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[-318-] 

CHAPTER CIV.

FEMALE COURAGE.

HOLYWELL STREET was once noted only as a mart for second-hand clothing, and booksellers' shops [-319-] dealing in indecent prints and volumes. The reputation it thus acquired was not a very creditable one.
    Time has, however, included Holywell Street in the clauses of its Reform Bill. Several highly respectable booksellers and publishers have located themselves in the place that once deserved no better denomination than Rag Fair. The unprincipled venders of demoralizing books and pictures have, with few exceptions, migrated into Wych Street or Drury Lane; and even the two or three that pertinaciously cling to their old temples of infamy in Holywell Street, seem to be aware of the incursions of respectability into that once notorious thoroughfare, and cease to outrage decency by the display of vile obscenities in their windows.
    The reputation of Holywell Street has now ceased to be a by-word: it is respectable ; and, as a mart for the sale of literary wares, threatens to rival Paternoster Row.
    It is curious to observe that, while butchers, tailors, linen-drapers, tallow-manufacturers, and toy-venders, are gradually dislodging the booksellers of Paternoster Row, and thus changing the once exclusive nature of this famous street into one of general features, the booksellers, on the other hand, are gradually ousting the old clothes dealers of Holywell Street.
    As the progress of the American colonist towards the far-west drives before it the aboriginal inhabitants, so do the inroads of the bibliopoles menace the Israelites of Holywell Street with total extinction.
    Paternoster Row and Holywell Street are both toeing their primitive features: the former is becoming a mart of miscellaneous trades ; the latter is rising into a bazaar of booksellers.
    Already has Holywell Street progressed far towards this consummation. On the southern side of the thoroughfare scarcely a clothes shop remains; and those on the opposite side wear a dirty and miserably dilapidated appearance. The huge masks, which denote the warehouse where masquerading and fancy-attire may be procured on sale or hire, seem to "grin horribly a ghastly smile," as if they knew that their occupation was all but gone. The red-haired ladies who stand at their doors beneath a canopy of grey trousers with black seats, and blue coats with brown elbows - a distant imitation of Joseph's garment of many colours - seem dispirited and care-worn, and no longer watch, with the delighted eyes of maternal affection, their promising offspring playing in the gutters. Their glances are turned towards the east - a sure sign that they meditate an early migration to the pleasant regions which touch upon the Minories.
    Holywell Street is now a thoroughfare which no one can decry on the score of reputation: it is, however, impossible to deny that, were the southern range of houses pulled down, the Strand would reap an immense advantage, and a fine road would be opened from the New Church to Saint Clement Danes.
    It was about half-past seven in the evening that Ellen Monroe, dressed in the most simple manner, and enveloped in a large cloak, entered Holywell Street.
    Her countenance was pale ; but its expression was one of resolution and firmness. 
    She walked slowly along from the west end of the street towards the eastern extremity, glancing anxiously upon the countenances of those traders who stood in front of the second-hand clothes shops.
    At length she beheld a female - one of the identical ladies with red hair above alluded to - standing on the threshold of one of those warehouses.
    Ellen looked upwards, and perceived all kinds of articles of male attire suspended over the head of this female, and swinging backwards and forwards, like so many men hanging, upon the shop-front.
    Ellen paused - glanced wistfully at the Jewess, and appeared to hesitate.
    Her manner was so peculiar, that, although the clothes venders do not usually solicit the custom at females, the Jewess immediately exclaimed in a sharp under-tone, "Sell or buy, ma'am?"
    Ellen turned, without another moment's hesitation, into the shop.
    " I wish to purchase a complete suit of male attire - for myself," said Miss Monroe. "Serve me quickly - and we shall not dispute about the price."
    These last words denoted a customer of precisely the nature that was most agreeable to the Jewess. She accordingly bustled about her, ransacked drawers and cupboards, and spread such a quantity of coats, trousers, and waistcoats, before Ellen, that the young lady was quite bewildered.
    "Select me a good suit which you think will fit me," said Miss Monroe, after a moment's hesitation; "and allow me to try it on in a private room."
    "Certainly, ma am," answered the Jewess; and, having looked out a suit, she conducted Ellen up stairs into her own sleeping-apartment.
    "And now I require a hat and a pair of boots," said Ellen ;-" in a word, every thing suitable to form a complete male disguise. I am going to a masquerade," she added, with a smile.
    The Jewess made no reply: it did not concern her, if her customer chose to metamorphose herself, so long as she was paid; and se accordingly hastened to supply all the remaining apparel necessary to complete the disguise.
    She then left Ellen to dress herself at leisure. And soon that charming form was clothed in the raiment of the other sex: those delicate feet and ankles were encased in heavy boots; thick blue trousers hampered the limbs lately so supple in the voluptuous dance; a coarse shirt and faded silk waistcoat imprisoned the lovely bosom; a collar and black neckcloth concealed the swan-like neck and dazzling whiteness of the throat; and a capacious frock coat concealed the admirable symmetry of the faultless figure. The hair was then gathered up in a manner which would not betray the sex of the wearer of those coarse habiliments, especially when the disguise was aided by the darkness of the night, and when that luxuriant mass was covered with the broad-brimmed and somewhat slouching hat which the Jewess had provided for the purpose.
    Ellen's toilette was thus completed, and she then descended to the shop.
    The Jewess - perhaps not altogether accustomed to such occurrences - made no comment, and took no impertinent notice of the metamorphosed lady. She contented herself with asking a handsome price for the clothes and accommodation afforded; - and Ellen paid the sum without a murmur, merely observing that she should send for her own apparel next day.
    Miss Monroe then left the shop, and issued from Holywell Street just as the church clocks in the neighbourhood struck eight.
    The reader has, doubtless, seen enough of the character to be well aware that she had acquired a considerable amount of fortitude and self-possession from the various circumstances in which she has [-320-] been placed: she was not, therefore, now likely to betray any diffidence or timidity as she threaded, in male attire, the crowded streets of the metropolis. She threw into her gait as much assurance as possible; and thus, without exciting any particular notice, she pursued her way towards the eastern districts of the great city.
    The weather was cold and damp; but the rain, which had fallen in torrents the day before, had apparently expended its rage for a short interval. A sharp wind, however, swept through the streets; and Ellen pitied the poor shivering, half-naked wretches, whom she saw huddling upon steps, or crouching beneath archways, as she passed along.
    Ellen walked rapidly, and having gained Bishopsgate Street, proceeded as far as the terminus of the Eastern Counties Railway.
    There she halted, and glanced anxiously around her.
    In a few minutes, a tall man, wrapped up an a large cloak, came up to the spot where she was standing.
    "Is that you, Filippo?" said Ellen.
    "Yes, Miss; I am here in obedience to your commands," returned Mr. Greenwood's Italian valet. "I promised your servant yesterday evening that I would be punctual to the hour - half-past eight - to-night; and I have kept my word."
    "I owe you a debt of gratitude, which I never shall be able to repay," said Ellen. "Your generous behaviour towards me on a former occasion emboldened me to write to you when I required a friend. I told you in my note not to be surprised if you should find me disguised in male attire; I moreover requested you to arm yourself with pistols. Have you complied with this desire on my part? "
    "I have, Miss," answered Filippo. "Conceiving it to be impossible that you could wish me to aid you in any dishonourable service, I have attended to your commands in every respect. I mentioned to you when we last met that my mission to England is from a lady now enjoying a sovereign rank, and that it is devoted to good and liberal purposes. Under those circumstances, I am ready to assist you in any manner consistent with my own principles and with the real objects of my mission."
    "You will this night be the means of rendering an essential service to a fellow-creature," said Ellen, in an impressive tone. "A foul conspiracy against him, - whether to take his life or for other purposes of villany, I know not, - has been devised; and he has blindly fallen into the snare that has been spread for him. At ten o'clock he is to attend an appointment on the banks of the canal at a place called Twig Folly. We must proceed thither: we must watch at a little distance; and, if need be, we must interpose to save him."
    "A more simple plan, Miss," said the Italian, "would be to warn this individual of his danger."
    "I have done so; but he will not believe that treachery is intended," returned Ellen.
    "Then another effectual manner to counteract the designs of villains in such a case is to obtain the assistance of the police."
    "No, Filippo; such a proceeding would lead to inquiries and investigations whence would transpire circumstances that must not be made known."
    "Miss Monroe, this proceeding on your part is so mysterious, that I hesitate whether to accompany you further," said the Italian.
    While thus conversing, they had pursued their way, Ellen being the guide, along Church Street into the Bethnal Green Road.
    "Come with me - do not hesitate - I implore you," exclaimed Ellen. " If you persist in penetrating my motives for acting in this strange manner, I will tell you all, rather than you should retreat at a moment when it is too late for me to obtain other succour. And be your resolve as it may," added Ellen, hastily, "nothing shall induce me to turn back. Desert me - abandon me if you will, Filippo - but, in the name of every thing sacred, lend me the weapons which you carry with you."
    The Italian made no reply for some moments, but continued to walk rapidly along by the side of the disguised lady.
    "I will believe, Miss Monroe," he said, at length, "that your motives are excellent; but are you well advised?"
    "Listen," exclaimed Ellen. "The individual, whose life we may perhaps this night save, is Richard Markham - the generous young man who has been a son to my father, and a brother to myself."
    "I have heard Mr. Greenwood mention his name many times," observed Filippo.
    "He believes that he is to meet his brother, from whom he has been for many years separated, this night on the banks of the canal," continued Ellen. - "For certain reasons I know most positively that the idea of such an appointment can only be a plot on the part of some enemies of Richard Markham. And yet I dared not communicate those reasons to him - Oh! no," added Ellen, with a shudder, "that was impossible - impossible!"
    "I do not seek to penetrate further into your secrets, Miss," said Filippo, struck by the earnestness of the young lady's manner, and naturally inclined to admire the heroism of her character, a developed by the proceeding in which he was now bearing a part.
    "And the necessity of keeping those certain reasons a profound secret," continued Ellen, "has also prevented me from procuring the intervention of the police. In the same way, should the result of our present expedition introduce you to the notice of Mr. Markham, it would be necessary for you to retain as a profound secret who you are - how you came to accompany me - and especially your connexion with Mr. Greenwood. Not for worlds must the name of Greenwood be mentioned in the presence of Richard Markham! If it should be necessary to enter into explanations with him, leave that task to me ; and contradict nothing that you may hear me state. I have my motives for all I do and all I say - motives so grave, so important, that, did you know them all, you would applaud and not doubt me. And now are you satisfied?"
    "Perfectly," returned Filippo : "I will not ask another question, nor hesitate another moment."
    "My everlasting gratitude is your due," said Ellen. "And now, one more favour have I to ask."
    "Name it," answered the Italian.
    "Give me one of your pistols."
    "But, Miss Monroe —"
    "Pray do not refuse me! I am not a coward; and I must inform you that I learnt to fire a pistol at the theatre."
    The Italian handed the young lady one of his loaded weapons.
    She concealed it beneath the breast of her coat; - and her heart palpitated with pride and satisfaction.
    Ellen and the Italian then quickened their pace, and proceeded rapidly towards Globe Town.

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