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[-171-]  

CHAPTER LVI

THE ROAD TO RUIN.

    ABOUT two months after the period when we first introduced Ellen Monroe to our readers, the old woman of whom we have before spoken, and who dwelt in the same court as that poor maiden and her father, was sitting at work in her chamber.
    The old woman was ill-favoured in countenance, and vile in heart. Hers was one of those hardened dispositions which know no pity, no charity, no love, no friendship, no yearning after any thing proper to human fellowship.
    [-172-] She was poor and wretched ;- and yet she, in all her misery, had a large easy chair left to sit upon, warm blankets to cover her at night, a Dutch clock to tell her the hour, a cupboard in which to keep her food, a mat whereon to let her feet, and a few turves burning in the grate to keep her warm. The walls of her room were covered with cheap prints, coloured with glaring hues, and representing the exploits of celebrated highwaymen and courtezans; scenes upon the stage in which favourite actresses figured, and execrable imitations of Hogarth's "Rake's Progress." The coverlid of her bed was of patchwork, pieces of silk, satin, cotton, and other stuffs, all of different patterns, sizes, and shapes, being sewn together - strange and expressive remnants of a vicious and faded luxury! Upon the chimney-piece were two or three scent-bottles, which for years had contained no perfume, and in the cupboard was a champagne-bottle, in which the hag now kept her gin. The pillow of her couch was stuffed neither with wool nor feathers - but with well-worn silk stockings, tattered lace collars, faded ribands, a piece of a muff and a boa, the velvet off a bonnet, and old kid gloves. And - more singular than all the other features of her room - the old hag had a huge Bible, with silver clasps, upon a shelf!
    This horrible woman was darning old stockings, and stooping over her work, when a low knock at the door of her chamber fell upon her ear. That knock was not imperative and commanding, but gentle and timid; and therefore the old woman did not hurry herself to say, "Come in!" Even after the door had opened and the visitor had entered the room, the old hag proceeded with her work for a few moments.
    At length raising her head, she beheld Ellen Monroe.
    She was not surprised: but as she gazed upon that fair thin face whose roundness had yielded to the hand of starvation, and that blue eye whose fire was subdued by long and painful vigils, she said, "And so you have come at last? I have been expecting you every day!"
    "Expecting me! and why?" exclaimed Ellen, surprised at these words, which appeared to contain a sense of dark and mysterious import that was ominous to the young girl.
    "Yes - I have expected you,'' repeated the old woman. "Did I not tell you that when you had no money, no work, and no bread, and owed arrears of rent, you would come to me?"
    "Alas! and you predicted truly," said Ellen with a bitter sigh. "All the miseries which you have detailed have fallen upon me ;- and more! for my father lies ill upon the one mattress that remains to us!"
    "Poor creature!" exclaimed the old woman, endeavouring to assume a soothing tone; then, pointing to a foot-stool near her, she added, "Come and sit near me that we may talk together upon your sad condition."
    Ellen really believed that she had excited a feeling of generous and disinterested sympathy in the heart of that hag; and she therefore seated herself confidently upon the stool, saying at the same time, "You told me that you could serve me: if you have still the power, in the name of heaven delay not, for - for - we are starving!"
    The old woman glanced round to assure herself that the door of her cupboard was closed; for in that cupboard were bread and meat, and cheese. Then, turning her eyes upwards, the hag exclaimed, "God bless us all, dear child! I am dying of misery myself, and have not a morsel to give you to eat!"
    But when she had uttered these words, she cast her eyes upon the young girl who was now seated familiarly as it were, by her side, and scanned her from head to foot, and from foot to head. In spite of the wretched and scanty garments which Ellen wore, the admirable symmetry of her shape was easily descried; and the old woman thought within herself how happy she should be to dress that sweet form in gay and gorgeous garments, for her own unhallowed purposes.
    "You do not answer me," said Ellen. "Do not keep me in suspense - but tell me whether it is in your power to procure me work?"
    The old hag's countenance wore a singular expression when these last words fell upon her ears. Then she began to talk to the poor starving girl in a manner which the latter could not comprehend, and which we dare not describe. Ellen listened for some time, as if she were hearing a strange language which she was endeavouring to make out; and then she cast a sudden look of doubt and alarm upon the old hag. The wretch grew somewhat more explicit; and the poor girl burst-into an agony of tears, exclaiming, as she covered her blushing cheeks with her snow-white hands - "No: never - never!"
    Still she did not fly from that den and from the presence of that accursed old hag, because she was so very, very wretched, and had no hope elsewhere.
    There was a long pause; and the old bag and the young girl sate close to each other, silent and musing. The harridan cast upon her pale and starving companion a look of mingled anger and surprise; but the poor creature saw it not - for she was intent only on her own despair.
    Suddenly a thought struck the hag.
    "I can do nothing for you, miss, since you will not follow my advice," she said, after awhile: "and yet I am acquainted with a statuary who would pay you well for casts of your countenance for his Madonnas, his actresses, his Esmeraldas, his queens, his princesses, and his angels."
    These words sounded upon the ears of the unhappy girl like a dream; and parting, with her wasted fingers, the ringlets that clustered round her brow, she lifted up her large moist eyes in astonishment towards the face of the aged hag.
    But the old woman was serious in her offer.
    "I repeat - will you sell your countenance to a statuary?" she said. "it is a good one; and you will obtain a handsome price for it."
    Ellen was literally stupefied by this strange proposal; but when she had power to collect her ideas into one focus, she saw her father pining upon a bed of sickness, and surrounded by all the horrors of want and privation ;- and she herself - the unhappy girl - had not tasted food for nearly thirty hours. Then, on the other side, was her innate modesty ;- but this was nothing in the balance compared to the poignancy of her own and her parent's sufferings.
    So she agreed to accompany the old hag to the house of the statuary in Leather Lane, Holborn. But first she hurried home to see if her father required any thing - a vain act of filial tenderness, for if he did she had nothing to give. The old man slept soundly - worn out with suffering, want, and sorrowful meditation; and the landlady of the house promised to attend to him while Ellen was absent.
    The young maiden then returned to the old woman and they proceeded together to the house of the statuary.
    Up two flights of narrow and dark stairs, precipi-[-173-]tate as ladders, did the trembling and almost heartbroken girl follow the hag. They then entered a spacious depository of statues modelled in plaster of Paris. A strange assembly of images was that! Heathen gods seemed to fraternize with angels, Madonnas, and Christian saints; Napoleon and Wellington stood motionless side by side ; George the Fourth and Greenacre occupied the same shelf; William Pitt and Cobbett appeared to be contemplating each other with silent admiration; Thomas Paine elbowed a bishop; Lord Castlereagh seemed to be extending his hand to welcome Jack Ketch; Cupid pointed his arrow at the bosom of a pope; in a word, that strange pell-mell of statues was calculated to awaken ideas of a most wild and ludicrous character, in the imagination of one whose thoughts were not otherwise occupied.
    The statuary was an Italian; and as he spoke the English language imperfectly, he did not waste much time over the bargain, With the cool criticism of a sportsman examining a horse or a dog, the statuary gazed upon the young maiden; then, taking a rule in his hand, he measured her head.; and with a pair of blunt compasses he took the dimensions of her features. Giving a nod of approval, be consulted a large book which lay open upon a desk; and finding that he had orders for a queen, an opera-dancer, and a Madonna, he declared that he would take three casts of his new model's countenance that very morning.
    The old woman whispered words of encouragement in Ellen's ear, as they all three repaired to the workshop, where upwards of twenty men were employed in making statues. Some were preparing the clay models over which the plaster of Paris was to be laid: others joined legs and arms to trunks ;- some polished the features of the countenances: others effaced the seams that betrayed the various joints in the complete statues. One fixed wings to angels' backs - another swords to warriors' sides: a third repaired a limb that had been broken; a fourth stuck on a new nose in the place of an old one knocked off.
    Ellen was stretched at full length upon a table; and a wet cloth was placed over her face. The statuary then covered it with moist clay ;- and the process was only complete when she was ready to faint through difficulty of breathing. She rested a little while; and then the second cast was taken. Another interval to recover breath - and the third and last mould was formed.
    The statuary seemed well pleased with this trial of his new model; and placing a sovereign in the young maiden's hand, he desired her to return in three days, as he should require her services again. The poor trembling creature's eyes glistened with delight as she balanced the gold in her little hand; and she took her departure, accompanied by the hag, with a heart comparatively light.
    "You will have plenty to do there," said the old woman, as they proceeded homewards: "I have introduced you to a good thing. You must therefore divide your first day's earnings with me."
    Ellen really felt grateful to the selfish harridan and having changed her gold for silver coin at a shop where she stopped to buy provisions, she counted ten shillings in the withered and sinewy hand which the hag thrust forth.
    Thus for three months did Ellen earn the means of a comfortable subsistence, by selling her countenance to the statuary. And that countenance might me seen belonging to the statues of Madonnas in catholic chapels; opera dancers, and actresses in theatrical clubs; nymphs holding lamps in the halls of public institutions; and queens in the staircase windows of insurance offices.
    She never revealed to her father the secret spring of that improved condition which soon restored him to health; but assured him that she had found more needle-work, and was well paid for it. The old man had too good an opinion of his daughter to suspect her of crime or frailty; and he believed her innocent and well-meant falsehood the more readily, inasmuch as he saw her constantly engaged with her needle when he was at home.
    Three months passed away; and already had a little air of comfort succeeded to the former dismal aspect of those two chambers which the father and daughter occupied, when the statuary died suddenly.
    Ellen's occupation was once more gone; and, after vainly endeavouring to obtain needle-work  - for that which she did in the presence of her father was merely a pretence to make good her tale to him - she again repaired to the abode of the old hag who had introduced her to the statuary.
    The aged female was, if possible, more wrinkled and hideous than before; the contrast between her and her fair young visitant was the more striking, inasmuch as the cheeks of the latter bad recovered their roundness, and her form its plumpness by means of good and sufficient food.
    "You have come to me again," said the hag. "Doubtless I should have never seen you more if you had not wanted my services."
    "The statuary is dead," returned Ellen. "and his left behind him an immense fortune. His son has therefore declined the business, and has discharged every one in the employment of his late father."
    "And what would you have me do for you, miss?" demanded the old woman. "I am not acquainted with another statuary."
    Ellen heaved a deep sigh.
    The hag contemplated her for some tine in silence, and then exclaimed, "Your appearance has improved; you have a tinge of the carnation upon your cheeks; and your eyes have recovered their brightness. I know an artist of great repute, who will be glad of you as a copy for his shepherdesses, his huntresses, his sea-nymphs, and heathen goddesses. Let us lose no time in proceeding to his residence."
    This proposal was far more agreeable to the maiden than the one which had led her into the service of the statuary; and she did not for a moment hesitate to accompany the old woman to the abode of the artist.
    The great painter was about forty years of age, and dwelt in a splendid house in Bloomsbury Square, The rooms on the third floor were his studio, as he required a clear and good light. He accepted the services of Ellen Monroe as a copy, and remunerated the old woman out of his own pocket, for the introduction. But he required the attendance of his copy every day from ten till four; and she was accordingly compelled to tell her father another story to account for these long intervals of absence. She now assured him that she was engaged to work at the residence of a family in Bloomsbury Square; and the old man believed her.
    Her countenance having embellished statues, was now transferred to canvass. Her Grecian features and classic head appeared surmounted with the crescent of Diana, the helmet of Minerva, and the crown of Juno. The painter purchased dresses suitable to the characters which he wished her to adopt; and, although she was frequently compelled to appear before him, in a state which at first was strongly repugnant to her modesty - with naked [-174-] bust, and naked arms, and naked legs - the feeling of shame gradually wore away. Thus, though in body she remained pure and chaste, yet in soul was she gradually hardened to the sentiments of maiden delicacy and female reserve!
    It is true that she retained her virtue - because it was not tempted. The artist saw not before him a lovely creature of warm flesh and blood; he beheld nothing but a beautiful and symmetrical statue which served as an original for his heathen divinities and pastoral heroines. And in this light did he treat her.
    He paid her handsomely; and her father and herself were enabled to remove to better lodgings, and in a more respectable neighbourhood, than those which had been the scene of so much misery in Golden Lane.
    The artist whom Ellen served was a portrait-painter as well as a delineator of classical subjects. When he was employed to paint the likeness of some vain and conceited West End daughter of the aristocracy, it was Ellen's hand - or Ellen's hair - or Ellen's eyes - or Ellen's bust - or some feature or peculiar beauty of the young maiden, in which the fashionable lady somewhat resembled her, that figured upon the canvass. Then when the portrait was finished, the artist would assemble his friends at the same time that the lady and her friends called to see it; and the artist's friends - well tutored beforehand - would exclaim, one, "How like is the eye!" another, "The very mouth!" a third, "The hair to the life itself!" a fourth, "The exact profile!" - and so on. And all the while it was Ellen's eye, or Ellen's mouth, or Ellen's hair, or Ellen's profile, which the enthusiasts admired. Then the lady, flattering herself that she alone was the original, and little suspecting that the charms of another had been called in to enhance the beauty of her portrait, persuaded her fond and uxorious husband to double the amount of the price bargained for, and had the picture set in a very costly frame, to hang in the most conspicuous place in her mansion.
    It happened one-day-that the artist obtained the favour of a marchioness of forty-six by introducing into her portrait the nose, eyes, and mouth of that fair young maiden of seventeen. The great lady recommended him to the Russian Ambassador as the greatest of English painters; and the ambassador immediately retained him to proceed to St. Petersburgh to transfer to canvass the physiognomy of the Czar.
    Ellen thus lost her employment once more; and again did she repair to the den of the old hag who had recommended her to the statuary and the artist.
    The step of the maiden was less timid than formerly; and her look was more confident. She was also dressed in a style which savoured of coquetry, for her occupation at the artist's had taught her the value of her charms, and prompted her how to enhance them. She had imbibed the idea that her beauty was worth much, and should at least produce her a comfortable livelihood, even if it did not lay the foundation for a fortune. She therefore occupied all her leisure time in studying how to set it off to the greatest advantage. Thus dire necessity had compelled that charming young creature to embrace occupations which awoke all the latent female vanity that had slumbered in her bosom throughout the period of her pinching poverty, and that now shone forth in her manner - her gait - her glance - her speech - and her attire.
    The old hag observed this change, and was not surprised - for she was a woman of the world; but she muttered to herself, "A little while, my dear - and you will suit my purposes altogether."
    "I am come again, you see," said Ellen, seating herself without waiting to be asked. "My artist has left England suddenly, and I am once more without occupation."
    "Have you any money?" demanded the old hag.
    "I have three sovereigns left," replied Ellen.
    "You must give me two," said the woman; "and you must promise me half your first week's earnings, for the new introduction which I shall presently give you."
    Ellen placed two sovereigns in the hand of the beldame; and the old wretch opened her table drawer to search for something which she required.
    That drawer contained a strange incongruity of articles. Old valentine letters, knots of faded riband, cards, prophetic almanacs; tooth powder boxes, and scented oil bottles, all alike empty; the visiting cards of several noblemen and gentlemen, play-bills, theatrical journals, masquerade tickets never used, pieces of music, magazines of fashion, a volume of the "Memoirs of Harriett Wilson," immoral prints, a song book, some leaves torn from the "Newgate Calendar," medical drugs wrapped up in papers, a child's caul, pieces of poetry in manuscript, amatory epistles on sheets of various tints, writs from the Court of Requests, summonses from police courts, &c. &c. The contents of that filthy drawer furnished a complete history of that old hag's former life.
    The object of the old woman's search was a card, which, having found it, she handed to the young maiden, saying, " Here is the address of an eminent sculptor: he requires a model of a bust for the statue of a great lady who may be said to have no bust at all. You will suit him."
    Ellen received the card, and hastened to Halkin Street, Belgrave Square, where the sculptor resided. She was shown first into a parlour upon the ground floor, then, when the object of her visit was made known, she was requested to walk up stairs to the studio of the great man. She found him contemplating with profound satisfaction a head which he had already cut from the top part of a block of marble. He was an old man of sixty, and he stooped in his gait; but his eyes were dark and piercing.
    A bargain between the sculptor and Ellen was soon terminated; and the next morning she entered upon her new employment. Stripped to the waist, she had to stand in a certain position, for several hours each day, in the presence of the sculptor. The old man laboured diligently at his statue, and allowed her little rest; but he paid her munificently, and she was contented.
    The lady, whose statue was thus supposed to be in progress, called daily, and remained at the sculptor's house for hours. She always came alone, and sate in the studio the whole time during which her call lasted: it was therefore imagined by all her friends that she really formed the model of the statue which was to bear her name. But Ellen's neck - and Ellen's shoulders - and Ellen's bosom - and Ellen's arms were in truth the pattern of the bust of that statue which was to be a great sculptor's masterpiece, and to hand down the name of a great lady to posterity
    The very day upon which Ellen was to leave the sculptor's employment, her services as a model being no longer required, this great lady happened to observe that she was in want of a nursery governess for her two young daughters. Ellen ventured to offer herself as a candidate for the situation. The lady raised her eyes and hands to heaven in asto-[-175-]nishment, exclaiming, " You, miss, a companion for my children! a girl who gets her livelihood by standing half naked in the presence of any body, as a model!" And the lady was compelled to have recourse to her scent-bottle to save herself from fainting. She forgot that she would have herself stood to the sculptor if she had possessed a good bust!
    The answer and the behaviour of this lady opened the eyes of Ellen to the nature of the opinion which the world must now form of her. She suddenly comprehended the real position which she occupied in society - about one remove above the unfortunate girls who were the avowed daughters of crime. Were she now to speak to the world of her virtue, that world would laugh insultingly in her face. Thus the dire necessity which had urged her upon this career, began by destroying her sense of female delicacy and shame: it now destroyed, in her estimation, every inducement to pursue a virtuous career.
    Again she sought the dwelling of the old hag: for the fourth time she demanded the assistance of the beldame.
    "It seems, my child," said the old woman, "that my advice has produced beneficial consequences. Each time that you cross my threshold I observe that you are freer and lighter in step, and more choice in your apparel."
    "You know that I am not detestably ugly, mother," answered Ellen, with a smile of complacence; "and surely it is as cheap to have a gown well made as badly made, and a becoming bonnet as one altogether out of date."
    "Ah! I see that you study the fashions," exclaimed the old woman with a sigh - for she recalled to mind the pleasures and pursuits of her own youthful days, over which she retrospected with regret:-  then, after a pause, she said, "How old are you?"
    "Eighteen and a half," replied Ellen.
    "And, with all that beauty, is your heart still unoccupied by the image of some favoured suitor?"
    "Oh!" ejaculated Ellen, laughing heartily, so as to display her brilliant teeth, "I have not thought of that yet. I have lately read a great deal about love in novels and romances - for I never do any needlework now, - but I have not experienced the passion. I dare say my time will come sooner or later;" - and again she laughed. "But, hasten, mother - I am losing my time: tell me, do you know of farther employment for me?"
    "I am acquainted with a French gentleman of science at the West End," answered the hag, "who baa invented a means of taking likenesses by the aid of the sun. I do not know what the process is: all that concerns me and you is that the Frenchman requires a beautiful woman to serve as a pattern for his experiments."
    "Give me his address," said Ellen, "and if he engages me I will pay you liberally. You know that you can rely upon me."
    The old woman once more had recourse to her filthy drawer, in which her present memoranda were mingled with the relics of the luxury of former days; end taking thence a letter which she had only received that same morning, she tore off the address for the use of the young maiden.
    Ellen, who a few months previously had been accustomed to work for seventeen or eighteen hours without ceasing, now took a cab to proceed from the neighbourhood of St. Luke's to Leicester Square. The French scientific experimentalist was at home; and Ellen was conducted up four flights of stairs to a species of belvidere, or glass cabinet, built upon the roof of the house. The windows of this  belvidere, and the paper with which the wood-work of the interior was covered, were of a dark blue, in order to mitigate the strength of the sun's rays.
    Within this belvidere the Frenchman was at work He was a short, middle-aged, sallow-faced, sharp featured person - entirely devoted to matters of science, and having no soul for love, pleasure, politics, or any kind of excitement save his learned pursuits He was now busily employed at a table covered with copper plates coated with silver, phials of nitric acid cotton wool, pounce, a camera obscure, several boxes, each of about two feet square, and other materials necessary for photography.
    The Frenchman spoke English tolerably well; and eyeing his fair visitant from head to foot, he expressed himself infinitely obliged to the person who had sent her. He then entered into particulars; and Ellen found, to her surprise, that the photographer was desirous of taking full-length female portraits in a state of nudity. She drew her veil over her countenance, and was about to retire in disgust and indignation, when the Frenchman, who was examining a plate as he spoke, and therefore did not observe the effect his words had produced upon her, mentioned the price which he proposed to pay her. Now the artist paid better than the statuary; the sculptor better than the artist; and the photographer better than the sculptor. She therefore hesitated no longer; but entered the service of the man of science. 
    We shall not proceed to any details connected with this new avocation to which that lovely maiden lent herself. Suffice it to say, that having sold her countenance to the statuary, her likeness to the artist, and her bust to the sculptor, she disposed of her whole body to the photographer. Thus her head embellished images white and bronzed; her features and her figure were perpetuated in divers paintings; her bust was immortalized in a splendid statue; and her entire form is preserved, in all attitudes, and on many plates, in the private cabinet of a photographer at one of the metropolitan Galleries of Practical Science
    At length the photographer was satisfied with the results of his experiments regarding the action of light upon every part of the human frame, and Ellen's occupation was again gone.
    A tainted soul now resided in a pure body. Every remaining sentiment of decency and delicacy was crushed - obliterated - destroyed by this last service. Pure souls have frequently resided in tainted bodies : witness Lucretia after the outrage perpetrated upon  her :- but here was essentially a foul soul in a chaste and virgin form.
    And what dread cause had consummated this sad result? Not the will of the poor girl for when we first saw her in her cold and cheerless chamber, her mind was spotless as the Alpine snow. But dire necessity - that necessity which became an instrument in the old hag's hands to model the young maiden to her purposes. For it was with ulterior views that the designing harridan had introduced the poor girl to that career which, without being actually criminal, led step by step towards criminality The wretch knew the world well, and was enabled to calculate the influence of exterior circumstances upon the mind and the passions. After the first conversation which she had with Ellen, she perceived that the purity of the virgin was not to be undermined by specious representations, nor by dazzling theories, nor by delusive sophistry: and the hag accordingly placed the confiding girl upon a path which while it supplied her with the necessaries of life, gradually presented to her mind scenes which were calculated [-176-] to destroy her purity of thought and chastity of feeling for ever!
     When Ellen left the service of the photographer, she repaired for the fifth time to the dwelling of the hag.
    The old woman was seated as usual at her work; and she was humming to herself an opera air, which she remembered to have heard many - many years back.
    "The Frenchman requires my services no longer," said Ellen. "What next can you do for me?"
    "Alas!  my poor child," answered the old woman, "the times were never so bad as they are at present! What is to become of us? what is to become of us?"
    And the hag rocked herself backwards and forwards in her chair, as if overcome by painful reflections.
    "You can, then, do nothing for me?" observed Ellen, interrogatively. "That is a pity! for I have not a shilling left in the world. We have lived up to the income which my occupations produced. My poor old father fancies up to the present moment that I have been working at dress-making and embroidery at the houses of great families and he will wonder how all my engagements should so suddenly cease. Think, mother: are you not acquainted with another artist or sculptor?"
    "Why, my child, do you pitch upon the artist and the sculptor?" inquired the hag, regarding Ellen fixedly in the face.
    "Oh!" answered the young maiden, lightly, "because I do not like to have my countenance handled about by the dirty fingers of the statuary; and you cannot suppose that out of the four services I should voluntarily prefer that of the photographer?"
    The old woman looked disappointed, and muttered to herself, "Not quite yet! not quite yet!"
    "What did you say, mother?" inquired Ellen.
    "I say," replied the hag, assuming a tone of kindness and conciliation, "that you must come back to me in ten days; and in the meantime I will see what is to be done for you."
   "In ten days," observed Ellen: "be it so!"
    And she took her departure, downcast and disappointed, from the old hag's abode.

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