chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
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THE UNFINISHED LETTER.
THE dawn was now breaking; and Katherine extinguished
How gloomily does the young day announce [-21-]
itself to the dwellers in the narrow streets and obscure alleys of the poor
districts of the metropolis! The struggling gleam appears to contend with
difficulty against the dense atmosphere and noxious vapours which prevail in
those regions even in the midst of winter; and as each fitful ray steals through
the dingy panes, its light seems leaden and dull, not golden and roseate as that
of the orb of day.
Kate wiped away her tears, and set to work to clear the
table of the breakfast-things.
Having performed this duty, she slipped on her neat
straw bonnet and warm shawl — purchased by the produce of her own industry, — and
repaired to market.
But, alas! poor girl — as she passed rapidly through the
streets, she could not help noticing the people, that were lounging at their
doors, nudge each other, as much as to say, "There goes the executioner's
And no friendly voice welcomed her with a kind
"Good morning:" no human being had a passing compliment, — not even
one of those civil phrases which cost nothing to utter, mean perhaps as little,
but still are pleasing to hear, — to waste upon the executioner's niece.
Some old woman, more hard-hearted than the rest,
exclaimed, as she hurried timidly by the spot where they were gossiping,
"Ah! her uncle has got business on his hands this morning!"
And when the poor girl reached the shop whither she was
going, her eyes were bathed in tears.
The shopkeeper was cool and indifferent in his manner
towards her — not obsequious and ready as towards his other customers. He even
examined with suspicion the coin which she tendered him in payment for her
purchases — as if it were impossible that honesty could dwell in the heart of an
The ill-conditioned fellow! He saw not the mild-blue
eyes, with a tear glittering in each like twin-drops of the diamond dew; — he
marked not the pretty lips, apart, and expressive of such profound melancholy; —
observed not the thick folds of the shawl across the gently-budding bosom rise
and sink rapidly: — no, — he beheld not that interesting young creatures grief;
but he treated her rudely and harshly, because she was the executioner's niece!
Kate retraced her steps homewards. She saw other girls
of her own age nod familiarly to their acquaintances at the windows, as they
passed; — but she had no friend to receive or return her smile of recognition.
Shrinking within herself, as it were, from the slightest
contact with the world which despised her, the poor young creature felt herself
an interloper upon the very pavement, and even stepped into the muddy street to
make way for those who passed.
With a broken spirit she returned home, her fate
weighing upon her soul like a crime!
And so it was with her always on those mornings when her
uncle was called upon to exercise his fearful functions.
She was glad to bury herself once more in that dwelling
the threshold of which a friendly step so seldom crossed: her little parlour,
embellished with her own hands, appeared a paradise of peace after the contumely
which she experienced in the bustling streets.
She had returned home in so depressed a state at mind
that she had forgotten to close the front door behind her.
She opened her work-box, seated herself at the table,
and commenced her toil of pleasure — for that young girl loved her needle, and
She then fell into a reverie as she worked.
"To be a hangman is something horrible
indeed," she mused aloud; "but to be a member of a hang-man's family
is far worse. He knows that he merits what reproach is levelled against
him, if indeed his office deserve reproach at all; but I, who abhor the
idea, and never so much as witnessed an execution — why should shame and obloquy
redound upon me? It is like suffering for a crime of which one is
innocent! O God, is this human justice? What have I done that the vilest and
lowest should despise me? Am I not flesh and blood like them? do my clothes
carry pollution, that the ragged beggar draws her tatters close to her as she
passes me? Oh! give me strength, heaven, to support my wretched fate; for there
are moments when I despair!"
"You are wrong to mistrust the goodness of the
Almighty," said a mild voice close behind her chair.
Kate started, and looked round.
It was the rector of St. David's who had entered the
room, unperceived by the young maiden.
"Pardon me, reverend sir," answered Kate;
"I know that I am often forgetful of the wholesome lessons which I have
received from your lips; but — "
"Well, well, poor child," interrupted Reginald
Tracy, to whose cheeks the phrase "wholesome lessons" brought a
flush of crimson — for he remembered how he himself had deviated from the
doctrines which he had long successfully and sincerely taught: "be
consoled! I know how sad must be your lot; and I have called this morning to see
if I cannot ameliorate it."
"What? better my condition, sir?" exclaimed
Katherine. "Oh! how is that possible?"
"We will see," answered the rector, taking a
chair near the young maiden. "You are not altogether so friendless as you
"I am aware, sir, that through your goodness I
received an education at the school which your bounty founded; and your
excellent housekeeper, Mrs. Kenrick, has furnished me with needle work. Oh! sir,
I am not ignorant how much I owe to you both!"
Kate raised her mild blue eyes towards the rector's
countenance; but her glance drooped again instantaneously, for his looks were
fixed upon her in a manner which she had never noticed in him before, and which
excited a momentary feeling of embarrassment — almost of alarm — in her mind.
But that feeling passed away as rapidly as it had
arisen; and she blushed to think that she should have experienced such a
sentiment in the presence of so holy a man and so great a benefactor.
"I did not wish to remind you of any trifling
services which myself or my housekeeper may have rendered you, Katharine,"
said Reginald "I alluded to another friend who interests himself in
"Another friend!" ejaculated the young girl.
"Is it possible that I have another friend in the whole world?"
"You have," replied Mr. Tracy. "Did not a
[-22-] gentleman, accompanied by a police-officer, visit this house about a
"Yes — I remember — late one night — "
And she stopped short, being unwilling to allude to that
instance of her uncle's cruelty which had led to the visit mentioned by the
Well, that gentleman feels interested in you,"
continued Reginald. "He saw how you were treated — he knows that you are
"And do strangers thus interest themselves in the
wretched?" asked Katherine, her eyes swimming in tears.
"Not often," replied the rector. "But
this gentleman is one of time few noble exceptions to the general rule."
"He must be indeed!" exclaimed Katherine, with
an enthusiasm which was almost pious.
"That gentleman learnt from the policeman enough to
give him a favourable impression of your character, and to render him desirous
of serving you. He pondered upon the matter for some days, but could come to no
determination on the subject. He heard that you were anxious to leave this house
and earn your own bread."
"Oh! yes — how willingly would I do so!"
exclaimed Katherine fervently. "But — "
"But what?" demanded Reginald, in whose eyes
the young maiden had never been an object of peculiar interest until at present; —
now he observed, for the first time, that her personal appearance was far —
far from disagreeable.
The truth was, that, since his fall, he had viewed every
woman with different eyes from those through which he had before surveyed the
female sex. When he himself was chaste and pure, he observed only the feminine
mind and manner: — now his glances studied and discriminated between external
attractions. His moral survey had become a sensual one.
"But what?" he said, when Katherine hesitated.
"Do you object to leave your uncle?"
"I should be a hypocrite were I to say that I
object to leave him," was the immediate answer. "Nevertheless, if he
demanded my services, I would remain with him, through gratitude for the bread
which he gave me, and the asylum which he afforded me when I was a child and
unable to earn either. But he would not seek to retain me, I know; for he does
not — he cannot love me! Still, there is one poor creature in this house. — "
"My housekeeper has told me of him. You mean your
uncle's son?" said Reginald.
"I do, sir. He has no friend in the world but me;
and, though my intercessions do not save him from much bad treatment, still I
have studied to console him."
"If he be grateful, he will be pleased to think
that you may be removed to a happier situation," said the rector.
"True!" exclaimed Kate. "And if I only
earned more money than I do here, I should be able to provide him with a great
many little comforts."
"Assuredly," replied the fashionable preacher,
who during this colloquy had gradually drawn his chair closer to that of the
young maiden. "The gentleman, to whom I have before alluded, called upon me
yesterday. It appears he learnt from the policeman that you had been educated at
the school in my district, and that my housekeeper was well acquainted with you.
He nobly offered to contribute a sum of money towards settling you in some
"The generous stranger!" exclaimed Kate.
"What is his name, sir — that I may pray for him?"
"Mr. Markham — "
"Markham!" cried the young girl, strangely
excited by the mention of that name.
"Yes. Have you ever heard of him before?"
asked the rector, surprised at the impression thus produced.
Katherine appeared to reflect profoundly for some
moments; then, opening a secret drawer of her work box, she drew forth a small
satin bag, carefully sewed all round.
She took her scissors and unpicked the thread from one
end of the bag.
The rector watched her attentively, and with as much
surprise as interest.
Having thus opened one extremity of the bag, she
inserted her delicate fingers, and produced a sheet of letter-paper, folded, and
dingy with age.
Handing it to the rector, she observed, with tears
streaming down her cheeks, "These were the last words my mother ever wrote;
and she had lost the use of her speech ere she penned them."
Reginald Tracy unfolded the letter, and read as follows
"Should my own gloomy presages prove true, and the
warning of my medical attendant be well founded, — if, in a word, the hand of
Death be already extended to snatch me away thus in the prime of life, while my
darling child is * * * and inform Mr. Markham, whose abode is — "
The words that originally stood in the place which we
have marked with asterisks, had evidently been blotted out by the tears of the
Reginald folded the letter as he had received it, and
returned it to Katherine.
The young girl immediately replaced it in the little
bag, which she sewed up with scrupulous care. It was the poor creature's sole
treasure; and she prized it as the last and only memento that she possessed of
"And you know not to whom that unfinished letter
alluded?" said the rector, after a long pause, during which the bag, with
its precious contents, had been consigned once more to the secret drawer in the
"I have not the least idea," answered Kate,
drying her tears. "I was only four years old when my mother died, and of
course could take no steps to inquire after the Mr. Markham mentioned in the
letter. My uncle has often assured me that he took some trouble in the matter,
but without success. Markham, you know, sir, is by no means an uncommon
"And your father, Katherine — do you remember
"Oh! no, sir — he died before nay mother. When I
was old enough to comprehend how dreadful it is to be an orphan, Mr. Tracy, I
made that little satin bag to preserve the letter which Death would not allow my
poor mother to finish."
And again the young maiden wept bitterly.
The rector was deeply affected; and far some minutes his
sensual ideas concerning the damsel were absorbed in a more generous sympathy.
"But did not the medical man who attended your
mother in her last moments, and who is also alluded to in the letter,"
asked Reginald, — " did he not afford some clue to unravel the
"That question I have asked my uncle more than
once," answered Kate; "and he has assured me that the medical man was
a perfect. stranger who was casually summoned to attend upon my poor mother only
the very day before she breathed her last. Since then the medical man has also
"Your mother was your uncle's own sister, warn she
not?" asked the rector.
"She was, sir."
"And she married a person named Wilmot?"
"Yes — for my name is Katherine Wilmot."
"I remember that you were so entered upon the
school-books," said the rector. "Your mother must have been a superior
woman, for the language of that fragment of a letter is accurate, and the
handwriting is good."
"The same thought has often struck me, sir,"
observed Katherine. "And now how strange it is that a person bearing the
name of Markham should interest himself in my behalf!"
"Strange indeed!" exclaimed Reginald, whose
eye. were once more fixed upon the interesting girl near him, — fixed, too, with
an ardent glance, and not one of tender sympathy. [-"-]Mr. Richard Markham —
gentleman of whom I speak — called upon me, as I ere now stated, and besought me
to exert myself in your behalf. He seems to think that my position and character
enable me to do for you that which, coming from him, might awaken the tongue of
scandal. The cause of my visit this morning is now at length explained."
"I am very grateful, sir, for Mr. Markham's good
intentions and your kindness," said Katherine. "The coincidence in
names, which led me to show you that letter, seems a providential suggestion to
me to follow the counsel of such generous — such disinterested friends."
"I thought as I came along," resumed the
clergyman, "that I would procure you a situation with some friends of mine
in the country. But-"and he cast upon her a burning look brimful of
licentiousness — "I have my doubts whether it would not be better for you
to come to my house and assist Mrs. Kenrick in her domestic duties — especially
as she is getting very old — and — "
He paused for a moment: — he hesitated, because at the
back of the offer there was an unworthy motive at which his guilty soul quaked,
lest it should betray itself.
But that pure-minded and artless girl only saw in that
offer a noble act of kindness; and she frankly accepted it — upon the condition
that her uncle approved of her conduct in doing so.
The rector rose — he had no farther excuse for
protracting his visit.
The young girl thanked him for his goodness with the
most heart-felt sincerity.
He then took his leave.
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
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