« PreviousContinue »
of the one offered her at the Frenchwoman's, and judge which a gayhearted, thoughtless girl would fix upon.
Joan and Judith, the keen, thrifty managers, eagerly caught at this proposition : Annie would be desirably provided for, and without expense to them. But the farmer, truth to say, had been fascinated by the splendours of the West-end establishment, a secret voice within him whispering, that perhaps in time his little Annie might possess just such another. He therefore neither opposed nor seconded Mrs. Henniker's proposal, bút said that it should be left entirely to the decision of Annie.
And the upshot was, that Mrs. Henniker departed for her home more keenly hurt and offended than she had ever been in her life, and Annie Lee was transported to London.
II. It is London, and the month April, but the day is warm and bright-.. more like a sunny day in June. What an exciting scene it is! Men of rank and station are riding and driving through the handsome streets, and carriages, of various makes and degrees of elegance, throng past. But only to look at the beautiful faces they contain, beaming, beaming faces; some haughty, some smiling, but all looking as if they had not a care in the world. What a splendid mixture of colours their attire presents-pink, blue, green, violet, primrose, and, the most becoming of all when judiciously mingled, the one relieving the other, black and white. Delicately-fringed parasols are thrown up to the sun, and waving feathers flutter in the air. Where can they all be going to? Oh, some are bound for one spot and some for another; a few are stopping at this very
door. What door is it?—it belongs to a substantial, nay, fashionable-looking house. A servant dressed in a showy livery throws the door open : suppose we enter it with these distinguished women, who are alighting from their coroneted carriages. The man closes the door behind us, shutting out the gay world, and we
We catch a glimpse of large apartments and tasteful decorations, and there is a handsome staircase, towards which the ladies, who entered with us, advance, and are now ascending. We would follow, but we are impeded in the hall by a dazzling group, who have come down it. Let us draw aside whilst they pass, and admire the various hues thrown upon their rich attire by that painted window. The first lady is of the highest rank in England short of royalty, and that beautiful girl by her side was introduced at last week's Drawing-room. Another is a foreign princess, and the rest-but they are already gone; the carriages are rolling away now. Who is this elegantly-dressed woman advancing to meet the new comers? She seems to belong to the house. Why that is madame herself, the same madame who so fascinated Farmer Lee; and those noble ladies, just departed, have been giving her various and valuable orders, which she must execute with all despatch. She returns to wait
upon her new customers, and others are pouring in. She did an enormous business, did madame, for she was just then the fashionable dressmaker, par excellence. Other establishments were in the vicinity, but their houses have not a hundredth part of the run that distinguished hers. There was probably some peculiar merit in the establishment of madame: her taste was more distinguished, or her artists were more skilful; or it was that her charges were less exorbitant, or even possibly
that she herself bore a higher character? Not a bit of it: madame's ex-. tensive patronage was accorded her because--she was not English.
But the run of custom has for the moment abated, and madame finds. an instant to dash down into the hall, and opening the stained glass-door, painted in unison with the high window, she steps into the court outside. It is paved, save just round the edges, where are planted a few flowers. Upon the pavement stands shrubs or plants in large ornamental pots ; some look like orange-trees—but never mind them now, we must follow madame. Traversing this court, she opens a door at the opposite end, and again passing an antechamber, a confined room, filled with human beings, is disclosed to view. They are mostly young girls of ages vary, ing from fourteen to twenty, and are stooping, bending over needlework in that position so hurtful to the chest, and which a medical man would tell you induces so many cases of consumption. The girls look pale, and their eyes are heavy; some complain in an under voice of headache; and many a one stops to press her hand upon a back making rapid strides towards deformity; whilst one, that fair girl with the bright colour working at a mourning dress, coughs frightfully. Before madame has spoken to the forewoman half her wishes, a bell rings, and she hastens
to receive more customers and fresh orders. One amongst these girls is our old friend Annie Lee, but how changed ! The blooming, high-spirited girl, who a few months before left her father's house, expecting she was about to enter a second paradise, had found-what? The splendid residence described by the farmer was her home, it is true, and she saw it in all its grandeur when she first entered the house, but that was all she did see of it. There was a back door opening into another and more obscure street, which was for the ingress and egress of the pupils, and there were small
, dull, back rooms appropriated to their use. The
gay streets and the handsome apartments, the liveried servants and costly furniture, might as well have been a hundred miles off for all the gratification that Annie could derive from them. She, who at home had found the slightest task irksome, was now compelled to pass her days, and almost nights, in incessant labour. Some nights they did not go to bed at all, and on those when they did go it was but to snatch three or four hours of unrefreshing sleep.
When Annie entered madame's house, some months before the commencement of the season, it was what they called the “slack” time, but their hours of work then were from seven in the morning till ten at night. Her fatigue was, or it seemed to be, unbearable ; and her disappointment and mortification chafed her spirit with a bitterness that few can tell of. She had come up to London indulging in all the attractive visions that : can delight a young girl ; and when they came to be realised she found herself to be little better than a prisoner in a small, gloomy house-to all intents and purposes a working slave. She wrote home, describing her trials, and imploring to be removed forthwith, unless they wanted to see her die of work and grief. This letter produced an answer from the farmer-a somewhat angry answer; for he put all her complaints down to the score of her old laziness. Other communications produced no better result. Miss Joan herself once condescended to write, inquiring whether Annie had gone clean out of her mind, that she should ask to
be removed, and so forfeit the large sum which had been paid with her. As a last resource, Annie wrote to Mrs. Henniker ; but that lady had been too deeply offended to return anything but a cool reply, declining all interference. So
dissatisfied, overworked Annie had no choice but to remain ; and now the London season was reaching its height, and she was worked ten times harder than before.
“ Vhat for are you doing dat?” cried the French assistant, glancing towards a young girl of fifteen whose head had dropped upon the table, and who, not having been long in the establishment, was scarcely inured to the fatigue-“ vhat for are you doing dat, Miss Villiams, I say ?”?
“I think I was dropping asleep, mam’selle," said the girl, rousing herself and resuming her employment.
“ You out-doors,” continued the Frenchwoman, “ are good for nofing; you go home at ten of de clock at night, and you come at I know not what late hour of de morning, and yet you preten' dat you have fat-igue."
“ The room is so hot and close,” exclaimed Annie Lee ; " that of itself would make us feel sleepy, even if we had our night's proper rest."
“ There is no time for talking, Miss Lee,” said the forewoman. “There are numbers of new dresses ordered, madame says, not to speak of the alterations; and most of them to be home to-morrow night.”
“And dere vill, more dan likely, be numbers to dat, besides mantilles and de like,” added the Frenchwoman. “I declare if the season did last much longer dan it does, it vould kill me; and if it vere not for de
“ Look to Miss Williams's work, mademoiselle,” interrupted the forewoman, in an awful tone of voice.
On sped the hours of the afternoon. The girls had dined at one o'clock, and at five they snatched a moment for tea, and to wash their heated hands, resuming immediately their work until nine, when they supped. Then came heavy countenances, and eyes kept open with difficulty, telling how greatly they were in need of rest; but until three o'clock in the morning there was no rest for them. Strong coffee was brought in more than once, and plentifully drank of. It was madame's favourite antidote to drowsiness.
At half-past six in the morning they had re-assembled, to the tune of harsh words and much scolding, for six was the hour stipulated, and they ought to have been ready for it-jaded, careworn girls, about to drag on another of their miserable days. Now and then a gleam of admiration would
escape them at the costly and beautiful fabrics they were making into form; but the pervading spirit was silent, hopeless dejection. Confused brains were theirs, aching heads, backs, and chests, from the incessant stooping, terribly painful, trembling fingers, a hopeless consciousness that the same toil, unless released from it by death, or by some most unforeseen event, would be their portion, more or less, for years; and, worse than all, an innate conviction in the minds of some few, that they were capable of better things, had not Fate, with her iron decrees, tied them down to this.
The bright morning passed away, and the dinner came—for that break, short and hurried as it was, they were always thankful--and then the
afternoon, warmer but less fresh, brought additional fatigue. They could hear the distant noise of carriages rolling along in the gay streets, and they thought of the enviable beings who occupied them, for whom they were toiling, and who were now on their way to purchase more labour for them.
So the day sped on to a close. Lights were placed upon the tables before they were absolutely required, that the poor workwomen might not lose one precious moment of toil. For a little time the streets were comparatively still—the world was at dinner; and then again the equipages might be heard, bearing their titled freights to the Opera, or to other places of amusement. The supper was late this night--the workroom was so busy that there seemed to be no time to partake of it. Madame herself was there, directing and working as hard as the rest. By ten o'clock, however, the meal was over, and then slowly went on and struck the several hours of the night-eleven-twelve-one-twothree-four-and five. The only divertisement to their painful length being the handing about of coffee, and, at two in the morning, bread and butter. One of the girls fainted—the one with the cough and the bright colour, and, do what they would, she could not be sufficiently aroused to work again. How the others envied her! So two of them half-carried, half-led her up-stairs to bed, the superintendents grumbling at the interruption this occasioned in the workroom, for there was a deal to do still. And so they worked on, and the glorious sun was rising on that peaceful Sabbath morn ere those prematurely-injured girls could be permitted to seek their pillows for repose.
This is no exaggeration. Things may be partially ameliorated nowit is said they are ; but this is a faithful picture of the system pursued at the much-vaunted establishment of Madame some fifteen or sixteen years ago.
They were suffered to lie late on that Sunday morning-as long as they liked, in reason; and most of them only got dressed in time for dinner. They had a very nice dinner—they always had on Sundayswith a glass of wine and fruit afterwards. Annie Lee, however, did not partake of it; she had been invited to spend the day at the home of one of the "out-doors," as the French assistant called them. And as she walked with this young girl in the park after diuner, and saw the splendour exhibited in the dress and equipages; the many marks of wealth, of a life of luxurious ease, which the scene betrayed, she contrasted it with the wearing toil to which she was doomed, and looking upon the shining water close by, felt tempted to wish she could lie there for that had rest.
Annie sat silently, the tears rising to her eyes, for her spirits had been sadly subdued of late, and she looked listlessly enough at the passers-by, Amongst others, an elegant-looking man, young and handsome, walked rapidly by them; he had a riding-whip in his hand, and
ned but just to have left his horse. He nodded slightly to her companion, and glanced at Annie with a wondering look of admiration, surprised that so lovely a girl should be there on foot, and unprotected. It was one of those glances that tell of admiration, seldom unacceptable to a woman, and Annie raised her head, and slightly shook back her silken ringlets as she inquired of her companion who he was.
Dec.-VOL. XCVI. NO. CCCLXXXIV.
“ It is Captain Stanley,” was the reply; "the gentleman who occupies our drawing-room floor. He is a very good lodger.”
“Do you see him often?" rejoined Annie.
“ I scarcely ever see him," was the reply. “He has not left his room when I leave home in a morning, and is always out when I return at night. He dines at his club. I wonder he knew me.”
Before anything more was said the same gentleman again passed, still looking at Annie; and later in the afternoon, when they happened to have strolled to a more unfrequented part of the park, he came up and accosted them.
Never had Annie met with any one who so excited her imagination, His handsome person, his elegant style of dress, and his polished manners, would have been sufficient charm to her eye, and it needed not the genuine admiration he evinced for her to enhance it. Her companion seemed all-conscious of the honour done them by his notice, and openly expressed her wonder at it. She declared to Annie that he was very grand and great-related to one half the nobility, and intimate with the other half. Prince George of Cambridge, whom they had that day seen, and who was at that time growing into manhood, evidently held quite an insignificant position in her estimation compared with this Captain Stanley
He must have watched for Annie's going home at night, for he joined her then, and again conversed with her. Never-never had Annie been brought into contact with one so fascinating; the
tones of his voice wore a charm such as she had never heard; and when she gained the back-door of madame's establishment, and timidly glanced after his receding form, she thought he must be of a superior order to the general beings who walk the earth.
But she had to resume, her week of toil—more tolerable now, perhaps, than it had hitherto been, for it was interspersed with dreams of Captain Stanley. She longed to see him again, and trembled lest she never should.
“ Do invite me to your house again on Sunday,” she exclaimed to this young girl. “ To go out from this wretched place into that sunny park seemed to me like entering a different world."
“ Certainly you can come on Sunday, and every Sunday if you like," was the answer. " I shall be delighted, and my mother says she is glad I have found so desirable and pleasant a young lady for my companion here. I am sure she will be pleased to have you, for since my sister married we have found it dull on Sundays.”
And Annie went Sunday after Sunday, and each time she saw Captain Stanley. He had changed his lodgings for others, but that was nothing-in fact, more favourable for their meetings; and part of every Sunday she spent walking about with him. Whether he was a systematic betrayer or not, is of little consequence ; the result was the same ; and that he had grown passionately attached to her was the very contrary to offering an excuse for his conduct. Annie was a long time before she fell, but she fell at last. How could she, an inexperienced, country maiden, have hoped to escape the toils of a man like him? She had rarely heard of such things--she scarcely knew there were such in the worlá.