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which she now stood was scantily furnished with a small table, and a few ill-matched chairs; and on a low, truckled bed, covered with a course rug, lay a woman, aged, and an invalid. good fire was burning in the small grate, and there was an appearance of order in the poor arrangements. On a large chest, placed by the bedside, serving the purpose of a table, some needle-work, and an antique bible, fastened with silver clasps, were placed.
“I thank heaven for your safe return, child," said the invalid; “I have been very uneasy on your account, for I have learned since you left me that the city has been thronged,-indeed you should not have gone out had I known this ;-but what is the matter? You have met with some misfortune,speak!”
The girl had thrown aside her hat, and, kneeling by the bedside, bowed her face upon her clasped hands.
“I was born to misfortune," she said, in a choking voice, “and shall bring it to all connected with me. I dread to tell you of my loss this day !”
“Nay, child," said the woman, soothingly, placing her hand on the girl's bowed head; “ never droop thus for a trifle; we are all pretty equally inheritors of sorrow in this world. Come, thy loss cannot be great—is it the money ?”
“ No;" faltered the girl, drawing forth what she had received for the work, and placing it on the chest ; "worse than that: I have lost the work which I should have brought to you.”
The woman was evidently affected by this intelligence, but she mastered her emotion, and again spoke in the same kind tone.
“ Well, it cannot be helped, Jessy; it was my fault for sending you out on such a day. Do you know how much work there was ?”
Jessy did know, and described it. “Oh!” she said, in conclusion, “ how good you are to me, and how sad it is that I can only know such as you to involve them in trouble !"
“ Do not take these casualties so much to heart, child; this accident will only accelerate what must have happened, ere long, as these failing limbs have well warned me;" and Mrs. Carr glanced, as she spoke, at her hands, contracted by rheumatic pains, until they had almost become useless.
Jessy, meanwhile, retained her kneeling posture, and looked up with reverence into the pale, placid face of the invalid. The age of Mrs. Carr appeared to be about sixty years; she had evidently been what is called a fine woman; her countenance wore a singularly noble air, and her speech and manner were the perfection of feminine and Christian gentleness. She returned the
gaze of the girl, and placed her hand on the latter's arm carressingly.
“Know you that your grandmother has arrived ?” she asked ; " I have but just learned the news, and that she is angry with you for having passed so much time with myself. It augurs ill for you, poor child, that your only relative (I think I have heard you say that she is so) should object to your associating with any save those from whom you could only learn evil.”
« Oh! my kind friend," cried the girl, passionately;" you cannot know what reason I have had for dreading this, for praying, as I have done, that I might never again be placed under her control. What shall I do, and whither shall I fly?"
“ Be calmer: I have never questioned you respecting your past history; that ingenuous countenance was to me a sufficient recommendation, and all that I have seen of you has tended to confirm the good opinion I entertained from the first. But your situation seems so singular, that the interest I really take in your welfare makes me wishful, nay, anxious, to learn more than I can possibly divine."
The girl's pale face became red as scarlet, and she looked at once pained and embarrassed.
“ Do not believe I wish for any disclosures that would occasion you distress," continued Mrs. Carr; “ let us dismiss the subject. Without knowing anything of the past, I may be able to render you some service in the future,-at least so long as you remain here."
“ How good you are, and how few in the world are like you !" exclaimed the girl, looking up wonderingly in the invalid's face; “I have done nothing to deserve your confidence, and every circumstance of my situation is suggestive of suspicion and distrust. I cannot enter into any explanation of the past I can make no engagements for the future; in every way my tongue and my hands are tied. Of this only I can give you assurance; if I am allowed to work quietly for my daily bread, I shall feel thankful and happy indeed.-Oh! how thankful if I can restore you the value of my loss this day.”
“ And what occasioned that loss ?” asked a harsh voice, and the woman who had watched the girl in the Strand burst into the room.
“ You are mighty clever with your tongue-you know where to stop -I ask you again what occasioned that loss? Why don't you speak ?"
The suddenness of this appearance and attack seemed to have paralysed the girl; a tremour had seized on her whole frame, and her face looked cold and white as marble; but she speedily recovered herself.
“I missed the parcel whilst in the crowd,” she said, adFebruary, 1849.-Vol. LIV.NO. ccxiv.
dressing herself to Mrs. Carr; “I have not yet explained this as I ought to have done. I fancied, when I found it was gone, that some one must have snatched it from me, for I had a confused recollection of having felt a sudden pressure on my arm, at a moment when I was too much interested in the scene passing before me. Alas! what had I to do with sympathy for others? I acknowledge my remissness, and oh, believe that I am most anxious to atone for it!”
“You thought that some one snatched it from you, did you ?” said her grandmother, with a sneering laugh ; "you never thought, I suppose, that you might have dropped it whilst making an assignation with the gallant you stood talking with so long? I dare say you did'nt lose the card he gave you; you've taken care of that, I'll warrant.”
The girl bounded up as if a shot had passed through her heart. Another low, bitter laugh of derision escaped the old woman, and a cloud of painful suspicion shadowed the face of Mrs. Carr. Jesse saw and heard both, and stood looking from one to the other with her white lips apart, yet incapable for the moment of speech. Mastering her strong, emotion, she drew the card from her bosom, where indeed it had rested forgotten. “This is cruel,” she said, glancing at her grandmother; "to be suspected thus is worse than death. It is true I received this card ; true that I replied to the questions of him that gave it me; but not as you would insinuate. I could explain all
- gasping for breath convulsively, she essayed to speak on, and her face grew livid with the effort.
"You are wronged, my poor child, I know it !” exclaimed Mrs. Carr, making an ineffectual attempt to rise. As she spoke, the girl fell on the floor senseless.
“ You have helped to give me trouble,” said the old woman, glancing at the invalid malignantly. The next instant, she was out on the landing, calling aloud for some one to assist in removing her granddaughter.
Ar a later hour of the same day, on a wretched bed, heaped in one corner of a damp cellar kitchen, her cheeks flushed, and her breathing quick and laboured, lay the girl Jessy. Daylight, which was fast dying away in the streets above, had long ceased to cast a shadow over that dungeon-like abode, and a small fire revealed its poverty-stricken appearance. Seated on
chairs, the backs of which had long since disappeared, and leaning over a ricketty table, on which stood a pitcher and a broken tea-cup, were two women, one in the prime of life, the other aged, and both exhibiting the coarsely visible signs of ignorance and depravity. Two large piles of rags and bones, thrown in a corner to be sorted, rendered yet more offensive the foul air of the place, and denoted the profession of its oc-' cupant, the elder of the two women. Apparently unconscious of their presence, the girl lay as if in a deep trance, her hands clasped before her over the coarse coverlet, her golden hair lying around in neglected luxuriance, and her darker lashes resting, as with a leaden weight, on her burning cheeks. The indisposition lingering about her for some time past had been accelerated by mental distress, and the fever that was now wasting her strength, and drying up her young blood, had also happily taken from her all consciousness of her situation. Glancing suspiciously at the sleeper, as if fearful of being overheard, the ostensible tenant of the cellar, who went by the name of Mother Peg, continued the thread of her discourse.
“She may say what she likes, but she'll never make me forget that I've seen her with gold—a handful of gold !” and she clutched with her own bony fingers as she spoke. “I wonder what the parish doctor would say, if he knowed that.”
“She's a long time a-fetching him," said the other, a fat, red-faced woman, who wore a heavy link of common beads round her thick neck, and whose gruff, loud voice was more than masculine.
“There's another a been here sin' she went out,” said Mother Peg; "the clargy chap that comes to see Missis Carr. He looked at the girl, and axed if we warn't a going to get the doctor; and when I told him where the old un was gone, he said he'd fetch somebody hisself; so we shall have some on em here presently."
A low, heavy moan caused the speakers to turn and look at the girl, whose arms were now tossed back, and rested amid the sweeping curls of her long hair.
“What did the old un give you for her keep while she was away? " asked the younger woman, jerking her thumb behind her, in allusion to the sleeper.
“Nothin', nothin'—seeing she's got so much to pay with; though for the matter of that, the girl's been all the month with Missis Carr, and, as I told you, I believe it's the old woman coming back as 'as made her ill. She's no more her grandmother than I am.”
Footsteps were now heard above; they descended the stone steps, and presently the cellar door was opened. The two per
sonages who advanced in the dim light were each distinguished by the dress peculiar to their respective professions. The red cloak of the foremost, a grey-headed man, marked him out as the doctor; whilst the black dress of the other, a very handsome young man of about twenty-five, gave evidence of his being a servant of the church.
“Bless my soul !” exclaimed the doctor, “what an atmosphere ! no wonder that people are ill here—have you got a light?”
“A candle?” asked Mother Peg; “no, we arn't-nor money to get none."
The young clergyman hastily handed the woman some money.
“Here, Nance," she exclaimed to her companion, “ fetch us some candles; you can move faster than me.”
During the absence of Nance, the doctor bent over the girl, who had again changed her position, and as he placed his hand on her burning forehead, and felt her pulse, she again moaned heavily, and tossed wildly about in her restlessness.
“ We must have this off directly,” said the doctor, passing his fingers carelessly through the girl's bright, clustering hair. The clergyman, Mr. Herbert, stood looking on with folded arms, and his pale, benevolent face grew paler.
Egad, you made no mistake, Reginald, when you told me that the girl seemed above her station,” said the doctor, after having surveyed his patient more attentively, by the light of the candle; “she's a beautiful creature—are you her grandmother ?” he added, turning abruptly to the old woman. She answered in the negative.
Well, bring a pair of scissors here directly; and you," turning to the one called Nance, “fetch some vinegar and clean water, and both be as quick as you can."
Mr. Herbert again handed money to the younger woman; and mother Peg, after some delay in the search, produced a dilapidated pair of scissors.
“ It seems a pity,” said Mr. Herbert, gently lifting up one of the shining curls that lay floating about, and looking indeed like a “glory” of God's own giving.
“A pity !--nonsense !" said the doctor; "it will grow again, won't it? it would be a greater pity to leave it on, and let the girl die. You might as well have given me an old saw, as these things,” he continued, addressing Mother Peg, and dashing the scissors to the ground impatiently. Mr. Herbert dispatched the younger woman to fetch a pair from Mrs. Carr, and returning, she encountered the grandmother of Jessy, who had come back alone, and the two entered the kitchen together.