he uttered them, "Who do you take me for? The woman is mad!"
"No—I am not mad yet—but oh, my head, it aches so! it is so giddy! Feel how it beats, Stafford. Oh, don't pull your hand away from me! How many times you have kissed these temples, and the curls that hung over them, and talked about their beauty. What are they now? What will they soon be? You feel it throb, don't you? Stafford, I am not going to blame you now. I have forgiven you; I have prayed to God to forgive you. Oh how deadly pale you are now, Stafford! Now you feel for us! Now, look at our poor little child!" She uncovered the poor little infant, and raised it more from stupor than from sleep. The half-famished little thing uttered a feeble, sickly moan. "Oh God! oh God—she is dying! Is not she dying?" She grasped Augusta Emly's arm. "Can't something be done for her? I have killed her! I have killed my baby! It was you that were kind to us yesterday—yes—it was you. I don't know where it was. Oh—my head—my head!"
"For God's sake, mamma, let us take her home with us," cried Augusta, and she rushed to the door to look for her servant. As she opened it, voices and footsteps were heard descending the stairs. She heeded them not,—her mother did.
"Go now—go instantly, Sydney," she said.
"Oh, no—no—do not go," cried Fanny, attempting to grasp him; but he eluded her, and unnoticed by them, passed through the throng of servants at the door, threw himself into the first hackney coach he saw, and was driven away.
Fanny uttered one piercing shriek, looked wildly around her, and passing through the cluster of ladies pressing into the cloak-room, she passed, unobserved by her, behind Miss Emly, who stood, regardless of the pouring rain, on the doorstep ordering her coachman to drive nearer the door. When she returned to the cloak-room, it was filled with ladies; and in the confusion of the shawling, there was much talk among them of the strange apparition that had glided out of the room as they entered.
Mrs. Emly threw a cloak around her daughter. "Say nothing, Augusta!" she whispered, imperatively, "they are both gone."
Mrs. Emly did not, or affected not to hear her. The next morning Miss Emly was twice summoned to breakfast before she appeared. She had passed a sleepless and wretched night, thinking of that helpless young sufferer, ruined, and in her extreme misery, driven forth to the stormy elements.
There is not a sadder moment in life than that in which a young, hopeful, generous creature discovers unsoundness, worldliness, and heartlessness in those to whom nature has most closely bound her,—than that, when, in the freedom of her own purity and love of goodness, and faith in truth, she discovers the compromising selfishness, the sordid calculations, the conventional falsehood of the world. Happy for her, if, in misanthropic disgust, she does not turn away from it; happy, if use does not bring her to stoop from her high position; most happy, if like Him who came to the sick, she fulfil her mission, and remain in the world, not of it!
Augusta went through the form of breakfast, and taking up the morning paper and passing her eye listlessly over it, her attention was fixed by the following paragraph:
" Committals at the Tombs —Fanny McDermot, a young woman so calling herself, was taken up by a watchman during the violence of the storm last night with a dead infant in her arms. A rich velvet mantilla, lined with fur, was wrapped round the child. Nothing but moans could be extracted from the woman. She was committed for stealing the mantilla. A jury of inquest is called to sit upon the child, which they have not yet been able to force from the mother's arms."
"Good Heavens, Augusta, what is the matter? Are you faint?" asked the mother.
Augusta shook her head, and rang the bell, while she gave Mrs. Emly the paragraph to read. "Daniel," she said to the servant who answered the bell, "Go to Dr. Edmunds, and ask him to come to me immediately. Stop, Daniel—ask Gray as you go along to send me a carriage directly."
"What now, Miss Emly? Are you going to the Tombs?
"Not with my permission."
"Without it then, ma'am, unless you bolt the doors upon me. The doctor will go with me. There is no impropriety, and no Quixotism in my going, and I shall never be happy again if I do not go. Oh, my dear mother," continued she, bursting into tears, "I have suffered agonies this night thinking of that poor young woman; but they are nothing—nothing to the misery of hearing you last night defend that bad man, and bring me reason upon reason why 'it was to be expected,' and 'what often happened,' and 'what no one thought of condemning a man for.' That he, loaded with God's good gifts, should make a prey and victim of a trusting, loving, defenceless woman; and she should be cast out of the pale of humanity—turned from our doors—driven forth to perish in the storm. Oh, it is monstrous!—monstrous!"
Augusta was too strong for her mother. She made no further opposition, but merely murmured, in a voice that did not reach her daughter's ear, "There does seem to be inconsistency, but it appears different when one knows the world!"
The door of Fanny McDermot's cell was opened by the turnkey, and Miss Emly and the physician were admitted. It was a room twice the size of those allotted to single occupants, and there were already two women of the most hardened character in it, besides a young girl, not sixteen, committed for infanticide. She, her eyes filled with tears, was bathing Fanny's head with cold water, while the women, looking like two furies, were accusing one another of having stolen from Fanny, the one a handkerchief, the other a ring.
Fanny's dead infant was on her arm, while she, half raised on her elbow, bent over it. She had wrapped her cloak and the only blanket on the bed around it. "She is so cold," she said; "I have tried all night to warm her. She grows colder and colder."
"Cannot this young woman be moved to a more decent apartment?" asked Miss Emly of the turnkey.
Fanny looked up at the sound of her voice. "Oh, you have come—I thought you would," she said. "You will warm my baby, won't you."
"Yes, indeed I will. Let me take her."
"Take her away? No—I can't—I shall never see her again! They tried to pull her away from me, but they could not—we grew together! Bring me a little warm milk for her. She has not sucked since yesterday morning, and then my milk was so hot, I think it scalded her—I am sure it did not agree with her."
"Oh, pray," said Augusta, to the turnkey, who had replied to her inquiry, "that the next room was just vacated, and could be made quite comfortable, "pray procure a bed and blankets, and whatever will be of any use to her. I will pay you for all your expense and trouble."
"Nothing can be of use," said the physician," whose fingers were on Fanny's pulse; "her heart is fluttering with its last beats."
"Thank God!" murmured Augusta.
"Put your hand on her head. Did you ever feel such heat?"
"Oh dear, dear! it was that dreadful heat she spoke of in all her mental misery last night."
A quick step was heard along the passage; a sobbing voice addressed the turnkey, and in rushed Mrs. O'Roorke. She did not, as her people commonly do at the sight of a dying creature, set up a howl, but she sunk on her knees, and pressed her hand to her lips as if to hold in the words that were leaping from her heart.
Fanny looked at her for a moment in silence, then, with a faint smile on her quivering lips, she stretched her hand to her. "You have found me. I could not find you. I walked—and walked." She closed her eyes and sunk back on her pillow; her face became calmer, and when she again opened her eyes it was more quiet. "Mrs. O'Roorke," she said, quite distinctly, directing her eyes to Augusta, "this lady believed me—tell her about me."
"Oh, I will—I will—I will."
"Hush—not now. Come here,—my baby is dead. I—God is good. I forgive—God is love. My baby—yes—God—is—good."
In that unfailing goodness the mother and the child repose for ever.