Woman's Wrongs (3)
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BOOK III.

THE TRADESMAN'S DAUGHTER.

1.THE SHOP.


"ONE quarter of a pound of four shilling mixed."

    "Mixed."

    "One ounce of figs."

    "Figs."

    "Two cakes of mottled soap."

    "Soap."

    "One pound of soft sugar."

    "Sugar."

    "Mrs. Susannah Sniggs."

    "Sniggs."

    And a white little hand might be seen driving a large steel pen at a rapid rate, behind a crimson curtain—while, against the rails of a high placed desk lay the top edge of a ponderous ledger, over which, ever and anon, some delicate silken tresses were sweeping to and fro, from a face, invisible to the customers at the counter.

    "One flask of oil."

    "Oil."

    "Quarter pound tenpenny coffee."

    "Coffee."

    "And so the catalogue went on, at rapid reprisals from morning to night.

    At an early hour the dingy shutters of the soapy shop were opened, and the sallow flicker of the glaring gas streamed antagonistic to the coughy fog that rushed in at the open door.  At that early hour, Laura Trenton was obliged either to ensconce herself at her high desk, or else to hold herself in momentary readiness to mount it at the slightest footfall in the shop.

    During the long day the same tedious routine was undergone—and still it lasted when unwholesome gas again flared up of evenings, struggling with the cold blasts of a winter evening, or mocking the soft glow of summer twilight.  A machine—a moving anatomy of penmanship and arithmetic was behind that crimson curtain, perched up at that lofty desk; and day by day, and week by week, and year by year, the same routine went on.

    And who, among the many customers that received the finely drawn and delicate handwriting of that unseen clerk, who would guess of the sweet thoughts that had breathed over it, the gentle heart that had beaten against the paper?  To many that handwriting was an object of aversion and disgust, reminding them of liabilities difficult to meet; and yet—!


 
2.—THE QUAY.


"GOOD heavens! what a wonderful being a tradesman is!  Have you never stared with astonishment at one of those wooden men, who make double entry, and live suspended for life over a ledger?  What an extraordinary power of will a man must have, to take his heart out of his breast, throw it out of the window, turn himself into a calculating machine, reconstitute himself bit by bit, and replace all his passions, all his impulses, by pounds, ounces, and grains, simple and compound interest, stock, discount and percentage.  And then enact the part of a chained dog—to go from the bed to the counter, and the counter to the bed—with an occasional stretching of the chain to its full length—that is, from the shop to the docks, and from the docks to the shop.  Is there not something awful in the cold calm of such a man, who has taken all the dreams and charms of life, torn them out of his heart and brain like flowers from a bed, cast them beneath his feet, and stands trampling on them, without even once looking downwards?  Is it not terrible to see a man thus abdicate humanity, to encrustate himself in a counting-house, turn himself into a pair of scales, make himself into a packet of samples, and become a walking ready reckoner?  Cold, callous, unimpressible to all that God has placed of great and beautiful around us! —the sun dying in the ocean—the song of girlhood heard by moonlight from an open window—a solitary star, burning like the chariot of an archangel, who has suddenly stopped to look down upon the world!"

    The speaker of this fantastical tirade, was a young man about twenty—and the scene of his poetic rhapsody was London docks.  He walked to and fro upon the quay, noting the packages disembarked from a huge vessel.  It was evening—and over London flamed a glorious June sunset—sapphire, emerald and opal, ruby, gold, and silver, blazing and melting in mingled effulgence over masts and spires, and throwing its long streaks of ruddy light aslant the long façades of the colossal warehouses.  Commercial, busy, bustling and commonplace as it was, the scene was not without the eminently picturesque in its effects.

    "Mind what you're doing, Edward," cried a voice to the young man, there are three cases you've forgotten to mark."

    "I beg your pardon, sir!" cried Edward Trenton, somewhat confused—and jotting down his figures.

    The voice of reproof came from a tall, pale, bony man, of about 40.  He was nearly bald.  Stepping to the side of the quay, he spat into the river, and resting his left arm upon a capstan, and his head upon his hand, gazed attentively up the water.  His eyes seemed to rest in admiration on the magnificent spectacle presented by that glorious sunset, hallowing the merest commonplace of life with a poetic grandeur.

    "Ah!" said Edward, who had completed his task, "you are lost in admiration at this sight the same as I.  What a gorgeous scene—that sky! those vessels, gliding out there, like birds of peace, borne on the aerial bosom of the stream!—what are you thinking of, so solemnly—it is indeed a scene to solemnise the feelings."

    The gaunt, pale man fixed his china-like eyes on Edward, and said:  I was thinking the wind don't serve to bring the Mary Jackson into port—and that will make a farthing in the pound difference in my coffees."

    The young man stepped back a pace—and turned away abruptly.  He had been but a short time in London, yet it was not the first occasion on which commercial ice had given a chill to his feelings.

    Edward Trenton was the son of a country schoolmaster, and had been sent to his uncle, a grocer in Cheapside, preparatory to starting in business himself.  That uncle was very much what Edward had described him in his rhapsody.  He had an only child, a daughter, and she was his clerk—a female calculating machine.  Not that he was without affection for her.  Mr. Trenton was an honourable man of business; he did everything in businesslike style—loved, married, christened, like a good son, husband, and father, because it was proper to do so.  He took care of his daughter, he was fond of her, kind to her, (in his way—and that kindness consisted in giving her good food, clothing, and dwelling, with education in arithmetic, needlework, and grammar), just because she was his daughter.  If any one else could suddenly have been substituted with the same claim, he would have acted in the same way.

    Edward was a young man full of enthusiasm and overwrought poesy.  Brought up by a fond parent, in a romantic part of the country, his character was almost as much warped into the one extreme, as that of the London tradesman in the other.  Conversant with the literature of England, especially the modern,—Bulwerized, however, more than Dickensified,—he was one of those beings, who, without a fault of their own, are sure to be miserable, and certain to be ruined, since they are out of harmony with the sphere in which they are placed.

    On returning home from the docks, after he had shut himself up in his little garret at his uncle's house in Cheapside, at midnight, be indited a long letter to a young friend of his, a surgeon, in his native village, from which the following are extracts:—


    "Prepare my mother to see me back again soon.  I can't stop here.  From eight in the morning till ten at night you may see me making double entries, or superintending the weighing of sugar—or haggling with dealers. . . . . My only companions are the former assistant of my uncle—once his shopman—now his partner.  He's a man who would be adding up his ledger if he knew it was the day of judgment.  I am sure when the archangel's trumpet sounds, he'll wake up with the rule of three on his lips.  He's a proof, that, if a man really wills a thing he is very likely to do it.  He has become rich because he never thought about anything else.  He's all-powerful in the house—and, to say the truth he don't abuse his power.  He's always quiet, and never gets out of temper.  He has calculated how much patience brings in per cent., and what discount must be allowed on anger. . . . .

    "As to my cousin Laura, I'll say nothing—that's all one can say of her.  Just fancy a pale young girl, with large blue eyes, and false over-sleeves of green cotton, to prevent her gown being soiled—and gloves upon her bands to keep her fingers from being inked!  She keeps the day-book—enters orders—scores up accounts—writes a fine Italian hand—and—that's all.  You never hear her voice.  Just fancy, young eighteen, and that she's always there—but I don't notice her once a fortnight.  She's a libel on girlhood!

    "You may imagine, my dear Winfred, whether or not I choke, morally and mentally, in such a house.  And, indeed, I should have left it on the second day, had it not been on my mother's account.  She wished to see me in some way of making a living.  She thought my uncle could be of use to me; her whole future for me was planned on that basis.  She has built up a life for me, that I don't like to knock down before her eyes, as yet!  But, my friend, you know I was not made for this.  There's more in me than was meant for that.  I look to the paths of literature—my heart beats when I see a new work. . . . . I don't know how it is, but I don't hear of a new author without feeling almost angry—for it appears, that, while I wait, my place is being forestalled.  I believe I feel envious.  Oh! the human heart is a sad mixture――!"


 
3.—THE PARLOUR.


    EIGHT days after this letter bad been sent, a young girl might have been seen sitting in a little back parlour about ten feet square, at a high desk, her body rigid, her face serious, solemnly adding up columns of figures in a ledger.  On her hands were inky gloves, with the finger-tips cut off for the easier holding of the pen—and by the green over-sleeves, reaching from the wrist to the elbow,—by the pale and apparently unanimated countenance, might be recognised one who had been nailed over an account-book all her life—a heart, crippled in the narrowing compass of a counting-house, like the Chinese lady's foot, but not with the excusing motive that distorts the latter—to make it beautiful.  It was the unseen clerk of the crimson curtain—Laura Trenton.

    It would be difficult to say whether Laura was plain or pretty.  She was not considered the latter for she lacked the fresh colouring of rural life, the robust, undulating marble of healthy youth, so enticing to the middle-class.  But, without having that which engaged the coarser fancy of the latter, she possessed attractions that would not have failed to win admiration in a more refined class,if seen under better aspects of dress and association of circumstances.  Her tall figure, her pale face was scarcely enlivened by large blue eyes; her shoulders were high and rather bent, the result of continual stooping over an account-book, her breast was thin and hollowed—her demeanour was embarrassed, and sometimes almost awkward.  She seemed to have two left sides.  She moved at angles, like an articulated doll.  Yet, there was a gleam of feeling and refinement through it all, disfigured by her ungainly dress, like a noble poem by a miserable travesty.

    And how could she be otherwise than ill at ease?  She had never known the joys of childhood—and the elegance of the body depends on the happiness of our early years.  A happy child makes a graceful man or woman.  An unhappy child is sure to grow up ungainly.  For youth is like a flower, that cannot develop itself, except in the free air and beneath the genial sun.

    The arrival of Edward Trenton, however, had wrought a change in Laura.  The romantic young man had shot like a star across her horizon.  It was the first time she had heard a man talk about aught but prices, goods, money, or parish affairs.  She became absent and thoughtful.  Her cheek flushed when she saw Edward: and her father remarked with horror that she made blots in the ledger, and errors in her totals.

    At the moment in which we have introduced the reader to Laura, she had just finished her morning's work—and she sat at her desk pensively, with her large eyes fixed on vacancy.  A quick step rattled down the stair-case.  It roused her from her reverie.  She hastened to resume her pen, and reddened to the forehead.

    Edward entered.  He approached her, and gave her a paper: "It's the bill of lading, Laura."

    "Thank you."

    "I'm sorry to bring you more work—it will take a long time to copy—it will tire you."

    "Oh, no! not at all.  Quite the contrary."

    Edward smiled, and seemed looking for something on the desk.  "I had a set of accounts there to add up and balance for my uncle,"—he said.

    "Here it is."

    "Thanks.  Oh dear! what a lot of columns; I yawn beforehand."

    Laura raised her head, took up a little piece of paper that lay by her side, and timidly handed it to the young man;—"I have added them up," she said, "and balanced them for you—just to amuse myself.  They're correct, you will merely have to enter the totals into the book."

    "Really, Laura! you're too kind.  There's an arithmetical flirtation!"

    Laura bowed her head—humbled.  She had thought to save Edward from a task she knew he disliked, and, in return, had gained nothing but a jest.  It had cost her hard labour—a labour, need we say it, of love—and the tears almost gathered in her eyes.

    Meanwhile, Edward sat down, and began in a careless manner, to make entries in the book.  Neither he nor Laura spoke for about ten minutes.  Then the silence and the task seemed too much for the impulsive disposition of the young man, and he began to hum an air, to draw figures on the blotting-paper, and, at last, to relieve himself, found out it was absolutely necessary to mend his pen!  Laura continued at her work assiduously.

    "I admire your cool contentedness, cousin Laura!  Nothing puts you out.  How can you sit drudging here this beautiful sunshiny summer-day?"

    "I'm used to it."

    "And when the sun is laughing over the city, as it is now, do you never feel a longing to quit this atmosphere of smoke, gas, and groceries, and to feel the air that has passed over the sweetbriers, and to hear the wild birds sing?"

    "I have no time to think of it."

    "Do you never go out, then?"

    "Oh, yes!  On Sunday afternoons, after church."

    "And don't you find this life monotonous, withering and horrid?"

    "I have known no other."

    "And how do you pass the time not murdered at that desk?  Your long winter evenings, for instance?"

    "I knit or embroider till ten o' clock, and then I go to bed."

    Edward cut the pen he held, in two at one stroke, and muttered:"Really, it's impossible to remain in such a house."  Then he said aloud—"I envy your resignation.  For my part, I've always been accustomed to fresh air, and a free life.  I choke in your counting-houses.  I can't bear it."

    Laura raised her eyes and fixed them on him: "What will you do then?"

    "Oh, I'll give up trade—and go away."

    The young girl clasped her hands in an attitude of sorrowful surprise; then observing that her cousin was looking at her, she bent down, and seemed more busy than ever with her ledger.


 
4SUNDAY.


SUNDAY morning in Cheapside!  Can you imagine anything more miserable in the world?  Sunday morning in Cheapside!

    Well—the "drawing-room" of Trenton and Co. was always in requisition of a Sunday—and in it, by ten o'clock on Sunday morning, sat Laura waiting for her father, who had not yet quitted his bed.  "Sunday morning was the morning to sleep—it was less noisy!"—the worthy man was wont to say.

    Laura looked paler than usual—a bible and prayer-book lay upon the table—but they were not opened this morning.  On a piano were several pamphlets and some nondescript books.  Edward entered, and Laura seemed to turn paler still—and sat rigid with downcast eyes.  Edward, with his habitual disregard of Laura's intellectual powers, did not try to open a conversation with her.  He amused himself with examining the books on the piano.  At last he laid his hand on one that seemed to attract his attention.  It was a cheap weekly publication.

    "Ah! who reads this?  Is it you, cousin Laura?"

    "I . . . . ye . . . . yes!"

    "And no doubt you think this something very fine—ah! let me see!—here's a fine woodcut—a woman with dishevelled hair—half-fainting—on her knees—three men—one trying to stab the other—and a third stealing up from behind about to shoot them both!  No doubt this is very edifying—very amusing, isn't it?"

    "Oh! very," said Laura, innocently and unembarrassed.

    "And you think it full of delicate sentiment—and refined sensibility,—and sound philosophy—don't you?"

    "Ye. . . .yes!" stammered the young girl, hardly knowing what to make of his tone and manner.

    "I thought so," observed Edward, enjoying what he called the good joke of satirising his wooden cousin—the female, calculating machine.

    "But it is a pity too," he added, to himself, that these men will write down the public mind, the female especially, to so low an intellectual standard.  These miserable works step in the place of better, and prevent them, while they infuse moral poison into the young mind of woman, engrossing its attention and excluding the antidote.  Verily, these men are great criminals, they are the ASSASSINS OF THEE SOUL."

    Laura sat very uneasily in her chair—and as soon as Edward seemed to have finished his half-soliloquy, of which she heard not a single syllable, she said—"Will you . . . . I . . . . will you let me have the book?"

    "What! do you want to read it again—learn it by heart, perhaps?"

    "Oh, no! . . . . to-day is Sunday," was the reply, with a serious reproachful countenance.

    "Ha! ha!"  A step was heard on the stair.

    "Give it me!" said Laura, with unusual quickness and animation—and as Edward mechanically gave it, she threw it under the sofa.

    "Oh! I understand!"

    "Don't tell papa!" and she blushed up to the forehead, as she spoke.

    "Well, I won't, child!  But tell me, then, where did you get it?"

    "Ann gave it me."

    "What! the servant girl?"

    Poor Laura!  Nature will find a vent.  The human heart cannot be turned into a calculating machine with impunity.  A young girl cannot be made a tradesman's clerk—and if you debar the mind from innocent amusement and literary recreation, it will indemnify itself somehow.  If elegant, refined, and amusing reading is provided for it, it will not turn to the miserable offscourings of a depraved last-class literature, written by mercenary panderers to the low tastes that they themselves create.

    "And do you read nothing but this kind of work?"

    "I have nothing else."

    "Don't you ever see the magazines or papers?"

    "Oh, yes!  The Church of England Review, and the Dispatch."

    "Ha! ha!  Then I can easily understand the extent of your literary knowledge.  Ha! ha!  Poor Laura!"

    And poor Laura, in whose eyes the tears had long been gathering, could now no longer conceal them.  Edward perceived it, and was distressed.  He had looked upon her as a mere machine, without feeling or intellectual sympathy—he was sorry to have hurt her—though he considered her emotion now as nothing more than a childish vexation.  He said, however, in a soothing voice: "If I lent you books of a different character would you read them?  I will give you some."  Laura bowed her head in sign of thanks—she could not trust herself to speak, lest she should reveal her tears.

    At this moment her father entered.  "I say, Laura! you'll be too late for church!  The bells have long done ringing.  What are you thinking about?  The girl is waiting for you—go!"  Laura went.

    "The deuce, uncle!" said Edward, "I did not think you were so attentive to the welfare of my cousin's soul.  You're a religious man, then?"

    Mr. Trenton looked around cautiously to see whether Laura was fairly out of hearing—then opening his mouth immensely wide (his mode of giving a delicate satirical smile) he said in a whisper that would have awakened a sleeping bullock:  "I religious?"—these kind of men always think a weakness of faith shows a strongness of mind—mistaking the blasphemy of the priest for the common-sense of religion.  "I religions? pah! at my time of life one don't let one's-self be made the dupe of parsons; but there's nothing like moderation in all things.  I, myself, haven't opened any account with the church—but for women, and for the people, d'ye see? its absolutely necessary.  It keeps them within bounds.  Besides, it costs me nothing extra, and I feel more easy."

    Edward made no reply.  There are absurdities in the world, before which the mind stands silent as before infinity.  One may imagine the estimation in which Edward held both his uncle and his cousin.  He confounded both in the same judgment, and never asked himself, whether merely a want of education was chargeable with the faults he laid to Laura's account, whether her apparent imbecility was not merely the effect of ignorance,—and whether a perfect heaven of intellect and passion might not, after all, be lurking beneath that ungainly and frigid exterior.  Perhaps her soul was like some of those dark, encrusted stones, that require but the lapidary's touch to sparkle into diamond.


 
5.—TRANSITION.


TIME passed—Edward ceased to concern himself about Laura.  He had made up his mind that she was not worth noticing—and yet he would so well have liked to have found in her a fond, a dear companion!  He was at that age in which every woman seems loveable who is still young, and not positively ugly.  As it was, he found a charm in hearing himself (with a cousin's familiarity), called "Edward," by that soft, sweet, voice, in feeling the satin-like touch of that light hand—in watching the fair girl, with childish innocence, curl or braid her long blonde ringlets in his presence.

    But, ever, some piece of ledger-monotony, some piece of puerility, some display of ignorance and mental apathy, dispelled the illusion, and Edward did not allow the monotony of business to be disturbed by any romance of home or love.  He soon grew accustomed to his daily routine and he filled it as machinelike as even Mr. Trenton could desire.  The latter had no occasion to blame him,—and he never praised.  But, of nights, when Edward retired to his little garret, he indemnified himself.  There he had collected the best literature of the day—there he wrote, composed, compiled—there he indulged in dreams of literary fame, and wrote articles which, now and then, he succeeded in getting inserted in some of the magazines and papers, signed with his name.  Amid the torrent of celebrated names that deluged the town, he was gratified to find his own appear, from time to time, like those stray drops which ooze slowly through a rock, and, by dint of long trickling, form a stream at last.

    He used, indeed, to trench somewhat on his business hours—and he was enabled to do so —for many a weary calculation did Laura save him from, taking it unknown to Edward from her father, instead of letting it be given to her cousin—and many an account did she balance, for him, performing her task in so delicate a manner, that the young man could not tell he was under any obligation. 

    Edward was thus in the habit of reading at his desk, when unobserved, and doing the same thing for which he had laughed at Laura on the Sunday morning—hiding the book when he heard Mr. Trenton coming!  The young man, however, made a discovery about this time, which excited his curiosity, and enlisted his interest.  The books and journals which he concealed under his desk regularly disappeared, and were as regularly replaced.  He could not suspect his uncle of any such literary indiscretion, and, accordingly, his suspicions fell on his cousin Laura, suspicions which he was soon enabled to convert into certitude.  This caused him once more to observe his slighted cousin, and he was not long in perceiving that a very marked change had taken place in her appearance.  The customary pallor of her face had increased—her cheeks were slightly but not unpleasantly, hollowed, her eyes had grown more ardent, and were encircled with a tinge of brown.  Her manner was as quiet as before, but Edward thought he could perceive at times a dreamy absence in it, hitherto a stranger to her methodical nature.  He was about to fathom the cause of the change, when Laura fell ill.  She kept her room for several days; and she left for a sort of half-country farm, half cit's-box, belonging to her father, some miles out of town, the physician having decided that a change of air was, absolutely requisite for her health.

    All this had taken place in the house, with the regularity of a machine.  Two hours after the doctor had recommended change of air, Laura was on her way to the farm, and was replaced by a clerk, who ensconced himself at her desk as much at home as if he had been born and bred in it.  Edward never heard of the arrangement till he happened on the following morning, at breakfast, to inquire after his cousin.  He felt an involuntary pang of regret at her departure, and not having seen her before she left—and then, ceased to think upon the matter.


 
6.—A DAY IN THE COUNTRY.


ON a brilliant August morning a one-horse chaise, containing Mr. Trenton and his nephew, was seen proceeding on the road to Enfield.  Edward seemed wearied and thoughtful.  The grocer, on the contrary, was all vitality, his eyes incessantly flitted from side to side of the road—he kept making remarks on the crops, the price of corn, the improvements of the soil (grocers are generally fond of being thought good farmers,)—to which remarks Edward replied with the most provoking monosyllables.

    At last the chaise stopped before a humble-looking gate.  "Open the gate, Edward," said Mr. Trenton, "take the 'chay' down the great avenue—I will go round and look at the garden, on the way." 

    Edward did as he was desired.  As he approached a grove of chestnuts at the end of the avenue, he beheld in the distance a young girl, in the most graceful attitude, like an angel floating on mid-air.  On drawing nearer, he saw that she was seated on a swing suspended between two trees—her left arm passed upward round the cord, her head reclining on it.  One of her feet was slightly drawn towards her, the other hung down listlessly, just touching the flowers beneath.  A slight movement given to the trees by the wind, swayed her gently to and fro.  She was sleeping—and her long blonde hair, half-undone, lay waving on her shoulders.  In her right hand she still held her straw hat, filled with wild flowers—and a few leaves, prematurely autumnal, had been cast by the breeze upon her white dress, and lay there trembling, about to fall.

    The young man paused, ravished at the beautiful sight!  But the sound of the carriage woke the sleeper, she raised her head, waved back her flowing ringlets with a childish grace,—and then started in surprise at seeing Edward—it was Laura Trenton.

    Edward approached her with an astonishment he did not even seek to conceal.  It was something new to him to see his cousin in such slight and elegant attire.  He had hitherto beheld her only in her antiquated, clerk-like, dress—gone were the green oversleeves and the inky half-gloves—he now found her in a pure white robe, disclosing the fair shoulders from which the scarf had fallen in her sleep, while the most delicate bloom glowed upon her cheek, and the Beautiful first imprinted the seal of its glory on a face that nature made for love and intellect, but that man had marred into apathy and coldness.

    "Laura — dear Laura!  I have startled you!  I have woke you!"

    "Yes . . . . I was tired running about in the sun—I sat down here—and I believe I fell asleep."

    "But you are better now, are you not?" said Edward, drawing still nearer to her.  "At least you look beautiful!"

    There was affection in his tone—he extended his hands.  Laura placed her's in his.  He pressed it to his heart; and for the first time he noticed the delicate beauty of the little hand he clasped.

    "Has not papa come with you?" asked Laura, feeling embarrassed under Edward's scrutiny, and anxious to divert the conversation.

    "He has gone round by the garden."

    "Then let us join him."

    Laura moved on.  Edward surrendered the carriage to a servant, and followed.

    When they reached the house, they found Mr. Trenton busily discussing, with a farmer, the value of the crops.  However, he interrupted himself for a moment to ask Laura if she was better,—then he resumed.  Laura went to prepare luncheon.  Edward took a gun, and walked into the fields.

    All met again at table.  Mr. Trenton had been joined by his partner, Ellman.  Laura was again enveloped in a huge, hideous shawl, because her father was afraid she would catch cold.  The two tradesmen talked of business.  Laura and Edward remained silent.  After dinner, a continuous, dry, business conversation engrossed the two principals of the firm.  Edward rose and fled!  Without, lay paradise—the wild, rich perfume of summer floating from the corn-fields, the birds re-carolling to the declining sun, like innocence chanting hymns to dying glory, the chestnut avenue leading onward to the fields, with ever and anon a leaf or flower borne to the wanderer's feet, as though nature were smoothing the pathway of mankind,—and beyond, the distant woods, the white-walled hamlets, with their red-tiled roofs, and grey, sun-burnished steeples, while through it all were heard the blithe sharpening of the harvest-scythe, the many sounds of rural life, all music.

    Edward roved down the woods and lanes, drinking inspiration from that fount of beauty.  A soft melancholy seized him—not that the beautiful is saddening—far from it, but that it is sad to meet the beautiful, when knowing you can keep it only for a moment!  And through that paradise and image rose before his mind no reality, but the reflection of a want, a hope, a desire, the image of some sweet, loved, and loving girl.

    In this mood he had returned, half unconsciously, towards the house.  By this time the sun had sunk very low, and blazed in vermilion on the old trunks of the chestnut avenue, and you might feel the rising dew upon the air, that soft, delicious, fragrant freshness that no pen or language can describe.  He passed the dining-room windows—there might still be heard the two tradesmen vehemently discussing funds, and stocks, and exchange.

    Edward flitted by, fearful to be seen and called in, and entering the house by another way, turned into a room, the door of which stood open.  It was his cousin's sitting-room.  There was her unfinished work, there were traces of her domestic life, like a mental chart unfolded to his view.  There lay the favourite book he had given her—and see! the lines were scored under.  Does he see aright?  They are the same that he admired.  Her little lilac glove marked a page —he had written on that page.  He let his imagination riot in suggestive thought, attuned to romance and love by the scene and hour.  It was, at least, a pleasing and innocent illusion, to believe that he had found the being he had been picturing in his evening ramble.  Let any one ask himself, is there not a period in the life of all, in which even an evidence of the recent presence of beautiful girlhood, creates a thrill in the impressible heart of youth?  A glove dropped by hazard, a flower left behind, a note of music heard from a silvery voice—are they not enchantments then?

    Edward threw himself into the chair Laura had occupied so recently—through the open window by which it stood, might be seen the exquisite valley through which he had been wandering—his eyes rested on it in a voluptuous dream—at that moment a sweet voice fell on his ear—it approached, singing an old romantic ditty—the vocalist came in sight—it was Laura—(Edward had never before heard her sing)—every motion was undulating grace—she advanced, playfully and unconstrained—she knew not any one was watching her—now sporting with the hovering butterflies, now stooping to gather the flowers along the lawn—anon, the farmer's dog came to meet her joyous recognition,—she took his huge head between her delicate hands, and with childish glee and grace played, now teasing, now caressing, with the huge but gentle hound.

    Edward was enchanted.  One moment sometimes serves to dispel the prejudices of a life.  He seemed at once to appreciate and understand the much-wronged Laura.  He must atone for his past slights, he must ask forgiveness for his injustice.  He called to her in an undertone: one moment wrought the change.  At his voice, Laura resumed the customary ungainly dignity of attitude and manner—the sprightly light fled—the young girl vanished —the clerk returned.  Edward paused—

    "Laura!" cried Mr. Trenton from the dining-room window—"What were the Eastern Counties Extension quoted from last week?"

    "The 5 per cent. to par—the new 6 per cent. stock, 10 to 11 nominal prices—business done at same."

    The worthy shopkeeper then asked for the quotations of sugars and teas, and received equally correct replies.

    "Good!"—said Mr. Trenton, and his head vanished within the window.

    "Heaven forgive me!" thought Edward; "she was thinking of railway shares, and groceries, while walking up that glorious avenue!"

    The glad, brisk, business-like tone in which Laura had answered her father, at once dashed his illusion to the ground.  He had thought to see his ideal love—he found his cousin the book-keeper!

    When Laura entered, he received her with a satirical and mocking conversation.  He indulged in ironical repartee, a game at which Laura soon got the worst, but from which she could not escape.  She bowed, with tears in her eyes, before the—to her, inexplicable— cruelty.  The arrival of her father put an end to the moral martyrdom.

    The day passed, the explication was missed, the opportunity for an understanding was lost and an event now occurred, which changed the whole tenor of the lives of all.


 
7.—MARRIAGE.


WHILE Edward gave his mind, daily, more and more to his favourite literary tastes, —while he neglected, daily, more and more his cousin Laura, the commercial transactions of the firm of Trenton and Ellman extended continually wider.  Mr. Ellman, the junior partner, had of late undertaken several speculations on his own account, and with remarkable success.  His capital had been nearly doubled, and he began to entertain a design, of which he would not as much as dreamt of a few years before.  This project he subjected to an arithmetical examination, and found that the total was favourable to his interests.  Accordingly, he at once set about realising the "transaction."

    In pursuance of this resolve, the very next morning, he began to be extraordinarily polite to Laura.  He actually entered three items for her in the principal ledger, and mended for her a dozen pens.  Mr. Ellman had never been known to do such a thing be fore.  But his attentions did not stop with this.  On Laura's birthday he gave her a perpetual calendar in a red morocco-case, and a papier-mâché inkstand, with a letter-weigher attached!  When he thought his conduct had been sufficiently delicate and significative, one day, having balanced a mutual account together, he asked Mr. Trenton for the hand of his daughter.  The worthy grocer had not been blind to the unusual generosity of his partner.  He had understood its meaning, and at once had recourse to an arithmetical calculation of loss and profit by the proposed transaction.  Having balanced accounts, ascertained Ellman's share in the concern, and considered that by the projected marriage his daughter's dowry would not go out of the firm, he came to the conclusion that the business would be profitable, and that he was justified in giving into it.

    Mr. Ellman, therefore, did not at all surprise his partner, who with the utmost apparent openness and cordiality ratified the conditions of the BARGAIN, to the mutual satisfaction of the two contracting parties.  In the evening Mr. Trenton informed his daughter, after finishing the day's accounts with her, of what arrangements had been entered into.  Whether it was surprise, or any other cause, the young girl turned deadly pale, and then fell senseless to the ground.  Mr. Trenton felt assured "it was because she had been working too hard, and the room was very close."  Nevertheless, they were obliged to carry Laura to her room, where she remained prostrate with a violent fever for upwards of a month.

    Messrs. Trenton and Ellman were very much annoyed at this "accident," for the latter wanted to make a journey to Liverpool to look after a ship, and "this business threw everything else back."

    Mr. Trenton, however, went twice, daily, to his daughter's room, and said,—"How are you, my dear!  You're better, eh? Ah, you're less pale.  Make haste get well, love! for this illness of your's throws us all back.  Above all, don't get low-spirited.  Eat! drink! sleep!  Look at me—I'm never ill!  But then I work hard.  You don't take exercise enough, my dear.  That's what makes you ill!"  And the worthy man, having gone through his accounts, sallied off to change.

    Edward had heard of his cousin's intended marriage on the same day on which she had been informed.  His uncle confided it to him with the solemn air, usual in revealing those secrets that are entrusted to all the world.  The young man had felt astonishment and anger—anger to a painful degree.  He certainly was innocent of harbouring any conscious love for Laura,—still, he, unaccountably to himself, experienced a feeling of jealousy and anger.  Unable to explain his own feelings to himself, he found an apparent solution for them in indignation at the idea that the whole transaction should have been merely a commercial exchange between the two partners, and that the young girl should have been looked on only as an article of merchandise.  Then, he felt annoyed that the young girl herself should thus let herself be transferred without a particle of love; and he asked himself, what difference there was between the woman who sold herself body and soul to a husband for a social position, and the prostitute who sells herself to the libertine for the bread that shall save her life,—unless it is, that the first makes the better bargain, and that a parson plays the broker.  Edward felt nothing but disgust and scorn for Laura.

    Meanwhile the latter had recovered.  She came down stairs, walked, answered much as usual, except that an indefinable stupor seemed to possess her whole being.  She would sit for hours erect and motionless in her red armchair—her face white and expressionless, her eyes fixed, her head erect, her hands folded on her lap.  It would have been difficult to divine whether a thought stirred beneath that icy quiet.  The doctor said she suffered from "nervous weakness" and that there was no cause for uneasiness.  The date for the marriage was therefore fixed—and eight days before the appointed time Laura was sent into the country (the wedding was to take place at the farm,) to re-invigorate her health, and to make the necessary preparation.

    Edward seemed to take no interest in any of the proceedings.

    At last the day arrived.  All was bustle in the village.  The bridegroom glowed in white kid gloves, white waistcoat, and white silk stockings —a man of great importance—for he made the most of this one out of the four only times of life in which men, such as he, attract attention: birth, marriage, death, and burial.  As to Edward, he kept aloof as much as possible.

    The ceremony had been prepared with some show of expenditure, for Mr. Trenton said "that the credit of the firm required a display on such an occasion, and, as a daughter was given in marriage only once in a man's life," (he had only one daughter,) "he had resolved to make a sacrifice."

    Edward was astonished at the unusual generosity of his uncle, and beheld his cousin giving orders, or receiving the congratulation of her "friends" (!) with far less embarrassment than he had ever seen in her before.  This renewed his anger.  He had always abhorred these public displays on occasions so delicate, where heart should speak to heart alone, but in which the most secret ritual of the soul is dragged through the mire of public observation and exposed to the malignant sneer of the ribald companies, to whom the blush of modesty but gives room for loose thoughts or idle jests!

    Edward would have wished to take the wife of his choice secretly and silently from the whirl of society and then, in some quiet nook, unknown and unsuspected, breathe to her those first sweet words, shed over her those first sweet locks, behold on her face those first sweet blushes, that it is desecration for any one else to see, or hear, or share!  As for Laura, her stony apathy seemed continually to increase.  She appeared to hear, to notice nothing.  One would have supposed her to have lapsed into insensibility, were it not that a wild and haggard eye wandered at times to where Edward stood aloof and alone.

    The day passed like most days of the kind—the young ladies took home reticules well filled with cake—the young men indulged in many a sly jest—and the guests departed, delighted to have killed a few more hours.


 
8.—REVELATION.


Thou ravishing, desolate beauty!
    Where art thou, uncherished and lorn?
Thou martyr of passion and duty!
    Oh! why was I—why wert thou born?
Is life meant for torture?   Why give it?
    Is life reft of solace?   Why live it?
Oh! why wert thou—why was I born?

MS. POEM.


"NOT five yet!  I've risen too early!"  And Edward, in speaking thus, cast a mournful glance on the trunks and other preparations for his journey, scattered in the room—and thence on the dull, misty course of the street, a great artery of London, along which the of diurnal life had not yet begun to flow. 

    He was about to leave his uncle's house in Cheapside—to abandon the career his mother had traced for him, and launch himself upon a new and unknown world.  As long as his mother lived he had struggled against his inclination—but she had died recently, and he followed the bent of his own will.  He had decided on giving up trade, and seeking fame and bread in the career of letters.  The remonstrances of Mr. Trenton had been useless; as for Laura, she had made no effort to retain him, but contented herself with saying, in a saddened tone: "It was fated to be so; your place was not to be with us"—and she drooped her head in melancholy resignation.

    Edward had not failed to remark her manner.  Laura had, of late, appeared an altered being to him.  Obedient to that strange influence which makes a girl, however shy and awkward before marriage, self-possessed and dignified after it, she had shaken off all her uncouth rigidity of manner, and her cousin had been surprised to glean continual evidence of soul, intellect, and feeling.  She had also acquired an importance in the house, to which she had formerly been a stranger.  Mr. Trenton had thrown the weight of business upon his partner, who was now installed in the house in Cheapside, while the head of the firm frequently, and for long periods, went to rusticate at his farm.  The old tradesman treated his daughter with a deference in his manner, since she had become Mrs. Ellman.  Before, he was wont to say, she had been like a blank ledger.  She had now become a daybook of constant reference and took numerical rank in the concern.  The young wife had profited by her new liberty—she had ventured to gild over her blighted life—she attended less to corklike business—she even dared to read without hiding the book—she had the courage sometimes to reply to Edward, and to show she, too, could think.

    This, to some extent, altered her relations towards Edward without, however, rendering them unembarrassed or cordial.  There was too much of unconscious irritation and vexation in the breast of the young man, too much of silence and constraint still resting on her side to banish all the former coldness from their intercourse.  To remove it some circumstance was required that should dispel the prejudice from his mind and the timidity from her heart.  That circumstance had not yet occurred.

    Edward having, therefore, decided on leaving London, uncertain when he should return, had bidden the family in Cheapside farewell the the night before, and was now awaiting the time for starting by the early train from Euston Square.  Still, as he stood on that cold, grey, misty morning, for the last time, in the well-known parlour, he felt a choking sensation of grief raised by a thousand feelings that come over us whenever sundering a long accustomed tie.  He had lived too long, was too familiar with all the objects that surrounded him not to feel a pang at parting.  The prisoner, in leaving his prison, can scarcely forbear a feeling of this kind in quitting a place, though identified with long suffering.  Thus, the very tedium of the place, the recollection of the many weary hours he had passed at that old desk, or gazing out into that dull though crowded street, the dim, cloudy, steeples that had looked down upon his meditations, the well-known sounds now to be heard for the last time, all affected him with sadness.  And then his uncle, the dry, plodding old man of one idea, who loved him notwithstanding in his peculiar way, he who meant so well by him, the sudden wrench from all familiar things softened his heart and predisposed it for sorrow and affection.

    As he stood thus in silent, aching thought, a slight rustling was heard in the room, and Laura glided beside him.  She started—she had not expected to find him risen so early.  Why had she come into that room?  Oh heart!  Was it to cast a last glance at those parting preparations of one she would miss when gone?

    "Risen already?" she said in a low tone.

    "I might sooner express my surprise at your being up—you do not usually rise so early," Edward replied.

    "I feared you might be in want of something; and nobody be risen."

    "You are too good.  But I did not wish the thought of my departure to disturb one sleeper in this house.  It was therefore I bade you all farewell last night."  His voice trembled.

    Laura looked at him earnestly, then she bowed her head, and said in an embarrassed manner: "I wished to see you again.  Why conceal it?  I wished to speak to, you—to you alone—before you left.  I feared you would go, and bear away but an unfavourable reminiscence of us all."

    "What . . . . . do you mean . . . . . Laura?"

    "Pardon me, Edward.  You leave us like a stranger.  You think we cold traders can feel no friendship."

    "Oh!  How can you think so?"

    "I am sure of it.  And the thought that you should go, without ever having known us, that you should go in the belief that no one cared for you here, it has tormented me for many days.  I wished to speak to you and I dared not.  How I hate myself for my cowardice!  But this morning I have found courage enough to come.  Edward, I beg you, do not go away and judge us harshly."  Her soft eyes, bathed in tears, were turned towards the young man—she extended her hand towards him—Edward clasped it.

    "Oh Laura! do not speak so! you will make me regret my departure too deeply."

    "We shall regret it also, Edward . . . . . I above all!  I had made a dear habitude of your presence, your conversation raised me from the cold drudgery in which my youth was plunged.  I dared not always answer you, I listened in silence and you thought I did not understand you because I remained mute, but I have treasured your words, I have learned your thoughts by heart, I have thought of them amid my prayers."

    "What do you tell me, Laura!  Is it possible.  Ah! often, often I suspected this, dull wretch that I was to misunderstand your gentle, noble nature.  Laura, dear, good Laura!"

    "Dear Edward!"

    They clasped each others hands in silence, but tears were flowing.

    "And must it just be at the moment of losing you my sweet, sweet cousin! that I should first learn to understand you.  Oh! miserable mockery of life!  But tell me, why, in the name of heaven! why did you always remain cold and silent towards me, Laura?"

    "How could it be otherwise,  Edward?  Do you know how my youth was passed?  Do you know that from twelve years of age I was hailed to a desk, poring over figures.  I grew into a form as cold, and stiff, and rigid, as the columns that I added up.  From being made a machine of, I began to look like one.  When you first came, I first felt my deficiencies.  From you, for the first time, I heard of the higher aims of life, of art, of letters, of poetry . . . . . oh! how beautiful it all appeared to me, but it was a new language—you had yours, but I had not learned it, I could not reply."

    "Laura!  How could I misappreciate you so?"

    "You could not do otherwise, Edward.  But do you know what I have suffered?  For now I have grown bold, and dare to tell you.  You were very cruel at times.  Your irony fell cold and cutting on my heart!  Your scornful smiles, or your looks of contemptuous pity wrapped me round like a winding-sheet.  How could I be otherwise, thus timid and embarrassed.  It needed something unusual to overcome the barrier.  I have been thinking, I might never see you again and that you think of me only as of some piece of furniture that you had once seen somewhere . . . . . Oh! tell me! . . . . . it will not be so now?  You will not quite forget your poor, dull, stupid cousin—will you, Edward?"

    "Forget you! no!  Laura! no!—oh! may I not remember you too much!  But, hear me!—all this will drive me mad!  And is this you, really you, you, my cousin, the book-keeper?  Look at me, tell me I am not dreaming—oh!  Laura!—angel! angel !"

    "Edward, you knew me not!  So much dull cold drudgery enwrapped my early years, so many disenchantment soured my rising thoughts, I had surrounded myself as with a sheath in that dull exterior of apathy that repelled you.  But did you think this life, caged within the railings of a desk, suited me more than you?  Did you think that, with my head bowed over a pen, I too had not my sunny dreams and sparkling hopes?  Did you think I also did not sometimes follow some sweet vision beckoning away from the columns of that ledger!  God alone can tell what I have suffered, when the withering blight came down upon my soul.  God preserve you, Edward, from the like experience.  God preserve you from being made, like me, a cold and buried chrysalis, you who can spread your wings and fly out into the sunshine."

    "Oh mercy!  Laura! mercy! and I never dreamed of this!  It is I who was wrapped in a threefold veil of prejudice and folly.  It was I who was blind and deaf!"  Edward could hardly control his feelings.  He pressed his cousin's hands in his own, against his heart, to his lips: the emotion of Laura increased—she replied to his caress, and raised towards him one of those looks that makes delirium mount into the brain of him to whom it is given.  Suddenly a bitter thought seemed to strike him—he drew back from Laura, and said:—"Why do you tell me this now?  Why tell it me ever?  Ah! you should have left me in my cold indifference.  I depart in an hour and you reveal to me what I lose!  That is cruel.  But why, why do you tell me only today—why did you not tell me three months ago?"

    Laura bowed her head in confusion.

    "Three months ago—do you understand me?" he continued, "then it had still been time, then I could have remained and yet you told me nothing!  Oh! it is horrible to see paradise open and shut before one in the self-same moment!  Think . . . . . if you had breathed a word, three months earlier instead of bidding you now an eternal farewell . . . . . Oh!  this thought is hell!"

    "Enough Edward! enough, for mercy's sake!  I wished not that our conversation should take this turn."

    As she spoke, Laura turned pale and trembled, scarce able to stand.  Edward drew her towards him: "What matter; one regret more, Laura; a regret, you, perhaps, will not share?  Is a mere confession guilt? Think, I go in a few moments never to return!  My words are like those of the dying, for absence is death!  Do you fear a dying dream?"

    There was something so heart-breaking in the look and tone of Edward, that Laura could not resist it: "And do you think yours is the only heart that's breaking?" she breathed amid her tears and sobs.

    "Laura! Laura!  Is it true?  Would you, too, recall the past?  Is it true? tell me! tell me!"

    "He has not understood me yet!" she murmured, letting herself glide against his breast.

    "Can it be! oh heaven!  What, you too Laura?  Oh! now let me die!  Laura, my best beloved! my own, dear, sweet, loved, lost Laura!"  And he pressed her in his arms, he buried his face in her long ringlets:—she said nothing, she lay motionless and helpless against his heart.  "Speak to me, Laura! speak without fear!  Think—there is but another moment to reveal your heart! and that you will have a whole life to hide it in.  Laura, answer me, for the love of heaven!"

    "What shall I say—you know it all!"

    "Then it is not a dream!  You could have been happy with me!"  Then he added in a scarce audible whisper "you love me!  Laura! you love me! tell me so!"

    "Oh, do not ask me that" she cried, wringing her hands in despair, and trying to break away.

    "No! no! you are right—your mouth is too pure to speak the words.  But I, Laura, I, at least, may tell you, that since the hour in which I first have known you, I'd give life, honour, hope and heaven, to call you mine for but a single day!  If I was offered the highest glory of earth, and an eternal seat in paradise, I'd give them both, to pass one day at your knees, my hand in your's . . . . . Oh! Laura, I dare tell you this, for you can see its truth.  Look at me, look in my eyes, see it written in my forehead, in my heart!  Oh! Laura!  It would have been happiness to have isolated ourselves from the world in our love and to have felt our universe within the circle of our arms—it would have been sweet to have said to you, 'Laura! my life, my soul, my heaven! my angel! my beloved—Laura! MY WIFE!'"

    "Mercy, Edward! spare me!"

    The church clock struck—the time was drawing near!

    "Do you hear Laura!  One quarter of an hour more and . . . . . we have parted!"

    "Oh, heaven! can it be Edward? my Edward!"

    "Yes! Laura, your Edward!  Oh! for a few short moments, your Edward!  But, for pity's sake, before I go give me one fond word, one tender word from your lips that I can take and treasure with me as something to remember, one of those words that one can hang like an amulet around one's heart!  Have pity on me Laura! you see what I shall become when I have left you!  All my plans, all my hopes have perished.  What matters success, now?  I shall have left happiness far behind me!  Oh! come, come, without fear, against my heart—close—close.  It is but a tomb, full of dead hopes and withered aspirations.  Laura—one word, but one I implore you!  I love you!  I love you! do you hear me?  Oh heaven! I love you."

    He had fallen on his knees before her with her hands to his lips, his face upturned wildly towards her.  Suddenly, she opened her arms clasping him to her heart, and said in low, quick, delirious tones: "I love you, Edward!  I always loved you, from the day when I first saw you!"

    "My idolised Laura! my wife! oh, yes ! my wife, for our souls are wedded!"

    There was silence.  He felt the pressure of a ring that Laura wore, a gift of her mother, long deceased.

    "Give me this ring in remembrance of this hour.  It has been there from your childhood, it is hallowed, give it me!"  Laura opened her hand, and let the ring glide into that of Edward.  He kissed it ardently: "It shall never leave me, it is the marriage of our hearts.  It will tell me when distant there is a woman, afar, who loves me, who understands me, who mingles my name with her prayers.  And mark me, Laura! if ever life becomes too heavy for me to bear, I will send you back the ring—it will be a sign that we can meet no more unless in heaven!"

    "Yes, Edward!  I would soon follow where it summoned!"

    Again there was silence.  The quarter chimed from the steeple.  Steps were heard—they started back.  Mr. Ellman entered, to tell Edward that the porter was waiting.  A few minutes, and Edward was driving through the cold, dim streets, hasting far, far from Laura.


 
9.—THE LITERARY THIEF.


MANY are the changes of life, many are the secret springs of the human heart, that bound up with elastic strength, even when the mainstay of its life seems broken.  And many are the sorrows that run copiously when welling from a distant fount, but that would tarry soon if drawn from a neighbouring source.

    Thus it was with Edward.  Had he remained in the society of Laura, sweet, endearing, and lovely as she was, perhaps a disenchantment would have stolen on his passion by the commonplace asperities of life.  But absence turned his love to a religion.  On the other hand, when utterly prostrated by grief, nature raised up within him a consoling power, linked with the very cause of his sorrows: the idea of devoting his life to letters, of rising to glory, of circling the loved one with the voice of his fame, of forcing every tongue to murmur his name to her, as, light after light, work on work should flash upon the world—of being the Petrarch to his Laura—filled him with a melancholy pleasure, counteractive of his heart-destroying grief.  Oh! the sweetness of the tie between them! to her his songs would be devoted, through the proud roll of his immortal poems the linking thread of love would be discernible to her eye, and to hers alone.  She would breathe a soft response, in turning those enchanted pages and then, high over mankind, idolised, envied, adored, the glorious sorrow would smile down on the world and die, beckoning an angel from the earth up and away with him to heaven.

    Such was the dream of Trenton, such was the vision that kept his brain strong and his health as yet unbroken.  But such solace was not Laura's.  He could fly out in the sunshine—she, like a brooding dove, must fold her wings, and sorrow in the shade.

    With a mournful ardour Edward rushed headlong on his new career.  In his first impulse, his first yearning and his first pain, he hurried abroad to walk in the "Meccas of the mind," the homes and haunts of buried greatness, and having drank in the light of skies and scenes that helped to make men great by circling them with beauty, he returned to England confirmed and strengthened in the vocation he had chosen.

    Meanwhile a change had taken place in Cheapside.  Mr. Trenton had given up business, Ellman was now principal; Laura's health had failed, country air was pronounced indispensable for her recovery, her husband had bought an estate in Cumberland and resided there with his wife, leaving his London business to the care of his younger brother, whom he had associated with himself.  London was thus a desert to Edward.  But he began his task.  His first work heralded his first disappointment.

    How high his hopes had risen, how proud his heart had beaten, when he took his poem to the "most liberal publisher of the day."  The neglect, the rejection, the loss of the manuscript, might easily be anticipated by the experienced.  Once more he set to the task—he copied and collated his stray notes again with the same result—one publishing season had vanished.  Here and there a bookseller said he would publish the work if fifty pounds were given him as guarantee against loss.  Had Trenton possessed fifty pounds he would have sacrificed them—he did not, and therefore he was not robbed.  Soon poverty began to descend on him.  He parted with all he could spare in order to live—he mounted from a front parlour to a back garret, he lived on sparer diet, then began to starve while his works were rejected as unworthy for publication and others published, puffed, praised, reviewed, and sold through rapid editions, which compared to his, were as trash to pearls of price.  He tried to get employment on newspapers, journals, and magazines, as contributor, reporter, correspondent—anything—but in vain!  On one occasion indeed, he was appointed as theatrical critic on a fifth-rate weekly paper.  He attended at one of the theatres, he wrote his critique, he took it to the Editor; judge of his surprise to see next morning quite a different article expressing opinions the very reverse of his.  On attending at the office, the editor told him "he had misunderstood his intentions, he must praise Mr. Kicklight, and find fault with Miss Tallowstrut, and be sure to run down steadily a new young actor (one of the most promising and clever on the stage) named Pitman."

    "But, sir, I can't, I think quite differently with you on ――"

    "Oh! Mr. Trenton, I see you don't understand theatrical criticism.  I shall require your services no longer," and the only literary emolument Edward ever obtained, ceased that very hour.

    Edward soon began to discover that literature was a monopoly among a privileged oligarchy of letters, that its humbler walks are so overstocked with surplus labour that few have the chance of employment and that none can obtain and keep employment unless they sell their honour, their brain, and their independence into the lowest grades of a debasing wages slavery.

    He now, first, had to go through the last degrees of misery and toil, physical toil as well as mental.  In the night when he could afford a candle, he had to sit up writing till his eyes ached, and his brain reeled; in the day he had to walk, almost barefoot and in rags, from an early hour to a late one, till he almost dropped with fatigue and sunk with hunger, trying for employment, seeking for money to buy a meal, wet, haggard, shivering and faint, repulsed with insolence and continuing to see, meanwhile, the mechanic pass in the street, the aristocrat of labour at his thirty shillings or two pounds, the reader of low trash who would despise his writings because too good and pure for him; and to feel that a Milton, a Galileo, a Columbus, might starve and rot in the kennel while the polisher of a pinchback pin or the finisher of a pack of cards would treat him with contempt in the assurance of his well-fed pride.

    Month flew on month and the second year of his struggles was drawing to a close.  None would now have recognised the dashing, handsome Edward.  Threadbare and ragged, his noble proportions had shrunk to a gaunt, thin, skeleton-like, attenuated frame.  His erect posture had sunk into the stooping gait of weakness.  His florid complexion had changed into a sickly, faded hue.  His once bright eye now sent a dim glance from sunken sockets through swollen lids, and his thin, sere, hollow-cheeked face, spoke of keen misery worn to the heart's-core.  Oh, God! how we alter in a few short months!

    Driven to the extreme of want, unable to get anything published or to obtain employment, an acquaintance recommended him to apply to a celebrated author of known liberal principles, who, it was believed, would take a poor, forlorn young author by the hand.  He made the application.  His letter breathed a spirit of noble indignation and sorrow, describing in vivid language, his efforts, his sufferings, and his humiliation, and concluded with a request for an interview and the permission of reading one of his shorter works.

    A week elapsed without an answer.  At last an answer came appointing an interview for the next day.  He called at the appointed time, when he was told the great man had gone out with Mr. Murray, his publisher—but, that, if he called some day soon, no doubt Mr. Sucknoddle would see him.  Day by day he called with similar fortune.  Tired out, he wrote another letter and, at length, succeeded in obtaining an interview.  During the time thus wasted, the poor young author might have died of hunger for aught the great man knew.

    The great man received him very politely, told him it was his pleasure and his pride to take poor, young, unrecognised talent by the hand—he had made the fortunes of several of the most celebrated authors in that way, who, but for him, would have perished unknown.  The monopoly of literature was infamous.  He had suffered by it himself, but he had beaten them by his peculiar energy [with a self-complacent smile that concealed the truth of his having succeeded by his peculiar timeserving]; the jealousy, envy, and trickery of the press was disgraceful—he suffered from it even now—but, to the point, he would do for his young friend whatever he could.

    Edward bowed his thanks, "Shall I read you a few passages from my manuscript?"

    "Not now, I really have not the time.  Leave it with me.  I'll read it—call again next week."

    Edward called—and was received most kindly.  That week had been a week of starvation at death's door, but it had been tinged with hope.

    "I have read your work—I like it much—I have given it to a friend of mine, who has great influence, to look through.  But it's not the kind of thing I should like to usher you into public notice with.  Have you not some novel or romance—of a good size, stirring incident and thrilling interest?"

    "Oh yes!  Three or four—I'll send you one."

    "Do so as soon as you can, for I shall be going out of town shortly."

    It need not be told that Edward lost no time in complying with the request, and sent the great man "Glenroy, or the Scottish Huntsman."  A fortnight passed in feverish suspense; again the great man granted an interview.  "Your novel is excellent; but we want something of a more living interest.  Have you anything that bears more on the day—this is rather too classical for a first work.  I'm determined you shall make a hit at once, and take the town by storm.  Then, you know, once having got a name, you can write rubbish if you like, and it will go down."

    The young man's heart beat high.  "You don't reject Glenroy, sir, do you?"

    "Oh, no! that must be number two.  But have you anything of a domestic interest?"

    "Oh, yes! there's 'The Tradesman's Daughter!'"—and Edward blushed.  He had pictured 'The Tradesman's Daughter' and, need we say, heart and soul had been thrown into the sketch.

    "That's it! that's the thing to make your fortune—let me see it—let me see it!" cried Mr. Sucknoddle, with extraordinary animation.

    "I'll send it !"

    "When?"

    "This evening."

    "Right! good bye!  I must be off now, to meet Sir Nettledog Bullbaiter, the great dramatist.  Good bye!" and the great man bowed out the delighted Edward.

    The work was duly sent.  The proper time allowed to elapse.  Not a line came from the great man.  Edward grew uneasy.  He called again and again, but to no purpose.  He wrote at last; after long delays, one day when he called, a large and ominous parcel was placed in the young author's hand.  It contained his manuscripts returned, with a letter from the great man, stating that, despite the incontestable excellence of the works such was the prejudice and jealousy of the literary world, that no publisher could be got to bring out the unknown author's productions.  "Indeed," added Mr. Sucknoddle, "it is an understanding between the leading publishers and the popular authors of the day, that no new man of talent who might prove a dangerous rival, shall be introduced to the public."  The great man concluded by expressing his profound regret that he could do nothing further for his poor young friend.

    The last blow was stricken, the last effort had been made and failed, the last struggle for glory and for life!  It was over!

    A few weeks later, the following announcement appeared on the walls of London and in all the papers:
 


"NEW STORIES,
GREAT ATTRACTION! ! !

Mr. Sucknoddle's popular publication will contain
two new and original Tales of the most startling interest,
from his own pen—the one a picture of the Middle Age,
entitled
SACKROY, OR THE BORDER-ROBBER,
To be continued in weekly numbers,
The other
THE CHILD OF THE COUNTER,
A tale of Domestic Life,
A Mirror of our own time.
Read!  Read!  Read . . . .


    The works produced an enormous sensation.  They became the most popular serials of the day.  Edward, startled by the title, obtained a view of some of the numbers.  Judge of his surprise at finding his own works had been used, with the names and scene of action only altered!

    Thus it was!  The cheap literary vampire made a practice of patronising young authors, of getting their works submitted for his patronage—keeping them a certain time, under the pretences shown in this chapter—copying them, altering them, and producing them as his own!  By this means he was enabled to pour on the world that continuous torrent of cheap romance, ostensibly from his own pen, which astonished the world, brought him in enormous sums of money, and left his poor victims bankrupt of brain, maddened of heart, and ruined in every prospect!  This is but ONE feature of the diabolical system.  Appeal was useless, exposure vain, protest would have been laughed at.  Thus, nine-tenths of our cheap literature is concocted by vampires living on the most dastard robbery !

    Poor Edward was ruined.  His last card had been played and lost, life was over for him.  Like the gush of a returning tide, his whole heart and brain was now drawn magnetically towards Laura.  The return of the first love before death!  But Laura was 300 miles distant, among the vales of Cumberland.  Edward was penniless and sinking rapidly.

    Turn we now to Laura.


 
10.—SOLITUDE.


IN a lonely cottage situate on a green undulating rise that overlooks a northern lake, dwelt a broken-hearted woman: blighted in childhood, overshadowed in girlhood, and tied in her womanhood to a human eating and sleeping machine, called man by courtesy; Laura mourned a lost life, a wasted heart, a buried intellect.  That which might have adorned and blessed society was squandered upon nothingness.  A buried gem, but unlike the diamond that lives on, bright through eternity, and may be discovered once, she died slowly, to pass away unknown, unmourned, unnoticed.

    After going through the routine drudgery of a London Tradesman's wife for some time, her health failed, growing weaker every day, but docile, patient, meek, and uncomplaining, Laura had been taken by her husband to the north.  Mr. Ellmore, of a pursy, indolent and sleepy habit, though by dint of plodding method, an excellent man of business, disliked trade, from innate laziness—and being, as such men are, unambitious of either great wealth, power, or distinction, threw up his active share in the establishment of Cheapside, as already stated, and assuring to himself an affluent competune, bought the country residence of a decayed Cumberland squire, on the banks of Windermere.  There be lived in the most utter monotony, driving about his farm, eating, drinking, sleeping, riding a rough-back pony, talking little, thinking not at all, associating with no one, and growing more corpulent and red-faced every day.

    To his wife he was no companion.  A few gruff words was all he vouchsafed her from morning to night and these were merely as to household matters, dinner especially. Thus Laura lived.

    For a few months after Edward had parted from her, she received letters from him, letters in which his very soul was painted in words of fire but in which the language of virtue and respect was never over-passed.  She replied.  Whoever has known what the prisoner feels when expecting and receiving in his silent cell a letter from one he loves without there in the wide world, may picture Laura's feelings when the letters of Edward came, though few and far between, to tell her far, far away in the noisy whirlpool of life some one still understood her, loved her, cherished her, for she too was a poor captive, in a mental and moral prison among those beautiful, lonely, mournful hills.  Whoever has known what the prisoner feels when expecting and not receiving in his silent cell a letter from one he loves, may picture Laura's feelings when week fled after week, month glided after month, and no tidings came of Edward.  For she had made a sweet habitude of expecting and receiving his letters.  They came, by a tacid understanding, at almost stated intervals, and their advent was an era to look forward to.  Was he no more? or had the vision of glory been realised and had he forgotten the violet, Love, before the sunflower, Glory?  Yet, every successive letter he sent had seemed to grow sadder and more desponding.  Laura wrote to the last address he had given; she wrote again, and again; and each time her words grew fonder and more passionate.  But no answer came!  Her pride did not take fire as it would have done in common natures, but her sorrows sealed her heart; she wrote no more!

    The cause of the mutual apparent silence is soon explained.  One day Mr. Ellman found a letter addressed in his wife's hand-writing to Edward Trenton, lying waiting for the post.  Curiosity prompted him to open it.  He read enough to convince him that a secret attachment existed between the cousins.  Ellman was not jealous—jealousy would have been by far to laborious a passion for him (from the same reason he was moral, for vice was fatiguing)—but he did not like, as he was afterwards heard to say, any other man to meddle with his business or interfere with his property, and therefore determined in putting a stop to the intercourse.  Averse to a "scene," as such men always are, he took no notice of the circumstance but quietly ordered the servants that all letters to or from Mrs. Ellman should henceforth be brought to him.  The mandate was obeyed and not divulged, for Mr. Ellman was master there and all knew it.  No one need wonder that neither Edward's nor Laura's mutual letters ever reached their destination.  When, at last, the correspondence gradually died off and ceased, Mr. Ellman chuckled to himself at his skill and tact.  "Other people," he said "would have made a disturbance; I have done the thing more quietly and ten times more surely.  They hate each other now.  Heig-ho!  John! when will dinner be ready?"  One link Laura still sought to cherish: it was recollected years afterwards that she evinced great anxiety in inquiring after all new works and the names of their authors.  She would buy them, but after turning the first few pages, would throw them aside in disappointment as though she could tell at once they were not written by the hand she sought.  Mr. Ellman forbade books being brought to the house.  "They feed her romantic folly!" he said, and the harmless comfort stopped.

    Deprived of her chief solace, the only impulse that stirred the dull stagnation of her life, Laura sunk rapidly.  Her only comfort now was in the long summer evenings after dinner, while her husband was sweltering asleep on his armchair in the dining room, to glide out through the flowery casement on to the little terrace that lay before the cottage.  Thence she could see the sun setting in his splendour beyond the hills, the beautiful hills that ranged away, tier after tier, with their soft undulations of woodland and village and farm, and the threaded silver of their thousand streams, like pervading sympathies binding the various scenes and interests of life, and here and there collecting in a broad, bright lake, like tributary greatness gathering into glory.  And there she would stand, the cool breeze fanning her hot, thin cheek, and the glow of eve deepening its hectic to angelic brightness.  The eye could range far south for many, many miles, and there she would stand, gazing away over that wide expanse, all vibrating and glowing as it lay beneath the tremulous purple of sunset, to where remote and unseen cities roared with their living whirlpool, and think of Edward, away amid the turmoil, and the passion, and the strife.

    And then she would sigh once more: "he can spread his wings and fly forth into the sunshine of the word—but I?"

    Alas!  How little she knew.  Yet, with the noble faith of woman whose love is a religion, she never doubted of his constancy.


 
11.PILGRIMAGE.


WHEN Edward's last attempt at fame and life had failed, that brave spirit sunk at last.  One only hope he cherished, to see Laura and die!

    Alas!  Heavily the darkness had come down upon him.  At the same time that his efforts to achieve distinction had grown more hopeless, the impulse ceased that spurred him to renewed exertion—Laura's letters ceased.

    "Forgotten!" he murmured.

    Truly man loves not so truly, so religiously as woman: Edward doubted—Laura doubted never.  "To see Laura and die!" was the last impulse of his life, but how achieve it?  Laura was three hundred miles from London and he was penniless!  His sole and every exertion now was to obtain money enough to make the pilgrimage to Cumberland.  He set about this with an untiring fixity of purpose that would startle any superficial mind.  "To see Laura and die!" was his first word in the morning when he went forth on his day's quest.  "To see Laura and die!" was his last word at night, when scanning his day's work.  Nothing did he shrink from stooping to, except dishonour!  He ran about the streets, that kingly intellect, that might have shaken thrones, on the meanest, humblest errand; he would hold a horse, he would call a cab, he would beg at the rich man's door, but he never failed or flagged.  It was "to see Laura and die!"  Spurned, maltreated, abused—even imprisoned once as a vagrant—with the strong faith of the undoubting martyrs, he pursued his object.  Sometimes he obtained work, sometimes he sought charity, but still he worked on and on and nearer to his object, while strange mockeries of life came chequering across his path.

    One day he had been holding the horse of a gentleman who had dismounted at a bookseller's.  The rider remained long inside and on coming out, stood on the pavement for some minutes deeply absorbed in reading a book he had just purchased.  Edward read the title, "Sackroy, or the Border Robber."  It was his own!  He could not resist the impulse of saying to the rider, as the latter mounted and gave him a sixpence, "The work you are reading, sir, is mine!"

    "Yours!—what do you mean?"

    "I wrote it—and the manuscript was stolen from me."

    "The fellow's mad!" said the rider, and spurred his horse away.

    In heat, and frost, and rain, that brave, heroic beggar might have been seen roaming through the streets of London, with his stern, wistful face, plying his unshaken purposes.  None could think, when he sued the penny from the hard reluctant hand, what was his holy, mournful object.  The giver thought it was the craving of willing idleness or unsatisfied vice, for the poisoning dram or the unearned loaf, or at least the strife of the unwilling idler under the mere brute impulse of hunger.  But of nights, when the outlaw staggered homeward to his lair, or to his homeless, shelterless, hiding-place, he would count his gain, and stinting his craving famine, breathe, "Some miles nearer to Laura and to death!"

    A year had passed thus and yet the beggar, from all the overflowing wealth of London, had not gleaned enough to pay his fare down to the north.  He felt his life sinking, his hour approaching fast.  He counted his treasure—to him priceless—those brown, dull, sordid copper coins that to him were to open the gates of paradise in death, and wreath the most beautiful flower of life around his dying heed!

    He found his horde would suffice to maintain him for some days and, weak, failing and prostrate as he was, he determined on walking the distance from London into Cumberland.  The last pilgrimage of the devotee, setting forth to see the shrine of his saint before he dies.

    It was a day of early autumn when the haggard wanderer commenced his task.  The sun was shining brightly, the birds sang cheerily among the crisp leaves, the first bracing chill was fresh upon the morning air, brisk herald of the coming winter.  The sheaves still clustered here and there along the fields, the gay poppies and dahlias sparkled around the cottages as he climbed the northern upland and London, with its cone of smoke, sank down behind him.


 
12.—THE MEETING AND THE PARTING.


THREE weeks had elapsed since the time embraced in the last chapter.

    It was a still, warm afternoon of autumn among the hills of Cumberland, but the leaves wore a deep brown tint, the gaudy finery of red and yellow with which summer, like a worn-out courtesan tries to paint the face of its decay, was softened down to a religious soberness, and the melancholy asters wrote "In Memorials" over the foliage prostrate at their feet.  Proud verdure of the topmost tree laid low beneath the humble little flower!  All was still, and calm, and mournful round the cottage in Cumberland.  No sound was there, save when the dying leaves fell one by one along the terrace, or the mute bird was busy for his winter granary.  All was still, and calm, and mournful, as Laura stood, looking southward on the unseen lands of summer, youth and hope.

    A little boy came stealthily to the garden-gate and tried to win her notice.  He was one of the recipients of her charity, for real love, even though unhappy, makes us good and kind.

    "What do you want, Charles?" said Laura, strangely agitated, but she knew not why.

    "A man told me to give you this letter," replied the child, "but to let no one see me give it you."

    "Who was he?"

    "I don't know, he was a poor man—and he told—"

    But Laura heard no more—she had seen the handwriting.


    "A dying man has come to look once more, after long years, on her he loves.  By the memory of the love you once felt, by the holiness of its purity, I summon you to meet me this day, one hour before sunset, at the place that shall be pointed out to you.  My wife, wife of my soul! wedded to me by the ring you shall soon receive again—I expect you.

"EDWARD TRENTON."


    With beating heart, the deep hectic of the cheek whitened into marble, Laura leaned for support against the gateway unable to give utterance to the rapid questions that kept pouring on her tongue.

    "A poor man?"

    "Yes, ma'am, very poor! and he seemed very ill."

    Edward had never, in his letter, told her of his struggles or his poverty.

    "I come," she faltered, as she wrote the magic words on a leaf torn from her tablets, and the blithe boy darted away with the precious missive.

_________


    On a narrow space of white sand-beach by the lake, beneath the umbrageous shade of the brown elms and oaks against whose boles the setting sun flashed purple glory, a graceful lady of surpassing beauty and a weary, dying, haggard outcast had been seen to meet.  What words were spoken between them none ever heard, and the divining pen of the narrator is silent before the sanctity of that communing.  One hour they stood on that lone beach—love and death, twin sovereigns of each heart whose empires were written in roses on the face of one, and graven in marble on the forehead of the other.  Wealth and poverty, equalised and united by love the rags of the pauper and the purple of the lady, mingled in one embrace.  The wildest contrasts of humanity welded in one unison of passion the threshold of death, decked with the noblest and richest flowers of life.  What memories were recorded, what tortures were revealed, what mistakes deplored!  Oh who can tell the words, the thoughts, the agonies, the consolations, of that parting hour!

    Was the question asked, "Would it not have been better to have proclaimed the pre-eminence of love—to have abjured the unnatural and fatal union before it was cemented—and hand in hand, Edward and Laura, to have gone out into the world and battled it together?"

    Was the question asked, "Would not the misery have been as keen, would not Edward's mental sufferings have been doubled, to have seen the physical sufferings of her he loved?  As it was, at least the ennobling tie of a holy passion raised the purpose of their lives, the tenor of their thoughts and the goal of their hopes.  But, under the hard hand of squalid wretchedness, would love have held its own?—the haggard cheek and sunken eye replacing the beauty that had dazzled?—the soured spirit and the querulous complaint succeeding the gentleness that had allured?—the mutual recrimination and the eternal reproach, tacit if not spoken, following the endearments that had charmed?  Would they not have killed affection slowly but surely?  Would not the physical suffering of one, the mental agony of both, have been increased and their lives have lost that priceless treasure which they still possessed, unspotted, undimmed and unchanging—LOVE?"

    Was the question asked: "Are some predestined to misery?—and can no effort, no strength, no bravery, break the fatal spell?"

    Was the consolation felt that death was near?  Ah! there he is, the Comforter!  Oblivion to the sceptic, paradise to the enthusiast, a boon to either!

    Yes! strange as it may appear those two broken, dying hearts, parted with a calm, proud, pitying comfort, calm in the security of death, proud that their love had stood the test of life, pitying that mankind remained so mad, so miserable, and so blind, when they might become so happy!

_________


    Shortly after there was a funeral in the village.  A stranger in the last stage of poverty and illness had arrived at the village-hostelry one afternoon.  Food he tasted none, but staid abroad till one hour after sunset.  Then he returned, retired to his room and spent some time in writing.

    Next morning he was found dead.  Two letters were lying by his bedside, the one addressed to a lady at Ellman Cottage, the other to a celebrated literary character in London.  Both were duly forwarded.  The dead are often better obeyed than the living.

    An inquest was duly held.  Speculation and curiosity were busy as usual, and then the body that, falling into its grave had rippled the calm waters of society in that secluded village, left them back in their original stagnation.

    Thus ended Edward Trenton.

_________


    Mr. and Mrs. Ellman were sitting in their parlour—he dozing over a game of whist with the clergyman, the steward, and the surgeon of the place, she in marble silence—when the servant entered and placed a letter in her hands.

    That hand trembled as she opened it, but no other sign of agitation was perceptible though she seemed to divine its contents.  Nothing but a golden ring was contained in the enclosure.  Laura took it, placed it on her finger with apparent calmness, and then fell senseless on the ground.

    The other letter was also forwarded to its destination.  It was addressed to Mr. Sucknoddle, the celebrated author.  It contained the bitter reproach of a dying man for the piracy of his works and the solemn request for him to own the fraud and do justice to his memory.

    Shortly after an article appeared in the leading of the day, from the pen of Mr. Sucknoddle, entitled,


GENIUS UNRECOGNISED!

ANOTHER CHATTERTON! A NEW POET!


    Herein the struggles of Edward Trenton were described, an outline was given of some fragmentary and posthumous works; and a torrent of sentimentality poured upon the public —while it was announced that Mr. Sucknoddle would edit and publish the literary remains of his lamented friend.  These soon appeared with the following fictitious letter from the murdered Edward.


    "Noble and dear friend!
             "To you, as the patron of my efforts, and the cheerer of my wretched life.  To you, to whom I owe consolation in misery and succour in distress, the ready and disinterested patron of unrecognised genius, I bequeath the task of doing justice to my memory, publishing my works, and avenging me upon those who have driven me to an early grave.

" EDWARD TRENTON."


    One need not say what a sensation was created.  Death was the passport to popular attention.  The fragments Sucknoddle had collected and not used himself sold like wildfire in gilt-edged, silk bound volumes at a guinea each.  The entire press praised the dead man whom they would have persecuted living.  The speculation succeeded admirably—Mr. Sucknoddle gathered a golden harvest and golden opinions also for his noble act of disinterested generosity.

    A friend of the family, knowing the family relationship between Mr. Ellman and the late poet, sent a splendidly bound volume of his works to Ellman Cottage as a Christmas present. 

    Alas!  There was no one then in Ellman Cottage, who read poetry.



END OF THE TRADESMAN'S DAUGHTER.



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