페이지 이미지
[ocr errors]

glass bottles in his window could not fail in proclaiming to the whole street, the laborious duties which it was his aim to induce his neighbours to imagine fully occupied his time, in administering to the maladies under which so many of his fellow creatures suffered.

“My good woman,” exclaimed the doctor, on giving entrance to the person before noticed, “may I enquire the reason of your coming at this advanced hour of the night, when all respectable persons should be in their own homes? This is not a time to seek medical aid here—my assistants have departed— I am but just returned after a night of great fatigue, and consequently am unable to afford you

any help whatever.” The person so addressed, was a middle aged, respectable looking woman, who on having made good her position within the house, seemed determined not to forego the advantage she had attained, for, on the door being opened, she straightway proceeded towards the fire, and commenced warming her hands and drying her garments, as unconcernedly as if seated by her own hearth.

At another time, perhaps, the doctor might have been amused at the nonchalance of his visitor; but in the present instance, a feeling of pleasure was the very last which held possession in his bosora : moreover, great as was his regard for the sex in general, a constant residence of twenty-six years, near the Borough-road, had not increased his respect for the ladies of that immediate neighbourhood, or gained for them a preference to those whom it had been his fate to meet elsewhere; and when he bethought bimself, that it was near one o'clock in the morning, and that he, who had, for more than a quarter of a century, maintained a most exemplary character in that very house, might perchance be discovered in his present disagreeable situation—from which inferences and ill nature might ruin him in his profession-it therefore cannot be wondered at that our friend felt far from comfortable, and most particularly desirous for the lady's departure.

“My good woman,” repeated the doctor, “I must for the second time, desire you will at once declare your business, and tell me whom and what you want? since it is utterly impossible you can stay here, as by so doing I may greatly suffer in character, as also may yourself—if indeed,” grumbled the doctor, sotto voce “you may happen to possess one worth retaining.”

The woman thus energetically appealed to, at last desisted from her occupation, and raising her head from the fire, gazed full in the apothecary's face, thereby disclosing a countenance which needed only to be seen, effectually to silence any scandal

which might have accrued from the knowledge of their position being made public.

“What do I want, do you say ?" uttered a voice as unprepossessing as the features, “why what should I want at this time of night, at an apothecary's shop, unless it was physic! Here am I, a respectable lodging house keeper, wet through and through in trudging about after a doctor, and now I've found one, I'm not going off in such a hurry, I'll warrant you ;-no, no," mumbled the somewhat ancient dame; and again she assiduously applied herself to exposing her habiliments to the blaze; the process of which seemed to afford her infinitely more satisfaction than it conveyed to the unwilling host.

Physic!” quoth the man of medicine. “Oh, if that's what you want, take it and welcome, as much as you please. Help yourself if you like it,” he continued, smiling at his own faceiiousness ;“only be quick and go.”

“As for being quick,” replied the lady, " that's as it may be ; but as regards the going, I don't mean to move one inch with. out you.

“ Without me!” cried the doctor, “where do you want me to go, at this time of night, and for what?

Why, as for where you are to go," answered the woman, “ that you will know, by my showing the way: and the 'what for, you will see when you get there; and now my clothes are somewhat drier, and the wind does not howl so loudly as it did, you had better put on your coat, and let us start.”

Upon my word, you seem to have settled the whole thing according to your own pleasure, without consulting mine in the least," angrily replied her companion ; “but to end this useless discussion, I say, once for all, that until day-light, I will not again cross this threshold, neither shall you remain where you now are.

Had the lady been as talkative as some ladies are, it would be impossible to surmise to what extent their dialogue night have been carried; but very fortunately she proved herself the reverse. Yet, if scanty of her words, she was prompt and resolute in her actions, for, on hearing the final determination of the gentleman, she immediately seated herself in his own particular chair, and giving him to understand that it was her intention there to remain, until he thought proper to accede to her request, she forthwith proceeded to make herself as comfortable as the circumstances in which she was placed would allow.

Sorely perplexed was the worthy apothecary, as to the best mode of proceeding,- for having up that hour, lived a life of “single blessedness,” he was but indifl'erently skilled in the act of persuading a lady to adopt any particular way of acting, when

she chanced to have made up her mind to follow a directly opposite course; moreover, the old gentleman was somewhat nervous, and most feelingly alive-as indeed who is not ? -to the shafts of ridicule, when directed at himself; and were he to summon the watch, and expel the intruder by force, he felt assured that the story in a few hours would have received considerable embellishments, and in all probability, would be circulated through his neighbourhood, at a pace at which nothing but a tale of scandal can travel.

At one time, he was strongly tempted to call his assistants to his aid, but the immediate remembrance that they, of all people, were the most likely to "make a good story of it,” checked his voice, ere he had half uttered a syllable. What was to be done ? It would never answer, were he to attempt enacting the part of ejector himself ; for exclusive of the disgrace the fracas must inevitably cast on his house, he had not such unbounded confidence in his personal prowess, as to feel certain of coming off victor in the attempt. It seemed therefore most evident that his choice rested between two evils, the one was to sit up for the remainder of the night, watching his visitor; and the other to comply with her demand, however unreasonable, and accom. pany her he knew not whither, nor for what purpose.

Having well digested in his mind, which would prove tbe less disagreeable line to adopt, he finally resolved to embrace the latter alternative, and having communicated the same to the female, she instantly arose, and followed by the reluctant doctor, again stepped forth into the street.

Long as our worthy practitioner had dwelt within the precincts of the spot whereon our story opens, and conversant as he thought himself respecting the locale of his neighbourhood, be soon discovered his guide to be far superior to him in the profession of geographical information, regarding that part of the town at least ; and when she stopped at the portal of a small and by no means prepossessing looking house, he was wholly incapable of forming any idea as to the place at which he had arrived. Not so the lady-for, on lifting the latch, she hastily thrust the doctor into the passage, when pointing to a narrow flight of stairs, apparently leading to an upper story, she motioned her companion to ascend.

Having thus far embarked in the adventure, Doctor Glitzom cautiously mounted the creaking steps, determined to ascertain for what strange purpose he could have been brought to so uncomfortable-looking a dwelling. On reaching the landing place, the obscurity of which the light was unable to penetrate, he paused for a few seconds in uncertainty, and possibly with no very pleasurable feelings, for he had already turned, with the inten

tion of retraciug his steps, when he beheld a slight ray issuing from an apartment at no great distance, the door of which had been left partially open. Re-assured by this, the doctor advanced with as much caution as the ancient boards would allow, and on reaching the apartment, and gently forcing an opening sufficiently large to admit himself, beheld what it is our province now to describe.

The room in which the intruder found himself was some eighteen feet in length, particular narrow, and so extremely low, that the small posts of a miserable bed, placed in one of the corners, nearly touched the smoke-coloured ceiling.

There were two diminutive window frames, which at each gust of wind, gave indication of their sympathy with the storm -of glass, they could boast but a small portion,-the apertures in which it formerly stood, were now stuffed with whatever chance had made capable of supplying the deficiency, and as if enraged at the substitution, the frames shook and rattled in their sockets, apparently determined to expel the intruders by force, and, save a table and two or three chairs, not a particle of furniture was visible.

At one end of the room, the scanty remains of some coal dust reposed on the floor, and exclusive of an ancient hat, and threadbare coat hanging on a peg, there was little to authorize the supposition of so wretched a place being inhabited. Yet inhabited it certainly was, and by more than one tenant, however uninviting the apartment might appear; for little can the wealthy and happier part of society form a conception as to the wretched pess and misery in which many and many a one of their fellow creatures is doomed to struggle through life, reaping nothing but the bitterness of existence, and anxiously looking forward to death, as their welcome deliverer from an uninterrupted course of agony and grief.

The building to which we have now introduced our readers was within the rules of what in those days was termed the King's Bench, in the immediate neighbourhood of which may be found as much agony of mind and reckless profligacy, as can be met with in any spot of similar dimensions. Yet it by no means follows that the misery there experienced is inevitably the consequence of guilt-far from it: the divgy walls of that horrible prison have witnessed innumerable scenes of human wretchedness brought about by a long train of unmerited persecution and suffering, until at length the poor victim, ceasing to strive against what to him appears relentless destiny, and considering all efforts unavailing in struggling with his rccumulating miseries, relinquishes his exertions in despair, and not upfrequently ends his days in madness or a jail.

Damp and chilly was the air of that comfortless room when Dr. Glitzom entered, nor was it until after a few minutes, when his eyes had become partially habituated to the gloom of the chamber, that he perceived a form reclining on the scantily clothed pallet in the corner. At the sight of real distress and human suffering, the good-hearted practitioner immediately forgot his own doubts and surmises as to the somewhat dubious character of the place wherein, so much against his inclination, he then found himself; and anxious to administer what relief he might have it in his power to bestow, he approached the sick man's couch.

The unhappy looking tenant of the bed now extended before him, was the wreck of what had once been a being courted, fawned on, flattered, and admired—the spoiled child of fortune -the idol of society, and the leader in all those frivolous pursuits which an ever craving appetite for novelty induces those who, par excellence, are termed “the world,” to pursue with such unabated vigour.

The time had been, when, even among the leaders of imperious fashion, his word had been received as a law-his applause or ridicule considered as the final decision, against which all appeal would be fruitless. Young, handsome, talented and rich, what might he not have been ? And what was he now? A miserable, emaciated creature, worn down with sickness and disease, without a friend, and with scarcely sufficient left of his once enormous fortunes, to purchase what nature absolutely required to feed the flickering flame of life, which at that moment trembled in its socket.

Though the name of this unfortunate individual had, in days gone by, been as familiar in the mansions of the greatest personages in the realm as his utmost ambition could have desired, yet had its magic influence never reached within the doors of the humble apothecary who now stood by his bed side. To him it mattered little who the patient was, or what he had been; splendour and ambition had never crossed his mind, and in the worn frame he now gazed on, he beheld only one of God's creatures suffering under an accumulation of human infirmities, who in all probability would, in a few seconds, be called upon to close his eyes on this world for ever.

The dying man could not have passed more than about thirty years, and though the fire of the once bright eye was fast sinking into the fixed glassy stare of death, the features pinched and haggard, the hair lank and damp, yet was it clearly visible, that in the days of his strength and power, he must have been eminently handsome. One arm, supporting his finely formed head, resting on the pillow, while the other emaciated hand lay power

« 이전계속 »