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good people who have doubtless saved my life. I have not forgotten what I am, or what you are.”
"And what am I ?” asked the woman, in a loud, harsh voice : " what have I been to you—a child of sin and shame, without a relation in the world, belonging to no one? Did I forsake you, when no law could compel me to cleave to you, because the law of this world utterly casts such as you out?' Did I not cherish you for the very reason that others rejected you? Did I not strive to lift you out of your degradation, to teach you how to triumph over them that despised you? Have I not tried every means to rouse your tame, mean spirit above its condition, and to make you understand what kind of a world you lived in ? But
you must try your own way, forsooth : you can see no sin in practising a shameless deceit, in worming your way treacherously into people's good opinion, in passing for what you are not.'
“I have not done this,” said the girl, speaking more resolutely. “I have never forgotten my position, or what I owed to you, or what I owed to myself.”
“To yourself I could no sense of duty at any time enable you to creep a little out of self, remembering what I had sacrificed in order that it might be well with you? Those you have been amongst have taught you to good purpose; but do not deceive yourself
. Do not imagine but that the charitable, pious people you admire would look upon you with utter contempt and loathing, if they once understood from what dregs of poverty and infamy you had sprung. But perhaps you would like this too: perhaps you could sit quietly under the scowl of scorn, and the insolence of worldly pride, and the taunts of the over righteous! You deserve no better; and nothing better shall you have. Do not fancy that I will connive at your deceptions : I will tell them honestly what was your parentage, and what you are, and then, perhaps, you will find out what the good people of this world are made of.”
“In mercy spare me l” cried the girl, lifting her hands imploringly, while her lips grew livid with emotion.
“I promise you to quit this place immediately,--to-night, if you wish it,only degrade me not thus. I know,” she added, looking round the room wildly, “that this is no place for me. I felt and knew it before you came. Take me away! take me away! but let them still think of me kindly. Alas ! what have I done to deserve this !”
“Listen to me,” said the woman, seating herself near the girl, and speaking in a softened tone; "it is in your own power to avoid this exposure. You know what proposal has been made to you before; it is still open to you. Accept it, and right
h you even this.” rs. Blake, and she sa small oil lamp, on the table; then, s, she kissed her, burage : all will be
er solitude, they had
and motionless as a airs, and the sudden Start even to her feet. en she perceived the ling before her. The
and now stood with nking girl. table liere, I see," she em that protected you vould, doubtless, gladly o make yourself appear where I hide my grey s by my presence ? after a terrible pause; will of my own, and I into thehands of the
yourself. You will have money, and money equalises all things. Reject it, and I will keep my word with you—your place shall be no longer here."
“No ľ” exclaimed the girl, rising resolutely, and confronting the woman, with a proud look that astonished her. “ Neither here nor anywhere where I can be subjected to a horror like this! I will go, but not with you. Shame on you to propose to me a life of infamy, as a remedy, too, for the eternal disgrace which the infamy of others has heaped upon me! I have been most unfortunate, but not guilty, and it is not in your power to make me so. You have kept me down hitherto with a hard hand; from my childhood you have been a terror to me; but I feel a power within me sufficient to break the thrall! You say that I have no claim upon you, that I am relationless : leave me to my fate. I shall at least have God with me,-I shall not be alone.”
“Softly, mistress ! ” exclaimed the woman, with a malignant look. “If I said that you had no claim upon me, is that a reason for your forgetting that I have one upon you? I have borne all the burden of your bringing up, and had a right to expect some return in my old age. I have brought up a serpent to sting me."
“I have offered to work for you," said the girl, passionately. I have even prayed to be allowed to work; but in this endeavour you have thwarted me at every turn. I have told you I cannot do that which you require from me.”
“Work!” repeated the woman with a sneer, "yes, you would have worked for a miserable pittance, for the bread needed from day to day. But it was not that I wanted. Wretched girl! after all the pains I have taken to make you understand the frightful evils of poverty, could you not make one effort to escape such a life of ignominy as this?"
“I see no ignominy in anything, save in sin," answered the
“And you are determined to go on in your own way?”
6. I am.
Very well, then I go on in mine. Fight against me, and I fight against you. To-morrow I will have speech of these people, and then we shall see how it fares with you.”
Be it so ! To-morrow I shall not be here to endure the fresh trial with which you threaten me.”
The girl's quietness irritated the strong passions of the woman, and, after advancing to the door, she turned back, and shook her clenched hand in defiance, and so departed.
Once more left alone, the girl appeared a new creature; there was no longer any appearance of strong feeling about her, nor
any of bodily weakness. With a calmness amounting to apathy, she put off her loose wrapping gown, and the small, neat cap from beneath which her bright hair had still waved gracefully.
From a box which she drew from under the bed, she took out her former dress — the same gown, and cloak, and hat, and the same heavy shoes, that she had worn on the day when she last went to St. Paul's Churchyard; and these she resumed quickly. With a pencil she wrote a few hurried lines on a blank page in one of the Tatlers, which she left open on the table ; then, casting a look of unutterable regret around her, and mentally commending herself, as one altogether forlorn, to the guidance of Providence, the girl passed out into the dark, inclement night.
During the months of March and April, the attention of the fashionable world was chiefly engrossed by the beauty and fortunes of Alice Greystock. Bringing to herself little save mortification and anxiety, Alice could not but be aware that the caresses heaped upon her, and the flattery by which she was assailed on every side, gave much satisfaction both to her father and her aunt; whilst occasional glimpses of an ulterior object with regard to herself, dwelt upon remotely by both of them, kept her mind in a constant state of disquietude, aggravated by her knowledge of the increasing difficulties with which Sir Thomas was beset, as well as by the exciting scenes amid which, unwillingly, her life was passed. The dark uncertainty around was at length broken upon by the following letter, silently placed in her hands by Lady Shirley. “MY DEAR SISTER,
Paris, April 12. “I truly write this in as great strait as mortal man was ever put to-I mean, with regard to money matters. Talbot, as you might be prepared to hear, after what I said in my last, died on the 19th. It was a sore trial to him that his uncle, to whom he had twice written, sent him no reply, good or bad. Adversity surely puts the friendships of this poor world of ours to too severe a test. What with doing my duty by him, and other matters, I am literally reduced to my last shilling. What you say about the being in justice bound to provide for all that have suffered on his behalf, is
liable to one objection, it is just impossible, for the reasons I gave you before; and I would rather return to England and take my chance, than either trouble him or die like a dog, as some already have done. The one constant star shining in my dark horizon is my brave, beautiful Alice. What you tell me about her reception everywhere, makes me at once proud and sorrowful-how, being what she is, could it be otherwise? I assure you
gone hard with me to entertain, for a moment, the project with regard to her, mentioned in your last; and there is a weakness about my heart that prevents me writing to her as you propose. I think the matter had best be gently broken to her by yourself; not that I for a moment doubt my child's ready compliance with anything that is for the benefit of her father, it is the too willing sacrifice I dread. I beg, therefore, that you will open the subject yourself; and mind-I will not have her consent harshly enforced. It is true, this marriage might be my salvation; but my child's loss would be to me no gain, and but that I know her affections to be wholly free, I had not consented to this much. I beg you not to keep me in supense, but to write as soon as may be, for the torture I at present endure is more than you can well believe. My trusty messenger, who has never yet failed or deserted me, will bring your answer, in hope of which, I remain your affectionate brother,
Alice and her aunt were seated in the cabinet of the latter, when this epistle was submitted to her perusal. Lady Shirley quietly continued the employment she was upon--the penning of sundry dainty notes, redolent of rose-water—and she did not cease or look up, being determined that her niece should speak first. Alice, with fixed eyes and white lips, sat gazing on the letter long after she had mastered its contents. Terrors, such as she had never before experienced, crowded upon her ; she felt that some crisis was approaching for which she would be in no wise prepared. It was plain that her father and her aunt contemplated bestowing her in marriage; that the party was even fixed upon; and for the first time in her life, Alice asked herself if her affections were indeed free. Colonel Seymour's attentions to her had latterly been so marked, as to draw forth the animadversions of others, and she felt flattered, not merely because she heard from all around how rare from him such attentions were, but because, believing there was much that was noble and generous in his nature, she received them as a testimony of similar belief on his part in her own. In the hollow crowd amid which both moved, a confidence had
insensibly been established betwixt them, and there the heart as well as the eyes of Alice, had learned to wander in search of the sole being whose feelings appeared to be in any degree in unison with her own. With that too ready trustfulness, peculiar to the young and unsophisticated, she had gradually accustomed herself to consider his friendship as a stay in the desert places where her present lot was cast. Beyond this she made no enquiry, and was conscious of no venture whereon her peace might be perilled, and apprehensive of no change in which the one quiet satisfaction of her spirit might be scattered to the winds. But the changes of this world, eventful either for good or evil, were about to open before her a larger sphere of vision- to teach her yet more of others as well as of herself. In her intercourse with the colonel, pleasant as it had hitherto been, she had never lost sight of the superiority which years and experience, and a more systematic training of thought and character, had given him over herself. She had silently acknowledged this in the ready yielding of her confidence, in the pleasurable emotion with which she received his approbation, and in the involuntary association of his image, not only with the present, but with whatever future might await her. It was a terror to feel all this; to be conscious that she was no longer unfettered as of old ; that she could not act under the counsel she had been accustomed to obey, with that freedom of thought and feeling which had hitherto shielded her from any great sacrifice of self. The time was come, in which she was compelled to ask herself to what all this was tending, and frightened by her own inability to give any satisfactory reply, she resolutely tried to fix her thoughts solely upon the present situation of her father. This was no hard task, for love of him had hitherto been the master passion of her life; and in the sudden revulsion of her feelings, she reproached herself bitterly for the pre-occupation of her thoughts. What must he not be suffering—and how selfish she had been ! how unmindful of him, pining in want, far away from her! Heavy tears filled her eyes, and the monotonous scratching of Lady Shirley's pen became insupportable.
“This letter," she said, speaking in a trembling voice, “is dated more than a week back. Have you received it to-day ?”
“It has been in my possession three days,” returned Lady Shirley, sharply. "If you
"If you will go about as if you had nothing to think of but your own pleasure, your father must bear the consequences.
“I have only been one day with Lady Dinah Rance, and for the first time, although she has so frequently importuned me to visit her. I thought it was your desire that I should go, and I returned yesterday.”