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will be gone out at that hour. I don't ask to speak to you. merely ask to see, for the satisfaction of my own mind, that are well, and without intrusion to remind you, by the sight of me, that you have a friend-an elderly friend, grey-haired already, and fast growing greyer-whom you may ever command."
The cordial face looked up in his; confided in it; and promised.
"I understand, as before," said the gentleman, rising, "that you purpose not to mention my visit to John Carker, lest he should be at all distressed by my acquaintance with his history. I am glad of it, for it is out of the ordinary course of things, and— habit again!" said the gentleman, checking himself impatiently, "as if there were no better course than the ordinary course!"
With that he turned to go, and walking, bare-headed, to the outside of the little porch, took leave of her with such a happy mixture of unconstrained respect and unaffected interest, as no breeding could have taught, no truth mistrusted, and nothing but a pure and single heart expressed.
Many half-forgotten emotions were awakened in the sister's mind by this visit. It was so very long since any other visitor had crossed their threshold; it was so very long since any voice of sympathy had made sad music in her ears; that the stranger's figure remained present to her, hours afterwards, when she sat at the window, plying her needle; and his words seemed newly spoken, again and again. He had touched the spring that opened her whole life; and if she lost him for a short space, it was only among the many shapes of the one great recollection of which that life was made.
Musing and working by turns; now constraining herself to be steady at her needle for a long time together, and now letting her work fall, unregarded, on her lap, and straying wheresoever her busier thoughts led, Harriet Carker found the hours glide by her, and the day steal on. The morning, which had been bright and clear, gradually became overcast; a sharp wind set in; the rain fell heavily; and the dark mist drooping over the distant town, hid it from the view.
She often looked with compassion, at such a time, upon the stragglers who came wandering into London, by the great high
way hard by, and who, foot-sore and weary, and gazing fearfully at the huge town before them, as if foreboding that their misery there would be but as a drop of water in the sea, or as a grain of sea-sand on the shore, went shrinking on, cowering before the angry weather, and looking as if the very elements rejected them. Day after day, such travellers crept past, but always, as she thought, in one direction-always towards the town. Swallowed up in one phase or other of its immensity, towards which they seemed impelled by a desperate fascination, they never returned. Food for the hospitals, the churchyards, the prisons, the river, fever, madness, vice, and death-they passed on to the monster, roaring in the distance, and were lost.
The chill wind was howling, and the rain was falling, and the day was darkening moodily, when Harriet, raising her eyes from the work on which she had long since been engaged with unremitting constancy, saw one of these travellers approaching.
A woman. A solitary woman of some thirty years of age; tall; well-formed; handsome; miserably dressed; the soil of many country roads in varied weather-dust, chalk, clay, gravel -clotted on her grey cloak by the streaming wet; no bonnet on her head, nothing to defend her rich black hair from the rain, but a torn handkerchief; with the fluttering ends of which, and with her hair, the wind blinded her, so that she often stopped to push them back, and look upon the way she was going.
She was in the act of doing so, when Harriet observed her. As her hands, parting on her sun-burnt forehead, swept across her face, and threw aside the hindrances that encroached upon it, there was a reckless and regardless beauty in it: a dauntless and depraved indifference to more than weather: a carelessness of what was cast upon her bare head from Heaven or earth: that, coupled with her misery and loneliness, touched the heart of her fellow woman. She thought of all that was perverted and debased within her, no less than without: of modest graces of the mind, hardened and steeled, like these attractions of the person; of the many gifts of the Creator flung to the winds like the wild hair; of all the beautiful ruin upon which the storm was beating and the night was coming.
Thinking of this, she did not turn away with a delicate indig
nation-too many of her own compassionate and tender sex too often do but pitied her.
Her fallen sister came on, looking far before her, trying with her eager eyes to pierce the mist in which the city was enshrouded, and glancing, now and then, from side to side, with the bewildered and uncertain aspect of a stranger. Though her tread was bold and courageous, she was fatigued, and after a moment of irresolution, sat down upon a heap of stones; seeking no shelter from the rain, but letting it rain on her as it would.
She was now opposite the house; raising her head after resting it for a moment on both hands, her eyes met those of Harriet.
In a moment, Harriet was at the door; and the other, rising from her seat at her beck, came slowly, and with no conciliatory look, towards her.
"Why do you rest in the rain ?" said Harriet, gently. "Because I have no other resting-place," was the reply. "But there are many places of shelter near here. This," referring to the little porch, "is better than where you were. You are very welcome to rest here."
The wanderer looked at her, in doubt and surprise, but without any expression of thankfulness; and sitting down, and taking off one of her worn shoes to beat out the fragments of stone and dust that were inside, showed that her foot was cut and bleeding. Harriet uttering an expression of pity, the traveller looked up with a contemptuous and incredulous smile.
“Why, what's a torn foot to such as me?" she said. what's a torn foot in such as me, to such as you ?""
"Come in and wash it," answered Harriet, mildly, "and let me give you something to bind it up."
The woman caught her arm, and drawing it before her own eyes, hid them against it, and wept. Not like a woman, but like a stern man surprised into that weakness; with a violent heaving of her breast, and struggle for recovery, that showed how unusual the emotion was with her.
She submitted to be led into the house, and, evidently more in gratitude than in any care for herself, washed and bound the injured place. Harriet then put before her the fragments of her own frugal dinner, and when she had eaten of them, though spa
ringly, besought her, before resuming her road (which she showed her anxiety to do), to dry her clothes before the fire. Again, more in gratitude than with any evidence of concern in her own behalf, she sat down in front of it, and unbinding the handkerchief about her head, and letting her thick wet hair fall down below her waist, sat drying it with the palms of her hands, and looking at the blaze.
“I dare say you are thinking," she said, lifting her head suddenly, "that I used to be handsome, once. I believe I wasknow I was. Look here!"
She held up her hair roughly with both hands; seizing it as if she would have torn it out; then, threw it down again, and flung it back as though it were a heap of serpents.
"Are you a stranger in this place ?" asked Harriet.
"A stranger!" she returned, stopping between each short reply, and looking at the fire, "Yes. Ten or a dozen years a stranger. I have had no almanack where I have been. Ten or a dozen years. I don't know this part. It's much altered since I went away."
"Have you been far ?"
Very far. Months upon months over the sea, and far away even then. I have been where convicts go," she added, looking full upon her entertainer. "I have been one myself."
"Heaven help you and forgive you!" was the gentle answer. "Ah! Heaven help me and forgive me!" she returned, nodding her head at the fire. "If man would help some of us a little more, God would forgive us all the sooner perhaps."
But she was softened by the earnest manner, and the cordial face so full of mildness and so free from judgment, of her, and said, less hardily:
"We may be about the same age, you and me. If I am older, it is not above a year or two. Oh think of that!"
She opened her arms, as though the exhibition of her outward form would show the moral wretch she was; and letting them drop at her sides, hung down her head.
"There is nothing we may not hope to repair; it is never too late to amend," said Harriet. "You are penitent-"
"No," she answered. "I am not! I can't be. I am no such thing. Why should I be penitent, and all the world go
free? They talk to me of my penitence. Who's penitent for the wrongs that have been done to me!"
She rose up, bound her handkerchief about her head, and turned to move away.
"Where are you going?" said Harriet.
"Yonder," she answered, pointing with her hand. "To Lon.
"Have you any home to go to ?"
"I think I have a mother. She's as much a mother, as her dwelling is a home," she answered with a bitter laugh.
"Take this," cried Harriet, putting money in her hand. "Try to do well. It is very little, but for one day it may keep you from harm.”
"Are you married?" said the other, faintly, as she took it. "No. I live here with my brother. We have not much to spare, or I would give you more."
Will you let me kiss you?"
Seeing no scorn or repugnance in her face, the object of her charity bent over her as she asked the question, and pressed her lips against her cheek. Once more she caught her arm, and covered her eyes with it; and then was gone.
Gone into the deepening night, and howling wind, and pelting rain; urging her way on, towards the mist-enshrouded city where the blurred lights gleamed; and with her black hair, and disordered head-gear, fluttering round her reckless face.
Another Mother and Daughter.
In an ugly and dark room, an old woman, ugly and dark too, sat listening to the wind and rain, and crouching over a meagre fire. More constant to the last-named occupation than the first, she never changed her attitude, unless, when any stray drops of rain fell hissing on the smouldering embers, to raise her head with an awakened attention to the whistling and pattering out