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[-256-] 

CHAPTER LXXXVI

THE OLD HAG.

MARKHAM was not the man to remain idle now that his circumstances were so desperately reduced. He had a taste for literary pursuits, and he resolved to devote his talents to some advantage. His income was totally insufficient to support his establishment, and yet he knew not how to effect any very great economy in the mode of conducting it. He would not for worlds allow Mr. Monroe and Ellen to leave his house, and again enter upon a struggle with the world. With Whittingham nothing could have induced him to part;- Marian was the only female domestic he kept, and he could not dispense with her services. Holford alone was an incumbranoe of which he thought of relieving himself. But before he adopted any measure of economical reform, he summoned the faithful Whittingham to a consultation with him in the library.
    When Markham had made the butler acquainted with his altered circumstances, the old man shook his head and observed —
    "Well, Master Richard, all this here ruination - and when I make use of the paragraph ruination, I [-257-] 

mean to express the common sentence, flooring -  has been brought round about by your over generosity, and good disposition toward, others. I can't a-bear, Master Richard, to see you circumlocuted and circumwented in this manner; and now all your property has gone to the canine species - or, wulgarly speaking, to the dogs."
    "What is done, is done, Whittingham," said Richard; "nor did I send for you to criticise my conduct."
    "Ah! Master Richard; don't go for to scold me - me that saw you bred and born," exclaimed the old butler, tears starting into his eyes. " I wouldn't be an ominous burden to you for all the world; so I'll get employment somewhere else —"
    "No - no, my faithful friend," cried Richard, taking the old man's hand, "I would not allow you to leave me on any account. As long as I have a crust you shall share it. My present object is to acquaint you with the necessity of introducing the most rigid economy into our household."
    "Ah! now I understand you, Master Richard. And talking of this reminds me that a gentleman in the neighbourhood requires a young youth of the nature of Holford; and so the lad might step quite  permiscuous, as the saying is, into a good situation at once."
    "Well, let him seek for another place, Whittingham; but tell him that he may stay here until he can succeed in finding one."
    Markham and Whittingham then arranged other little methods of economy, and the debate terminated. Fortunately for these plans, Holford procured the place alluded to by Whittingham, and repaired to his new situation in the course of a few days.
    Notwithstanding the solicitude with which Markham endeavoured to conceal his altered circumstances from Mr. Monroe and Ellen, the quick perception of the latter soon enabled her to penetrate into the real truth; and she immediately reflected upon the best means of turning her own acquirements to some good purpose. She did not mention to her father her suspicion that they were a burden upon Markham's resources; but she took an early opportunity of hinting to Richard her anxiety to avail herself of her education and accomplishments, in order to add to the general resources of the household. The young man was struck by the delicate manner in which she thus made him com-[-258-]prehend that she was not blind to the limited nature of his means; but he assured her that his property was quite commensurate with his expenditure. Ellen appeared to be satisfied; but she nevertheless determined within herself to lose no time in seeking for profitable employment for her leisure hours.
    But where was she to seek for occupation? She knew the miserable rate at which the labours of the needle-women were paid; and she shuddered at the idea of returning to the service of a statuary, an artist, a sculptor, or a photographer. And yet she was resolved not to remain idle. She could not bear the thought that her father and herself were a burden upon the slender resources of their generous and noble-hearted benefactor :-she saw with pain that while Markham forced her father to partake of his wine as usual, he himself now invariably invented an excuse to avoid joining in the indulgence ;- she saw that Richard rose earlier than heretofore, and remained in his library the greater portion of the day ;- she learned from Marian that the surplus garden produce was sold ;- in a word, she beheld a system of the most rigid economy introduced into the establishment, and which was only relaxed on behalf of her father and herself. All this gave her pain; and she was resolved to do somewhat to enable her to contribute towards the resources of the household - even though she should be compelled to return to the service of a statuary, an artist, a sculptor, or a photographer.
    At one moment she thought of applying to Greenwood :- but he had already done all she asked in respect to their child. And then, even if she were to obtain money from him, in what manner could she account to her father and to Markham for its possession? for there was a secret-  a terrible secret connected with Greenwood, which she dared not reveal - even though such confession were to save her from a death of lingering tortures!
    Thus thought Ellen Monroe. Was it extraordinary if the idea of applying to the old hag - that nameless woman - dwelling in a nameless court in Golden Lane, and exercising a nameless avocation - often entered the young lady's imagination? Was it strange that she should gradually overcome her repugnance to seek the presence of the filthy-souled harridan, and at length look upon such a step as the only means through which her ardent desire to obtain employment could be gratified?
    It was decided! she would go.
    Accordingly, one morning, she dressed herself in the most simple manner, and proceeded by an omnibus into the City. It was mid-day when she reached Golden Lane.
    With what strange feelings did she proceed along the narrow and dirty thoroughfare! Pure and spotless was she when, nearly three years back, she had first set foot in that vile lane ;- how much had she seen - how much passed through - how much endured since that period?    Dishonoured - unwedded - she was a mother. Her virgin purity was gone for ever - the evidence of her shame was living, and could at any moment be brought forward to betray her. And if she now pursued a virtuous course, it was scarcely for virtue's sake, but through dread of the consequences of a fresh fault. The innate chastity of her soul had dissolved, like snow before the mid-day sun's effulgence, beneath the glances of the statuary, the artist, the sculptor, and the photographer. It was true that she looked upon her services to those masters with disgust; but the feeling had little reference to pure and unadulterated feminine modesty. Still she was of a proud spirit in one respect ;- she detested a life of slothful dependence upon an individual who had not enough for himself!
    Such was Ellen Monroe when she retraced her way, on the present occasion, to the dwelling of the old hag - that way which had led her to so frightful a precipice before!
    The old woman was sitting in her great easy chair, watching the steam that rose from a large saucepan upon the hob. That saucepan contained the harridan's dinner-tripe and cow-heel stewing with onions, and filling the close apartment with a sickly odour. But the hag savoured that smell with a hideous expression of delight; to her nostrils it was a delicious perfume. From time to time she glanced - almost impatiently  -towards her Dutch clock, as if anxious for the arrival of the happy moment when she might serve up her mess. She was just spreading a filthy napkin upon one corner of her table, when a knock was heard at her door.
    Instead of inviting the visitor, whoever it might be, to enter, the hag hastened to answer the summons by opening the door a few inches. She was already afraid that some poor neighbour might seek a portion of her dainty meal!
    But when she recognised Ellen Monroe, a gleam of joy suddenly illumined her lowering countenance, and the young lady immediately obtained admittance, for the hag thought within herself - "There is gold yet to be gained by her !"
    Re-assured as to the undivided enjoyment of the stew, and having satisfied herself with a glance that Ellen was above immediate want, the old woman conducted her fair visitant to a seat, saying —
    "My bird of beauty, you have come back to me again; I have been waiting for your return a long long time."
    "Waiting for me?" cried Ellen, with surprise.
    "Yes, miss - certainly. I know the world - and I felt convinced that you could not always contrive for yourself, without me."
    "I am at a loss to understand you," said Ellen.
    "Well - well, no matter!" exclaimed the hag, lifting off the lid of her saucepan, and ogling the stew. "At all events," she continued, after a pause, "you require my services now - else why are you come?"
    "Yes - I require your services," answered the young lady. "I want employment - can you tell me of any thing likely to suit me?"
    "In what way?" demanded the hag, with an impudent leer.
    Ellen remained silent - absorbed in thought. That question recalled to her mind the difficulties of her position, and convinced her how little scope there was for the exercise of choice in respect to employment.
    The old woman surveyed her fair visitant with attention; the sardonic expression of her countenance changed into one of admiration, as she contemplated that lovely girl. Her head was so gracefully inclined the least thing over one shoulder as she sat wrapt up in her reflections ;- there was a shade of such bewitching melancholy upon her classic countenance the long, dark fringes that shadowed her deep blue eyes, gave so Murillo-like a softness to her cheek as she glanced downwards; her bust, since she had become a mother, had expanded into such fine proportions, yet without destroying the perfect symmetry of her shape ;- and her entire air had something so languishing - something of an only partially-subdued voluptuousness-that the old hag regarded her with mingled sentiments of admiration, envy, and pleasure.
    [-259-] "In what way can I serve you ?" said the harridan again, after a long time.
    "Alas! I have scarcely made up my mind how to answer the question," replied Ellen, smiling in spite of her melancholy thoughts. "I am not actually in want; but my father and myself are dependent upon the bounty of one who is by no means able to support us in idleness. My father can do nothing; he is old - infirm, and broken down by affliction. It therefore remains for me to do some thing to earn at least a trifle."
    "A young lady of your beauty cannot be at a loss for friends who will treat her nobly," said the old woman, affecting to busy herself with her stew, but in reality watching Ellen's countenance with a reptile-like gaze as she spoke.
    "Ah! I know that I am not the ugliest person in existence," exclaimed the young lady, smiling once more; "but I am anxious," she added, her countenance suddenly assuming a serious expression, "to live a quiet - an honourable - and a virtuous life. I know there is nothing to be gained by the needle. I dislike the menial and degrading situation of a copy or a model :- are you aware of no other occupation that will suit me?"
    "Have you any money in your pocket?" demanded the hag, after a few moments' reflection.
    " I have three sovereigns and a few shillings," answered Ellen, taking her purse from her reticule.
    "I know of an employment that will suit you well," continued the old woman; "and my price for putting it in your way will be the three sovereigns in your purse."
    "Of what nature is the employment?" asked Ellen.
    "That of patient to a Mesmerist," was the reply "Patient to a mesmerist!" exclaimed the young lady "I do not understand you."
    "There is a French gentleman who has lately arrived in London, and who lectures upon Animal Magnetism at the West End," said the hag. "He has created a powerful sensation; and all the world are running after him. But he requires patients to operate upon, and the photographer, with whom he is acquainted, recommended him to apply to me. You will answer his purpose; and you well know that I have always performed my promises to you hitherto, so you need not be afraid to pay me my price at once I will then give you the mesmerist's card."
    "First explain the nature of the services that will he demanded of me," said Ellen.
    "You will be placed in a chair, and the magnetiser will pass his hands backwards and forwards in a particular way before your eyes; you will then have to fall asleep - or pretend to do so, whichever you like; and the professor will ask you questions, to which you must reply. This is the main business which he will require at your hands."
    "But it is a gross deception," said Ellen.
    "You may embrace or refuse my offer, just as you choose. If you are so very particular, Miss," added the old woman ironically, "why do you not obtain the situation of a governess, or go out and give lessons in music and drawing?"
    "Because I should be asked for references, which I cannot give ;- because there would be a perpetual danger of my former occupations transpiring; and because —"
    "Because - because you do not fancy that employment," exclaimed the hag impatiently. "See now - my dinner is ready -  you are wasting my time - I have other business to attend to anon. Do you refuse or accept my offer?"
    "What remuneration shall I be enabled to earn?"demanded Ellen, hesitatingly.
    "Thirty shillings a-week."
    "And how long shall I be occupied each day?"
    "About two hours at the evening lecture, three times a week; and perhaps an hour every day to study your part."
    "Then I accept your offer," said Ellen; and she placed three sovereigns upon the table.
    The eyes of the old woman glistened at the sight of the gold, which she clutched hastily from the table for fear that Ellen might suddenly repent of her bargain. She wrapped the three pieces carefully up in a piece of paper, and hastened to conceal them in the interior of her old Dutch clock. She then opened her table-drawer, and began to rummage, as on former occasions when Ellen visited her, amongst its filthy contents.
    The search occupied several minutes; for the old woman had numerous cards and notes scattered about In her drawer.
    "You see that I have a good connexion," she observed, with a horrible smile of self-gratulation, as she turned the cards and notes over and over with her long bony hands: "all the fashionable young men about town know me, and do not hesitate to engage my services on particular occasions. Then they recommend me, because I give them satisfaction; and so I always have enough to do to give me bread. I am not idle, my dear child - I am not idle, I can assure you. Day and night I am at the beck and call of my patrons. I help gentlemen to mistresses, and ladies to lovers. But, ah! the pay is not what it used to be - it is not what it used to be!" repeated the old hag, shaking her head dolefully. "There is a great competition, even in my profession, miss - a very great competition. The shoemakers, the tailors, the publicans, the butchers, the bakers, all complain of competition ;- but they have not half so much right to complain as I have. Now and then I pick up a handsome sum in one way ;- and, while I think of it, miss, I may as well mention to you - for who can tell what may happen? - you are young, and beautiful, and warm - and such a thing is almost sure to befall you as well as any other woman. But, as I was saying, miss - I may as well mention to you, that if you should happen - in consequence of a fault - to —"
    The old woman leant forward, and whispered something in Ellen's ear.
    The young lady started; and an exclamation of mingled disgust and horror escaped her lips.
    "Do not alarm yourself, my dear child," said the old hag, resuming her search with the most imperturbable coolness: "I did not mean to offend you. I can assure you that many a young lady, of higher birth than yours, and dwelling in the most fashionable quarters of London, has been glad to avail herself of my services. What would often become of the indiscreet miss if it wasn't for use? what, indeed ?-what, indeed?"
    "Haste and give me the card," exclaimed Ellen, in a tone of ill concealed disgust and aversion; "I am in a hurry-I can wait no longer."
    "There it is, my dear," said the old hag. "I know the situation will suit you. When you require another, come to me."
    Miss Monroe received the card, and took her departure without another moment's delay.
    As soon as the young lady had left that den, the old hag proceeded to serve up her stew, muttering to herself all the while, "One of my stray sheep come back home again! This is as it should be. [-260-]  There is yet much gold to be made by that girl: she cannot do long without me!"
    Then the horrible wretch fetched from the cupboard the champagne-bottle which contained her gin ; and she seated herself cheerfully at the table covered with the dainties that she loved.

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